Facebook Reduced Reach of Posts About Hunter Biden Laptop in Lead-up to 2020 Election: Zuckerberg

Says move was based on advice from FBI

Facebook Reduced Reach of Posts About Hunter Biden Laptop in Lead-up to 2020 Election: Zuckerberg
Mark Zuckerberg speaks in New York City on Oct. 25, 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Mimi Nguyen Ly

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, the parent company of Facebook, told podcast host Joe Rogan in a recent interview that the company actively reduced the reach of social media posts referencing the story about Hunter Biden's laptop in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election.

On the Aug. 25 episode of "The Joe Rogan Experience," Zuckerberg said that the move was in response to a general advisory from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to some Facebook staffers to be vigilant for Russian propaganda before the 2020 election.

Zuckerberg's remarks were in response to Rogan's question: "How do you handle things when there's a big news item that's controversial, like there was a lot of attention on Twitter during the election because of the Hunter Biden laptop story?"

In response to Rogan's question, Zuckerberg said: "The background here is the FBI I think basically came to some folks on our team [and] were like, 'Hey, just so you know, you should be on high alert. We thought that there was a lot of Russian propaganda in the 2016 election, we have it on notice that basically there’s about to be some kind of dump similar to that, so just be vigilant.'”

Zuckerberg said that the protocol Facebook took was "different from Twitter’s."

"What Twitter did [was] they said ‘you can’t share this at all.’ We didn’t do that," Zuckerberg said, referring to the Hunter Biden laptop story. "What we do is, if something is reported to us as potentially misinformation, important misinformation—we also do third-party fact-checking programs because we don’t want to be deciding what’s true and false—and for the, I think it was five or seven days when it was basically being determined whether it was false, the distribution on Facebook was decreased, but people were still allowed to share it. So you can still share it, you could still consume it."

Comments from Zuckerberg went viral on Twitter, after which Meta issued statements on the platform saying the story is not new.

"None of this is new. Mark testified before the Senate nearly two years ago that in the lead up to the 2020 election, the FBI warned about the threat of foreign hack and leak operations," reads a statement from Meta in response to a viral post about Zuckerberg's comments that had more than 51,000 shares and 107,100 thousand likes. Meta's statement linked to an article published in October 2020 about how Zuckerberg had told lawmakers in Congress about Facebook's role in limiting the spread of a New York Post article on the Hunter Biden laptop.
Meta said in another statement posted on Twitter: "As we've said, nothing about the Hunter Biden laptop story is new. Below is what Mark told Sen. Johnson in Oct 2020 and what Mark told Joe Rogan this week. The FBI shared general warnings about foreign interference – nothing specific about Hunter Biden." This time, the post featured a side-by-side video comparing Zuckerberg's remarks in October 2020 and August 2022, showing their similarities.
In a statement to news outlets, the FBI said it "routinely notifies US private sector entities, including social media providers, of potential threat information, so that they can decide how to better defend against threats."

"The FBI has provided companies with foreign threat indicators to help them protect their platforms and customers from abuse by foreign malign influence actors," the statement continues. "The FBI will continue to work closely with federal, state, local, and private sector partners to keep the public informed of potential threats, but the FBI cannot ask, or direct, companies to take action on information received."

Former Vice President Joe Biden (L) and his son Hunter Biden at the Duke Georgetown NCAA college basketball game in Washington on Jan. 30, 2010. (Nick Wass/AP Photo)
Former Vice President Joe Biden (L) and his son Hunter Biden at the Duke Georgetown NCAA college basketball game in Washington on Jan. 30, 2010. (Nick Wass/AP Photo)

FBI Allegedly Obtained Hunter's Laptop

The laptop of President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, became the subject of multiple media reports in October 2020 after the New York Post broke the story. According to the reports, content found on the laptop showed Joe Biden's as well as his brother James's and son Hunter's involvement in various overseas business ventures in countries such as Ukraine, Russia, China, and other countries—including during the time Joe Biden was vice president during the Obama administration—and showed payments received in connection with their involvement. The laptop also contained other content, including pornographic images and illicit data.
At the time, the New York Post reported that the laptop had been allegedly seized by the FBI and a copy of the files given to Rudy Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello, by an electronics repair shop owner.

The Hunter Biden laptop story was quickly censored and suppressed on various social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook. Legacy media outlets initially dismissed the news as Russian disinformation and did not acknowledge the authenticity of the laptop until two years later, when outlets including The Washington Post and The New York Times published articles verifying and acknowledging the authenticity of the laptop.

More than 50 former intelligence officials, including former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, signed a letter (pdf) in October 2021 claiming, with no evidence, that the story about Hunter Biden's laptop was Russian disinformation. The letter was later cited by then-presidential candidate Biden during the second presidential debate to assert that stories surrounding his son's laptop were Russian disinformation.
In March, Former Attorney General William Barr admitted that in the aftermath of the letter, he was informed by former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and the FBI that the laptop was authentic and was in the FBI’s possession, but did not speak publicly about it in his role as attorney general.

'No One Was Able to Say it Was False': Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg explained to Rogan that Facebook ranked the posts about Hunter Biden's laptop in the newsfeed "a little bit less, so fewer people saw it than would have otherwise." Zuckerberg did not quantify the level at which Facebook decreased the distribution of the posts, but said that "it's meaningful."

"But basically, a lot of people were still able to share it," he told Rogan. "We got a lot of complaints that that was the case. You know, obviously, this was a hyper-political issue. So depending on what side of the political spectrum, you either think we didn’t censor it enough or censored way too much.

"But we weren’t sort of as black and white about it as Twitter. We just kind of thought, hey look, if the FBI—which I still view as a legitimate institution in this country, it’s a very professional law enforcement—they come to us and tell us that we need to be on guard about something, then I want to take that seriously."

When asked whether the FBI specified that Facebook needed to "be on guard" about the Hunter Biden laptop story, Zuckerberg responded: "No. I don’t remember if it was that specifically. But it was, it basically fit the pattern."

Rogan asked whether there was any "regret" about suppressing content that turned out be factual, Zuckerberg said: "Yeah, yeah. I mean, it sucks."

"It turned out after the fact, I mean, the fact-checkers looked into it, no one was able to say it was false," he told Rogan. "So it basically had this period where it was getting less distribution ... it sucks though I think in the same way that probably 'having to go through like a criminal trial but being proven innocent in the end' sucks. It still sucks that you had to go through a criminal trial, but at the end you're free.

"I don't know if the answer would've been don't do anything or don't have any process, I think the process was pretty reasonable, we still let people share it, but obviously you don't want situations like that," Zuckerberg said.

Facebook's logo on a smartphone screen. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)
Facebook's logo on a smartphone screen. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

Coverup Impacted Election Results: Poll, Investigative Journalists

A poll by New Jersey-based Technometrica Institute of Policy and Politics in early August of 1,335 adults showed that 79 percent of Americans believe former President Donald Trump likely would have won reelection if people had known the truth about Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Investigative journalists Jeff Carlson and Hans Mahncke said in a commentary piece for The Epoch Times that legacy media's and Big Tech's coverup of the Hunter Biden laptop story impacted the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
Carlson and Mahncke also noted in a separate piece that a poll by Media Research (pdf) showed that 45 percent of people who voted for Biden were "unaware of the allegations against Hunter and Joe Biden and that 16 percent of Biden voters—well over the margin of victory—wouldn’t have voted for him had they known this crucial information."
Carlson told EpochTV's "Crossroads" program in a later interview: “[Recent] polls indicate that if the media had just been honest about what was going on with Hunter’s laptop, and hadn’t just suppressed the story, then we might have had a different election outcome."
Hunter Biden is currently under federal investigation for alleged tax fraud, lobbying crimes, and money laundering. He confirmed in December 2020 that his business deals were being investigated; the probe is being led by Delaware U.S. Attorney David Weiss, a prosecutor appointed by Trump. The federal probe dates back to 2018—a year before Joe Biden announced his candidacy for president—multiple media outlets previously reported, citing unnamed sources.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who in March this year entered into congressional record “content from, files from, and copies from Hunter Biden’s laptop," has said that Republican lawmakers must focus on investigating Hunter Biden's laptop if they control of the House in the November 2022 midterms.

The Republican congressman noted that Biden had previously insisted that he and his son Hunter never discussed Hunter’s business dealings.

“I think what’s really instructive here is that Joe Biden originally took the position that he and Hunter never discussed Hunter’s business. And now we know that was a lie,” Gaetz told Crossroads in an interview in late July. "That was a lie based on the voicemails that we’ve recovered from Joe Biden talking about Hunter’s business deals with him. We know that as a result of photographs, where Joe Biden is with people who Hunter Biden is soliciting for money."
Biden had previously said in 2019: “I have never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings.” In October 2021, just before the presidential election, when news of emails from laptop emerged, Biden dismissed a story surrounding some emails that implicated himself and his son Hunter in a business deal in Ukraine as "another smear campaign."
Ella Kietlinska and Joshua Philipp contributed to this report.
Update: This article has been updated with the latest comments from the FBI and Meta.