It was a mistake for Twitter to censor the story about Hunter Biden’s laptop in the weeks leading to the 2020 presidential election, the company’s former Trust and Safety Department head said on Tuesday.
Yoel Roth, who resigned earlier this month in the wake of Elon Musk’s takeover as Twitter’s new chief executive, has been blamed for censoring a New York Post article about emails retrieved from a laptop once owned by Hunter Biden.
Those emails, according to the Post, showed a direct link then-presidential candidate Joe Biden had with his son’s dubious business dealings in China and Ukraine. Shortly after the story’s publication, Twitter not only prohibited users from sharing it, but also suspended the Post’s account for two weeks.
Users who tried to share the link to the article were greeted with a message saying, “We can’t complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful.” Those who tried to open the link in existing posts were also warned that it was “potentially spammy and unsafe.”
In his first public appearance since parting with Twitter, Roth tried to shift the blame, claiming that the story was too difficult for Twitter to verify its authenticity.
“We didn’t know what to believe. We didn’t know what was true. There was smoke,” Roth said during an interview at the Knight Foundation conference. “And ultimately for me, it didn’t reach a place where I was comfortable removing this content from Twitter.”
“It set off every single one of my finely tuned APT28 ‘hack and leak campaign’ alarm bells,” he said, referring to a notorious team of cyberspies affiliated with Russian military intelligence. “Everything about it looked like a hack and leak.”
When asked whether if it was a mistake to censor the story, Roth replied, “In my opinion, yes.”
The same reasoning has been used by former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who told the U.S. Congress in October 2020 that the company wasn’t sure whether the materials featured in the Post story were from a hack. The story “showed the direct materials and screenshots of the materials and it’s unclear how they were obtained,” Dorsey said at that time.
Roth’s confession come as Twitter’s new leadership prepares to publicize records related to the decision.
“The Twitter Files on free speech suppression soon to be published on Twitter itself. The public deserves to know what really happened,” Elon Musk wrote on Monday. “This is a battle for the future of civilization. If free speech is lost even in America, tyranny is all that lies ahead.”
Ever since his takeover of Twitter, Musk has been repeatedly called on to disclosure on Twitter’s censorship of the Post’s story. In October, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, asked that Musk provide relevant information to help the investigation into “the Biden family’s pattern of influence peddling to enrich themselves and President Biden’s involvement in these schemes.”
“As part of this investigation, Committee Republicans are reviewing the role Big Tech—including Twitter—played in supporting the Biden campaign in 2020 by suppressing certain stories implicating the Bidens,” Comer wrote in an Oct. 28 letter (pdf) to Musk.
“We believe open communication and access to information is a fundamental principle for any free people, and the American people deserve to know the reason Twitter suppressed or censored the Biden laptop story shortly before the 2020 election.”