“How Tweet It Is: Twitter Backs Down, Unlocks Post’s Account,” the newspaper gloated in the headline on its story on the issue. The Post had accused Twitter of holding it “hostage.”
In what has become a flashpoint for Republicans charging Twitter with election interference and censorship of conservatives, the social network on Oct. 14 blocked users from tweeting unconfirmed New York Post articles alleging that Joe Biden and his son Hunter engaged in corrupt business dealings in Ukraine and China.
Twitter initially said the Post stories ran afoul of its “hacked materials” policy, as the Rupert Murdoch-owned paper claimed the source for its Biden exposés was info supplied by Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who allegedly obtained it from a MacBook Pro of unknown origin that had been abandoned in computer-repair shop in Delaware.
A day later, Twitter revised that policy to allow tweets that discuss hacked material and to label (rather than block) posts that link to such content. The company maintained that the New York Post needed to delete six tweets linking to the Biden articles before the paper’s account could be reinstated.
On Friday (Oct. 30), Twitter made another update: The social network said that enforcement decisions made under policies that are subsequently changed will no longer be applied retroactively. “This means that because a specific @nypost enforcement led us to update the Hacked Materials Policy, we will no longer restrict their account under the terms of the previous policy and they can now Tweet again,” the Twitter Safety team said in a thread. In addition, the Post’s previous tweets linking to the Biden stories, which Twitter had disabled, were restored.
“Our policies are living documents,” Twitter said. “We’re willing to update and adjust them when we encounter new scenarios or receive important feedback from the public.”
In a statement, News Corp communications chief Jim Kennedy called Twitter’s decision to unfreeze the Post account “an important moment for journalism and for the freedom of the press.”
“There is no evidence whatsoever that the documents are not authentic and the arbitrary blocking of the Post was a significant moment during a critical time in this election season,” Kennedy said. “It also had a negative commercial impact, but the Post team was determined that principle should prevail and it has.” Kennedy added, “Alexander Hamilton, the paper’s founder, looks down tonight with a broad smile and a sense of pride.”
The Post said its Twitter account picked up around 190,000 followers during the lockout; it now has about 2 million.
The incident sparked new calls from Republicans to revise or revoke Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives internet companies latitude to remove content that violates their policies while shielding them from legal liability.
At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing this Wednesday, GOP members attacked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for blocking the Post stories.
“Mr. Dorsey, who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear?” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asked rhetorically. Dorsey denied that Twitter’s enforcement decisions favor Democratic politicians or issues and said the company had blocked tweets with links to the Post articles because “We didn’t want Twitter to be a distributor for hacked materials.” Dorsey previously acknowledged that blocking the articles’ URLs without context was wrong.
Dorsey claimed at the Senate hearing that as a result of its policy reversal “anyone can tweet” the Post articles; however, Twitter was still blocking the newspaper’s story alleging Hunter Biden tried to cut his dad in on a deal with a Chinese energy company. After users pointed this out, Twitter’s PR team Wednesday claimed that was due to a technical glitch involving Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) links and said the company had fixed the issue.
At the same hearing, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified that his company limited distribution of the New York Post’s initial Biden story in part based on an FBI warning about potential “hack and leak operations” that could be “part of a foreign manipulation attempt” ahead of the U.S. election.
For the third quarter, Twitter reported a net gain of just 1 million monetizable daily active users, to 187 million worldwide — its slowest growth in at least three years and well below analyst expectations of a gain of 10 million. While Twitter blew away Wall Street’s revenue estimates, the company’s stock plunged 21% Friday on the user-growth miss and the company’s uncertain Q4 ad forecast amid the looming U.S. elections.