After receiving a copy of a hard drive allegedly owned by Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the New York Post released a report on Oct. 14 detailing its contents. The report stated that the hard drive had numerous pictures of Hunter ingesting drugs, engaging in explicit acts and also included emails that may point to corruption with Joe in Ukraine from 2015.
This scandal was brought up before in 2019 when President Donald Trump attempted to find evidence against the elder Biden to damage his reputation, but no evidence was found to support the allegations. The hard drive may be the evidence needed to prove that Joe, who was vice president at the time, was involved in a quid pro quo and collusion with Ukraine.
The New York Post also received a copy of a subpoena showing that Hunter’s alleged laptop was taken in and is currently being investigated by the FBI.
Hours after the New York Post published the report, however, the story was suppressed by both Facebook and Twitter. With over 2 billion combined active users, the social media giants have massive influence over public belief. They have abused this power by trying to dictate what is allowed to be posted and discussed.
Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said the company placed limitations on the article and waited to post it until employees could fact-check it. The company prevented the post from being high up in people’s news feeds, which can reduce how many users view it. Stone tweeted about the restrictions six hours after the story was published.
“I want be clear that this story is eligible to be fact-checked by Facebook’s third-party fact-checking partners. In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform,” Stone tweeted.
“This is part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation. We temporarily reduce distribution pending fact-checker review,” he said in another tweet.
This move is contradictory to what Facebook’s CEO has said regarding flagging suspicious information. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said numerous times that Facebook should not be held accountable to fact-check stories. After Twitter fact-checked Trump for a tweet about mail-in ballots, Zuckerberg was interviewed by Fox News on March 28 and expressed his concerns with how the company acted.
“We have a different policy than, I think, Twitter on this,” Zuckerberg said. “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of the truth of everything that people say online.”
A couple hours after Stone’s tweet, Twitter started to prohibit users from tweeting and messaging links and pictures of the post to other users. Twitter also blocked the New York Post from sharing its story and locked the account of White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany for her tweet on the report, which Twitter claimed violated its “no distribution of hacked material” rule. It returned access to her account Wednesday, but the tweet was deleted.
Even journalists were upset with the restrictions to the New York Post story, as it appears to be in alignment with accepted journalistic practices, according to an Oct. 15 Washington Post article.
In addition, other stories that could fall below these platforms’ standards for news haven’t been as thoroughly vetted as this one. When Trump’s tax returns were released by an anonymous source and reported on by The New York Times last month, no actions were taken by social media platforms to check for misinformation.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced in a tweet Oct. 16 that the company changed the policy to allow content to be shared without constraints.
“Straight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix,” Dorsey said. “Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that.”
These companies cannot be allowed to police themselves according to the degree of backlash received from users. Politicians are now calling on tech giants to provide reasoning for such blatant misuses of power.
Sen. Ted Cruz posted a video on his website Oct. 15 announcing that he and Sen. Lindsey Graham will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to subpoena Dorsey to testify Oct. 23 about the situation.
This is the proper action needed to eventually begin regulating Facebook and Twitter to prevent something like this from happening again. Without sufficient government oversight, these companies can and will continue to control the narrative.