Techdirt's think tank, the Copia Institute, is working with the Trust & Safety Professional Association and its sister organization, the Trust & Safety Foundation, to produce an ongoing series of case studies about content moderation decisions. These case studies are presented in a neutral fashion, not aiming to criticize or applaud any particular decision, but to highlight the many different challenges that content moderators face and the tradeoffs they result in. Find more case studies here on Techdirt and on the TSF website.

Content Moderation Case Studies: Twitter Clarifies Hacked Material Policy After Hunter Biden Controversy (2020)

from the clarification-needed dept

Summary: Three weeks before the presidential election, the New York Post published an article that supposedly detailed meetings Hunter Biden (son of presidential candidate Joe Biden) had with a Ukrainian energy firm several months before the then-Vice President allegedly pressured Ukraine government officials to fire a prosecutor investigating the company.

The "smoking gun" -- albeit one of very dubious provenance -- provided ammo for Biden opponents, who saw this as evidence of Biden family corruption. The news quickly spread across Twitter. But shortly after the news broke, Twitter began removing links to the article.

Backlash ensued. Conservatives claimed this was more evidence of Twitter's pro-Biden bias. Others went so far as to assert this was Twitter interfering in an election. The reality of the situation was far more mundane.

As Twitter clarified -- largely to no avail -- it was simply enforcing its rules on hacked materials. To protect victims of hacking, Twitter forbids the distribution of information derived from hacking, malicious or otherwise. This policy was first put in place in March 2019, but it took an election season event to draw national attention to it.

The policy was updated after the Hunter Biden story broke, but largely remained unchanged. The updated policy explained in greater detail why Twitter takes down links to hacked material, as well as any exceptions it had to this rule.

Despite many people seeing this policy in action for the first time, this response was nothing new. Twitter had exercised it four months earlier, deleting tweets and suspending accounts linking to information obtained from law enforcement agencies by the Anonymous hacker collective and published by transparency activists Distributed Denial of Secrets. The only major difference was this involved acknowledged hackers and had nothing to do with a very contentious presidential race.

Decisions to be made by Twitter:

  • Does the across-the-board blocking of hacked material prevent access to information of public interest?
  • Does relying on the input of Twitter users to locate and moderate allegedly hacked materials allow users to bury information they'd rather not seen made public?
  • Is this a problem Twitter has handled inadequately in the past? If so, does enforcement of this policy effectively deter hackers from publishing private information that could be damaging to victims? 
Questions and policy implications to consider:
  • Given the often-heated debates involving releases of information derived from hacking, does leaving decisions to Twitter moderators allow the platform to decide what is or isn't newsworthy?
  • Is the relative "power" (for lack of a better term) of the hacking victim (government agencies vs. private individuals) factored into Twitter's moderation decisions? 
  • Does any vetting of the hacked content occur before moderation decisions are made to see if released material actually contains violations of policy?
Resolution: The expanded version of Twitter's rules on hacked material remain in force. The additions to the policy in response to questions about its takedown of the Post article more clearly state what is or isn't allowed on the platform. The expanded rules presumably also make it easier for moderators to make informed decisions, rather than simply remove any information that may appear to be the result of hacking.

Originally posted to the Trust & Safety Foundation website.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: content moderation, elections, hacked materials, hunter biden, journalism, laptop
Companies: twitter

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Essential Reading
Techdirt Insider Chat

Warning: include(/home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395/includes/right_column/ failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395/includes/right_column/ on line 8

Warning: include(): Failed opening '/home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395/includes/right_column/' for inclusion (include_path='.:/usr/share/pear:/home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395:/home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395/..') in /home/beta6/deploy/itasca_20201215-3691-c395/includes/right_column/ on line 8
Recent Stories


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.