Facebook and Twitter took action on Oct. 14 to stop people from spreading a story about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, in the latest escalation of open interference in the upcoming election.
The story about Hunter Biden centered on documents and photographs from a hard drive allegedly obtained by the New York Post.
“While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want [to] 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,” Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, said in a statement.
“This is part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation. We temporarily reduce distribution pending fact-checker review.”
Facebooks pays third-party organizations to decide what’s true and what’s not. If content includes a claim that has received a negative rating from any of the fact-checkers, Facebook will limit how many people can see it. Several prominent right-leaning commentators have recently had their pages affected in this manner because some of their posts, the fact-checkers said, lacked context. The fact-checkers focused on American content are dominated by funding and personnel with left-leaning backgrounds.
Twitter prevented many users from posting a link to the Post story, including the paper’s op-ed editor, Sohrab Ahmari.
A Twitter spokesperson told news outlets in a statement, “In line with our Hacked Materials Policy, as well as our approach to blocking URLs, we are taking action to block any links to or images of the material in question on Twitter.”
The policy states that Twitter doesn’t “permit 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.”
Ahmari called the action by Twitter “digital civil war,” while Trump’s campaign said Facebook’s action showed it “is actively interfering in the election” and “is rigging the election for Joe Biden.”
“This is outrageous,” Tim Murtaugh, the campaign’s director of communications, said in a tweet.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) wrote in a tweet, “This is [Big Tech] control of news & speech, nationwide, in real time—all in an attempt to control an election.”
Critics noted that Stone used to work for Democrats in Congress, including former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
Facebook, Twitter, and other technology giants are facing heightened scrutiny from Congress, mainly Republicans, because of evidence showing bias against the GOP.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is facing a subpoena after refusing to appear voluntarily before a Senate panel to answer questions on how the company moderates content and users, among other issues.
The Trump administration recently proposed an alteration to Section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act, proposing a rollback of liability protections that currently shield Facebook and some other tech platforms from many lawsuits.
Both Facebook and Twitter are planning to censor a number of posts before and around the time of the Nov. 3 elections, including what the companies are describing as premature claims of victory.
Petr Svab contributed to this report.