Centre for Digital Governance

The spread of hacked materials on Twitter: A threat to democracy?

Hack-and-leak events present a challenge to modern democracies and Twitter’s response to the Macron Leaks highlight the shortcomings of self-regulation by social media companies.

Elections are democracy’s most important yet most vulnerable moment. Interference in the process presents an attack on the foundations of trust and knowledge in a democratic society, as seen in the Macron Leaks, a hack-and-leak operation spread on Twitter on the eve of the 2017 French presidential elections. Hack-and-leaks have become a popular modus operandi for foreign actors, often backed by Russia, to meddle and undermine democratic elections.

In this student working paper, Gaia Gibeon and Hanna-Sophie Bollmann discuss the challenges democracies face by hack-and-leaks and explore Twitter’s past attempts to self-regulate hacked materials. Regulations were made in response to political events and changing public pressure in the US, putting the platform at risk of becoming a plaything of populist movements and foreign actors seeking to undermine democracy. Until recently, the EU lacked any adequate response but the recently published revised version of the EU’s Code of Practice on Dis-information (June 2022) may signal a change. Twitter has signed the Code and promises to adopt and implement policies to prevent the spread of manipulative behaviour. Should Twitter change its Hacked Materials Policy, it will be the first time it is done in response to regulatory measures.

Teaser photo by Dorian Hurst on Unsplash.