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Rudy Giuliani’s bizarre Twitter conspiracy theory, explained

Trump’s lawyer and former cybersecurity adviser seems confused about how hyperlinks work.

Emily Stewart covers business and economics for Vox and writes the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and current lawyer to President Donald Trump, seems to have been bamboozled by a prank website set up after he made a typo in a tweet about the G20 summit. Reminder: In 2017, Trump appointed Giuliani as a cybersecurity adviser.

Giuliani confounded many online on Tuesday evening when he accused Twitter of allowing someone to “invade my text with a disgusting anti-President message.”

“The same thing – period no space – occurred later and it didn’t happen,” Giuliani wrote. “Don’t tell me they are not committed cardcarrying anti-Trumpers.” He also took a swipe at Time magazine and called for “FAIRNESS PLEASE.”

The tweet was threaded to another tweet Giuliani sent on Friday regarding special counsel Robert Mueller that complained about the timing of his deal with former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, which was announced in a New York federal court just before the president left for the G20 in Buenos Aires. In Giuliani’s tweet, he apparently forgot a space and therefore typed “G-20.In” — a sequence of characters that turned into a hyperlink.

Someone then appears to have bought the website, which now directs to a page that reads: “Donald J. Trump is a traitor to our country.” As of Wednesday morning, it also links to a Reddit page on Mueller’s sentencing memo for former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, released late Tuesday evening.

CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski flagged the timeline behind Giuliani’s confusion on Twitter.

So, no, Twitter didn’t allow someone to “invade” Giuliani’s text, as he claimed. As Henry Farrell at the Washington Post points out, if you write text that has a word followed directly by a period and then a combination of letters that could be a website domain (.com, .gov, .net, .org, etc.), “Twitter will think you are writing a website’s domain name, and will then try to turn what you have written into a clickable link.”

Because .in is a top-level domain for websites in India, Twitter generated a link. In the same tweet, Giuliani also left out the space between “Helsinki.Either.” But because .either isn’t a valid domain, a link wasn’t created.

The New York Times reports that 37-year-old Jason Velazquez, who owns a web design firm in Atlanta, is behind the website. He bought it for $5 and created the page in about 15 minutes, he told the Times.

It’s not clear what Giuliani was referring to with his reference to Time magazine.

Giuliani is playing into the anti-conservative bias narrative many Republicans employ

Whether Giuliani actually understands what happened with the hyperlinks or he’s genuinely confused isn’t clear.

He was, after all, named as a cybersecurity adviser to Trump in 2017 and runs a cybersecurity firm, so maybe he gets what’s going on and was just trying to get people riled up (or perhaps making a joke). Or perhaps he actually thinks Twitter was out to get him.

The White House did not return a request for clarification of Giuliani’s tweet.

Giuliani is hardly the first conservative to make disingenuous claims about bias on social media. Right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and conservative provocateur Laura Loomer, both of whom have been banned from Twitter for violating its terms of service, have complained that the social media company is out to get them. House Judiciary Committee Republicans brought Diamond and Silk, two famous black women Trump supporters, to Capitol Hill for a hearing in April on social media platforms censoring conservatives. (The pair claimed that Facebook had censored them, though that was debunked.) One Democratic representative called the hearing “stupid and ridiculous” at one point.

Republicans at hearings with Facebook and Twitter executives this year pressed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on potential political bias. Some conservatives have proposed turning Facebook and Twitter into public utilities so that they are subject to more government oversight.

Companies such as Twitter and Facebook are private entities, and they — unlike the US government — do not owe their users First Amendment rights. They are allowed to police speech on their platforms that violates their terms of service, though both companies, admittedly, often make missteps on that front.

But what Giuliani is talking about isn’t even related to speech. His typo created a hyperlink, and someone apparently bought that website and decided to make a bit of a joke. He’s just mad because he wasn’t in on it.

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