Twitter reverses policy on hacked content after Hunter Biden backlash

Morgan Meaker
·3-min read
Joe Biden's son, Hunter - Pablo Martinez Monsivais /AP
Joe Biden's son, Hunter - Pablo Martinez Monsivais /AP

Twitter said it will change its Hacked Materials Policy after the company faced intense backlash for blocking links to a controversial news story that included allegations against US presidential candidate Joe Biden.

The article was controversial because it was based on private emails taken from a laptop owned by the Democratic presidential candidate’s son, Hunter Biden.

Twitter said that violated the company's Hacked Materials Policy which states: "linking to hacked content hosted on other websites" is not allowed. 

But on Thursday, the social network's policy chief, Vijaya Gadde, announced changes to the way that policy was to be enforced. In a series of tweets, she said Twitter will now only remove hacked content if "it is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them.”

Gadde said, instead of blocking links from being shared, tweets will be labelled to provide context. The updated policy will come into force in the coming days. 

However a spokesperson for the company said the New York Post story would still be blocked on the platform because it contained people’s personal information, such as email addresses. If the personal details were removed, the story would be allowed.

“We want to clarify - the policy isn’t meant to chill journalistic efforts or whistleblowers,” tweeted the company’s head of communications, Brandon Borrman.

Facebook also limited the reach of the New York Post article on its platform, citing doubts over its validity. But the action was significant because traditional media outlets are not often sanctioned by big tech.

Social media companies have taken a more aggressive approach in policing election misinformation this year, in order to avoid being held accountable for the kind of election manipulation that took place in 2016.

But this has lead to a firestorm of criticism. Republicans say the platform is biased against conservatives. Democrats say the platforms are not doing enough and letting violent extremism spread online. 

The New York Post fiasco has sparked a renewed call by Republicans to punish the platforms using regulation.

President Donald Trump called for the repeal of Section 230 - a law that grants social media platforms legal immunity from the content they host. 

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham and GOP Senator Ted Cruz told reporters Thursday morning that they will vote next Tuesday to subpoena Jack Dorsey, Twitter's founder, to appear before the committee to answer questions about its policies.

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.”

Compounding the company’s headaches late Thursday was a global outage caused by a technical issue that has since been resolved.