Shortly after firing Twitter employees who criticized him on social media as well as privately on the company’s Slack, self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” Elon Musk began reversing Twitter suspensions of prominent right-wing accounts that had previously violated Twitter’s policies. These include the accounts of former President Donald Trump, who incited a violent insurrection; Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, who repeatedly spread Covid-19 misinformation; and Project Veritas, which posted private information about a Facebook exec.
Musk has not, however, reversed the suspension of Distributed Denial of Secrets, the nonprofit transparency collective that distributes leaked and hacked documents to journalists and researchers. During the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, DDoSecrets published BlueLeaks, a set of documents from over 200 law enforcement agencies that revealed police misconduct, including spying on activists. Revelations from BlueLeaks were widely reported in outlets including The Intercept, The Associated Press, The Guardian, The Daily Dot, The Hill, Business Insider, The Nation, Mashable, The Daily Beast, and Reuters. (I’m an adviser to DDoSecrets.)
In response to apparent pressure from law enforcement, Twitter not only permanently suspended the @DDoSecrets account, citing its policy against distributing hacked material, but also took the extraordinary step of preventing users from posting links to ddosecrets.com. If you try tweeting DDoSecrets links or even sending them to someone in a direct message, Twitter shows the error message: “We can’t complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful. Visit our Help Center to learn more.”
The DDoSecrets website has never been malicious or harmful; rather, it’s a vital resource for journalists, researchers, and the public. In order to censor links to ddosecrets.com, Twitter relied on a security feature that was designed to block actual malicious links, such as scams or sites trying to trick visitors into installing viruses.
Twitter’s link-blocking policy states that it may block websites that distribute hacked material, but this policy has never been consistently enforced. Links to wikileaks.com, for example, have not faced similar censorship, despite that site hosting troves of data hacked from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign as well as a dataset of CIA hacking tools known as Vault 7.
The most high-profile case of Twitter enforcing this policy was in October 2020, three weeks before the election, when the New York Post published a story based on documents stolen from Hunter Biden’s laptop. Citing its hacked material policy, Twitter blocked access to the article in question. But the decision was short-lived: After two days of Republican outrage and accusations of censorship, Twitter reversed course and restored access to the article. The incident is still a popular talking point in conservative media about Big Tech censorship.
But while Twitter censored a New York Post article for two days, the entire DDoSecrets website has been censored for nearly two and a half years, and there’s no sign that this will change any time soon. Twitter did not respond to questions about the company’s censorship of DDoSecrets.
Here are a few of the datasets that DDoSecrets has published while it has been censored by Twitter:
- Over a million videos scraped from Parler, the far-right social network that anti-democracy activists used to organize the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Videos from this dataset were used as evidence in Trump’s second impeachment inquiry.
- Emails, chat logs, donor lists, and membership records for the Oath Keepers, the far-right militia that participated in the January 6 attack. This dataset exposed hundreds of current and former law enforcement officers, members of the military, and elected officials as members of the extremist group. It was covered by news outlets including the Washington Post, ProPublica, NPR, BuzzFeed News, Rolling Stone, and Ars Technica.
- Dozens of datasets containing terabytes of data hacked from Russian corporations and government agencies in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Intercept is part of an international consortium of newsrooms investigating the Russian documents and has published new information based on the leaks about Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian oligarch and Vladimir Putin ally who founded the infamous mercenary company known as the Wagner Group.
- Six terabytes of emails from the Mexican government agency in charge of the military, Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional. This dataset has been covered by dozens of Spanish-language news outfits.
Despite Musk’s lip service in support of free speech, for some reason he’s only ever expressed an interest in restoring the accounts of people on the far-right who are known for posting conspiracy theories or inciting violence.