Twitter is altering enforcement of its “Hacked Materials” policy in light of widespread backlash over efforts to suppress the reach of a bombshell New York Post exposé Wednesday which disclosed private emails revealing Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden may have been introduced to one of his son Hunter’s controversial foreign business partners while the elder Biden was serving as vice president.
In a late night statement Thursday, executive Vijaya Gadde announced that the platform would be attaching warnings and contextual information to posts found in violation of the policy after Twitter previously argued links to, and publication, of “illegally obtained materials” and “content obtained without authorization” were not permissible on the platform.
“As noted this morning, we also currently view materials included in the articles as violations of our Hacked Materials Policy,” the Twitter safety team had initially written Wednesday.
“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.”
“The policy, established in 2018, prohibits the use of our service to distribute content obtained without authorization. We don’t want to incentivize hacking by allowing Twitter to be used as distribution for possibly illegally obtained materials,” the platform added.
So much of the important journalism you read is based on a source providing to journalists “content obtained without authorization.”
Beyond the above examples, why doesn’t Twitter ban links to the NYT’s stories based on Trump’s tax returns, “obtained without authorization?”
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 15, 2020
A number of prominent social media users — Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald chief among them — were quick to pillory the statement, widely suggesting Twitter’s policy would likely have resulted in the suppression of numerous groundbreaking news stories throughout history and was simply being used to censor “journalism they dislike.”
“Please don’t be deceived,” Greenwald wrote. “The authoritarian mindset expressed below — celebrating mass censorship of journalism they dislike — is absolutely a significant strain in current US liberalism, which is why so many of them cheered the stunning censorship yesterday.”
Please don’t be deceived. The authoritarian mindset expressed below — celebrating mass censorship of journalism they dislike — is absolutely a significant strain in current US liberalism, which is why so many of them cheered the stunning censorship yesterday: pic.twitter.com/Mz4R8GKUcv
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 15, 2020
“Look carefully at what Twitter is saying to justify censoring the Biden story. If applied consistently, it’d mean that some of history’s most consequential journalism — the Pentagon Papers, WikiLeaks’ war logs, Snowden docs, Panama Papers, our Brazil Archive — would be banned,” the journalist had previously said.
“So much of the important journalism you read is based on a source providing to journalists ‘content obtained without authorization.'”
For the sake of posterity, here are four such stories:
The Pentagon Papers
On June 13, 1971, the news broke: U.S. military operations in Vietnam had secretly expanded far beyond the scope initially reported to the American people, encompassing secret Marine Corps deployments and the bombing of two neighboring nations.
The shocking revelation came by way of a 7,000-page internal Department of Defense report delivered to the national media by war-weary Washington insider Daniel Ellsberg, and was forwarded, despite legal advice to the contrary, by two newspapers — The New York Times and The Washington Post — who were battling to see every major detail of the document published.
A military analyst employed by the government-funded RAND Corporation, Ellsberg was anything but “authorized” to publicly release the classified information. Over the course of nearly two years, however, the disillusioned analyst snuck photocopied portions of the document out of his office night after night, in hopes of one day mobilizing them for the sake of shifting public perceptions on the bloody conflict.
Ellsberg was eventually charged with criminal conspiracy and violations of the Espionage Act for disseminating the documents, only to get off in light of partial victimization in the Watergate scandal shortly after.
His leaks would go on to drastically shift the American political discourse, giving way to major increases in stateside anti-war sentiment and a landmark Supreme Court decision rejecting government censorship of the news media with regard to classified content.
Since 2006, no shortage of controversially sourced government content has fallen into the hands of establishment media due to the work of nonprofit watchdog publisher WikiLeaks.
Dumping massive data and document caches leaked from the highest levels of government, WikiLeaks has broken some of the most influential stories of the early 21st century, from the actual scope of the death toll in Iraq to the full breakdown of U.S. holdings in the Afghan conflict and even the prison conditions and standard operating procedures at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.
The organization would go on to truly enter the mainstream American political consciousness in 2016, however, boiling the blood of left-wing figures with the release of more than 44,000 emails and 17,000 attachments stripped from the private hardware of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Re-scandalizing 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton just months before the election, the documents revealed something of a conspiracy to see far-left primary challenger Bernie Sanders marginalized by the party. It is widely believed the leaks played a role in Clinton’s eventual defeat.
Despite the deeply eclectic nature of the influential revelations published by WikiLeaks over the years, one through-line remains: the unauthorized and often illegal nature of the information’s procurement, coming from foreign intelligence hacks and government whistleblowers.
The practice has in turn made WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange public enemy number one for several governments across the globe, including the United States, which is currently seeking to extradite the watchdog journalist from England over alleged Espionage Act violations.
The Snowden Files
Tangentially related to WikiLeaks was another watchdog who, in 2013, provided the news media complex with a wealth of salient unauthorized content: Edward Snowden.
A CIA subcontractor with Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden used his access to U.S. intelligence community’s data infrastructure to download a wealth of highly classified documents revealing the massive scope of efforts by the National Security Agency to surveil American citizens and foreign actors with the help of private telecommunications companies.
Snowden promptly fled to Hong Kong with the help of WikiLeaks, communicating with Western journalists at The Guardian and The Washington Post in an attempt to strategically release the documents before seeking asylum in South America.
The analyst’s efforts resulted in a global awakening with regard to the unaccountable power of the surveillance state, and caused a major stateside indictment for theft of government materials and charges for two alleged Espionage Act violations.
He remains abroad in Russia, evading extradition to the United States, though President Donald Trump has hinted at issuing a pardon in the case.
Trump’s Tax Returns
The report, a widely shared media darling last month, suggested the president’s long-withheld tax returns had finally been acquired and revealed major the billionaire had paid just $1,500 in federal income taxes between 2016 and 2017.
It was a development that shook the news cycle, serving as fodder for left-wing political pundits, who misrepresented and spun the report in an accusatory manner against the president despite admissions he had actually transferred roughly $5 million to the U.S. Treasury for those years, but only owed the $1,500 as a result of legal tax loopholes.
Regardless of what the report reveals with regard to the president and his tax-paying behavior, however, the truth remains that some level of impropriety existed in The Times’ acquisition of a citizen’s personal tax records.
Widespread concerns have surfaced in light of the report regarding whether or not the tax returns were obtained legally, given ongoing court battles being fought to keep the president’s personal records under wraps.
The Times has pushed back against such concerns, claiming that “all of the information” had been “provided by sources with legal access to it,” though no evidence has been provided and the source remains unnamed.
Potentially questionable legality, however, is not the only problem with regard to whether the story adheres to Twitter guidelines, as Trump and his estate have clearly not authorized the release and publication of these details.
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