Ex-Twitter Execs: No Pressure to Block Hunter-Laptop Story

'The decisions here aren’t straightforward, and hindsight is 20/20,' says Yoel Roth
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 8, 2023 4:27 PM CST
Ex-Twitter Execs Deny Pressure to Block Hunter-Laptop Story
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene holds up a tweet during a House Committee on Oversight and Accountability hearing, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, in Washington.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Former Twitter executives conceded Wednesday they made a mistake by blocking a story about Hunter Biden, the president’s son, from the social media platform in the run-up to the 2020 election—but they adamantly denied Republican assertions they were pressured by Democrats and law enforcement to suppress the story. "The decisions here aren’t straightforward, and hindsight is 20/20," Yoel Roth, Twitter's former head of trust and safety, testified to Congress. "It isn't obvious what the right response is to a suspected, but not confirmed, cyberattack by another government on a presidential election." He added: "Twitter erred in this case because we wanted to avoid repeating the mistakes of 2016."

The three former executives appeared before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee to testify for the first time about the company’s decision to initially block from Twitter a New York Post article in October 2020 about the contents of a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden. Emboldened by Twitter's new leadership in billionaire Elon Musk—whom they see as more sympathetic to conservatives than the company's previous administration—Republicans used the hearing to push their long-standing theory that social media companies including Twitter are biased against them, the AP reports.

Committee Chairman Rep. James Comer said the hearing is the panel's "first step in examining the coordination between the federal government and Big Tech to restrict protected speech and interfere in the democratic process." The witnesses Republicans subpoenaed were Roth, Vijaya Gadde, Twitter's former chief legal officer, and James Baker, the company's former deputy general counsel. Democrats brought a witness of their own, Anika Collier Navaroli, a former employee with Twitter's content moderation team. She testified last year to the House committee that investigated the Jan. 6 Capitol riot about Twitter's preferential treatment of Donald Trump until it banned the then-president from the site two years ago.

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The hearing is the GOP's opening act into what lawmakers promise will be a widespread investigation into President Biden and his family, with the tech companies another prominent target of their oversight efforts. The Post reported weeks before the 2020 presidential election that it had received from Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, a copy of a hard drive from a laptop that Hunter Biden had dropped off 18 months earlier at a Delaware computer repair shop and never retrieved. Twitter blocked people from sharing links to the story for several days. The story was greeted at the time with skepticism due to questions about the laptop’s origins, including Giuliani’s involvement, and because top officials in the Trump administration had already warned that Russia was working to denigrate Joe Biden before the election. (More Twitter stories.)

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