In avoiding a misleading New York Post story, Facebook and Twitter promote falsities about Biden.
In a bid to address growing criticism over the role of social media in spreading misinformation, Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday prevented users from sharing a New York Post article that contained alleged details of Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine. While the move was aimed at restricting dissemination of disinformation, it has stirred up a controversy that has stoked the fake narrative of ‘conspiracy against Trump’ further.
Trying to avoid dissemination of disinformation, Facebook and Twitter stirred up a controversy that stoked a fake narrative further.
NY Post’s bit of Shoddy Journalism
On Wednesday 14 the October, The New York Post, seen as Rupert Murdoch-owned Trump mouthpiece, published a questionable report citing alleged emails that it said were given to the lawyer of Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney. The emails were meant to show Hunter Biden communicating with a Ukrainian official about a meeting with his father, then vice president, Joe Biden.
The alleged emails were meant to show Hunter Biden communicating with a Ukrainian official about a meeting with his father, then vice president, Joe Biden.
The story included screenshots of emails allegedly copied from a hard drive that may have belonged to Hunter Biden. The story was widely discredited by media outlets that saw many red flags and gaping holes in the reporting–the most prominent being the legitimacy of the purported emails. Besides the veracity of the exchanges, journalists also questioned the sourcing of the emails by the Post.
Watch: NY Post says it obtained Hunter Biden’s Emails on Ukraine
The Post’s report claimed that the mails were recovered from a damaged laptop that was given for repair at an unidentified computer repair shop. The owner of the latter was later identified by Business Insider as an avid Trump supporter whose facts appeared muddled. Furthermore, a Republican-led Senate committees have previously concluded that Biden engaged in no wrongdoing related to Ukraine.
The story’s source was later identified as an avid Trump supporter.
Overall the story with its ambiguities and dubious claims, was largely dismissed as a ‘common-enough case of shoddy journalism.’ However, acting somewhat uncharacteristically fast, the two social media giants –Twitter and Facebook–started restricting the story on its platform within hours of its publication.
Twitter and Facebook’s Overenthusiasm
Facebook announced that it would limit the story’s appearance on its platform, that is restrict how often the story shows up in users’ news feeds and elsewhere on Facebook. Andy Stone, Policy Communications Manager at Facebook, in a tweet 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 the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform.”
Twitter, meanwhile, Prohibited users from posting links to the Post story on their handles. A stance that is being seen as ‘dramatic’ as Twitter offered no explanation for the ban. Twitter, providing no details on what materials it viewed as ‘hacked’ in the story, later said the story violated its “hacked materials” policy. The policy bars distribution of content acquired via hacking that contains private information or trade secrets, or puts people at risk of physical harm.
The reaction to these unusually swift action by Facebook and Twitter has been largely puzzled and critical from both ends of the spectrum.
The New York Post, predictably, was quick to respond to the social media giant’s actions, said: “Censor first, ask questions later: It’s an outrageous attitude for two of the most powerful platforms in the United States to take.” Fox News has been running the story and Republicans have been scathing in their criticism, some even calling for an investigation into possible violations of campaign-finance law.
Criticism even came from the disinformation researchers camp, the International Fact-Checking Network, issued a statement saying: “The decision to reduce or prevent the distribution of @nypost’s article based on some mysterious, non-transparent criteria and an unknown methodology is a serious mistake.”
Faltering too far
What aroused further ire from the critics was another move from Twitter temporarily blocking a URL of a site run by the Republicans of the House Judiciary Committee, where the New York Post story had been reposted. Alleging that the ban on a government website constituted “clear election interference,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that this “all to protect Joe Biden.” The ban was quickly lifted and a Twitter spokesperson said the decision was made “in error.”
The social media giants’ very public restrictions of a story that otherwise may have been ignored owing to the acknowledged bias of its source and poor the quality of reporting, has actually given ammunition to the enablers of Trump who have, inaccurately, maintained that social platforms have been against the Right Wing. According to The Atlantic: “Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Twitter’s move is that it lent a degree of legitimacy to an otherwise nonsensical—but pervasive—paranoia about anti-conservative bias on social platforms.”
There are also many preposterous suggestions that Twitter and Biden have been colluding in the 2020 US Presidential election. However, what is more worrying is that such knee-jerk reactions hampers the very narrative on restraining fake news and raises doubts about earlier moderation efforts by disinformation researchers. Despite, or because of the tactless and ill-considered move without proper context to restrict the story’s spread, details of the New York Post story have been circulating on both social media platforms and the topic emerged amongst top trends on Twitter on Wednesday.