How Twitter made the Hunter Biden email saga that much worse

The New York Post story on Wednesday that purported to show corrupt behavior on behalf of former Vice President Joe Biden was amplified, albeit inadvertently, by the actions of Twitter.

The story, which claimed that emails from a water-damaged laptop belonging to Biden’s son Hunter proved that the former vice president had used his political status to enrich his family, spread quickly across social media thanks in part to private photos of Hunter that were also allegedly found on the laptop.

But the article immediately raised eyebrows given the mysterious origins of the laptop, which according to the Post, had been turned over to them by Rudy Giuliani.

The computer repairman, John Paul Isaac, had reportedly rifled through the laptop’s files after the individual who dropped them off (the employee could not be certain that it was in fact Hunter) failed to pick them up. Isaac then allegedly turned the laptop over to the FBI, but not before making a copy of the hard drive and handing it over to Giuliani’s lawyer.

The Post eventually learned of the laptop’s existence after being contacted by Steve Bannon. The Post was then put in contact with Giuliani, who handed over the laptop’s alleged data.

Numerous red flags have been raised given the individuals involved and the fact that the emails are presented as PDF files and images. Isaac, the computer repairman, also gave an interview to The Daily Beast in which he struggled to keep his facts straight.

While much of the data appears legitimate, such as the pictures of Hunter, it is still too early to determine the authenticity of the emails at the center of the story.

But the story didn’t truly blow up until Twitter, citing its policies on the distribution of hacked material, opted to block users from sharing the story altogether.

The action was immediately cited by conservative users as proof not only of Twitter’s political bias but of their efforts to interfere in the election in an effort to protect Biden.

The story, in other words, arguably gained even more prominence and attention than it ever would have had Twitter not opted to block its spread. Facebook also said it would limit the spread of the story until third-party fact-checkers vetted it.

The situation was only made worse when Twitter began limiting the accounts of users who shared the story, including White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany. President Donald Trump’s campaign’s official Twitter account, @TeamTrump, was also temporarily locked on Thursday morning after it posted a video that referred to the Post story.

The president lashed out in a series of tweets and later during a rally in Iowa on Wednesday.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey ultimately apologized on Wednesday for the company’s lack of transparency on the issue.

“Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great,” Dorsey said. “And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable.”

Twitter went on to state that the decision to block the article related to the fact that “personal and private information—like email addresses and phone numbers,” were included in the story.

“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,” Twitter said. “Our policy only covers links to or images of hacked material themselves.”

Questions were raised over the fact that no evidence suggested that the data had been obtained through hacking, although the rule may apply since the data was divulged without permission from its owner.

While Twitter’s intentions may have been pure, the blocking campaign has only served to boost the Post‘s article and long-standing calls by Republicans about anti-conservative bias at tech companies.

Senate Republicans have since asserted that the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on Tuesday to issue a subpoena to Dorsey. If approved, Dorsey will be required to testify next Friday, almost certainly ensuring that the Post‘s story will remain in the spotlight until the election.

Although the article is unlikely to change anyone’s mind on the upcoming election, it has served to hijack the public’s attention and further divide an already divided populace.


The Daily Dot’s 2020 election coverage

*First Published: Oct 15, 2020, 12:35 pm

Mikael Thalen

Mikael Thalen is a tech and security reporter based in Seattle, covering social media, data breaches, hackers, and more.

Mikael Thalen


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