Facebook and Twitter typically take heat for acting too slowly to reduce the spread of harmful misinformation. But on Wednesday, both companies acted surprisingly quickly to limit distribution of an unverified New York Post report claiming to contain a “smoking gun” email related to Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The timing of the decision could hardly be more fraught for the companies. Both CEOs have agreed to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee in just two weeks, on Oct. 28 — less than a week before Election Day. That hearing was already expected to be full of questions about the platforms’ alleged bias against conservatives. The chief executives only agreed to appear voluntarily after the committee unanimously decided to authorize subpoenas if they didn’t.
But what risks getting flattened in the discussion is that Facebook and Twitter had very different reasons and used very different methods to reduce distribution of the Post story.
Twitter’s stated reason was more technical in nature and its method more disruptive to individual users. Facebook’s reason was more explicitly related to its election policies, but its method was more subtle for the casual user.
Twitter cited its hacked material and private information policies as reasons for preventing users from posting or sharing, even in private direct messages, links to the original Post article. The Post claimed the source of information for the unverified story was a laptop that an owner of a repair shop in Delaware believed belonged to Hunter Biden. When no one came to pick up the drive, the owner allegedly made a copy of the hard drive and gave it to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s lawyer before supposedly handing the original over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Post said it later obtained a copy from Giuliani.
Twitter claimed that the link violated its policies because the material in the report, which included photos from the allegedly copied hard drive, supposedly contained hacked materials. The article also included an unredacted copy of a message with supposed email addresses for Hunter Biden and two others. Sharing a nonpublic personal email address also violates Twitter’s policies.
Users could still share articles commenting on the piece that did not contain the allegedly hacked or personal information. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, even posted a copy of part of the article on his own website, which the House Judiciary Committee GOP’s Twitter account posted. That version of the article did not contain the images allegedly taken from the hard drive or the unredacted email addresses. Twitter has left that link intact as of Thursday morning.
Sean Ono Lennon: It is no longer exaggeration to say that the collusion between social media and media to manipulate our reality for the benefit of their political agendas has reached Stalinist proportions.
In fact Stalin’s propaganda machine was relatively weak by comparison. Imagine if he had had control of social media technology, how would things have turned out then? What would our understanding of that history be today? It’s scary to think about.
— Sean Ono Lennon (@seanonolennon) October 16, 2020
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