Twitter permanently suspended journalist who interviewed Matt Walsh’s hacker
This week, The Daily Wire podcast host Matt Walsh got hacked, leading a hacker called Doomed to gain unfettered access to his Twitter, Google, and Microsoft accounts. A journalist named Dell Cameron then tweeted to encourage the hacker to contact him, then published an interview with Doomed for Wired. Tweeting out that story—Cameron confirmed on Mastodon—ultimately got the tech policy reporter permanently suspended from Twitter for violating the social platform’s policy on distributing hacked materials.
Now, Walsh is threatening to sue “members of the media who openly solicited stolen information” from his phone, he tweeted. Announcing that The Daily Wire’s team was assisting him with legal counsel, he warned journalists like Cameron that he could afford to hire “very good lawyers.”
Walsh could not immediately be reached for comment. Cameron declined to comment. Yesterday, Wired tweeted a statement from its managing editor, Hemal Jhaveri.
“WIRED learned Wednesday afternoon that senior reporter Dell Cameron’s Twitter account was permanently suspended after he reported on Matt Walsh’s Twitter account being hacked,” Jhaveri’s statement read. “Neither Dell’s story nor his Twitter feed contained hacked materials. We do not believe his account violated Twitter’s policy. We have not received any further explanation from Twitter and our attempts to reach Twitter’s press office were met with the customary poop emoji. We ask that the account be reinstated, and that Twitter provide an explanation.”
Since Cameron’s suspension, there’s been debate over whether the journalist’s report violated Twitter’s policy and whether Walsh has any legal standing to sue a journalist like Cameron for reporting on the hack.
Twitter sometimes defers to “editorial judgment”
Twitter’s hacked materials policy was last updated in October 2020, after the scandal where the platform blocked a New York Post article reporting on Hunter Biden’s hacked laptop.
The current policy targets hackers who illegally obtain private information, as well as groups “associated with a hack.” It defines hacked materials as “information obtained through a hack” that “need not be personally-identifiable private information in order to qualify as hacked materials under this policy.”
According to the policy, it’s against the rules to share any “private information without consent, regardless of how the private information was obtained.” It’s also against the rules to post tweets linking to “hacked content hosted on other websites,” which is possibly what Twitter considers Wired’s report on the hack. On Thursday afternoon, Wired editor-in-chief Gideon Lichfield tweeted that Twitter told Cameron that he “had broken its rules by “directly distribut[ing] content obtained through hacking that contains private information, may put people in physical harm or danger, or contains trade secrets.”
In Wired’s report, Cameron interviews the hacker, who goes by the alias Doomed, and reveals that Doomed’s motivation was to “stir up controversy and sow chaos on Twitter” by posting absurd tweets using Walsh’s handle. Some of these tweets threw “jabs” at some of Walsh’s conservative colleagues, including podcaster Joe Rogan and Daily Wire host Ben Shapiro.
To verify the hacker was the same person who seemingly had access to Walsh’s accounts, Cameron reviewed “several screenshots” of hacked materials and described some of those screenshots in the report. He also quoted from some of the hacked emails, which, under Twitter’s policy, could be considered hosting “hacked content.” Lichfield contended in a tweet that the email quotes were “benign” and did not “publish hacked materials.”
Twitter’s policy, however, also includes an exception for when hacked materials are used as source materials that can “serve as the basis for important reporting by news agencies meant to hold our institutions and leaders to account.” In that section, Twitter says it will “defer” to the “editorial judgment” of media outlets publishing hacked materials, which Twitter considers “indirect distribution.”
Because Walsh is a public figure but not an “institution” or a “leader,” it’s possible that the exception for newsworthy reporting on hacks does not apply to the Wired story. But the policy also notes that the exception is only intended for when media outlets share the actual hacked materials, not when media outlets are simply “discussing hacked materials.” The logic is a little circular. Twitter says that reports discussing hacked materials “would not be considered a violation of this policy unless materials associated with the hack are directly distributed in the text of a Tweet, in an image shared on Twitter, or in links to hacked content hosted on other websites.”
Wired has asked Twitter to reinstate Cameron’s account, but for now, it remains permanently suspended, which is a fate normally reserved for “accounts engaged in the direct distribution of hacked materials which are found to be directly operated by hackers, hacking groups, or people acting for or on behalf of such hackers.”