October 16, 2020

Twitter/Facebook v. NY Post

Wednesday morning, The New York Post published a story with emails and pictures allegedly obtained from a laptop once owned by Hunter Biden. New York Post

“Facebook and Twitter took action on Wednesday to limit the distribution of [the] New York Post reporting… Facebook [said it] was limiting distribution of the Post's main story while its outside fact-checkers reviewed the claims… Twitter went further. It is blocking users from posting pictures of the emails or links to two of the New York Post's stories referring to them, spokesman Trenton Kennedy said, citing its rules against sharing ‘content obtained through hacking that contains private information.’” NPR

On Thursday evening, Twitter’s legal, policy and trust and safety lead announced that it “will no longer remove hacked content unless it is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them” and “All the other Twitter Rules will still apply to the posting of or linking to hacked materials, such as our rules against posting private information, synthetic and manipulated media, and non-consensual nudity.” Twitter

Many on both sides are critical of Twitter and Facebook censoring news publications:

The explanations given by Twitter and Facebook are not credible. If these platforms were really concerned about users sharing ‘unconfirmed’ reporting, they would have spent the last four years shutting down story after ludicrous story about Russian ‘collusion’ and pee tapes and whatever Michael Cohen was supposed to have been doing in Prague. This is to say nothing of the fact that until a few days ago it was still possible for Facebook users to deny that the Holocaust took place…

“A simple provisional solution to the problem of serving as publisher to a host of media outlets with independent editorial processes would be not to interfere at all. Despite what many of these companies' critics might assert to the contrary, it is entirely possible to distinguish between an unflattering news article published by one of America's oldest newspapers and Alex Jones. Trusting the judgement of editors, reporters, and fact checkers is not fool-proof, but it makes more sense than leaving such decisions to the whims of programmers.”
Matthew Walther, The Week

Publishing ‘content without authorization’ is also known as journalism, and would encompass anything from celebrated reportage like the Pentagon Papers or the Snowden documents, to more recent leaks about Trump’s monstrous treatment of immigrants at the border and his use of federal police against nonviolent protesters…

“Then there’s the matter of double standards. It was only last month the New York Times began its series of major exposés on Trump’s finances, based on tax returns that someone almost certainly broke a signed agreement, ethical rule, or even the law to get into the paper’s hands — content obtained without authorization, in other words… The Post story is by no means the first instance of tech censorship, but it is the most aggressive so far, and the most brazenly political.”
Branko Marcetic, Jacobin

“If journalists were forbidden from distributing ‘content obtained without authorization,’ the majority of the biggest news stories of the past century would be off-limits. President Trump’s tax return story. The Pentagon Papers. Watergate. The Iran-Contra scandal. The most vital charge of journalism is to procure information that the powerful hide… The very notion that the establishment media wouldn’t run with hacked e-mails from Trump, if they pointed to possible misconduct, strains credulity. Just a few weeks ago, nearly every reporter on social media was sharing a recording ‘obtained without authorization’ of the first lady complaining about Christmas decorating.”
David Harsanyi, New York Post

“Tech giants, like all corporations, are required by law to have one overriding objective: maximizing shareholder value. They are always going to use their power to appease those they perceive wield the greatest political and economic power. That is why Facebook accepts virtually every request from the Israeli Government to remove the pages of Palestinian journalists and activists on the grounds of ‘incitement,’ but almost never accepts Palestinians’ requests to remove Israeli content. It is the same reason Facebook blocks and censors governments adverse to the U.S., but not the other way around. They are going to heed the interests of the powerful at the expense of those who lack it

“To observe that those who are cheering for this today because they happen to like this particular outcome are being short-sighted and myopic is to woefully understate the case. The only people who should want to live in a world where Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai and Jeff Bezos have a stranglehold on what can be said and heard are those whose actions are devoted to the perpetuation of their power and who benefit from their hegemony.”
Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“The truth, of course, is that tech platforms have been controlling our information diets for years, whether we realized it or not. Their decisions were often buried in obscure ‘community standards’ updates, or hidden in tweaks to the black-box algorithms that govern which posts users see. But make no mistake: These apps have never been neutral, hands-off conduits for news and information…

“What’s happening now is simply that, as these companies move to rid their platforms of bad behavior, their influence is being made more visible. Rather than letting their algorithms run amok (which is an editorial choice in itself), they’re making high-stakes decisions about flammable political misinformation in full public view, with human decision makers who can be debated and held accountable for their choices. That’s a positive step for transparency and accountability.”
Kevin Roose, New York Times

“The sourcing trail for the emails in question is murky, at best; they also happen to run straight through some of President Donald Trump’s closest allies and fixers. The Biden campaign directly denied that any such meeting took place, citing official schedules from the time period in question…

“The president and his allies know on some level that he owes his narrow victory in 2016 at least in part to third-party efforts: the release of hacked Clinton-related emails in early October, as well as then–FBI Director James Comey’s eleventh-hour announcement, later that month, that the investigation had been reopened. As he faces an even more dire electoral map four years later, Trumpworld may be tempted to try to provoke a similar episode to undermine Biden’s chances. Against that backdrop, a healthy amount of skepticism is warranted about any mysterious damaging information that suddenly surfaces over the next few weeks.”
Matt Ford, New Republic

Regarding possible connections between Hunter Biden and Joe Biden’s actions while Vice President, “Pavlo Klimkin, Ukrainian foreign minister from 2014 until Aug. 29, 2019, said that the firing of [Ukraine’s top prosecutor Viktor] Shokin was universally urged by Ukraine’s benefactors. ‘The demand came not just from the U.S., and not just from Biden… I heard it in every meeting with the international financial institutions, especially the IMF and World Bank.’… Colin H. Kahl, Biden’s national security adviser at the time, told The Fact Checker that ‘our policy on corruption and Shokin in Ukraine kept getting tougher across 2015, so the whole theory of the case [in the New York Post] makes no sense.’”
Glenn Kessler, Washington Post

From the Right

“Twitter made these efforts despite the fact that the central claim of the article, an email shows that Hunter Biden introduced a Burisma colleague to his father, the vice president, has not been denied by Hunter’s lawyers or the Biden campaign. In other words, Twitter decided a story disputed only on the margins was beyond the bounds of allowable content… Twitter’s supposed rules aren’t rules. They are at best the digital equivalent of vagrancy laws — handy rules to have on hand in case you want to invoke them against content you wish people wouldn’t see.”
Timothy P. Carney, Washington Examiner

“There is a dodgy, even comedic element to the story, with the computer being abandoned at a repair shop before a copy of its contents came into the Post’s possession via Rudy Giuliani. The presence of Steve Bannon in the plot is a red flag, because Steve Bannon is a human red flag. But we know about the Coen Brothers aspects of the story because they are right there in the New York Post’s account…

The Post is being straightforward and open about the provenance. In that, the Post is taking a rather different approach from, say, the New York Times, which has pointedly refused to say how it got its hands on Donald Trump’s tax returns. I don’t much doubt that the Times has what it says it has, but it would be useful to know how it came to have it…

“By all means, let’s tear into that Post story and see how it holds up. Are the emails fake? Are the photos and videos fake? What does the FBI think? If this is part of an elaborate disinformation campaign, then who is behind it — and how do we know? Big questions. Simply trying to ignore the Post story or to cast aspersions on the Post’s reporting is not good enough.”
Kevin D. Williamson, National Review

“The evidence is plausible because everything in the emails seems to comport with and add believably to what was already known about the Biden Inc. dealings, because the diction and details in the emails are so distinctive, and because they were accompanied in the hard drive by very private photos that quite clearly belonged to or involved Hunter Biden…

“Real reporters should be beating down the doors of the Delaware prosecutor’s office to find out what was done or is being done or was discovered about the hard drive. Electronic evidence is verifiable. Every reporter (and indeed every citizen) should be demanding that this particular electronic evidence be either verified or disproven.”
Quin Hillyer, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“Trump has generated unprecedented resistance by openly flouting norms that traditional politicians at worst used to dodge quietly. The members of that resistance have understandably come to believe that more aggressive curbs on conservative ‘fake news’ are a necessary counterweight to the disproportionate political power currently enjoyed by the right, and the thuggish way Trump wields it…

“But such actions can only call attention to how lopsided and largely unaccountable the left’s own power is in the cultural sphere. There’s a reason that President Trump likes to spotlight that imbalance too — and market himself as the necessary corrective. So if you want to hasten him out of office, a preemptive self-balancing, rather than a more muscular tilt, might be the counterweight America actually needs.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

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