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Posted at 05:13 PM ET, 07/05/2011

Twitter, security and censorship

Fox News found itself in a sticky situation over the long weekend, when hacker group calling itself The Script Kiddies took over its @foxnewspolitics site and posted false tweets saying President Obama had been assassinated.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Fox News Digital’s Jeff Misenti said that the network lost control of its account after it was hacked and that Twitter was unavailable when the network made the discovery. The account was suspended at around noon, Eastern time and returned to Fox News.

“The tweets were taken down as soon as Twitter gave back control of the account to the network,” Misenti told the newspaper.

In the end, few people believed that Obama had been killed — particularly because at the time the tweets were up, the president was at the White House with his family.

But what are Twitter’s obligations in a situation like this? Should the company delete tweets that could cause problems?

Twitter’s made it clear in the past that it will not censor tweets as long as they are legal, valid, don’t compromise privacy, don’t violate copyright and don’t threaten anyone.

“(We) make efforts to keep these exceptions narrow so they may serve to prove a broader and more important rule—we strive not to remove Tweets on the basis of their content,” Twitter’s Biz Stone and Alex Macgillivray wrote in January 2011.

Twitter has made an admirable commitment to free speech, and, it should be noted, has gone out of its way to let users know when governments have asked for user information.

It’s a tricky line for the service to walk.

“Ideally, we work to get the account back in the hands of its rightful owner as quickly as possible so that they have the opportunity to delete Tweets,” spokesman Sean Garrett said in an e-mail.

It’s risky for the company to step in to do so. “Deleting the Tweets can be the equivalent to destroying evidence,” Garrett said.

Garrett also said that Twitter can’t assume that a hack is really a hack, even if a user claims that’s the case — that was, after all, the defense that Rep. Anthony Weiner took at first.

How do you think Twitter should handle hacked accounts? Do you think the company’s right to let speech flow freely, or should it monitor tweets more closely?

Related stories:

Hackers put big — and false — news on Fox Twitter account

How to deal with a Twitter account hack

Hackers to Apple: We aren’t really targeting you, but we could

By  |  05:13 PM ET, 07/05/2011

Tags:  Twitter, Politics and Policy

 
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