UPDATE: Twitter has halted its censorship of content from The Epoch Times following a flood of public criticism.
Twitter on July 28 imposed a blockade on all content from The Epoch Times without explanation, raising further concerns about freedom of speech on the platform and drawing ire from three U.S. senators.
The platform enforced a warning on all links from The Epoch Times. A click on a link directs users to a page titled “Warning: this link may be unsafe,” which prompts users to return to the previous page.
“The link you are trying to access has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially spammy or unsafe,” the warning stated, citing Twitter’s URL policy.
— The Epoch Times (@EpochTimes) July 29, 2022
The notice said that the link could fall into any of four categories: “malicious links that could steal personal information or harm electronic devices”; “spammy links that mislead people or disrupt their experience”; “violent or misleading content that could lead to real-world harm”; or content that “if posted directly on Twitter, are a violation of the Twitter Rules.”
Twitter’s warning page allows users to proceed to the Epoch Times link if they click on the word “continue” at the very bottom of the page.
The platform has not responded to multiple requests from The Epoch Times for clarification.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), vice chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who serves on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who serves on the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, decried the move as an act of censorship.
“Twitter is blocking all links to @EpochTimes, including a story about a human trafficking survivor, and labeling them as ‘spammy’ and ‘unsafe.’ Twitter must explain itself for this outrageous act of censorship,” Rubio wrote in a July 29 tweet.
Johnson described Twitter’s action as “alarming.”
“Twitter is censoring @EpochTimes under the guise of ‘unsafe’ speech. Remember what happened the last time corporate media and big tech tried to censor my investigation on Hunter Biden corruption?” he wrote. “The truth always prevails.”
Scott asked Twitter in a July 29 tweet “where’s the respect for free speech and freedom of press, Twitter.”
“We all remember your biased censorship of [The New York Post] and how that ended for you,” Scott said.
Human Trafficking Interview Censored
Among the first to be affected by Twitter’s blockade was Eliza Bleu, a human trafficking survivor. In an interview that premiered at 7:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, Bleu shared about how abusers groomed her by preying on her vulnerabilities.
Bleu tried to repost the link after watching the interview, and to her surprise and dismay, found that she “couldn’t even click on the link.”
“I’m pretty disheartened that the interview link was labeled as unsafe, because it’s not unsafe,” she told The Epoch Times.
“By watching the interview, anyone can tell it’s pretty educational,” she said. “I wasn’t talking about anything that wasn’t factual. I was just really just trying to educate, raise awareness, and bring attention to the issue.”
She added that the link seemed to be accessible when the interview first aired but became blocked sometime afterward.
Twitter Targets American Media, Not Chinese State Media
The Epoch Times was founded in 2000 by Chinese Americans who fled communist China and sought to create an independent media outlet to bring uncensored and truthful information to the world.
At least 10 staff members for The Epoch Times were arrested that year in China, with one editor-in-chief spending a decade in prison.
While operating outside of China, the media outlet has remained a consistent target of attacks from the Chinese regime over the past two decades.
The printing press of the Hong Kong edition of The Epoch Times has suffered a series of violent break-ins, including arson, over the years, viewed as attempts by Beijing to intimidate the publication. In an official statement last year, President Joe Biden’s State Department condemnded an attack on an Epoch Times reporter in Hong Kong.
Major Chinese state media, by contrast, remain accessible on the platform as of press time.
Jeffrey Tucker, founder of the Brownstone Institute think tank and a contributor for The Epoch Times, also expressed his shock.
“The @EpochTimes, the entire media complex, has been declared by Twitter to be unsafe. This stuns me, even though I thought I was beyond shock at this point,” he wrote.
Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.