Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Hunter Biden’s laptop

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Mike Masnick has an interesting and detailed post on Techdirt that begins:

Hello! Someone has referred you to this post because you’ve said something quite wrong about Twitter and how it handled something to do with Hunter Biden’s laptop. If you’re new here, you may not know that I’ve written a similar post for people who are wrong about Section 230. If you’re being wrong about Twitter and the Hunter Biden laptop, there’s a decent chance that you’re also wrong about Section 230, so you might want to read that too! Also, these posts are using a format blatantly swiped from lawyer Ken “Popehat” White, who wrote one about the 1st Amendment. Honestly, you should probably read that one too, because there’s some overlap.

Now, to be clear, I’ve explained many times before, in other posts, why people who freaked out about how Twitter handled the Hunter Biden laptop story are getting confused, but it’s usually been a bit buried. I had already started a version of this post last week, since people keep bringing up Twitter and the laptop, but then on Friday, Elon (sorta) helped me out by giving a bunch of documents to reporter Matt Taibbi.

So, let’s review some basics before we respond to the various wrong statements people have been making. Since 2016, there have been concerns raised about how foreign nation states might seek to interfere with elections, often via the release of hacked or faked materials. It’s no secret that websites have been warned to be on the lookout for such content in the leadup to the election — not with demands to suppress it, but just to consider how to handle it.

Partly in response to that, social media companies put in place various policies on how they were going to handle such material. Facebook set up a policy to limit certain content from trending in its algorithm until it had been reviewed by fact-checkers. Twitter put in place a “hacked materials” policy, which forbade the sharing of leaked or hacked materials. There were — clearly! — some potential issues with that policy. In fact, in September of 2020 (a month before the NY Post story) we highlighted the problems of this very policy, including somewhat presciently noting the fear that it would be used to block the sharing of content in the public interest and could be used against journalistic organizations (indeed, that case study highlights how the policy was enforced to ban DDOSecrets for leaking police chat logs).

The morning the NY Post story came out there was a lot of concern about the validity of the story. Other news organizations, including Fox News, had refused to touch it. NY Post reporters refused to put their name on it. There were other oddities, including the provenance of the hard drive data, which apparently had been in Rudy Giuliani’s hands for months. There were concerns about how the data was presented (specifically how the emails were converted into images and PDFs, losing their header info and metadata).

The fact that, much later on, many elements of the laptops history and provenance were confirmed as legitimate (with some open questions) is important, but does not change the simple fact that the morning the NY Post story came out, it was extremely unclear (in either direction) except to extreme partisans in both camps.

Based on that, both Twitter and Facebook reacted somewhat quickly. Twitter implemented its hacked materials policy in exactly the manner that we had warned might happen a month earlier: blocking the sharing of the NY Post link. Facebook implemented other protocols, “reducing its distribution” until it had gone through a fact check. Facebook didn’t ban the sharing of the link (as Twitter did), but rather limited the ability for it to “trend” and get recommended by the algorithm until fact checkers had reviewed it.

To be clear, the decision by Twitter to do this was, in our estimation, pretty stupid. It was exactly what we had warned about just a month earlier regarding this exact policy. But this is the nature of trust & safety. People need to make very rapid decisions with very incomplete information. That’s why I’ve argued ever since then that while the policy was stupid, it was no giant scandal that it happened, and given everything, it was not a stretch to understand how it played out.

Also, importantly, the very next day Twitter . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 December 2022 at 12:45 pm

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