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Twitter Tweaks Policy on Publishing Hacked Materials After a Backlash

By Rich Duprey – Oct 16, 2020 at 12:12PM

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It faces allegations of election interference after blocking news stories about content that wasn't hacked.

Facing a backlash from Republican senators for blocking a New York Post story potentially damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, Twitter (TWTR 1.37%) announced on Thursday that it was reversing course and would allow the publication of such stories.

The social media platform had said the story violated its Hacked Materials Policy, but it was updating those guidelines to more narrowly reflect where such information originates.

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Image source: Getty Images.

A sweeping ban

The Post story claimed emails found on the laptop of the former vice president's son contradicted the candidate's claim he never discussed his son's business dealings with him. 

The emails, though, purportedly show that Joe Biden actually met with executives from the embattled Ukrainian energy firm Burisma, which was being investigated for corruption at the time.

When the story broke, Facebook (META -1.45%) limited the article's distribution on its platform, but Twitter went further, prohibiting links to the story from being shared and locking the accounts of users who tried, including Kayleigh McEnany, President Trump's press secretary. 

Claiming election interference, Republican senators noted Twitter had not similarly blocked stories damaging to Trump, including the New York Times' recent reporting on the president's tax returns. They immediately vowed to call Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to explain under oath the reason for the disparate treatment.

At risk are protections under the Communications Decency Act that Twitter and other platforms have from being sued for content posted by their users because the platforms are considered distributors, not publishers. By blocking content as it did, though, Twitter could be seen as acting as a publisher.

Twitter subsequently said it would only ban hacked content if the hackers themselves were posting it, and in certain other situations. The Post story, though, was not based on hacked content.

Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Rich Duprey has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook and Twitter. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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