In October 2020, Twitter initially blocked users from sharing a New York Post story about Hunter Biden's laptop.
Rep. Ro Khanna sent Twitter concerns about the decision, according to materials published Friday.
"I say this as a total Biden partisan and convinced he didn't do anything wrong," Khanna wrote.
Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna in October 2020 emailed concerns to Twitter as the company scrambled to figure out how to handle a story published by the New York Post concerning the laptop of Hunter Biden.
The emails sent by the congressman were published by journalist Matt Taibbi on Twitter on Friday, along with other details regarding the social media platform's handling of the story.
Less than a month before the 2020 election, the Post published a story that claimed to contain emails retrieved from a laptop that belonged to President Joe Biden's son Hunter. Twitter initially suppressed the distribution of the story, initially blocking users from sharing the article at all, citing concerns it could be the result of hacking or a foreign disinformation campaign.
Twitter backtracked on its initial response within days, but Taibbi's Twitter thread provided additional details into the decision-making process the first day the story went live, October 14. It was during this period that Khanna, a California Democrat, emailed Vijaya Gadde, who at the time was Twitter's head of legal, policy, and trust.
"Generating huge backlash on hill re speech," Khanna wrote, referencing Congress and offering to talk.
Gadde replied, explaining Twitter clarified their response was due to their policy that bars hacked materials from being shared.
But Khanna then responded saying he was concerned that Twitter blocking the story seemed to be "a violation of the 1st Amendment principles." Giving an example, Khanna said if materials uncovering a war crime were hacked and obtained by The New York Times, the Times should be able to publish them.
"A journalist should not be held accountable for the illegal actions of the source unless they actively aided the hack. So to restrict the distribution of that material, especially regarding a Presidential candidate, seems not in the keeping of the principles of NYT v Sullivan," Khanna said, referencing a landmark 1964 Supreme Court decision regarding press freedom.
New York Times Co. v. Sullivan established that public figures suing for defamation must establish "actual malice." Another landmark Supreme Court case, New York Times Co. v. US or the "Pentagon Papers Case," in 1971 protected the right of the press to publish illegally leaked classified materials.
Khanna continued: "I say this as a total Biden partisan and convinced he didn't do anything wrong. But the story now has become more about censorship than relatively innocuous emails and it's become a bigger deal than it would have been."
The congressman also said the backlash could jeopardize section 230, a measure that gives social media companies the right to moderate content and bars them from being held liable for content posted by users.
Khanna added that "in the heat of a Presidential campaign, restricting dissemination of newspaper articles (even if NY Post is far right) seems like it will invite more backlash than it will do good."
Following the release of the email exchange on Friday, Khanna said in a statement provided to Insider: "I believe our Constitution and First Amendment are sacred. As the congressman who represents Silicon Valley, I felt Twitter's actions were a violation of First Amendment principles so I raised those concerns. Our democracy can only thrive if we are open to a marketplace of ideas and engaging with people with whom we disagree."
Internal communications and decisions about how to handle the Hunter Biden laptop story were published by Taibbi after Twitter's new owner, Elon Musk, promised to share them. Dubbed "The Twitter Files," the thread shows employees at Twitter weighing how to address the Post's story and whether sharing it violated their policies.
In an interview with journalist Kara Swisher on Tuesday, Twitter's former head of trust and safety said it was a mistake to censor the story.
"We didn't know what to believe. We didn't know what was true. There was smoke," Yoel Roth said. "Ultimately for me, it didn't reach a place where I was comfortable removing this content from Twitter."