This morning, Andy Stone, Facebook’s policy communications manager (and, per his bio, a former staffer for Barbara Boxer, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the House Majority PAC), announced that the social-media giant would begin “reducing” the “distribution” of a New York Post investigation into emails purporting that Joe Biden met with a top executive from the Ukrainian natural-gas firm Burisma Holdings at the behest of his son Hunter Biden.
In one of the emails reported by the Post, a Burisma executive named Vadym Pozharskyi thanks Hunter for inviting him to Washington to meet with the vice president in 2015.
If the Post report is to be believed, the Biden-Burisma meeting occurred less than a year before the vice president pressured Ukrainian officials to fire Viktor Shokin, a prosecutor investigating the company that was paying Hunter $50,000 per month for his alleged expertise. That is, by any journalistic standard, newsworthy.
Instead of simply asking pertinent questions, or debunking the Post’s reporting, a media blackout was initiated. A number of well-known journalists warned colleagues and their sizable social-media audiences not to share the story.
By the afternoon, Twitter had joined Facebook in suppressing the article, not only barring its users from sharing it with followers, but barring them sharing it through direct messages as well. It locked the accounts of White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, the Post, and many others for retweeting the story.
There is no credible reason for this kind of targeted suppression. Over the past five years there have been scores of dramatic scoops written by major media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN that were based on faulty information provided by unknown sources that turned out to be incorrect. Not once has Facebook or Twitter concerned itself with the sourcing methods of reporters. Not once did it censor any of those pieces.
Even today, Twitter users are free to share stories that rely on the Steele Dossier, which includes the Donald Trump “pee-tape” myth, despite the fact that we now know it was likely disinformation dropped into the media stream by a foreign power.
Twitter initially cited its “Hacked Materials Policy” and a “lack of authoritative reporting” as justification for censoring the Post, one of the most widely read papers in the nation. Though the reliability of the story is yet to be determined, Twitter has offered no evidence that any of the information was illegally obtained. No similar standard was applied when the New York Times published Trump’s tax returns, even though anyone who had legal access to them is likely to have broken the law in sharing them with the Times. The newspaper reports that Hunter Biden’s emails had turned up in the hard drive of a laptop that had been dropped off at a repair shop last year. The FBI is reportedly in possession of the hard drive.
Whatever the case, it’s all in the public record now. A healthy democracy with a properly functioning and independent press would debate, investigate, and rigorously factcheck new information. They wouldn’t work to squelch a story. It’s certainly not the job of giant tech companies who claim to function as neutral platforms to decide what news consumers can or can’t handle.
The most generous reading of Twitter and Facebook’s actions is that the rules are evolving, messy, and inadvertently unfair. A less generous — but more plausible — reading is that the tech giants single out specific stories damaging to progressives’ preferred presidential candidate.
It will backfire. For one thing, it further damages the reputation of Big Tech. For another, it renders the industry more susceptible to a new regulatory regime already being championed by some in Congress. Mostly, however, it just makes the story they’re trying to suppress a far bigger deal.