Twitter Stands By, Lets OANN Link to Reporter's Phone Number, Encourage Users to Harass Her [Updated]

This July 9, 2019, file photo shows a sign outside of the Twitter office building in San Francisco.
This July 9, 2019, file photo shows a sign outside of the Twitter office building in San Francisco.
Photo: Associated Press (AP)

[Editor’s note: After publication, OANN’s tweet was deleted, six or so hours after being published. “This tweet violated the Twitter Rules,” a new message says. Our original story is below.]

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[Note 2: A Twitter spokesperson said: “We took action on the tweet you referenced for violating the Twitter rules on personal and private information.”]

More than four hours had passed after Twitter was notified on Thursday that a far-right news network was using its platform to encourage the harassment of a New York Times journalist, going as far as to provide its 1.5 million followers easy access to her cellphone number—a clear breach of Twitter’s private information policy, which has historically led to suspensions.

This time, however, Twitter froze like a deer staring down rapidly nearing headlights, unready or unwilling to budge.

Gizmodo reached out to a Twitter spokesperson roughly an hour after the account of One America News (OANN), a right-wing cable news channel, posted a link to the Times journalist’s phone number in a video encouraging viewers to harass her. OANN had first doxed the reporter in a televised segment, later posted to its website and tweeted out from its account.

Repeated attempts were made to get comment from Twitter—to ask specifically if it planned to suspend the account until the doxing tweet was deleted—but hours soon passed with no response. It seemed possible that Twitter was getting ready to, as they say, let shit slide. (A Twitter spokesperson did respond once hours before publication, but only to say: “I’ll come back to you shortly.” The company was informed of the time this article would go live.)

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OANN’s dox targeted a particular Times reporter seen reaching out to an OANN employee in screenshots aired on television. The screenshots showed the reporter requesting a chat with the employee via private message. “[T]rying to get a sense of the culture, what it’s like to work there, how the network has changed in recent years, etc.,” she said.

The private message also included the reporter’s work email address, which is public information, and her cell number, which OANN chose not to redact.

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“Journalists should be allowed to do their jobs without harassment. Our reporter will not be intimidated and will continue to follow the facts where they lead,” a New York Times spokesperson said.

Airing the reporter’s phone number was no mistake. The second time it was displayed to OANN’s TV audience—this time much larger on the screen—an anchor is heard saying: “We encourage our viewers to stand up to intimidation by the left and feel free to reach out to the Times writer.”

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The anchor characterized the Times reporter’s invitation to talk as part of a campaign of “harassment” by the “hate-filled liberal left.” Reaching out to the subject of a story, or seeking perspectives from employees at a company before writing about them, is not only a common journalistic practice, but normally a requirement for reporters working on a story.

None of the reporter’s messages aired by OANN could be objectively construed as “harassment.”

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OANN is a conservative outlet known for pushing widely debunked conspiracy theories about the Covid-19 pandemic, U.S. elections, and George Soros, the billionaire investor and Democratic donor. In a now-deleted tweet from 2019, OANN declared itself “one of” President Trump’s “GREATEST supporters.”

OANN did not respond to a request for comment submitted through its website.

Twitter has previously taken action against accounts for sharing links to stories that contain people’s private information, though it has so far chosen not to this time.

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In 2018, for example, Twitter suspended a slew of accounts after they tweeted a link to a blog providing readers with the cellphone number of then-White House adviser Stephen Miller. (Disclaimer: The blog was published by Splinter News, a now-defunct, left-leaning news site once owned by Univision, Gizmodo’s corporate owner from Aug. 2016 to April 2019.) The article generated considerably more buzz, having been titled: “Here’s Stephen Miller’s Cell Phone Number, If You Need It.”

A Twitter spokesperson told Fortune at the time that sharing a person’s cellphone number is against its rules, “including directly linking to that information.”

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At time of writing, the OANN tweet doxing the Times reporter had been live for nearly six and half hours.

Update, 9pm: The name of the Splinter article has been added for context.

Update, 9:40pm: Added a note that OANN’s tweet was deleted.

Update, 10:30pm: Added a statement from Twitter.

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Senior Reporter, Privacy & Security

DISCUSSION

mooseheadu
ArtistAtLarge

OAN is NOT far right, it is outright Russian propaganda, funded and created by Russia.

That it happens to present as far right is a choice they made because it is the most divisive and self destructive.

That ANYONE would think it has any legitimacy is beyond the pale.