Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, facing Republican wrath over the company’s blocking of tweets linking to New York Post articles on Hunter Biden, admitted Twitter’s handling of the situation was “wrong” and said the social network has updated its policies to do better.
“Straight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix,” Dorsey tweeted Friday. “Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that.”
The firestorm whipped up Wednesday after Twitter prevented users from tweeting an unconfirmed New York Post article about Hunter Biden. The Post said the story was based on information provided by President Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani that was harvested from a laptop abandoned in Delaware computer-repair shop. That story alleged that Hunter influenced his father, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, into putting pressure on Ukraine officials to fire a prosecutor probing the energy firm for which Hunter was a board member. Twitter also blocked a Post story Thursday claiming Hunter “tried to cash in big on behalf of family with Chinese firm.” The News Corp-owned paper said it was unable to verify that the laptop from which the purported emails were obtained actually belonged to Hunter Biden.
Twitter’s suppression of the Biden stories infuriated GOP lawmakers and prompted the Senate Judiciary Committee to announce that it will subpoena Dorsey next week to testify Oct. 23 before the committee about the issue.
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Twitter said tweets with links to the Post’s articles ran afoul of its policy against sharing hacked materials. But late Thursday, Twitter announced that it will make changes to that policy and its enforcement.
Under Twitter’s revised policy, it will no longer remove hacked content “unless it is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them,” Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal, policy and trust, and safety, wrote in a thread. In addition, Twitter will label tweets that link to hacked material “to provide context instead of blocking links from being shared on Twitter,” she added.
The company is making the changes, according to Gadde, 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.”
The purpose of the Hacked Materials Policy, adopted in 2018, was to discourage and mitigate harms associated with hacks and “unauthorized exposure of private information,” Gadde wrote. “We tried to find the right balance between people’s privacy and the right of free expression, but we can do better.”
As of Friday, Twitter was allowing users to post the Post’s Wednesday story about Hunter Biden’s alleged misdeeds involving Ukrainian energy company Burisma, but Twitter was still blocking tweets to the second Post piece about Hunter’s alleged actions in China to finagle a lucrative deal with Shanghai-based conglomerate CEFC China Energy Co.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported Thursday that in 2019, U.S. intelligence agencies had warned the White House that Giuliani was the target of a Russian operation to funnel misinformation to Trump.
Twitter’s blocking of the New York Post articles — along with Facebook’s move to limit distribution of the Hunter Biden/Ukraine story, pending fact-checks — provided new ammo to GOP critics demanding that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act be modified or revoked. The law, as it currently stands, lets internet companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube make content-moderation decisions for their platforms while protecting them from lawsuits over content shared on them.
Trump, who has become increasingly irritated with Twitter and Facebook’s moves to fact-check and block his posts over misinformation and other policy violations, on Thursday reiterated his call to “strip” tech companies of Section 230 immunity if they continue to take actions that he perceives as thwarting conservative voices. “When government granted these protections, they created a monster!” the president tweeted.
In May, Trump issued an executive order to remove Section 230 protections for social networks if they “censor” speech. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Thursday announced an official rulemaking proceeding to “clarify” how Section 230 applies to social media companies, claiming that the commission’s general counsel “has informed me that the FCC has the legal authority to interpret Section 230.”
Social media companies “do not have a First Amendment right to a special immunity denied to other media outlets, such as newspapers and broadcasters,” Pai claimed. Critics including the ACLU disputed the FCC chief’s assertion that the FCC is empowered to reinterpret the law’s provision.
On the congressional front, the Senate Commerce Committee has set Oct. 28 — six days before Election Day — for a hearing on Section 230, with three tech CEOs set to testify: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Alphabet/Google’s Sundar Pichai and Twitter’s Dorsey. And last month Attorney General William Barr sent draft legislation to Congress that would limit the protections under Section 230.
Separately, Twitter experienced technical problems Thursday that prevented users worldwide from tweeting, retweeting or seeing their timelines, issues that persisted for at least two hours. The outage was caused by “an inadvertent change we made to our internal systems,” Twitter said, adding that it had no evidence of a security breach or hack.