This article is authored by Mitchell Nemeth
Facebook and Twitter’s measures to reduce the visibility of a New York Post story [a must read] about Hunter Biden backfired, as these efforts “didn’t prevent the article from becoming the top story about the election,” according to Axios. This does not lessen the troublesome actions taken by the platforms to curb the spread of a potentially devastating story for the Biden family. It does, however, demonstrate that “even swift, aggressive content suppression may not be swift or aggressive enough to keep down a story…as this one.”
Both social media networks have come under fire for alleged “censorship” of conservative-leaning content. Of course, the First Amendment’s protections of “Freedom of Speech” do not apply to most private corporations; however, these platforms are given an element of immunity for content moderation under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This government-granted immunity for certain moderation has been a political hot-button issue for some time.
Stories like the Hunter Biden New York Post story are undoubtedly in the public interest, as were the thousands of articles about the now-debunked Steele Dossier and Russian “collusion.” What differentiates this story from other political news stories is the response by social media networks.
Twitter took extreme action in which it disabled the sharing of the New York Post article, while suspending accounts of high-profile individuals who shared it. Facebook, on the other hand, reduced the reach of the story and made the sharing of this Post article eligible to be fact-checked. As major social networks, these platforms have been compared to the “public square” of days past. Thus, their impact on what is and what is not a news story is extremely important. When a major platform takes steps to silence dissemination of a story based on unevenly enforced policies and on dubious theories of “Russia disinformation,” that platform is acting as a distributor of content.
Data suggests that “Facebook was far more effective in slowing the spread of the Post story than was Twitter,” according to Newsweek. The most problematic element of this story is how Facebook and Twitter determine what is false and how evenly their policies are applied to all content on their platforms. So far, there is little evidence refuting the Post story so it is unclear what evidence these two social networks relied on to throttle the spread of this story. In fact, a “Federal Law Enforcement Official” told Fox News that the Hunter Biden emails were “authentic” and not “hacked materials,” as Twitter initially described the Post story.
The Post’s Hunter Biden story gave readers insight into Biden’s international business dealings with some information implicating the former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. The Washington Examiner reported that neither the Joe Biden campaign nor Hunter Biden “has denied any other element of the emails story,” which should provide entrepreneurial journalists with an opportunity to either validate or discredit the Post’s story. Either outcome would provide much needed information and support or discredit the attempts at throttling this story.
Unfortunately for the Biden campaign, little evidence refutes the story leaving open the possibility that this story will play a pivotal role in the coming weeks before the election. Years of media reporting on the Biden family’s political profiteering will make it impossible for the Biden campaign to call all allegations “false” or “Russian disinformation.” For example, a POLITICO investigation titled “Biden Inc.” outlines how the Biden family’s ventures “have regularly raised conflict-of-interest questions and brought the Biden family into potentially compromising associations.” Also, a widely-shared New York Times story by Ken Vogel shows “how Hunter Biden and his American business partners were part of a broad effort by Burisma to bring in well-connected Democrats during a period when the company was facing investigations backed not just by domestic Ukrainian forces but by officials in the Obama administration.”
In the end, Facebook and Twitter’s efforts to throttle the dissemination of this major news story backfired spectacularly. Now, conservatives can hammer Joe Biden not only for his conflicts of interest in Ukraine with his son’s business dealings but also for social media networks unevenly enforcing their ever-changing policies. The past week of coverage on this story has demonstrated that “censorship” does not eliminate certain ideas or stories from the broader public conversation. Hopefully, this spectacular failure on behalf of the Tech Titans serves as a reminder that they have never been appointed members of the Truth Commission.