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Investigative reporter blocked from Twitter will delete newsworthy tweet

An investigative reporter who was blocked from accessing his Twitter account this week has agreed to remove a tweet that the social media company says violated its rules on private information.

In mid-January, Scott Stedman with Forensic News obtained a cache of documents that showed a business relationship between the American subsidiary of Deutsche Bank and a Russian-controlled bank, with a sizable amount of money moving between the two in 2013.

As part of his coverage, Stedman tweeted a link to the report along with a screen capture of an Excel spreadsheet that showed around $500 million being transferred from Russia’s Gazprombank and a holding company formed by Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas (DBTCA).

Stedman’s access to his account was cut off earlier this month after Twitter said the tweet violated its rules over private information, according to images of the emails published by Forensic News. Stedman was told he could either remove the tweet in question or file an appeal with the company.

Stedman filed the appeal, but it appeared to make no difference: Twitter reviewed the tweet and determined it violated the company’s policy over publishing private information, according to an official at the social media company who spoke with The Desk on background.

At issue was not the text of the tweet or Stedman’s linking to his own story, but the screen capture of the Excel document that contained financial information. In a LinkedIn message late Thursday evening, Stedman said he would likely delete the tweet “because I’m essentially forced to.” (Twitter does not provide its users a way to amend tweets after they are published.) He reiterated that the material was obtained by Forensic News legally.

Stedman’s reporting — which contained additional bylines comprised of three Forensic News colleagues — said the documents outlining the transfer of money between a Russian-owned financial institution and DBTCA was suspect because then-businessman Donald Trump executed multi-million dollar loans from the same German subsidiary. The story noted other news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, had previously published articles detailing similar concerning financial behavior involving the bank and Trump.

“I just reject the premise that journalists can’t publish banking information like that,” Stedman said.

Twitter’s terms of service have been something of a vague and complicated web for years now. The social network has historically offered prominent Twitter users, like President Donald Trump, a free pass to violate its own terms while enforcing them against other users in a way that sometimes appears heavy handed.

Last March, several independent journalists were prevented from accessing their accounts after they tweeted still images and video excerpts from a live stream produced by a gunman who opened fire on a mosque in New Zealand. Those journalists were told they would be locked out of their account unless they removed the content or filed an appeal to Twitter’s trust and safety team.

Larger news organization, including prominent Australian and New Zealand television stations, also published the material from the gunman’s live feed but were not penalized for doing so. Many of those tweets remain on the platform today.

A few weeks after the incident, Twitter changed its own rules to prohibit content content contained “glorifications of violence” or “promotes terrorism.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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