On 14th October, Facebook and Twitter limited the spread of a New York Post report that allegedly exposed Joe Biden. Sohrab Ahmari, op-ed editor at New York Post has called it a ‘digital civil war’. In the report, NYP revealed that Hunter Biden introduced a businessman from Ukraine to Joe Biden while he was Vice President of the United States.
Joe Biden has categorically denied having any knowledge of the business his son was doing in Ukraine and had stated that they never discussed his work in Ukraine while he was VP. However, an email reportedly sent on the 17th of April, 2015 by Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of Burisma, to Hunter Biden says, “Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure.”
It is pertinent to mention here that the email in April 2015 was sent a year after Hunter Biden was appointed to the Burisma Board at a salary reported to be $50,000 a month even though he had no prior experience in the energy sector. Another email sent in 2014 reportedly shows Pozharsky asking Hunter Biden for “advice on how you could use your influence” to further the company’s interests. It is widely believed Hunter Biden was paid the money for access to his father Vice-President Joe Biden.
What did New York Post report say?
In the report, the New York Post alleged that they have accessed material from a damaged Macbook that was brought to a service center for repair. The customer who brought the laptop never collected the laptop or paid for the services. The shop owner said he repeatedly tried to contact the client. Though he could not identify the owner as Hunter Biden, he said the laptop had Beau Biden Foundation’s sticker on it.
The report has several documents and mention of a video that proves that Joe Biden met a businessman from Ukraine when he was Vice President of the United States. A few days back, reports had suggested that there are chances that Biden had helped his son Hunter using his influence as the VP of the United States in his business in Ukraine. The Biden Camp has categorically denied all the allegations.
Censorship by Facebook
Within hours after the revealed was revealed by New York Post, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said in a tweet that Facebook would be reducing the distribution of the said post. He said, “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 another tweet, where he quoted Sheera Frenkel, a reporter from the New York Times, that it is a standard process that they follow with every questionable story. Some time back, Facebook had announced that they would be taking steps to ‘ensure’ that there are no fake reports or content that may affect the 2020 elections. It has been alleged that Facebook is using its policies to censor the content they disagree with.
Andy Stone is a long-time Democratic operative as evidenced by his bio on Twitter itself. He has a long history of working for the Democrats including Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Censorship by Twitter
While Facebook restricted the spread of the post, but it is still allowing the users to post the story, Twitter had moved a step further and was not allowing the link to be posted on its platform at all. If someone tries to post the link, a message appears that says, “We can’t complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful.” For those links that had already been posted on Twitter before it got censored, a message appears if someone clicks on them that says, “Link may be unsafe.”
Twitter has posted a thread explaining why it had blocked the URL. The images in the article contain personal information like email addresses and phone numbers that are against their policy. It also violated the Hacked Material Policy that was brought into force in 2018. It says, “Commentary on or discussion about hacked materials, such as articles that cover them but do not include or link to the materials themselves, aren’t a violation of this policy. Our policy only covers links to or images of hacked material themselves.” As the articles included the material, Twitter blocked it, as per their explanation.
Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, quoted the explanation thread and said, “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.” Though Twitter has explained the action, their action has opened doors to severe criticism.
Criticism across social media
On his Twitter account, President Donald Trump posted a link to a CNBC report on the issue and said that it is terrible that Facebook and Twitter decided to censor the report by New York Post. “It is only the beginning for them. There is nothing worse than a corrupt politician,” he added. Several other noted personalities have criticized Facebook and Twitter for the censorship.
New York Post locked out of Twitter
Business reporter at New York Post, Noah Manskar, said on Twitter that Twitter had locked the primary account of New York Post (@nypost) because the article had “hacked material” that violated Twitter’s policy. “Twitter says this was done because of the lack of authoritative reporting on where the materials in our Biden story originated,” he added.
In a separate report commenting on the censorship of its Hunter report, NYP said, “Facebook and Twitter are not media platforms. They’re propaganda machines.” It stated, “An executive of one of the most powerful media platforms in the country, who brags about his years working as a partisan Democratic operative, publicly boasting of his attempt to keep Americans from learning something embarrassing about the Democratic presidential candidate. And then a major competitor rushes to completely suppress the same story.”
Notice issued to Facebook by United States Senator, Josh Hawley
Josh Hawley, US Senator from Missouri, has issued a notice to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO Facebook, to explain his company’s stand on the issue. The notice mentioned that an official spokesperson of Facebook has publicly said that Facebook will reduce the reach of the report. Zuckerberg has been asked to answer several questions, including if it is a standard practice of Facebook to reduce the distribution of a post before they have fact-checked it. The notice also raised the question of why Facebook publically acknowledged that they are going to fact-check a report.
The notice mentioned a report by NYP where it was alleged that the employees of Facebook had donated around $5 million to the Biden campaign. In comparison, only $239,000 have been donated to Trump’s campaign. It asked what steps Facebook took to ensure that the political preference of the employees at Facebook is not influencing the decision making process in such cases.