Twitter Suspends Reporter For 'Posting Private Info' That Is Merely Internal Deutsche Bank Email That Could Implicate Trump

from the content-moderation-at-scale dept

Once again, I need to refer you to Masnick's Impossibility Theorem, on how it is effectively impossible to do content moderation at scale well. The latest example? Twitter suspended the account of Scott Stedman, the founder of the investigative news site, Forensic News. A few weeks back, Forensic News had a pretty incredible scoop, highlighting how a Russian government-controlled bank, Gazprombank, sent over $500 million to the American subsidiary of Deutsche Bank, at about the same time that very same subsidiary was lending nearly $400 million to Donald Trump. Deutsche Bank has run into trouble for its handling of Russian government-connected money, including its role in helping the Russians launder money.

The new evidence appears to come from Val Broeksmit, the stepson of a former senior Deutsche Bank exec. Broeksmit's story -- as covered in the craziest NY Times article you'll ever read -- is quite incredible and worth reading up on, as it shows how he has access to all of this internal Deutsche Bank info. In this case, the key detail of interest was an internal "breach report" sent to the senior Broeksmit, showing that the bank's liabilities exceeded its assets. As the report goes on to note, an absolutely huge percentage of the American subsidiary of Deutsche Bank's liabilities were to Russia in 2013. As the article details, nearly $3 billion of its liabilities were Russian in origin, approximately triple the next largest creditor, Switzerland.

All that's very interesting, but what does any of it have to do with content moderation? Well... right after the Forensic News report went out, Stedman noted that his website was under attack, and it looks like someone went after his Twitter account as well, trying to report it. They were successful, as it turns out. At issue was one key piece of evidence that Forensic News used in its report: the emails about the "breach report." Stedman posted images of this email to show the basis of the story. And, it appears that enough people reported it to Twitter, that they suspended his account for "posting private information":

If you somehow can't see the embedded image, it shows the notice from Twitter saying that his tweet showing "the original email" about the breach report violated Twitter's rules for "posting private information... without their express authorization and permission." If you look for that original tweet now, you currently see this:

It is not difficult to see how this happened. It seems likely that a lot of folks who'd rather this story go away took to reporting various Stedman tweets to try to silence him. The reported tweets get reviewed by a content moderation staff, and one of the "rules" is no posting of private information. The evidence is someone's private email. And, so, a content moderator says "that violates the rules." Now, of course, there's supposed to be a "newsworthy exception" to content moderation practices, but is the harried outsourced moderation person, who has a giant queue to get through, going to take the time to understand that this revelation of an email was key to a pretty big news story? Of course not. There's some spam or whatnot to takedown next.

Obviously, it would be great if it were humanly possible to carefully investigate each of these reports, but if that happened, the queue would just get longer and longer and longer, and we'd hear complaints in the other direction, about how Twitter never responds to legitimate reports of tweets that violates its rules.

In the end, there's really no great answer -- though I will note that it's really only because of this effort to silence Stedman's reporting and evidence that I became aware of this story in the first place... There's some sort of name for that kind of thing, I think.

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Filed Under: content moderation at scale, content moderation is impossible, emails, newsworthy, private info, scott stedman, val broeksmit
Companies: deutsche bank, forensic news, twitter


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2020 @ 3:25pm

    So i clicked through to the NYT story, advertised as as covered in the craziest NY Times article you'll ever read, so of course i had to.
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/01/business/val-broeksmit-deutsche-bank-trump-whistle-blower.htm l

    So i see this:
    Again and again, one man has taken his trove of secret documents — and uncanny nose for scandal — to the center of the news.
    With a picture...

    ... Bono?!


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