“These materials may have been obtained through hacking,” reads the disclaimer affixed to a tweet linking to a story from independent news outlet, The Grayzone.
The tweet was originally posted on Feb. 20. However, three days later, users began to notice the label added to The Grayzone’s tweet. (It is not yet clear when exactly the label appeared.)
Furthermore, readers discovered that an extra step was added when trying to retweet posts linking to The Grayzone’s story: A pop-up appeared reiterating the warning label and asking users to “help keep Twitter a place for reliable info.”
A link is included which forwards users to Twitter’s “distribution of hacked materials” policy.
The Grayzone’s story sources recently hacked and leaked documents which allegedly show that the BBC and Reuters participated in a program created by the UK government to “weaken Russia’s state influence.”
This appears to be the first instance of Twitter using this particular warning label on an English-language outlet. A search on the platform found one other instance of a version of the “hacked materials” warning label being used. This one was stamped on an Italian outlet’s tweet regarding Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in January.
“These materials may have been obtained through hacking or may be manipulated,” reads the earlier warning label on the tweet, which is in Italian.
Mashable has reached out to Twitter for more information. The new warning label comes after Twitter’s controversial decision to block links to a New York Post story in October 2020, which included material from a laptop belonging to President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. Twitter was roundly criticized across the political spectrum for the action it took when the story was published and shared on its platform.
In response, Twitter updated its policies surrounding “hacked materials” and unblocked links to the story. This new warning label is clearly a new approach to flagging news stories which are based on hacks and leaked documents.
It should be stressed again that these warning labels are being added to tweets sharing links to news stories based on hacked materials, not tweets sharing raw leaked or stolen materials themselves.
However, some Twitter users have pointed out that the New York Times story on Ted Cruz’s trip to Cancun was based on leaked text messages from the senator’s wife. Yet, they point out, there is no warning label placed on tweets linking to that story even though it appears to fall under Twitter’s own “distribution of hacked materials” policy.
Twitter also uses its warning labels feature to inform users about misinformation spreading on its platform. While this was a helpful service amid all the lies and disinformation campaigns surrounding the 2020 U.S. presidential election, it’s not clear if this translates to “hacked materials.”
Debunked claims are proven to be false. However, the same cannot be said outright for “hacked materials.” In fact, some of the most important journalism of just this past decade was done with documents that would fall under Twitter’s “hacked materials” policy.
Would the eye-opening “Collateral murder” video that was provided to Wikileaks in 2010 by Chelsea Manning have received a warning label? Would Twitter have warned users before retweeting the many crucial investigative pieces that came out of the NSA spying documents provided to multiple news outlets by Edward Snowden?
As Will Menaker of the podcast Chapo Trap House tweeted, these “hacked materials” warning labels may very well be construed by critics as “highlighting journalism that is especially important.”