Twitter’s handling of the Biden laptop story put the Internet’s existence at risk

  • Twitter’s decision to shut down stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop drew bipartisan criticism.
  • Although the laptop has been authenticated, some reports about its contents have not been confirmed.
  • Since then, some MPs have called for the repeal of Article 230 of the law “creating the Internet”.

Fresh has been published Internal communications surrounding Twitter’s decision to shut down a New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop in late 2020 revealed widespread bipartisan criticism of the social platform’s decision. The criticism has since fueled a movement to repeal Section 230, which could change the Internet forever.

Matt Taibbi writes Friday’s Substack newsletter “TK News”. posted a tweet the so-called “Twitter Files,” which contain screenshots of internal correspondence related to the social platform’s content moderation system. In a note to his readers on Substack, Taibbi wrote that he had to “agree to certain conditions” in order to publish the files, though he didn’t say what those conditions were.

When reached by phone, Taibbi declined to comment to Insider.

Much of Taibbi’s thread focused on Twitter’s handling of the New York Post’s October 2020 story about Hunter Biden’s laptop, which the Post reported was left at a Delaware repair shop. Initial reports of the laptop were met with skepticism by social media platforms — which faced heavy criticism for content moderation after the 2016 controversy over Hillary Clinton’s emails — and warnings from law enforcement agencies about disinformation campaigns spread through social apps. .

Representatives for Elon Musk and Twitter did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself confirmed in an interview with Joe Rogan in August that his platforms blocked reports about Hunter Biden’s laptop before the 2020 election, saying it “fits the pattern” of misinformation recommended by the FBI to Facebook. While the laptop and some of its contents have been confirmed to belong to Biden, some reports about its contents have not been confirmed.

The documents published by Taibbi focused on internal discussions among Twitter staff about the laptop story and the decision to slow its arrival on the platform and label it using the platform’s “hacked content” policy. At the time, the veracity of the report was questioned, and it was unclear whether the material reported to be on the laptop was obtained legally, although critics questioned why Twitter chose to withhold the material.

“I say this as a full-fledged Biden partisan, and I’m sure he’s done nothing wrong.” Taibbi informed Rep. Ro Khanna wrote in an email to Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal at the time. “But the story has now become about censorship rather than relatively innocuous emails, and it’s become a bigger deal than it would have been. It’s also now leading to serious efforts to cut back section 230 — much of which would be wrong.”

Section 230 is a section of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which its advocates call “the most important law protecting Internet speech.” The 26-word phrase “the creator of the internet” limits legal liability for technology platforms that host user-generated content – ​​in other words, a social media platform like Twitter cannot be held legally responsible for any illegal content posted by its users.

The section states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be deemed a publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Tech companies see the potential backlash as a threat to free speech that would force smaller web hosts to shut down their sites or risk legal liability for what their users write.

Khanna’s representatives did not respond to questions about the congressman’s current position on whether to repeal Article 230.

“I believe our Constitution and First Amendment are sacred,” California Rep. Hanna said in an emailed statement to Insider. “As a congressman representing Silicon Valley, I felt that Twitter’s actions were a violation of First Amendment principles, which is why I raised these concerns. Our democracy can only thrive if we are open to the marketplace of ideas and engage with those with whom we disagree.”

Khanna wasn’t alone in criticizing Twitter’s move — the site’s former head of trust and security has since said it was a mistake. Taibbi informed Nine Republicans and three Democrats polled by a research firm in 2020 also disapproved of the decision — and bipartisan calls to reform or repeal Section 230 have grown since the Hunter Biden laptop story.

Senator Lindsey Graham: “I am more determined than ever to repeal Section 230 protections that give Big Tech (Twitter) immunity from suing them” he tweeted In January 2021, a few months after the Hunter Biden story broke and shortly after he introduced legislation to repeal Section 230. “Big Tech is virtually the only company in America that has absolute immunity from being sued for its actions, and that’s only granted by Congress. They protect them.”

After adding warning labels about mail-in voting to several of the platform’s tweets, Donald Trump has made Section 230 a central issue of his presidency, calling Twitter “selective censorship.” In the final weeks of his presidency, Trump vetoed a $740 billion defense bill, in part because it did not repeal Section 230.

Republican criticism of Section 230 often centers around allegations that tech platforms censor conservative views, while Democratic critics say the law leaves social media companies unable to do more to fight hate speech and misinformation.

“I urge Congress to get rid of special immunity for social media companies and impose stronger transparency requirements on all of them,” Biden said earlier this year, calling for Section 230 to be repealed.

If Section 230 is repealed, free-speech advocates worry that the digital landscape would change dramatically—by forcing website owners to take responsibility for the content posted on their sites, while moderators would likely end up sharply limiting what users are allowed to post, eliminating potential legal risk. by turning it off completely.

“Repealing Section 230 is a drastic step that would upend the Internet, punishing successful firms and Internet users for the behavior of an antisocial minority,” Cato Institute policy analyst Will Duffield wrote in an essay. “Putting legal liability on platforms will not make them more thoughtful or fair. It will cause some to shut down and others to exclude the most offensive sentiments.”

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