Twitter will no longer remove hacked content unless it is shared directly by hackers after backlash over the blocking of a controversial New York Post story about presidential candidate Joe Biden spurred an update to the social media firm’s hacked materials policy.
On Wednesday Twitter and Facebook took measures to slow the spread of the story, which was based on materials allegedly hacked from a laptop owned by Biden’s son, Hunter. It marks the first time Twitter has directly limited the spread of information from a news outlet.
This triggered a wave of criticism from Republicans, with some congressmen threatening to subpoena Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to explain the policy.
Twitter’s suppression of the story on the grounds that it violated its hacked content policy also caused concern that it would prevent journalists and whistleblowers from sharing stories in the public interest.
Twitter introduced its hacked materials policy in 2018 in a bid to protect the privacy of hacking victims.
Announcing the policy change in a series of tweets late on Thursday, Twitter’s policy lead Vijaya Gadde said: “Why the changes? We want to address the concerns that there could be many unintended consequences to journalists, whistleblowers and others in ways that are contrary to Twitter’s purpose of serving the public conversation.”
She added that Twitter will now label tweets “to provide context instead of blocking links from being shared on Twitter”.
So, what’s changing?
1. We will no longer remove hacked content unless it is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them
2. We will label Tweets to provide context instead of blocking links from being shared on Twitter
— Vijaya Gadde (@vijaya) October 16, 2020
However, the New York Post story will still be blocked from being shared on Twitter. A company spokesman told the Guardian that this was for “violating the rules on private personal information”.
Why did the New York Post story say about Biden?
The New York Post article claimed a Ukrainian energy company emailed Hunter Biden in 2015 thanking him for inviting him to meet then-vice president Joe Biden in Washington.
The Biden campaign said the meeting did not take place, and the Post story did not provide any evidence to support that it did.
The Post based its story on material recovered from Hunter Biden’s laptop hard drive after a computer repair shop owner allegedly made a copy of it and passed it on to Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
On Wednesday, Dorsey said his company should have informed users why it blocked sharing the Post story sooner.
“Blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable,” he tweeted.
Former Facebook chief information security officer Alex Stamos said the new hacked materials policy “seems like a reasonable change”.
He added: “It’s appropriate for social media platforms to prevent themselves from being used as the initial distribution point for a hack-forge-leak, but not once the stories hit the press.
“Twitter and Facebook can’t fix bad journalism.”