House Judiciary Committee Republicans and committee member Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) are spreading a misleading claim about a new Twitter feature that asks users to read articles before retweeting them. Earlier this year, Twitter started testing a prompt to discourage knee-jerk retweets. It appears on links across the entire service, but Republican lawmakers have cited individual warnings on right-leaning articles as the latest of many censorship accusations.
Twitter announced last month that it would roll out the feature across its mobile apps, describing it as a way to “help promote informed discussion.” When you hit the retweet button on a link you haven’t visited, Twitter adds a label above the confirmation menu, warning that “headlines don’t tell the full story” and offering a chance to check the story out.
This is optional; you can ignore it and simply confirm the retweet if you want, and it doesn’t add any extra taps. But some conservative Twitter users expressed fury at the warning. Former PJ Media editor David Steinberg claimed that Twitter “placed a headline warning label” on a Wall Street Journal article about Republican congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik, saying the prompt “should disturb every American.” The label appears if you try to retweet many other WSJ articles on a variety of topics as well as stories from The Verge and other media outlets.
The claim was amplified by Republican members of Congress. Collins claimed that Twitter was “censoring” all tweets from Sean Hannity, citing labels on links to Hannity.com. The Twitter account for Judiciary Committee Republicans made a similar claim about a Hannity article, insinuating that Twitter had specifically added the warning to a story about allegedly leaked emails from Hunter Biden.
We're doing this to encourage everyone to read news articles before Tweeting them, regardless of the publication or the article. If you want to Retweet or Quote Tweet it, literally just click once more. More: https://t.co/El0yfeHlG2 https://t.co/FXfdjtAAPA— Twitter Comms (@TwitterComms) October 21, 2020
Twitter’s communications team tweeted a somewhat exasperated response. “We’re doing this to encourage everyone to read news articles before Tweeting them, regardless of the publication or the article,” a spokesperson wrote. “If you want to retweet or quote tweet it, literally just click once more.”
It’s not necessarily surprising that Twitter’s new feature would raise hackles since it comes on the heels of two unpopular Twitter decisions. Twitter blocked a link to New York Post articles about Hunter Biden’s emails last week, citing a ban on “hacked content,” before apologizing and changing its policy. It also started temporarily asking users to quote tweets instead of retweeting them, another attempt to encourage more engagement. Today, a Senate committee approved subpoenas for Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, calling them to testify about restricting the Post story’s reach.
Twitter doesn’t seem to apply the warning to every link either, and that’s caused some confusion online. As the National Republican Senatorial Committee noted, you can retweet links to Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue without a warning. However, we also received no warning when retweeting a link to Republican equivalent WinRed. We’ve asked Twitter for more clarification on when the label appears. But whatever its answer, the feature is far more widespread than these lawmakers suggest.