UPDATE: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said that their explanation for why they blocked access to the New York Post’s Hunter Biden story was “not great.”
“And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable,” Dorsey wrote on Twitter, amid the furor over steps that the platform took as questions were raised about the veracity of the claims in the piece.
Twitter clarified that the Post article included images that contained “personal and private information — like email addresses and phone numbers — which violate our rules.” It also said that it violated their hacked materials policy, which “prohibits the use of our service to distribute content obtained without authorization. We don’t want to incentivize hacking by allowing Twitter to be used as distribution for possibly illegally obtained materials.”
The Trump campaign said that Twitter also locked the personal account of Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, for sharing the story.
PREVIOUSLY: Twitter and Facebook are restricting the reach of a New York Post story about Joe Biden’s son Hunter, concluding that the claims in the story need to be fact-checked or come from sources with suspicious origins.
The story was billed as an expose that was splashed on the front page of the Post on Wednesday, alleging that Biden’s son leveraged his father’s position as vice president to boost his business with a Ukrainian gas company. But other reporters quickly questioned the sourcing on the stories, as concerns are raised about the spread of Russian misinformation in advance of the election.
Twitter has disabled links to the story.
In a statement, a Twitter spokesperson said that “in line with our Hacked Materials Policy, as well as our approach to blocking URLs, we are taking action to block any links to or images of the material in question on Twitter.”
According to Twitter, they are taking the action because of the lack of authoritative reporting on the origins of the materials included in the article.
The Post cited emails obtained from a hard drive of a MacBookPro brought to a repair shop in Delaware and never claimed. According to the Post, the unidentified shop owner made a copy of the hard drive and then gave it to Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer. The owner alerted the FBI of the existence of the hard drive and turned it over, according to the Post.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone wrote in a post, “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.”
The Post cited one email they referred to as a “smoking gun” in which a Ukrainian adviser to the gas company, Burisma, thanked Hunter Biden for inviting him to Washington and giving him an opportunity to meet his father. The elder Biden has said that he never discussed with his son his international business dealings. Hunter Biden was a member of the Burisma board.
In a statement to Politico, The Biden campaign’s Andrew Bates wrote, “The New York Post never asked the Biden campaign about the critical elements of this story. They certainly never raised that Rudy Giuliani – whose discredited conspiracy theories and alliance with figures connected to Russian intelligence have been widely reported – claimed to have such materials. 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.”
The story gave others a sense of deja vu to 2016, when media outlets combed through the trove of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee server and from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. Intelligence agencies later identified the origins of the hack to Russian sources.
But in contrast to 2016, when the Podesta and the DNC acknowledged they had been hacked, the emails in question in the Post piece have not even been verified as authentic. The Post included screen shots of some of the emails.
Others, like CNN’s Jake Tapper, raised red flags about Giuliani’s own connections. Last month, the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control identified four individuals with Russian links who were attempting to influence the 2020 election. Among them was a member of the Ukrainian parliament, Andrii Derkach, who appeared with Giuliani on One America News Network last year to make claims against the Bidens. Giuliani told NPR that “my work with him was over months ago well before the election.”
Republicans already have accused tech platforms of bias, and seized on the Facebook and Twitter restrictions. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) wrote, “Does the @Facebook @Twitter coordinated censorship constitute an in-kind contribution to the Biden campaign?”
The Post itself called Facebook’s action censorship. “Censor first, ask questions later: It’s an outrageous attitude for one of the most powerful platforms in the United States to take,” according to a Post editorial.
Trump tweeted about the Facebook and Twitter restrictions. “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!!!”
Trump has called for changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That provision gives tech platforms immunity for the way that they moderate third party content.