In the weeks leading up to the election, allegedly ground-breaking information about Hunter Biden was released by the New York Post, but it was not given priority on social media platforms. Twitter and Facebook are under fire for censoring stories and posts related to the story and the allegations. Republican members of the Senate are planning to subpoena Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, over what they are claiming as an unprecedented election interference attempt.
On Oct. 14, the New York Post released a story alleging unconfirmed corruption of President-elect Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. According to the Wall Street Journal, Twitter locked the New York Post’s account due to their reporting on the story. Twitter claimed that the story had “content obtained without authorization.” When that reasoning fell through, Twitter “changed their policy” and allowed users to share the story but maintained that the Post’s account broke policy at the time of posting, and would be locked until the troublesome tweets were deleted.
In April 2019, Hunter Biden dropped off a laptop at a computer shop and never returned to pick it up. The New York Post claimed that the FBI had seized the laptop and their article used the documents from the laptop as proof to say what the Trump administration has been claiming all along: that Joe Biden as vice president shaped foreign policy to benefit his son.
Some of the released documents call to question Joe Biden’s involvement with his son’s business affairs; Joe Biden has claimed repeatedly that he did not know of his son’s dealings. In one email from Vadym Pozharskyi, advisor to Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy company that Hunter Biden sat on the board of, Pozharskyi thanks Hunter Biden for “giving an opportunity to meet your father” and to spend “some time together.” However, in September, two Republican-led Senate committees investigated the matter and found no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Joe Biden, according to Forbes.
The author of the article refused to put his name on it out of fear of retaliation. Other reporters at the Post had concerns about the reliability of the sources and the timing of the news release. Stephen Bannon, former advisor to President Trump, and Rudolph Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, are the two sources mentioned by the Post. Giuliani is said to have delivered a copy of the hard drive to the Post on Oct. 11. He chose the Post because “either nobody else would take it, or, if they took it, they would spend all the time they could to try to contradict it before they put it out,” according to The New York Times.
Twitter blocked users from linking to the story and posting screenshots of the story as #TwitterCensorship began to trend and draw more attention to the story. About its policies, Twitter says, “Our policies are living documents.” Twitter’s Vice President of Trust and Safety Del Harvey said, “We are continually working to update, refine, and improve both our enforcement and our policies, informed by in-depth research around trends in online behavior both on and off Twitter, feedback from the people who use Twitter, and input from a number of external entities, including members of our Trust & Safety Council.”
Some argue that social media censorship goes against an individual’s right to free speech and freedom of expression. However, according to David Hudson of the American Bar Association, “social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and others can limit, control, and censor speech as much or more than governmental entities,” Hudson said.
“Individual self-fulfillment, often associated with the liberty theory, posits that people need and crave the ability to express themselves to become fully functioning individuals. Censorship stunts personal growth and individual expansion,” Hudson said. “The point here is that when an entity like Facebook engages in censorship, individuals don’t get to participate in the marketplace of ideas and are not allowed to liberty to engage in individual self-fulfillment—just like when a governmental entity engages in censorship.” Hudson notes that for the last 140 years the Supreme Court has explained the First Amendment only limits governmental actors; however, he thinks that these limitations should be extended to highly influential private entities like social media platforms.
The Supreme Court found in Packingham v. North Carolina in 2017 that, “While in the past there may have been difficulty in identifying the most important places for the exchange of views, today the answer is clear. It is cyberspace—the ‘vast democratic forums of the Internet’ in general, and social media in particular.”
Photo courtesy of Joshua Hoehne