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Twitter has taken another step back from its initial decision to block users from sharing links to or images of a New York Post story reporting on emails and other data supposedly originating on a laptop belonging to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's son, Hunter.
The story, which alleged that Hunter Biden had set up a meeting between a Ukrainian energy firm and his father back when Biden was vice president, looked shaky from the start, and more holes have emerged over time. Both Facebook and Twitter took action to slow its spread — but Twitter seemed to take the more aggressive stance, not just limiting reach but actually blocking links.
These moves have drawn a range of criticism. There have been predictable cries of censorship from Republican politicians and pundits, but there have also been suggestions that Facebook and Twitter inadvertently drew more attention to the story. And even Twitter's CEO Jack Dorsey suggested that it was "unacceptable" to block links in DMs without an explanation.
Casey Newton, on the other hand, argued that the platforms had successfully slowed the story's spread: "The truth had time to put its shoes on before Rudy Giuliani’s shaggy-dog story about a laptop of dubious origin made it all the way around the world."
Twitter initially justified its approach by citing its hacked materials policy, then later said it was blocking the Post article for including "personal and private information — like email addresses and phone numbers — which violate our rules."
The controversy did prompt Twitter to revise its hacked materials policy, so that content and links obtained through dubious means will now come with a label, rather than being removed entirely, unless it's being shared directly by hackers or those "acting in concert with them."
And now, as first reported by The New York Times, Twitter is also allowing users to share links to the Post story itself (something I've confirmed through my own Twitter account).
Why the reversal? Again, the official justification for blocking the link was to prevent the spread of private information, so the company said that the story has now spread so widely, online and in the press, that the information can no longer be considered private.