Twitter temporarily barred the Sunday Life newspaper and Belfast Telegraph political editor Suzanne Breen from posting to their accounts.
The Sunday Life’s Twitter account, which has over 19,000 followers, was recently locked for supposedly “violating rules against posting private media of an individual from a country with a recognized right to privacy law.”
The newspaper was informed that in order to unlock the account it must remove the tweet in question, which referenced a story from October 2020 in which Sinn Fein MP and high-profile solicitor, John Finucane, confirmed his firm acted for Dublin crime lord Daniel Kinahan when he threatened to sue several Irish newspapers.
In the article, Mr Finucane confirmed that his firm no longer represents Kinahan and there is no suggestion that he had any part in Twitter’s actions.
Ms Breen, a journalist with our sister newspaper the Belfast Telegraph, also had her Twitter account blocked over a tweet from February 2021 in relation to a BBC Panorama documentary about Kinahan.
Following the incidents the Belfast Telegraph asked a number of questions of Twitter around why the accounts were locked, how many complaints were received and where they came from.
It also asked what rules had been violated, who took the decision to lock the accounts, why Twitter didn’t attempt to contact the newspaper and did the social network have any policies in place around complaints designed to silence journalists, but received a one-line response.
DUP MP Carla Lockhart questioned how Twitter was able to take “swift and quite extreme” action against the accounts, while trolling and other harmful behaviour often goes unchecked.
Ms Lockhart, who has long campaigned against social media misuse after being subject to trolling herself, called for firm UK Government action on the issue.
“This was a swift and quite extreme response from Twitter in this instance, against a newspaper and highly respected journalist,” the Upper Bann MP said.
“When I compare their willingness to act in this case with their continued inaction in cases of racism, and personal, vile, threatening and dangerous abuse against others, it only makes the case for greater regulation of online platforms stronger. That is why we need meaningful, fit for purpose Online Harms legislation as soon as possible, and I continue to press the Government for such an outcome.”
Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s All Party Group on Press Freedom and Media Sustainability, Matthew O’Toole, said the incident raised a number of concerns.
“It is very worrying that any journalist or media organisation would have their account locked for reporting a legitimate public interest story, especially one concerning organised crime,” the SDLP South Belfast MLA said.
“I am glad that Twitter have apologised and reversed their decision. But it is a chilling reminder of the power of Big Tech in 2021 and the willingness of powerful people to silence reporting they do not like.
“In an age when social media platforms have failed to take action on anonymous smears and allowed misinformation to fly around the globe, it is unacceptable that they would bow to apparent pressure and silence media in this way.
“Powerful people, whether politicians or crime bosses, should not get to decide what journalists report.”
Editor-in-chief of the Belfast Telegraph and the Sunday Life, Eoin Brannigan, said the issue “has clear implications for the freedom of the press”.
“This is matter of great concern to us, as was the outrageous advice that to unlock the account we had to remove the tweets in question, one of which referred to a factual story about a man who has been identified in the High Court in Dublin as a senior figure in organised crime on a global scale. Nothing in the article constitutes ‘private information’,” Mr Brannigan said.
“Twitter instructed us to censor ourselves if we wanted to continue to use the accounts in question.
“We put a series of questions to Twitter but received no answers. It’s very coincidental that the two tweets in question refer to Daniel Kinahan, yet Twitter won’t explain how enforcement action was taken in error. Given the volume of nasty abuse Twitter allows to circulate every hour, how come these two tweets were deemed worthy of the locking of accounts yet millions more go unchecked?”
A Twitter spokesperson apologised and said the enforcement action was taken in error.
“We took enforcement action on the accounts you referenced in error.
"This has been reversed, and access to the accounts has been reinstated,” they said.