Twitter claimed it was reversing course late Thursday and would no longer forbid users from tweeting links to websites containing hacked material—so long as the hackers themselves weren’t the ones doing the sharing. “We will no longer remove hacked content unless it is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them,” said Twitter general counsel Vijaya Gadde.
The decision—a response to the conservative uproar over the blocking of an unverified, self-contradictory, and error-filled smear piece about a presidential candidate weeks before an election—would have brought Twitter’s policies more in line with how U.S. law treats journalists who republish stolen material; which is to say, it generally (but not always) protects their right to do so, provided they aren’t involved in the actual theft.
Unfortunately, it turns out Twitter’s decision to abolish the rule is being unequally applied, which is also sort of fitting. The rule itself was never fairly administered. The best obvious example of Twitter selectively enforcing the rule is WikiLeaks, which exists solely to publish stolen secrets; many, if not most, pilfered electronically.
If a reporter had emailed a Twitter spokesperson last week asking if the platforms bans accounts that disseminate hacked emails, the spokesperson would have said “yes, we do,” and offered a link to the company’s rules. But if the same reporter then asked, “Well, what about all those stolen Democratic emails from 2016?” the spokesperson would have quietly backed away from their keyboard and maybe gone outside for a smoke.
This is exactly how Twitter responded to me in June when it decided to prevent users from sharing links to the website ddosecrets.com. The website, run by a handful of journalists and transparency activists operating under the name DDoSecrets, is still banned by Twitter, even though CEO Jack Dorsey has claimed doing so is “wrong.” (Go ahead and try to tweet it yourself.) Twitter also banned the @DDoSecrets account, and it remains banned today.
Twitter took aggressive action against DDoSecrets for publishing one of the largest repositories of leaked U.S. law enforcement files—some 270-gigabytes worth of documents from more than 200 police departments dating as far back as 1996. A decent portion, comprising things like outdated training manuals and old FBI bulletins, are completely benign, if not objectively boring.
After the announcement by Twitter on Thursday, I reached out to ask why the @DDoSecrets account was still suspended and why users are still banned from posting links to its website. Twitter did not respond. Not even to tell me it was “working on it.”
I also asked why Twitter had banned users from tweeting links to another of DDoSecrets’ websites, AssangeLeaks.org, which doesn’t actually contain any stolen or hacked material. According to Lorax Horne, the site’s editor, Twitter banned the URL when the page displayed nothing but a countdown clock. Today it only offers links to 10-year-old chat logs—potentially evidence the U.S. government is using in WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s extradition case.
“No, they were not hacked,” Horne said of the chat logs. To no avail, DDoSecrets has filed multiple appeals seeking clarification on how Twitter’s rules are enforced.
“They blocked our whole fucking website and every subsequent website we published,” said Horne. “Reddit also blocks our URL, now. But Twitter blocked us first, so get a special trophy.”
Twitter’s silence is presumably the result of having already gotten what it wanted: A slew of headlines this morning declaring something that is just patently untrue.
This story will be updated if we hear back from Twitter.