Yesterday the Biden campaign’s National Press Secretary, Jamal Brown, gave an interview to online news site Cheddar. Toward the end of the interview he was asked about the NY Post story. “What is your campaign response to this article and do you think Twitter is doing the right thing here?” the host asked.
“Well, look, I think Twitter’s response to the actual article itself makes clear that these purported allegations are false and they’re not true and glad to see social media companies like Twitter taking responsibility to limit misinformation,” Brown replied.
Biden campaign National Press Secretary @JTOBrown responds to Twitter’s decision to block a New York Post story about Hunter Biden.
— Cheddar🧀 (@cheddar) October 15, 2020
The first thing to say about this is that it isn’t true. Twitter never claimed that it was blocking the story because it was false. As Jazz pointed out yesterday, Twitter’s response to this yesterday was an ever-evolving mess. At first, Twitter claimed the story had been identified as “potentially harmful.”
BREAKING: Twitter has blocked the NY Post article about Hunter Biden. If you attempt to share the story, you will see this message:
"We can't complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful." pic.twitter.com/TWaTKzvtQP
— Scott Gustin (@ScottGustin) October 14, 2020
Who identified it as harmful and on what basis? That wasn’t at all clear and the director of the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN) took notice:
“… by Twitter or our partners”
Not so transparent and supported by any methodology https://t.co/pbzoPM0LUb
— Baybars Örsek (@baybarsorsek) October 14, 2020
Politifact also had questions about how Twitter had quickly reached a decision about the story:
Who are these partners they speak of? Has Twitter partnered with fact-checkers without telling anyone? It would be news to me. https://t.co/xqprI5dnIC
— Angie Drobnic Holan (@AngieHolan) October 14, 2020
Later in the day, when Jack Dorsey admitted the response had been a mess, he directed readers to two different explanations for Twitter’s decision:
The images contained in the articles include personal and private information — like email addresses and phone numbers — which violate our rules.https://t.co/plPa5SZ3we
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) October 14, 2020
Notice the presumption here is not that the story is false. On the contrary, Twitter is claiming the image of the email that appear in the story contained “private information,” i.e. Hunter Biden’s email address. Twitter also offered another explanation:
Commentary on or discussion about hacked materials, such as articles that cover them but do not include or link to the materials themselves, aren’t a violation of this policy. Our policy only covers links to or images of hacked material themselves.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) October 14, 2020
Twitter is claiming the information in the story violates their rules because it was hacked. They’re not trying to stop distribution of the Post story because it’s fake, they’re trying to stop distribution of it because it appears to be real, albeit possibly acquired in an illegal manner.
It’s worth noting that the Post offered an explanation for how it got the information, one which did not involve hacking. Allegedly someone, maybe Hunter Biden, left three laptops at a shop in Delaware and never came back for them. After a certain point, those laptops would be considered abandoned and become the property of the shop owner.
Is it possible this material was actually hacked and then planted on these machines by some nefarious individual? Anything is possible, but at this point there’s no proof that’s the case. Twitter jumped to a conclusion that isn’t supported by facts and used that to block transmission of the article.
Getting back to the Biden campaign’s response, I hope Twitter is paying attention. I guess you can’t be too shocked about a campaign spokesman lying, but after the mess Twitter made here Jack Dorsey could at least correct the Biden campaign for misstating his stated position on his own platform. Will he do that? Or are they going to just let this ride?
As of last night, Twitter has revised its policy about hacked materials:
Twitter changed its policy on hacked materials Thursday night after widespread criticism over its handling of the New York Post’s controversial story about Hunter Biden.
Going forward, posts with hacked materials will only be immediately locked if directly posted by the hackers or by individuals working with them. Labels with context will be added to tweets containing hacked materials.
Twitter said the link to the Post article, which includes unredacted emails purporting to be between Biden and a Ukrainian businessman, will still be blocked from being shared in tweets or direct messages under a separate policy prohibiting sharing personal information.
This isn’t very satisfactory. Twitter still hasn’t explained why they claimed this material was hacked in the first place. And if they believe it was hacked what good is allowing anyone but the hacker to post it? All the hacker has to do is hand the material to Wikileaks or the NY Times and now it’s fair game. Or do those groups now count as individuals working with the hacker? I guess not since they seem to now be allowing that the NY Post story wasn’t posted by hackers. What a mess.
When you cut through all of Twitter’s BS, here’s what your left with: They clamped down on this story because an image used in it didn’t conceal Hunter Biden’s email address. That’s a pretty thin excuse for completely preventing a story from being shared on the platform.