Twitter has backtracked from its policy of restricting the sharing of hacked material on its platform following backlash over its decision to block a news story about Joe Biden.
Last week the conservative-leaning New York Post published a story featuring emails alleging impropriety in Biden’s dealings with Ukraine when he was vice-president and claiming he heeded his son Hunter’s business interests.
The story has been flatly denied by the Biden campaign and has not been verified by other publications.
The story was reportedly based on emails stolen from Hunter Biden’s laptop which had been given to a computer repair shop.
Both Twitter and Facebook quickly restricted the sharing of the story on their platforms. While Facebook reduced the prominence of the story until a third-party fact check was conducted, Twitter moved to ban users from sharing links to the story in tweets and private messages, but didn’t tell users why for several hours.
According to Twitter, the story was blocked for two reasons: it contained personal information including a private email address, and contained hacked material.
Twitter introduced a policy in 2018 to attempt to limit “hack and leak” information operations that were being run from Russia in 2016.
A day after it began blocking the posting of the story, Twitter started to allow users to post it after the private information contained in it became “widely available” in the press and on other platforms.
On the second reason the story was blocked, Twitter has now softened its company policy after it was widely criticised, not just by Republicans but also by those concerned it could punish reporting by legitimate journalists based on hacks.
Twitter policy chief Vijaya Gadde said the company had reviewed this policy and would be making some 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,” Gadde said.
“We believe that labelling tweets and empowering people to assess content for themselves better services the public interest and public conversation.
“The Hacked Material Policy is being updated to reflect these new enforcement capabilities.
“We will no longer remove hacked content unless it is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them. We will label tweets to provide context instead of blocking links from being shared on Twitter.”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the company was wrong to block links to the New York Post story.
“Straight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix it,” Dorsey said. “Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that.”
Twitter also this week removed a “misleading” tweet regarding the wearing of masks posted by one of Trump’s top advisors.
Trump is now actively positioning himself as being up against the big tech companies as part of the election campaign.
“We’re not just running against Joe Biden,” Trump said at a campaign rally. “We’re running against left-wing media and we’re running against big tech.”