Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s former legal chief, told Congressional lawmakers that the extended lock on The New York Post’s account over the Hunter Biden’s laptop report was a mistake.
Gadde, who lost her job at Twitter after Elon Musk took over, told the House Oversight and Accountability Committee on Feb. 8 that she approved the decision to block the Post’s report about the contents of the Hunter Biden laptop but that the suspension should have been lifted sooner.
Reading from a prepared opening statement, Gadde said Twitter blocked tweets containing the Post’s October 2020 article based on a 2018 company policy on hacked materials.
Twitter executives have said before that the decision to block retweets of the article were based on Twitter’s policy about hacked materials amid concerns that the information from the laptop may have been obtained through hacking.
Republicans have alleged that Twitter staff were politically biased against former President Donald Trump and were happy to use the hacked materials policy, as well as a warning from the FBI about the threat of Russian disinformation circulating ahead of the 2020 election, as an excuse to censor the laptop story.
The New York Post’s story titled “Smoking-gun Email Reveals How Hunter Biden Introduced Ukrainian Businessman to VP Dad” was published on Oct. 14, 2020.
Twitter first prevented sharing of the story for 24 hours before reversing the decision. However, the story did not circulate on the platform for weeks because of a policy requiring the original poster to delete and repost the original tweet.
In general, Gadde defended the approach to content decisions, saying that internal deliberations around Twitter’s application of moderation rules were “fact-intensive, subject to internal debate, and needed to be made very quickly.
“We recognized that after applying our rules, we might learn that some of them did not work as we imagined and that we would need to update them,” she said, adding that the Twitter team “always remained open to new information” emerging about content decisions and to revising its policies and “at times, we also reversed course.”
Gadde then delved into the specifics of the New York Post’s October story about the Hunter Biden laptop.
She told lawmakers that images of content from the laptop that were featured in the article “looked like they may have been obtained through hacking” when Twitter staff reviewed them and that the decision to block its spread was based on the 2018 policy that she said was designed to prevent Twitter from “becoming a dumping ground for hacked materials.”
“We applied this policy to The New York Post’s tweets and blocked links to the articles embedding those source materials.”
“At no point did Twitter otherwise prevent tweeting, reporting, discussing, or describing the contents of Mr. Biden’s laptop,” she continued. “People could and did talk about the contents of the laptop on Twitter or anywhere else, including much larger platforms but they were prevented from sharing the primary documents on Twitter.”
“Still, over the course of that day, it became clear that Twitter had not fully appreciated the impact of that policy on free press and others,” she said.
Gadde said Twitter then changed the policy within 24 hours and “admitted its initial action was wrong.”
“This policy revision immediately allowed people to tweet the original articles with the embedded source materials,” she said.
“Relying on its longstanding practice not to retroactively apply new policies, Twitter informed the New York Post that it could immediately begin tweeting when it deleted the original tweets, which would have freed them to retweet the same content again,” she continued.
“The New York Post chose not to delete its original tweets. So Twitter made an exception after two weeks to retroactively apply the new policy to the Post’s tweets. In hindsight Twitter should have reinstated the post account immediately,” she said.
Gadde defended the Twitter team’s decisions and actions around the Hunter Biden laptop story, insisting there was no way to take account of various competing views and stakeholder interests in content-related decisions and “get it right every time.”
The Committee called the hearing to investigate the circumstances around Twitter’s decision to block the spread of the Hunter Biden laptop article, which came just weeks before the 2020 election.
Republicans have alleged that this amounted to election meddling, with some polls indicating that if people had been aware of the laptop’s contents they wouldn’t have voted for President Joe Biden.
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, alleged a broader conspiracy to bury the story.
“America witnessed a coordinated campaign by social media companies, mainstream news, and the intelligence community to suppress and de-legitimize the existence of Hunter Biden’s laptop and its contents,” Comer said at the hearing.
Twitter’s former chief executive officer, Jack Dorsey, told lawmakers in prior testimony that the company was wrong to suppress the laptop story.
Besides Gadde, former Twitter deputy counsel James Baker and former Twitter Head of Trust and Safety Yoel Roth sat for the hearing.
‘You Guys Got Played’
The former executives testified that their decision to block the article was in part informed by FBI warnings about a possible Russian disinformation campaign ahead of the 2020 election.
At the same time, they insisted that the government had not directly pressured Twitter to suppress the story, which is something Republicans have alleged.
The FBI told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that it had only issued general warnings to Twitter about the threat of foreign election meddling but hadn’t made any specific requests to take action on content.
The Twitter Files disclosures paint a slightly different picture. In one of the installments of the Twitter Files, independent journalist Michael Shellenberger cited email exchanges as evidence that the FBI had pressured Twitter to discredit the laptop story.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said at the hearing he thinks Twitter executives were looking for a pretext to censor the article before the election because they were biased against former President Donald Trump.
Jordan cited a tweet from one executive that compared members of the Trump administration to “Nazis.”
“I think you guys got played,” Jordan said, adding, “I think you guys wanted to take it down. I think you guys got played by the FBI.”
Baker testified that he was not aware of any “unlawful collusion with, or direction from, any government agency or political campaign on how Twitter should have handled the Hunter Biden laptop situation.”
At the hearing, Roth said the company had to make a quick decision about whether to let users share the laptop story which they mistakenly thought contained hacked material.
“In 2020, Twitter noticed activity related to the laptop that at first glance bore a lot of similarities to the 2016 Russian hacking leak operation targeting the DNC. And we had to decide what to do. And in that moment, with limited information, Twitter made a mistake,” he said.
From The Epoch Times