'Insulting': Jack Dorsey Faces Backlash from Right-Wing Critics after Saying Twitter Shouldn't Have Blocked NY Post Article

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has said his company's blocking of an unverified New York Post article this week was "unacceptable," an excuse described as being "downright insulting" by Republican Senator Josh Hawley.

Dorsey responded to backlash received after his platform stopped users from sharing a story published yesterday that focused on emails the paper said were obtained from a laptop by way of attorney Rudy Giuliani and former Trump advisor Steve Bannon.

The unverified contents were characterized as including a "smoking gun" email showing a link between a Ukrainian energy firm and Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden, quickly raising red flags that it was part of a disinformation campaign.

In response to the story spreading across social media, Facebook and Twitter each took steps to limit its circulation, with Twitter citing a lack of "authoritative reporting."

Both platforms had previously pledged to clamp down on election misinformation in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, when Russia launched a coordinated influence scheme centered on the hacking and leaking of emails to damage a candidate.

While Facebook confirmed that it was reducing distribution of links to the New York Post story while it underwent third-party fact-checking, Twitter raised eyebrows by taking the aggressive approach of blocking all users from sharing the article via its website.

Wow. twitter going even further than FB and is no longer letting ppl tweet the NYPost story. This is what pops up if you try. https://t.co/YVlOTeF1iX pic.twitter.com/66kzYdwq21

— Alex Thompson (@AlxThomp) October 14, 2020

From Twitter re blocking the NY Post link. https://t.co/k908Xf1ODV pic.twitter.com/sOMS29lTfB

— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) October 14, 2020

The move sparked intense criticism for censoring a mainstream outlet, despite warnings from misinformation researchers that the timing of the claims was suspicious.

Dorsey appeared to concede the platform's strategy was wrong. "Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we're blocking: unacceptable," he said.

Dorsey's statement has since attracted a wave of criticism from right-wing personalities. "Resign. Commie Scum," wrote YouTuber and author Mark Dice. Political commentator Dave Rubin questioned if Twitter "shadowbans" users based on political beliefs.

Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable. https://t.co/v55vDVVlgt

— jack (@jack) October 14, 2020


— jack (@jack) October 15, 2020


— Mollie (@MZHemingway) October 15, 2020

Resign. Commie Scum.

— Mark Dice (@MarkDice) October 15, 2020

It was the lack of context that was the problem, not the censorship?

— Peter J. Hasson (@peterjhasson) October 15, 2020

Previously, users who tried to post the story on Twitter were met with the notice: "We can't complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful." If users tried to open links already on the social network they were met with a warning suggesting the link "may be unsafe."

The enforcement decision was seized upon by president Donald Trump yesterday, who said the move was "so terrible." Referencing his Democratic rival, the president tweeted: "There is nothing worse than a corrupt politician. REPEAL SECTION 230!!!"

Sen. Josh Hawley published four separate press releases this week calling for probes to be launched into Facebook and Twitter for restricting the article's spread.

He tweeted: "This is not nearly good enough. In fact, it's a joke. It's downright insulting. I will ask you... to give an explanation under oath to the Senate subcommittee I chair. These are potential violations of election law, and that's a crime." The politician called on the Federal Election Commission to open an investigation into the websites.

In a letter to the executives of Facebook and Twitter, he asserted the Post's story was a "bombshell report," accusing the platforms of "unprecedented suppression."

.@Twitter @jack this is not nearly good enough. In fact, it’s a joke. It’s downright insulting. I will ask you - and @Facebook - to give an explanation UNDER OATH to the Senate subcommittee I chair. These are potential violations of election law, and that’s a crime https://t.co/Rylva8UJv9

— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) October 15, 2020

Fox News political analyst Gregg Jarrett wrote: "Let me get this straight: The NY Times can post to Twitter & Facebook its story on Trump's taxes based on unnamed sources and documents it won't produce. But the NY Post cannot post its story on Biden based on documents it produced. Confused? Don't be. It's political censorship."

Trying to provide "much needed clarity" on the situation, Twitter's safety team released a statement that suggested the story was blocked because images had included some personal and private information, and violated a Hacked Materials Policy.

"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. Our policy only covers links to or images of hacked material themselves," it said.

"The policy, established in 2018, prohibits the use of our service to distribute content obtained without authorization. We don't want to incentivize hacking by allowing Twitter to be used as distribution for possibly illegally obtained materials.

"We know we have more work to do to provide clarity in our product when we enforce our rules in this manner. We should provide additional clarity and context when preventing the Tweeting or DMing of URLs that violate our policies. We recognize that Twitter is just one of many places where people can find information online, and the Twitter Rules are intended to protect the conversation on our service, and to add context to people's experience where we can."

As noted this morning, we also currently view materials included in the articles as violations of our Hacked Materials Policy.https://t.co/gCY4BnBHHa

— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) October 14, 2020

According to the New York Post, the emails were obtained from a laptop that was sent to a repair shop in Delaware in April 2019. It said the owner claimed he gave a copy of its hard drive to a lawyer of Rudy Giuliani, who provided a copy of the drive to the paper on Sunday. Its existence was raised by Bannon in September, it reported.

Despite the handling by the social media companies, researchers stressed the need for additional verification before covering the newspaper's story as fact.

"It is... an old Cold War disinformation tactic to pass information, especially but not exclusively when forged, to low-brow newspapers that have high circulation and low standards of investigation. Ideal for surfacing and amplification," political scientist Thomas Rid, of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said.

The New York Post editorial board released an opinion article yesterday which alleged: "Facebook and Twitter are not media platforms. They're propaganda machines."

The Biden campaign has firmly denied the newspaper's story is accurate. As one Biden adviser, Michael Carpenter, told Politico: "This is a Russian disinformation operation."

Jack Dorsey
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey speaks during a press event at CES 2019 at the Aria Resort & Casino on January 9, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Dorsey has said his company’s blocking of an unverified New York Post article this week was “unacceptable.” David Becker/Getty