On Wednesday, social media giants Twitter and Facebook limited the circulation of New York Post articles which contained information about emails sent and received by Hunter Biden. One of the emails Biden received described a meeting between his dad, Joe Biden, and an executive at Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy firm, where Hunter Biden served as a board member.
The Biden campaign responded to this article by saying, “we have reviewed Joe Biden’s official schedules from the time and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place.”
On Wednesday, Twitter blocked users from posting links to the New York Post articles, citing “we can’t complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful.” Those who clicked on the link already posted or retweeted it got a warning from Twitter which said “link may be unsafe”.
Twitter said they were trying to stop the article from spreading because of “questions about the origins of the materials.” Twitter further said its policy “prohibits the use of our service to distribute content obtained without authorization” and wants to discourage people from sharing “possibly illegally obtained materials.”
Twitter also made the New York Post delete their tweet about the story.
The New York Post said their reports were based off of emails they found of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. They said they got access to this information from Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and former Trump advisor, Steve Bannon. They say they obtained these emails from a computer repair person who found them on a computer that had been left by Hunter Biden at a Delaware computer shop in April last year.
When Mr. Giuliani was asked about whether the information was hacked, he answered, “Could it be hacked? I don’t know. I don’t think so.” He continued, “If it was hacked, it’s for real. If it was hacked. I didn’t hack it. I have every right to use it.”
Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, posted a tweet calling Twitter’s blocking of the New York Post article “unacceptable”.
Facebook limited circulation of the article citing questions about its legitimacy. Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, said, “This is part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation.” Although Facebook’s algorithm didn’t post the link to the story highly in people’s feeds, the story had still been shared, linked or commented on almost 600,000 times, according to a research tool owned by Facebook.
Twitter and Facebook’s actions sparked outrage from Trump and conservatives. They claim that this revelation proves Biden had abused his position as Vice-President to intervene with the Ukrainian government, on Hunter Biden’s behalf.
During his rally in Iowa on Wednesday, Trump spent the first couple of minutes rehashing the New York Post Story, and saying Joe Biden should be disqualified from the presidency.
On September 27, the New York Times published an article revealing Donald Trump’s tax information from the last two decades. It was an investigative report, and they have not revealed how they got access to the tax returns. Trump’s accountants did not prove the New York Times with this information.
Based on the policy Twitter used to censor this content, which is that it “prohibits the use of our service to distribute content obtained without authorization”, the New York Times story should have also been censored.
However, there was no censorship on the articles published by the New York Times on Twitter or Facebook. This raises the question what the role of social media giants like Facebook and Twitter is in policing “fake news” or “illegally obtained” information and how do they weigh which story to censor and which to not.
Twitter and Facebook have policed Trump, but no Democrat. They have policed Chinese state media, but no other state. They are limited by their reach, interest and capacity, which means they will have to make calls on what to monitor and what not too.
Twitter’s eventual rejection of its original stance show that it too is painfully aware of the allegations of bias such actions invite. An equitable and effective model for combating fake news has still not been discovered.