UPDATED: Facebook and Twitter took action Wednesday to limit distribution of a New York Post story citing emails purportedly revealing evidence of influence-peddling by Joe Biden’s son Hunter — a disputed allegation that has never been corroborated. The paper claimed the emails were supplied by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, after being copied from a laptop that had been abandoned in a computer-repair shop.
According to the Post’s story, Hunter Biden in 2015 introduced his father, then VP in the Obama administration, to a top exec at Ukrainian energy company Burisma after Hunter joined the company’s board. The insinuation is that Hunter successfully influenced his father to pressure Ukraine government officials “into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company,” per the Post.
The Biden campaign said in a statement that, after reviewing the then-VP’s official schedules from the time, no such meeting between Biden and the Ukrainian executive ever took place. The Democratic presidential candidate’s reps reiterated assertions that Biden engaged in no wrongdoing in carrying out U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine.
The emails cited in the Post’s article have not been verified by other news organizations. Two former Biden advisers told Politico they had never heard of the Burisma exec named in the New York Post story, and one of them, Michael Carpenter, called the story “a Russian disinformation operation.”
Facebook on Wednesday identified the Post story as potential misinformation and said it was limiting distribution of the article on its platform. Andy Stone, Facebook’s policy communications director, said in a tweet that the Post story was “eligible to be fact checked by Facebook’s third-party fact checking partners” and that “In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform.” Stone later tweeted that the review was “part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation.”
Twitter disabled the Post’s original tweets linking to two Hunter Biden stories. In addition, Twitter on Wednesday blocked users from tweeting the Post story, with an error message saying, “We can’t complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful.”
According to a Twitter spokesperson, the company determined that the New York Post story violated the social media company’s hacked material policy, which bans “the use of our services to directly distribute content obtained through hacking that contains private information, may put people in physical harm or danger, or contains trade secrets.”
Later Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted, “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.”
Dorsey retweeted a thread from the Twitter Safety team that tried to explain the actions taken against two Post articles. First, according to Twitter Safety, the images in the articles include “personal and private information — like email addresses and phone numbers — which violate our rules.” In addition, the articles violated Twitter’s hacked material policy and “We don’t want to incentivize hacking by allowing Twitter to be used as distribution for possibly illegally obtained materials.” The Twitter Safety team added that commentary on and discussion about hacked materials is OK and that its policy “only covers links to or images of hacked material themselves.”
Of course, the irony about the two social networks attempting to restrict the distribution of the Post’s Hunter Biden story is that the moves likely have drawn even more attention to it.
On Twitter, President Trump complained about the platforms’ stifling of the Post piece. “So terrible that Facebook and Twitter took down the story of ‘Smoking Gun’ emails related to Sleepy Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in the @NYPost. It is only the beginning for them. There is nothing worse than a corrupt politician. REPEAL SECTION 230!!!” Trump was referring to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields internet companies from legal liability for user-posted content on their services. In May, Trump issued an executive order seeking to rescind Section 230 protections for social networks if they “censor” speech.
In an editorial, the New York Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, lashed out at Facebook and Twitter’s decisions to curb distribution of the story.
“Censor first, ask questions later: It’s an outrageous attitude for two of the most powerful platforms in the United States to take,” the Post editorial said. “Facebook and Twitter are not media platforms. They’re propaganda machines.”
The paper also accused Stone, who joined Facebook in 2014, of “wear[ing] his own bias on his sleeve,” noting that the PR exec says in his Twitter bio that he previously worked for Democrats including former Sen. Barbara Boxer and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
In the Hunter Biden story, the Post said the emails it reported were part of “massive trove” of data on a laptop that was left at a Delaware computer repair shop in 2019. The FBI seized MacBook Pro after the shop’s owner alerted the agency to it. The newspaper said it was unable to confirm the laptop actually belonged to Hunter Biden.
According to the Post, the computer shop owner had first made a copy of the data on the laptop — and later handed that over to Giuliani lawyer Robert Costello. Ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon (who has been indicted by federal prosecutors on fraud charges) informed the Post about existence of the laptop data “in late September.” On Sunday, per the Post, Giuliani provided the newspaper with a copy of the data.
Regarding Twitter’s citation of its hacked material policy in blocking tweets of the story, the Post in its editorial said, “Our story explains where the info came from, and a Senate committee now confirms it also received the files from the same source.” The Post also complained that neither Facebook or Twitter restricted the New York Times’ series of exposés on Donald Trump’s tax returns; the Times has asserted that the information “was legally obtained by reporters” but it has not revealed its sources so as to not “jeopardize” them.
A rep for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign said in a statement to Politico that the New York Post never inquired about “critical elements of the story.” Specifically, the Post “never raised that Rudy Giuliani — whose discredited conspiracy theories and alliance with figures connected to Russian intelligence have been widely reported — claimed to have such materials,” Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said.
“Investigations by the press, during impeachment, and even by two Republican-led Senate committees whose work was decried as ‘not legitimate’ and political by a GOP colleague, have all reached the same conclusion: that Joe Biden carried out official U.S. policy toward Ukraine and engaged in no wrongdoing,” Bates said.
In September, a report issued by two Senate Republican committees found no evidence that Biden engaged in wrongdoing related to his son’s business dealings. However, the report also said, “The Obama administration knew that Hunter Biden’s position on Burisma’s board was problematic and did interfere in the efficient execution of policy with respect to Ukraine,” claiming that Hunter’s business ties in Ukraine put State Department officials in an “awkward” position because of the appearance of a conflict of interest.