New York Post vs. Facebook and Twitter
Facebook and Twitter took the unusual step of limiting the sharing of New York Post articles that made new allegations about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. They did so based on email exchanges with Hunter Biden regarding the accuracy of emails leaked by allies of President Trump. According to the Post, the emails at the base of articles were found on a computer that was abandoned at a Delaware computer-repair shop. A copy of the computer’s hard drive was then provided to Robert Costello, a lawyer for Rudy Giuliani, the Post reported. Mr. Giuliani is Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer.
“Could it be hacked? I don’t know. I don’t think so,” Mr. Giuliani said. “If it was hacked, it’s for real. If it was hacked. I didn’t hack it. I have every right to use it.”
Investigations from the press and Congress “have all reached the same conclusion: that Joe Biden carried out official U.S. policy toward Ukraine and engaged in no wrongdoing,” said Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesman, in a statement.
Facebook acted first and limited the distribution of the Post articles on its platform, saying it was awaiting guidance from its third-party fact-checking partners—independent organizations that routinely review the accuracy of viral content.
Twitter followed suit and blocked users from posting links to the articles, initially citing a potential violation of its rules regarding hacked materials. The company later said the articles also violated its policies on displaying private information like email addresses and phone numbers without a person’s permission.
Chief Executive Jack Dorsey said the company’s failure to give context around its actions was “unacceptable.”
“Quality reporting and fact-checking takes time,” Facebook executives wrote at the time.
The Post articles are about a Biden meeting with an executive at the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma Holdings, on whose board Hunter Biden served. The Biden campaign said that no such meeting took place and said the Post didn’t ask the campaign about critical elements of the story ahead of publication.
Alan Duke, a founder of Facebook fact-checking partner Lead Stories, said that Facebook hadn’t asked its partners to handle the Post articles differently from other content.
“This was really just the normal process,” Mr. Duke said, adding that verifying the authenticity of the documents and events cited in the Post could be difficult. “I can tell you it’s a heavy lift,” he said.
The Post's official position is that “no one has disputed the veracity” of its reporting. “Facebook and Twitter are not media platforms. They’re propaganda machines,” the editorial said.
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican said “The seemingly selective nature of this public intervention suggests partiality on the part of Facebook,”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Twitter temporarily blocked her from using her personal account after tweeting a link to one of the Post articles.
Google was automatically suggesting terms such as “Hunter Biden laptop” when people typed Hunter Biden’s name into the company’s search engine.
This issue is highly political as a phone call to the newly elected Ukranian president in which Mr. Trump asked him to investigate the Bidens was the basis of the Democratic-led House impeachment of Mr. Trump.
Hunter Biden has denied wrongdoing and said he exercised poor judgment in joining Burisma’s board while his father’s vice presidential duties included Ukraine.
Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University who studies cybersecurity and election interference, said social-media companies are “doing the right thing by being cautious here.”
This incident shows the process of selecting content for fact-checking, said Mike Ananny, a journalism professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication who has studied Facebook’s fact-checking program. “When Facebook and Twitter are in the business of deciding what journalistic content should appear on its networks, they’re not a neutral channel,” Mr. Ananny said.