Officials from the Biden administration claim the leaked Military documents offered crucial information about U.S. intelligence collecting operations, but Twitter and the social media network Discord removed them for various reasons.
Yet, it is unclear how, or even if, executives at those companies would choose to remove them due to gray areas in the rules and unequal enforcement. Some tweets containing papers from the Pentagon dated back to at least Wednesday, and they were still accessible on Saturday.
Elon Musk, who purchased Twitter over six months ago, has yet to respond to tweets containing sensitive information. Mr. Musk seemed to respond sarcastically to a tweet two days earlier regarding the stolen data. He wrote, “Yes, you can entirely remove stuff from the Internet — it works flawlessly and doesn’t draw attention to whatever you were attempting to hide at all.”
The Pentagon papers may have been circulating on Discord, a popular messaging site among video game players, as early as March. The spread of the Pentagon data would have been difficult to identify, given Discord chat groups (called servers) are not directly regulated by the corporation like a Facebook or Twitter feed.
Discord also declined to comment on Saturday, and Mr. Musk did not reply to requests for comment. It is unclear if the United States-based firms have been asked to delete the DoD files. Two former Twitter officials told The New York Times that the company may have previously removed the content due to rules prohibiting the publication and distribution of hacked files.
Tweets containing “real or synthesized hacked materials” would be deleted or labeled as such under this policy. It’s possible that some of the Pentagon content making the rounds on the internet has been doctored. Nonetheless, Twitter’s regulations were not without exceptions, as detailed in a policy document last revised in October 2020.
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The laws made exemptions for information used as source material by journalistic organizations. Similarly, conversations in conventional media about whether or not leaked or hacked content is of sufficient public importance to justify publishing have sometimes paralleled disputes inside social media firms about what to allow online.
On Saturday, it was unclear whether the Pentagon information had been hacked or deliberately disclosed, as the circulating photos looked to be photographs of documents. The records might be in a murky region, which in the past would have prompted internal debate among the company’s compliance professionals about whether or not they should be removed.
In October of 2020, Twitter enforced its hacked material policy by suppressing a New York Post report that claimed the F.B.I. had confiscated a computer belonging to Hunter Biden, the son of Joseph R. Biden Jr. Leaders at Twitter, including former CEO Jack Dorsey, acknowledged the error in judgment after the fact.
The former executives told The Times that Twitter frequently received reports of potential violations of its policies from U.S. government groups, but they did so under the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from Mr. Musk.
More than 75% of Twitter’s 7,500 employees have been let go or fired since Mr. Musk acquired the business in October, reducing the organizations responsible for moderation. Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Ella Irwin, did not provide a statement when reached for it.
At the request of governments like India’s and at Mr. Musk’s whim, Twitter has purged or blocked the distribution of content. After the launch of Substack, a mailing platform that functions similarly to Twitter, Twitter began policing the sharing and clicking of links to this competitor this past week.
On Friday, several authors on Substack noticed that tweets containing links to their sites were not receiving any retweets or likes. Discord’s popularity during the pandemic surged far beyond its initial use in the gaming community. There were more than 150 million monthly users on the platform by late 2021.
Servers are what Discord calls its virtual meeting places, and they serve as a place for users to talk about their shared interests, exchange messages, and participate in voice chats. There are public servers with hundreds of users and private ones created for smaller communities of friends.
Because of this setup, Discord has grown immensely, yet inappropriate material has become a concern. The onus of making sure Discord users abide by the platform’s laws and don’t publish dubious content has mostly fallen on the shoulders of the server administrators, some of whom have even delegated rule enforcement to members of the server communities.
Some of these communities are so exclusive that they are difficult to monitor or even discover. The “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, was planned and executed by white nationalists using far-right Discord servers in 2017. Executives at the company knew white nationalists were using the platform, but they waited until after the rally to remove them.
In a 2021 interview, CEO Jason Citron indicated that 15 percent of Discord’s staff worked on trust and safety teams, and the business later confirmed that it had increased the size of its content moderation team. Nevertheless, the corporation did not find the shooter’s private Discord server where he had written messages after he killed 10 people in a Buffalo grocery store in the spring of 2017.
The shooter appeared to explain his attack strategy and made racist comments in the messages. Discord has indicated it is collaborating with law authorities to look into the posts after the shooting.
Discord reported in its most recent transparency report that it has deactivated over 150,000 accounts for policy violations such as “harassment and bullying” and “exploitative and unwanted content” during the last three months of 2022. According to the firm, the number of disabled accounts dropped by 17 percent compared to the previous three months.
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