Ex-Twitter executives to testify in Congress on handling of Hunter Biden laptop reporting

<span>Photo: Mike Blake/Reuters</span>” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/3aE91qGGZiCEQICNL8uDbA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQ3MA–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/the_guardian_765/ec964219ee91c5a7ca964fcd22904cb5″ data-src=” “https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/3aE91qGGZiCEQICNL8uDbA–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTQ3MA–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/the_guardian_765/ec964219ee91c5a7ca964fcd22904cb5″/></div>
<p><figcaption class=Photo: Mike Blake/Reuters

Former senior employees at Twitter began testifying before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday about the social media platform’s handling of reporting about Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden.

The hearing has set the stage for the agenda of a newly Republican-controlled House, underscoring its intention to address longstanding and unsubstantiated claims that major tech platforms have an anti-conservative bias.

Related: Republicans Targeting Hunter Biden Say: ‘I’m Not Targeting Individuals’

Recently departed Twitter employees who are speaking out include Vijaya Gadde, the social network’s former chief legal officer, former vice president James Baker, former head of security and integrity Yoel Roth and former head of security Anika Collier Navaroli.

The hearing centers on an issue that has long dogged Republicans — why Twitter decided to temporarily limit sharing of a New York Post story about Hunter Biden published in October 2020.

The Post said it received a copy of a laptop hard drive from Donald Trump’s then-personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, that Hunter Biden had dropped off 18 months earlier at a computer repair shop in Delaware and never retrieved. Twitter initially blocked people from sharing links to the article for several days, citing concerns about misinformation and spreading a report based on potentially hacked material.

“Americans deserve answers about this attack on the First Amendment and why big tech and the swamp colluded to censor this information about the Biden family selling access for profit,” said Republican committee chairman James Comer ahead of the hearing, referring to Trump’s characterization of the Democratic political establishment as a swamp. “Accountability is coming,” he added.

In opening statements Wednesday, the former Twitter employees described the process by which the story was blocked, saying it triggered Twitter’s rules against sharing hacked material. The article had been met with skepticism due to questions about the laptop’s origins and Twitter policy restricting the sharing of illegally accessed material. While the company expressly allowed “reporting of a hack or sharing of press coverage of hacking,” it blocked stories that shared “personal and private information — such as email addresses and phone numbers” — which the Post story appeared to include. The platform changed these rules after the Biden controversy.

Roth, the former head of safety and integrity, said Twitter had acknowledged it was a mistake to censor the story.

“Defending free speech and maintaining the health of the platform required difficult judgments,” he said. “There is no easy way to operate a global communications platform that meets business and revenue goals, individual customer expectations, local laws and cultural norms and get it right every time.”

Months later, then-Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey called the company’s communications surrounding the Post article “not great.” He added that blocking the article’s URL with “zero context” about why it was blocked was “unacceptable”.

Elon Musk, who bought the company last year, has since shared a series of internal records showing how the company stopped the story from being shared in the first place, citing pressure from the Biden administration in part.

Republican theories that Democrats are colluding with big tech to suppress conservative speech have become a hot-button issue in Washington with congressmen by means of various technical consultations to grill leaders. But experts say there have been allegations of anti-conservative bias disproved by independent researchers.

“What we’ve seen time and time again is companies de-platforming people who spread racism and conspiracy theories in violation of company rule,” said Jessica J González, co-chief executive officer of the civil rights group Free Press.

“The fact that these people are disproportionately Republican has nothing to do with it,” she added. “This is about right or wrong, not left or right.”

Musk’s decision to release information about the history of the laptop comes after he allowed the return of high-profile individuals banned for spreading misinformation and engaging in hate speech, including the former president. The executive have shared and engaged in conspiracy theories on his personal account.

The White House has tried to discredit the Republican investigation into Hunter Biden, calling them “political stunts divorced from reality”. Nevertheless, Republicans now have subpoena power in the House, giving them the authority to compel testimony and conduct an aggressive investigation.

In opening statements at Wednesday’s hearing, Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland expressed frustration that the first technology-focused panel of the session is focused on the Hunter Biden story, which he called a “faux scandal.” He said that under the First Amendment, private companies are free to decide what is allowed on their platforms.

“Silly doesn’t even begin to capture this obsession,” he said of the laptop story. “What’s more, Twitter’s editorial decision has been analyzed and debated ad nauseam. Some people think it was the right decision. Some people think it was the wrong decision. But the most important thing here is that it was Twitter’s decision.”

Online advocacy groups and major tech watchdogs have said the focus on alleged anti-conservative bias by social media companies has served as a distraction from legitimate concerns, delaying the chance for useful legislation to address issues such as misinformation, antitrust concerns and online hate speech .

“The fact that this is the very first tech hearing of this Congress says something,” González said. “There are real problems that people face across the political spectrum because of big technology and lack of regulation. But instead we get a huge waste of time and a political stunt. The focus of Congress should be to serve those people , who elected them to office.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button