Twitter was wrong to block weblinks to an unverified political story, CEO Jack Dorsey said on Friday, as the company responded to criticism over its handling of the story that had prompted cries of censorship from the right.
“Straight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix,” he tweeted. “Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that.”
After initially blocking people from sharing links to the story Wednesday, on Friday Twitter was letting its users to post the link. It served as demonstration of how quickly things can change when it comes to social media, misinformation and the coming U.S. election as companies try to navigate unprecedented times.
Dorsey was weighing in after an executive at the social media company announced changes late Thursday to its policy on hacked content following an onslaught of criticism.
Twitter will no longer remove hacked material unless it’s directly shared by hackers or those working with them, the company’s head of legal, policy, trust and safety, Vijaya Gadde, said in a Twitter thread.
And instead of blocking links from being shared, tweets will be labeled to provide context, Gadde said.
“We want to address the concerns that there could be many unintended consequences to journalists, whistleblowers and others in ways that are contrary to Twitter’s purpose of serving the public conversation,” she said.
Twitter and Facebook had moved quickly this week to limit the spread of the story published by the conservative-leaning New York Post, which cited unverified emails from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son that were reportedly discovered by President Donald Trump’s allies. The story has not been confirmed by other publications.
San Francisco-based Twitter initially responded by banning users from sharing links to the article in tweets and direct messages because it violated the company’s policy prohibiting hacked content. But it didn’t alert users about why they couldn’t share the link until hours later.
But by Friday, people were free to post the links again. Twitter said that was because the “once-private” information in the article is now “widely available” in the press and on other platforms.
Dorsey had first tweeted that it was “unacceptable” the company hadn’t provided more context around its action. A little over 24 hours later, Gadde announced the company was making changes after receiving “significant feedback (from critical to supportive)” about how it enforced the policy.
Facebook said it was “reducing” the story’s distribution on its platform while waiting for third-party fact-checkers to verify it, something it regularly does with material that’s not banned outright from its service, though it risks spreading lies or causing harm in other ways.
Trump is now incorporating Twitter’s action into his campaign rallies, pleading with his supporters to send a message on Election Day to what he described as “censors.”
“We’re not just running against Joe Biden. We’re running against left-wing media and we’re running against big tech,” Trump said.
AP Technology Writer Barbara Ortutay in Oakland, California, contributed to this story.