Social media giant Twitter on Friday said it will change its policy on hacked content, after an outcry from the Right over an unverified political story published in the conservative-leaning New York Post on United States presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden. Twitter’s current policy does not allow the distribution of content obtained through hacking.

Hunter Biden had allegedly sent emails about Biden’s connection with a Ukrainian gas company. The emails were discovered by President Donald Trump’s allies.

But Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey tweeted that it was unacceptable that the company had not provided more context to users for its action. Subsequently, on Friday, the company’s head of legal, policy, trust and safety Vijaya Gadde said in a Twitter thread that the company will no longer remove hacked materials unless it is shared directly by hackers or by those working with them.

“We want to address the concerns that there could be many unintended consequences to journalists, whistleblowers and others in ways that are contrary to Twitter’s purpose of serving the public conversation,” she said. She said that tweets will instead be labelled to provide context.

Trump had also criticised Twitter’s action. “So terrible that Facebook and Twitter took down the story of ‘Smoking Gun’ emails related to Sleepy Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in the NYPost,” he tweeted. “It is only the beginning for them. There is nothing worse than a corrupt politician.”

The story

The New York Post article is based on alleged emails given to the lawyer of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney. The emails, the report claimed, came from data recovered from a laptop and hard drive left by Hunter Biden at a repair shop in Delaware in April 2019. The unidentified shop owner reportedly told the newspaper he copied the hard drive and gave the machine to federal authorities after the computer seemed to have been forgotten.

The article claimed that Joe Biden had met with an adviser to a Ukrainian energy company, on whose board Hunter Biden served. “Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad,” the newspaper’s headline read.

The story cited an email by Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of the energy company, Burisma, to Hunter Biden on April 17, 2015, thanking him for “giving an opportunity to meet your father” and to spend “some time together”. The newspaper claimed that this communication contradicted the statements made by Joe Biden that he had never spoken to his son about his business dealings when he was in charge of the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy. However, it is not clear when the meeting was scheduled or whether it ever happened.

Twitter and Facebook actions

On Wednesday, Twitter said the story violated its “hacked materials” policy, and containing private information or trade secrets, or puts people at risk of physical harm. “The images contained in the articles include personal and private information like email addresses and phone numbers which violate our rules,” it tweeted.

Facebook limited the spread of the story hours after it was published. Andy Stone, a spokesperson for Facebook, said the company can temporarily take action against content pending review by news organisations and others in its third-party fact-checking programme to curb the spread of misinformation.

“We put the Hacked Materials Policy in place back in 2018 to discourage and mitigate harms associated with hacks and unauthorized exposure of private information,” Gadde said on Friday. “We tried to find the right balance between people’s privacy and the right of free expression, but we can do better.”