Twitter announced an update to its policy on hacked materials, which says that hacked content will only be removed if shared directly by hackers or those "acting in concert with them".
Instead of preventing such content / links from being shared on its service, tweets are marked as "providing context".
There are still broader Twitter rules against posting private information, synthetic and manipulated media, and non-consensual nudity. For example, links to hacked material can still be removed if the linked content violates other guidelines. However, tweeting a link about hacked materials is no longer an automatic breakdown.
Over the past 24 hours, we've had important feedback (from critical to supportive) on how we enforced our hacked materials policy yesterday. After considering this feedback, we decided to make changes to the policy and how it is enforced.
– Vijaya Gadde (@vijaya) October 16, 2020
The move comes shortly after the company decides to limit New York Post sharing This week's article – which covered allegations that laptop hardware left behind in a repair shop contained emails and other data from Hunter Biden, son of US presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Twitter's decision to limit the Post's article was heavily criticized by high-profile Republican voices, including Senator Josh Hawley, who tweeted that the company was "now censoring journalists."
Twitter's Hacked Materials Policy specifically allows "reporting a hack or giving media coverage of hacking". However, the company later clarified that it acted because the Post article contained "personal and private information – such as email addresses and phone numbers – that violated our rules." (Also, the Post did not report a hack, but instead claimed to have discovered a cache of emails and the emails themselves.)
At the same time, the Post article itself is very controversial. The scenario in which the data ended up in the hands of a random laptop repair shop, which then passed it on to a key Trump ally, adds to the credibility – and bears the hallmarks of an election-oriented disops operation, as we explained on Wednesday.
Given the questions about the quality of fact-checking and the Post's journalistic standards in this case, it appears that Twitter's decision to limit the circulation of the article actually helped reduce the spread of disinformation – even though the company did so because of the censorship of the " Journalism "has attracted flak. .
(In the meantime, it has also been discovered that the hard drive in question was manufactured shortly before the laptop was supposedly handed over to the store. So the most likely scenario is that Hunter Biden's iCloud was hacked and emails processed on the drive containing the data could be "discovered" and released to the press in a ham-fisted attempt to sway the US presidential election. But Twitter is clearly uncomfortable that its enforcement led to allegations of censorship by journalists.)
In a tweet thread explaining its policy change, Vijaya Gadde, Twitter's Legal, Policy, and Confidence and Security Director, wrote, “We want to address concerns that journalists, whistleblowers and others are inadvertently causing many could have unintended consequences contrary to the purpose of Twitter to serve the public conversation. "
She also notes that when Twitter introduced the Hacked Materials Policy in 2018, it had fewer policy enforcement tools than it does now and says, “We recently added new product features such as: B. Labels to give people extra context. We are no longer limited to removing Tweets as an enforcement measure. "
Twitter began adding contextual labels to out-of-context tweets from US President Donald Trump earlier this year instead of removing his tweets entirely. It has further expanded the use of these contextual signals – for example, by adding fact-checking labels to certain conspiracy theory tweets – and offering itself an enforcement tool to improve freedom of speech over the blunt tool of tweet takedowns / account bans (which it has been offering) recently also applied to the group of toxic conspiracy theories (QAnon).
“We believe that flagging tweets and empowering people to rate content themselves better serves the public interest and conversation. The hacked material policy will be updated to reflect these new enforcement capabilities, ”said Gadde, adding,“ Content moderation is incredibly difficult, especially in the critical context of an election. We try to act responsibly and quickly to avoid harm, but we are still learning along the way. "
The updated policy is clearly not free for everyone as all of the other Twitter rules apply against hacked material (e.g. doxxing). However, the question that arises is whether tweets linking to the post article will still be removed under the updated policy if the story actually contains personal information (which is against Twitter's guidelines).
At the same time, the new "Third Way" policy on hacked materials leaves Twitter's platform as a channel for spreading political disinformation (with just a little contextual friction) – in cases where it has been gullibly laundered by the press. (However, Twitter can rightly blame poor journalistic standards at this point.)
The new directive also raises the question of how Twitter will determine whether or not a person is “working together” with hackers. I'm just spitting around here, but if Trump passed on some highly dubious information on the eve of the poll that smeared his main political rivals and that he said was turned over by Russian President Vladimir Putin, would Twitter step in and remove it?
We can only hope we don't have to find out.