Twitter is changing its Hacked Materials Policy, walking back a set of rules at the heart of its enforcement action this week against a controversial article that included potentially damaging allegations against presidential candidate Joe Biden.
In a series of tweets late Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, policy chief Vijaya Gadde said that the company will no longer remove hacked content “unless it is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them.” Instead, it “will label Tweets to provide context instead of blocking links from being shared on Twitter.” Gadde said the updated policy will be put in place in the coming days.
Twitter found itself at the center of a political firestorm this week after both it and Facebook took measures to suppress the sharing of a New York Post article that alleged Biden had improper connections to an executive at a Ukrainian energy firm. Twitter has taken a more aggressive approach in policing President Donald Trump’s use of the service this year, earning it accusations from U.S. Republicans of stifling conservative speech and trying to assist Biden’s campaign.
At one point, the hashtag #TwitterCensorship was trending on the service.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham and GOP Sen. Ted Cruz told reporters Thursday morning that they will vote next Tuesday to subpoena Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey to appear before the committee to answer questions about its policies.
Twitter, like Facebook, has at times struggled to consistently enforce its policies, and both have updated their rules around important issues like voting and health-related misinformation in the run-up to the November U.S. presidential election.
Facebook said it was diminishing the Post story’s reach while it was fact-checked. Twitter blocked some people from sharing links to the story, and those who clicked on links that were shared were blocked from visiting the New York Post website.
A Twitter spokesman said the Post story would still be blocked on the platform despite the new policy because it contained people’s personal information, such as email addresses. A version of the story without those personal details, though, would be allowed.
Dorsey said Friday that Twitter’s “straight blocking of URLs was wrong. Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that.” When the Post’s story appeared on Wednesday, Twitter put a warning on any post that included a link to the article that said “this link may be unsafe.” Twitter said the move was in line with its “Hacked Materials Policy, as well as our approach to blocking URLs, we are taking action to block any links to, or images of, the material in question on Twitter.”
The Hacked Materials Policy in question forbids people from sharing or linking to documents or other materials that were obtained via a hack. Twitter says part of the reason for the change is that it doesn’t want to stifle important journalism in the future. “We want to clarify — the policy isn’t meant to chill journalistic efforts or whistleblowers,” tweeted the company’s head of communications, Brandon Borrman.
Kate Klonick, an assistant law professor at St John’s University School of Law, said Twitter’s update reflects how incidents involving hacked materials have evolved since the policy was created. The rule was primarily intended to block links that shared information from others without their consent, including non-consensual pornography, she said, but wasn’t applied within the context of a broader news story.
“It hopefully draws a line in the sand for where the role of Twitter, Facebook and other major platforms is in regards to second-guessing journalist activity,” she said.
Dorsey acknowledged in a tweet on Wednesday that Twitter did a poor job of communicating its policy and reasoning.
“Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great,” the CEO wrote. “And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable.”