Twitter’s Censorship Method – WSJ

What a depressing spectacle. On Wednesday the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on online speech, questioning the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google. Twitter’s Jack Dorsey was the focus, two weeks after his company launched a crackdown against independent journalists to protect Joe Biden from public scrutiny. Twitter blocked all links to a New York Post story on Hunter Biden’s business dealings, and the Post’s account remains locked to this day.

The dazed-looking Mr. Dorsey gave the impression he could not care less…

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Twitter’s ban almost doubled attention for Biden misinformation

The news: When Twitter banned, and then unbanned, links to a questionably sourced New York Post article about Joe Biden’s son Hunter, its stated intention was to prevent people from spreading harmful false material as America heads into the final stretch of the election campaign. But thanks to the cycle of misinformation—and claims from conservatives that social-media platforms are deliberately censoring their views—Twitter managed to do the opposite of what it intended. 

According to Zignal Labs, a media intelligence firm, shares of the Post article “nearly doubled” after Twitter started suppressing it. The poorly-thought-through ban triggered the so-called Streisand Effect and helped turn a sketchy article into a must-share blockbuster. And then on Friday, the Republican National Committee filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against Twitter, claiming that the ban “amounts to an illegal corporate in-kind political contribution to the Biden campaign.” 

The ban: Twitter blocked shares of the story under its policy against hacked materials, in part because of the dubious sourcing by the New York Post, the company said. The article also contained screenshots of emails with the addresses unredacted. Federal investigators are now looking into whether they are tied to a foreign intelligence campaign, according to NBC News

But on Thursday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said that blocking the URL was “wrong,” and that the company has changed its policy and enforcement procedures in response to the outrage over this decision. 

The data: Zignal Labs tracked mentions and shares of the Hunter Biden story this week. Looking at the firehose of Twitter shares of the URL—including original tweets, retweets, and quote tweets—Zignal found a surge of shares immediately after Twitter instituted the block, jumping from about 5.5 thousand shares every 15 minutes to about 10 thousand. This doesn’t necessarily mean the block caused the explosion in interest, but the surge corresponds with a series of widely shared tweets from Trump supporters and conservatives accusing the platform of political censorship.

The New York Post story, which was blocked on Twitter for about a day, was shared 352,200 times on the platform. Facebook, meanwhile, didn’t block people from linking directly to the story, but did announce that it was treating it as questionable and would limit its reach until third-party fact checkers could examine it (this is a policy Facebook announced in 2019 as part of its plan to combat election misinformation). The story still had 324,000 shares there, not including those inside private groups. 

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Twitter’s Ban on a New York Post Story Stokes Paranoia

Last night, many hours after the ban, Twitter published some of its reasoning. It said the New York Post story fell under its “hacked materials” policy, created in 2018, which states: “We don’t permit the use of our services to directly distribute content obtained through hacking that contains private information, may put people in physical harm or danger, or contains trade secrets.” Twitter invoked the same policy in June to ban a group that leaked 270 gigabytes of police-department data. But it’s hard to see how linking to a news outlet would constitute “directly” distributing hacked content, or how Twitter would apply this interpretation of its own rules consistently, when plenty of legitimate journalism involves reporting on leaks and hacks of private information pertaining to public figures. It’s an arbitrary decision. (That said, some journalists have suggested that the hacked emails might have been planted by a foreign government, raising questions about whether Twitter and other platforms can or will differentiate between government leaks with legitimate journalistic value and documents of questionable provenance distributed solely to sow discord.)

Twitter also said last night that the New York Post story contained images showing personal information like emails and phone numbers, which is an unusual journalistic practice, as well as a better reason to limit its spread—consistent with the company’s policy on doxing. The company should have and easily could have given such an explanation much sooner. But the temporarily blocked link on the House Judiciary Committee website does not contain the images in question, making that brief ban even more inscrutable.

Over the past year, as pandemic- and election-related misinformation has run rampant and violent subcultures have found mainstream support, major social platforms have felt public pressure to take responsibility for what spreads on their sites. That’s led Twitter to make rapid-fire decisions on issues it has hemmed and hawed about in the past. The company took a big step in May by fact-checking President Trump’s lies about mail-in voting, then went further by removing some of his more egregiously incorrect posts about COVID-19. Twitter has resisted calls throughout Trump’s presidency to penalize him for tweets threatening war or a renewed nuclear arms race, but recently added a warning label to a tweet in which he suggested that Black Lives Matter protesters should be met with state violence.

Twitter has made real strides to become a safer and more useful website, but the company’s choice to ban one link without a prompt, coherent explanation cheapens that progress. It sets a bizarre precedent, implying that the company might become an arbiter of journalistic rigor or public interest. It derails the conversation around platform accountability and offers free fodder to conspiracy theorists, many of whom were thrilled to have it. Limiting the spread of conspiracism has been a driving force behind many of Twitter’s moderation decisions this year. Letting unanswered questions swirl for hours around a politically charged controversy only had the opposite effect.

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Chadwick Boseman’s Final Tweet Is Twitter’s Most-Liked Post of All Time

August 31 (Variety) – The final tweet posted to Chadwick Boseman’sTwitteraccount is now the most-liked post in Twitter history.

The social media company made the announcement on Saturday afternoon, following theshocking death of Bosemanon Friday night due to colon cancer.

“Fans are coming together on Twitter to celebrate the life of Chadwick Boseman, and the tweet sent from his account last night is now the most liked tweet of all time on Twitter,” the company said in a statement.

Twitter also reinstated the “Black Panther” hashtag emoji in the wake of the star’s death.

“Fans are also working to organize ‘Black Panther’ Twitter watch parties using #BlackPanther and #WakandaForever, so Twitter has turned the original #BlackPanther emoji back on so fans can watch and talk about his legacy together,” Twitter said.

The tweet announcing Boseman’s death was posted at 10:11 p.m. on Friday, and currently has more than 5.6 million likes and 2.9 million retweets at the time of this article’s publication.

“It is with immeasurable grief that we confirm the passing of Chadwick Boseman. Chadwick was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, and battled with it these last 4 years as it progressed to stage IV,” the tweet announced.

Previously, the most-liked tweet on Twitter was from former President Barack Obama, who shared the Nelson Mandela quote, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.” The tweet was posted on Aug. 12, 2017, the same day as the deadly Charlottesville, Va., car attack at a protest against white supremacists.

Obama’s former record-holding tweet has 4.3 million likes and 1.6 million retweets.

After Boseman’s death, Obama was one of thecountless people to post a tributeto the actor, who played Jackie Robinson in the film “42.”

“Chadwick came to the White House to work with kids when he was playing Jackie Robinson,” the former president wrote. “You could tell right away that he was blessed. To be young, gifted, and Black; to use that power to give them heroes to look up to; to do it all while in pain – what a use of his years.”

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How did Twitter’s hackers do it? Here’s one likely explanation

Cybersecurity experts are speculating about the cause of a spate of high-profile Twitter hijackings that rocked the social media giant on Wednesday.

The accounts of many of Twitter’s most prominent users including former Vice President Joe Biden, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates posted fraudulent tweets intended to lure people into Bitcoin-related scams.

Early theories about what went wrong suggested the work of SIM swapping, a hacking technique that involves taking over phone numbers linked to online accounts. Last year, a hacker group employed the method to commandeer Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s personal Twitter account.

While the technical details of the latest breach remain unclear, the growing consensus is that Twitter—the company, rather than individual users impacted—succumbed to a major hack. The leading theory is that hackers gained access to an internal tool—an administrative “panel” used by Twitter employees to manage people’s accounts—to conduct the breach.

Screenshots of the purported panel circulated online in the aftermath of the hacking, as Vice Motherboard reported. Twitter has deleted the images, saying they violate the company’s rules about sharing “private, personal information” in tweets.

A source with intimate knowledge of the company’s internal workings told Fortune this theory was the likeliest explanation for the widespread account hijackings. The individual requested anonymity because of a lack of authorization to speak to press.

“Think of this like a web form,” the source said, describing Twitter’s technical infrastructure. Such tools enable the company’s engineers to handle key operations—everything from account suspensions to advertising campaigns.

But these tools can also allow an attacker—such as a rogue, hacked or otherwise comprised insider—to “come in sideways” and send a tweet from any account, the source said.

Twitter did not respond to Fortune’s questions about the hack, and instead pointed to its public comments. In those comments, the company described the event as “a security incident” and said it had temporarily disabled tweets and password resets by “verified” accounts while attempting to regain control, an unprecedented measure.

It’s unclear who’s behind the hacking. The perpetrators may have at least been partly motivated by money, given their public posts requesting that Twitter users send them cryptocurrency.

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