After blocking a New York Post article for containing hacked material, Twitter has softened its policy over fears that stories based on hacked material could be censored.
Twitter’s ‘hacked material policy’ is set to undergo changes after the company faced backlash over its decision to block links to a particular article in the New York Post. The article alleged that the son of US presidential hopeful Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, had improper links with a Ukrainian energy executive.
According to The Washington Post, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former adviser Stephen Bannon claimed they had documents to prove that the Ukrainian executive was offered the “opportunity” to meet the former US vice-president. The article alleged these documents had been obtained from Hunter Biden’s laptop by a computer repair shop.
The posting of hacked material on Twitter has been banned since 2018, and in this instance the company said it decided to ban sharing of the article link on its platform out of an abundance of caution as the alleged documents may have been obtained illegally.
Under Twitter’s existing policy, links to the story were blocked. But the company’s head of policy, Vijaya Gadde, posted to the social network early this morning (16 October) to confirm that this policy would be changed. This, she said, was to address “many unintended consequences to journalists, whistleblowers and others in ways that are contrary to Twitter’s purpose of serving the public conversation”.
I’m grateful for everyone who has provided feedback and insights over the past day. Content moderation is incredibly difficult, especially in the critical context of an election. We are trying to act responsibly & quickly to prevent harms, but we’re still learning along the way.
— Vijaya Gadde (@vijaya) October 16, 2020
Twitter will now only remove links or content that are directly posted by a hacker or collaborating group, rather than a story reporting on a hack. Gadde also said that the company will be increasing efforts to label posts to provide context, rather than blocking links.
In the case of the New York Post story, however, Twitter confirmed that links to it will still be blocked. This, the company said, is because the story violates a policy that prevents the sharing of personal information on the platform. The article contains information such as private email addresses and phone numbers.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also commented on the matter, saying the company’s communication on existing policy “was not great” and that blocking URL sharing without context was “unacceptable”.
After links to the article began spreading, Twitter also temporarily locked the accounts of the New York Post, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and Trump’s election campaign, attaching a label stating they had violated the hacked material policy. This lock has now been lifted.
Bloomberg has reported that prominent Republican politicians Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz will vote next week to subpoena Dorsey to appear before a government committee to answer question on Twitter’s policies.