When the New York Post released a dubious report on corruption and the Biden family this week, it urged Facebook and Twitter to make a tough decision, but one that has been made for years, showing that social media platforms can and do make editorial decisions these will collide with those of branded publications.
The report alleged that an unidentified person dropped a laptop in a Delaware repair facility in April 2019. This laptop allegedly had emails showing that the younger Biden had arranged a meeting between a Ukrainian energy manager and his father. The Post says it received the computer’s hard drive from Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer.
The Biden campaign and former White House officials denied that such a meeting ever took place. Third-party fact-checking organizations such as PolitiFact have also questioned the veracity of the allegations, and in particular, no reputable news agency has independently verified the Post’s report.
Additionally, there are serious questions about the source of the leak, some of which have suggested it was a “hack-and-leak” campaign, such as in 2016 when Wikileaks received emails from Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta published. (The US intelligence agencies concluded that the emails were likely hacked by Russia and made available to Wikileaks.)
The Washington Post reported today that the White House was warned by the US intelligence community last year that Giuliani was the target of a Russian influence campaign and raised concerns that the New York Post article could also be a hack-and-leak.
American newsrooms and social media outlets have been preparing for such influence campaigns for some time, but the story of the New York Post has made these hypotheses a reality less than three weeks before election day.
Standstill on social
Facebook said the story was eligible for review by the company’s partners and was preventively reducing the spread of the story, although it was reportedly still shared more than 300,000 times.
Twitter went further and prohibited the full distribution of the article. In doing so, the company relied on its hacked materials policy, which prohibits users from “posting hacked content that may contain private information, harm or endanger people physically, or contain trade secrets.”
After some confusion, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, admitted that communications related to the decision were “unacceptable”.
On Thursday evening, the criticism led Twitter to acknowledge that the policy was widespread and “could have many unintended consequences for journalists, whistleblowers and others”.
First, Twitter won’t remove hacked content “unless it’s shared directly by hackers or those who work with them,” and the platform will flag, not block, tweets to provide context, said Vijaya Gadde, the legal, political and trustworthy side of twitter and security line.
The post’s article continues to be blocked from the website for containing “personal private information,” said Twitter spokesman Brandon Borrman. It’s unclear when this new policy will roll out, and users were able to tweet the link to the New York Post this morning.
A Twitter spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.
Facebook and Twitter’s rulings are in line with recent behavior, where they were more willing to exercise editorial discretion, particularly on key political issues like the President’s tweets.
Twitter unleashed an industry storm after reviewing Trump’s tweets of postal ballot papers in late May and then restricting one of its tweets about the shooting of protesters in violation of its “glorifying violence” policy. Under pressure, Facebook, Reddit, Snap, and other companies made remarkable content moderation decisions in the weeks that followed.