On Wednesday, the New York Post threw gasoline onto the smoldering coals of the Ukraine affair that led to US President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in January, publishing a story titled “Hunter Biden emails show leveraging connections with his father to boost Burisma pay.” However, as the story gained traction on social media, Facebook and Twitter moved to limit its spread.
Several hours after the Post’s story was published, Facebook spokesperson Andrew Stone tweeted they would be “reducing its distribution on our platform” while the social media giant’s third-party fact-checkers verified the story was accurate.
“This is part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation,” Stone added. “We temporarily reduce distribution pending fact-checker review.”
While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want 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 (@andymstone) October 14, 2020
Twitter, however, took it a step further: by the early afternoon, users who attempted to post a link to the Post story were greeted with the error message saying “Something went wrong, but don’t fret - let’s give it another shot.”
Meanwhile, attempting to click on tweets of the story posted earlier in the day caused the following message to appear: “Warning: this link may be unsafe,” followed by a list of the company’s rules and regulations.
The Post’s original tweet of the story was removed completely, with Twitter claiming the nation’s fourth-largest-circulating newspaper had “violated the Twitter rules,” and an attempt by the outlet’s editors to repost the story was totally halted, with a message saying the link “has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful.”
This is what happens when I try to post our story exposing Biden family graft. pic.twitter.com/7pwxUoNgTX— Sohrab Ahmari (@SohrabAhmari) October 14, 2020
Twitter and Facebook’s silencing of the story’s spread aroused fury among conservatives, with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) each sending letters of complaint about the incident to various authorities; Cruz’s note went straight to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Hawley sent letters to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as well as Twitter.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign adopted a novel solution to the story’s censoring by tweeting out its contents in a Twitter thread, 280 characters at a time:
Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company...— Francis Brennan (@FrancisBrennan) October 14, 2020
Trump’s “war room” campaign Twitter account directly accused Facebook of “rigging the election for Joe Biden,” saying the social media giant was “actively interfering in the election.” The president also inveighed against Twitter and Facebook on his own personal account, calling for repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which gives website publishers broad - but not unlimited - protection from the consequences of third-party content on their site.
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!!! https://t.co/g1RJFpIVUZ— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2020
Later on Wednesday, Trump's campaign reported that White House Press Secretary Kelly McEnany had her Twitter account locked, with the company claiming she had posted "hacked material" that "may put people in physical harm or danger, or contains trade secrets."
BREAKING: Twitter has locked the personal account of White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany for sharing news Democrats don’t like. pic.twitter.com/eR8HhkgqVY— Trump War Room - Text TRUMP to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) October 14, 2020
The story purports to reveal emails sent by Hunter Biden to a business partner at gas firm Burisma Holdings in April 2014, just months after the February coup in Kiev orchestrated by the United States. In the emails, which were supposedly found on a MacBook Pro laptop abandoned at a Delaware computer shop, Hunter seems to leverage the fact that his father, Joe Biden, was at the time the US vice president and would be visiting Kiev soon.
Biden’s campaign weighed in on the Post’s story as well, saying the outlet never asked about the story’s central elements and that the meeting it reported did not happen.
New: Biden campaign responds to NY Post story. “The New York Post never asked the Biden campaign about the critical elements of this story...moreover, we have reviewed Joe Biden’s official schedules from the time and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place.” pic.twitter.com/yB2N5mvsXb— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) October 14, 2020
In 2019, attempts by Trump to get Kiev to reopen a 2015 probe into Hunter’s business dealings eventually led to Trump’s impeachment for abuse of power, and his efforts were decried by detractors as an attempt to influence the 2020 presidential race, in which Joe Biden is running against Trump. Supporters of the president, however, pointed to the potential corruption such a probe might unveil.