Facebook, Twitter limit spread of controversial New York Post article about Hunter Biden and Ukraine


The social media giants took that action before verifying the contents of the article, in which President Trump‘s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and his former top adviser Stephen K. Bannon claimed to have obtained and leaked a trove of private materials from Hunter Biden that show that Hunter may have introduced then Vice President Joe Biden to a Burisma executive. The Biden campaign has claimed his schedule indicated no such meeting took place.

Facebook limited the spread of the story while sending it to third-party fact-checkers. The story initially surged on Twitter earlier Wednesday, rising to become the No. 3 trending topic in the U.S., thanks to viral tweets by White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, right-wing outlets such as One America News, Donald Trump Jr., and later, the Trump campaign. Twitter also wrote its own summary of the story to contextualize the trend. Several hours after publication, Twitter blocked access to the link to the original story, including a warning which said “This link may be unsafe.” Twitter also temporarily locked White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s account, as well as the New York Post’s, adding notices to their tweets saying they violated Twitter’s rules on prohibiting publishing hacked materials. Trump’s campaign account was also temporarily locked (Independent).

Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh called the campaign’s Twitter handle suspension election interference. “For Twitter to lock the main account of the campaign of the President of the United States is a breathtaking level of political meddling and nothing short of an attempt to rig the election,” he said in a statement. “Joe Biden’s Silicon Valley pals are aggressively blocking negative news stories about their guy and preventing voters from accessing important information. This is like something from communist China or Cuba, not the United States of America.”

Earlier in the day, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone tweeted that the company was “reducing” the story’s distribution while it was checked by independent fact-checkers. He pointed to a link on the company website to a year-old policy, which says that if the company has “signals” that a piece of content is false, its distribution could be reduced pending fact-checker review, part of an effort to take “faster action” to stop viral misinformation. Stone declined to comment on the signals the company used in this case, but said similar steps had been taken on several occasions but were not always publicized.

Brandon Borrman, Twitter’s vice president of global communications, pointed to the company’s hacked materials policy, which says, “We don’t permit the use of our services to directly distribute content obtained through hacking that contains private information.” He said the company had blocked links before under the policy, but did not specify when. As backlash against the companies continued throughout the day, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s account tweeted late Wednesday that the company’s initial decision to block links without providing an explanation for it was “unacceptable.” The company’s Twitter Safety handle tweeted that the articles it blocked included images that contained personal and private information in violation of its rules.

Facebook’s move immediately provoked the ire of Republicans, including Donald Trump Jr. and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo), who said he sent a letter asking Facebook to explain its decision to “censor” the story. “The seemingly selective nature of this public intervention suggests partiality on the part of Facebook,” he wrote. He also sent a letter to Dorsey. Earlier this month, Facebook took action on a story spread by the Trump campaign and Fox News, as well as a tweet by a New York Post reporter, that Biden was wearing an earpiece at the presidential debates. The company also limited the spread of a story claiming that far-left activists started the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest this summer.

Determined to avoid a repeat of 2016, Facebook has considered at least 70 possible situations it may need to respond to in the weeks leading up to the election or after. Last summer it hosted more than a dozen formal “tabletop sessions” — essentially drills or planning discussions. This summer, the company held simulations for a hack-and-leak operation, late-breaking foreign interference or overblown claims of foreign interference that may not actually be true but could still undermine trust in the election, as well as potential delays in races being called due to increases in mail-in voting, said spokeswoman Liz Bourgeois.

Twitter has held roughly a dozen such exercises since March, including the same scenarios as Facebook, as well as attempts to manipulate its trending topics feature and coordinated online voter suppression campaigns, said spokesman Nicholas Pacilio. Based on these exercises, the companies have plans to block language by candidates calling for premature victory, or disputing the results of the race.

Facebook will link such calls to the official results according to Reuters, while Twitter will label any premature claims and automatically direct people to an election page with either announcements from state election officials or a public projection from at least two authoritative, national news outlets that make independent election calls. Both companies have also banned calls for and intimations of violence at the polls. Facebook has taken steps to limit political ads in the week leading up to Election Day and the week after. The companies said they are in close contact with election officials to field warnings about potential problems erupting on social media (Washington Post).

Joe Biden’s campaign has ripped claims in the article that he met with an adviser to the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma while his son Hunter Biden worked for them. “The New York Post never asked the Biden campaign about the critical elements of the story,” his campaign said in a statement. Biden’s team also attacked Rudy Giuliani for having “discredited conspiracy theories and alliance with figures connected to Russian intelligence.” They also added that a review of Biden’s official schedule proved no meeting ever took place.


Leave a Reply