Are Facebook and Twitter interfering in elections by blocking NY Post’s Hunter Biden articles?
- Both Joe and Hunter Biden were investigated by a Republican team led by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Their efforts have been criticized by the Democrats as an attempt to push Trump's campaign.
- On September 23, Senate Republicans released the 87-page report reviewing more than 45,000 pages of Obama administration records and interviewed eight witnesses, including former U.S. officials.
- On October 14, the New York Post published a report with a “smoking-gun email” between Hunter Biden and a Burisma board advisor about a meeting with Joe Biden. The report has been labeled as suspicious; there are doubts that the emails are legitimate.
- Wednesday, Facebook and Twitter limited the circulation of the post while their distributors fact checked the documents in question. The post has been shared 600,000 times on Facebook so far.
Facebook and Twitter are attempting yet again to navigate the high wire between 'platform' and 'publisher.' The problem is that as they wobble along, it's their own reputation for remaining neutral that is at stake. This is less about the NY Post's story on Hunter Biden and more about social media's inability to manage a balancing act.
There are legitimate and serious questions regarding the integrity of the NY Post's story—however, just as many questions surround Facebook and Twitter's actions. Typically, Facebook would restrict access to a story only after the fact-checking process was completed, but in this case, the Post story appears to have been downgraded and blocked immediately. Twitter has never previously blocked sharing a story from a major news outlet before but did so due to 'hacked content.' Though Jack Dorsey did later post that Twitter poorly handled the situation, the story is still unavailable.
The problem here is that there's no way for social media to monitor information evenly. While it may well be accurate that, at the highest levels of leadership in these companies, parties wish to remain neutral and promote free speech, their employees do not, based on political contributions. Mark Zuckerberg, himself, has even said that bias is 'an issue [Facebook has] struggled with for a long time.' There is no possible way for these social media giants to remain impartial and avoid accusations of shilling for one side or the other in 2020's election. For this reason, they should stay out of the arbitration business altogether and allow their readers not to lapse into a mental stupor by having them engage for themselves and see if a story holds merit.
The information the New York Post published on Hunter Biden was dubious and unconfirmed at best, outright wrong at worst. The article contained no authentication information, and the Post has not released the hard drive from where the emails allegedly were found. The story of how the information was obtained stinks of foul play. Allegedly, the laptop was taken to a repair shop for water damage and never retrieved. The proprietor copied the hard drive and gave it to Rudy Giuliani’s lawyer, who released it to the Post; a truly strange tale. Facebook and Twitter have both come under fire recently for not doing enough to stop misinformation, yet here they’ve taken action against a story with questionable roots. Additionally, exercising due caution, Twitter has had a clear policy on allowing hacked material since 2008. As this is the first time these sites have blocked a news story from a major news source, it’s not surprising that there has been backlash; but, that doesn’t make them wrong. The government and citizens alike have been demanding these companies do more to combat misinformation. Now that they’ve done it, we should applaud them, not condemn them.
The size of their networks and the speed at which misinformation can spread means Twitter and Facebook need to be extra careful with potentially harmful misinformation. Taking time for a third party to verify the veracity of the story makes sense. If the story turns out to be true, the company can release a story without fault. Given that, these companies should, and have, erred on the side of caution.