Twitter suspends Forensic News investigative reporter for posting journalism

An investigative news organization says its founder has been blocked by Twitter from access to his personal and professional account where he regularly tweets news stories of interest.

On Tuesday, Forensic News said founder and contributor Scott Stedman had been prevented from accessing his Twitter account by the social media company. Screen shots published by Forensic News on their branded Twitter account included an email message from Twitter saying Stedman’s account had been “temporarily limited” because one of his tweets violated a rule against posting public information.

That tweet, published in mid-January, included a link to a news report that revealed a Russian-controlled bank had made $500 million in deposits into an American subsidiary of Germany’s Deutsche Bank. The timing of the deposits coincided with loans made by President Donald Trump totaling over $360 million.

The report said the timing of the transactions “adds further intrigue to President Trump’s finances and possible counterintelligence concerns.”

To bolster its report, Forensic News published images showing email messages and computer files related to the transactions. Email addresses and other personal identifying information were redacted from the images published in the story, though full names of bank employees and employment positions were left intact.

Stedman and three other Forensic News journalists contributed to the story published on January 21. When the story went live, Stedman published a link to the story and included a screen capture of a spreadsheet showing money being transferred into Deutsche Bank from a number of sources, including the Russian-controlled bank.

That tweet was unavailable Thursday evening, with a message from Twitter saying it could not be displayed because it “violated the Twitter rules.”

Stedman, whose other tweets are still visible, did not return an invitation to speak on the matter. Twitter gave Stedman a choice of removing the tweet and having access to his account restored or filing an appeal over their decision to limit his account, a screen capture published by Forensic News showed. A follow-up tweet from Forensic News said Stedman chose to file an appeal.

Speaking on background, a Twitter spokesperson said a review of Stedman’s tweet revealed it contained “numbers that were not public.” The social network considered those numbers to violate the platform’s policy on disseminating private information.

The issue involving Twitter pales in comparison to some other situations Forensic News has found itself in since breaking the story on Deutsche Bank’s financial liability to the Russian-controlled bank last month. Since publishing the article, its website has been compromised and a payment processing service that handles donations made to Forensic News threatened to freeze the website’s account, according to a contributor.

Forensic News is not the first organization to find itself on the wrong side of Twitter’s rules: Last March, several independent reporters were frozen out of their accounts after tweeting video experts and still images from a live stream that showed a mass shooting in progress at a mosque in New Zealand.

Those reporters (disclosure: the author of this post was one of them) were told the content violated Twitter’s rules, even though a review of the social media company’s terms of service found no rules that banned journalists from publishing the content as part of newsgathering and reporting. Twitter did not penalize larger news organizations, including television stations in Australia and New Zealand, who published the same content. The following month, Twitter changed its rules to prohibit content that contains “glorification of violence” or “promotes terrorism.”

In some cases, social media-focused reporters and news organizations were kicked off the platform with no recourse for violating rules that are still unclear.

In January, social media journalist Albert Boe said he was kicked off Twitter while covering the crash of a Ukrainian airliner in Iran after tweeting eyewitness video obtained by a BBC reporter that showed the plane crashing near Tehran airport. Boe, the founder of Twitter news wire @NewsBreaking, said he was not warned beforehand that Twitter was going to permanently ban him from the platform.

Boe speculated his suspension had less to do with the content he was publishing and more to do with the fact that he and his team of contributors used multiple accounts to cover international news stories. He said two other news organizations had been banned from Twitter for similar activity.

Boe said a supplemental website for @NewsBreaking contained commercial advertisements and relied on traffic to generate revenue. In an email sent to The Desk on January 8, Boe said the suspension was impacting his ability to make money for the site, which was making it difficult for him to pay his writers.

This story has been updated to include background information provided by a Twitter spokesperson.

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