FILE PHOTO: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey addresses students during a town hall at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in New Delhi, India, November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

Twitter and Facebook are facing questions about censorship and big tech’s role in moderating content during an election after the companies limited distribution of a New York Post article containing a supposed “smoking gun” against Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The article shows a possible leaked email from 2015 in which an official from Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings Limited thanked Hunter Biden for setting up a meeting with Joe Biden in Washington D.C. 

Facebook received backlash after reducing the article’s reach before its third-party fact-checkers reviewed it. Facebook Policy and Communications Director Andy Stone tweeted, “While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, 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.” Christopher Bedford, an editor for The Federalist, argued that Stone’s history working as a spokesperson for Democratic campaigns and politicians presents a conflict of interest with his current role moderating what content users can see on Facebook.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted about the decision, stating, “Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable.” Twitter Safety issued a thread intended to provide clarity as to why the story had specific actions taken against it. The thread listed the inclusion of private phone numbers and email addresses, as well as “hacked materials” with no sources linked as the chief policy violations that led to blocking the post. Several investigative journalists including Glen Greenwald, Lee Fang and Jonathan Swan spoke out about the journalistic censorship issues that could arise by blocking reporting-based “hacked materials”, such as the NSA spy scandal brought to light by Edward Snowden and President Donald Trump’s tax returns.

Republican lawmakers announced that they plan to subpoena Jack Dorsey regarding Twitter’s decision to block the New York Post article. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeted “Pleased to announce the full Judiciary Committee will vote on subpoena to @Twitter and @jackon Tuesday. That subpoena should include @Facebook.”

Hunter Biden joined the board of directors at Burisma in 2014 while Joe Biden was serving as Vice President. The New York Post did not offer evidence to support the statement that the meeting took place, and the Biden campaign dismissed the article as “Russian disinformation.” Two of the sources involved in leaking the documents to the New York Post are Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani, both of whom have recently been involved in corruption scandals, thus casting doubt over the validity of the material.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Twitter locks Trump campaign’s account over video related to The Post’s Hunter Biden bombshell – New York Post – 10/15/2020
Twitter locked the Trump campaign’s account on Thursday for trying to share a video accusing Joe Biden of being a “liar” related to The Post’s report on Hunter Biden’s emails, according to the campaign’s social media manager. From his own personal account, Mike Hahn tweeted a screenshot of the message from Twitter, reading, “Your account has been locked” and showing the post @TeamTrump tried to send to its 2.2 million followers on Wednesday afternoon.

Facebook and Twitter took drastic measures to limit the reach of a disputed news story about Hunter Biden – Vox – 10/14/2020
There’s a real argument that Facebook — a primary news source for four in 10 Americans — and Twitter should be trying to slow the spread of an unproven news story whose claims haven’t been corroborated by other major news outlets and whose origins are from questionable sources. Especially since the New York Post has a track record of sometimes promoting viral conspiracy theories.

The Media Do Not Want You To Read, Share, or Discuss The New York Post’s Hunter Biden Scoop – Reason – 10/14/2020
It’s a story that merits the attention of other journalists, political operatives, national security experts, and also the public at large—not least of all because there are serious questions about its accuracy, reliability, and sourcing. And yet many in the media are choosing not just to ignore the story, but to actively encourage others to suppress any discussion of it.

Facebook and Twitter restrict controversial New York Post story on Joe Biden – The Guardian – 10/14/2020
The move marks the first time Twitter has directly limited the spread of information from a news website, as it continues to implement stricter rules around misinformation ahead of the 2020 elections. On Wednesday evening Twitter also reportedly locked the personal account of the White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany for sharing the article.

Facebook and Twitter CEOs will have to answer to Senate Republicans after Biden NY Post story controversy – CNBC – 10/15/2020
Facebook did not prevent users from sharing the link to the article but said it reduced its distribution pending a fact-check review. Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone first announced the fact-check review a few hours after the article was originally published Wednesday, but as of Thursday morning – more than 24 hours after it was first posted on Facebook – Facebook posts containing the link still did not have any labels showing that it was under review.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

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