This is the first time the social media companies have taken direct action against a news article by a major U.S. publisher (the New York Post is among the top five newspapers by circulation).
Notably, the actions by Facebook and Twitter appear arbitrary, without consistency or good reason.
Facebook communications employee Andy Stone said in a statement that the platform was “reducing its distribution” of the Post article, noting that the action came before the article had been fact-checked (however dubious the “fact-checkers” themselves may be). This raises questions about the basis of Facebook’s move to limit the reach of—and effectively censor—the article.
Twitter went further than Facebook, adding warning labels to tweets and prohibiting users from posting the link to the Post article—both publicly and in direct messages—and locking out some users who did, including the New York Post itself and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
After scrambling to provide a reason for the censorship, Twitter later argued that the Post article violated its policies on “personal and private information” and violations of its “Hacked Materials Policy.”
In a separate statement, Twitter said that the platform “prohibits the use of our service to distribute content obtained without authorization.”
Does this mean that going forward, all media articles containing leaked documents will be banned by the platform? And will this standard be evenly applied to all media organizations?
By Twitter’s own standards, some of the most consequential journalism ever produced—which often relied on leaked documents—would have no place on its platform.
Twitter and Facebook’s rules are so dangerously vague that the platforms can choose to censor content as they see fit.
It has been no secret that as the two companies have grown in size and influence in recent years, so has their control over public discourse.
It would be their right to do so as a publisher. But Twitter and Facebook have vehemently denied being publishers, and instead argue they are open platforms, giving them protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Facebook and Twitter have now crossed that line so publicly and blatantly that, just like the media they censor, they have effectively become publishers, and should be held to the same standards of accountability.