As the 2020 election reaches a boiling point, the matter of information and the moderation of it on various social platforms is heating up. Twitter and Facebook CEOs were already called upon alongside Google to appear in a Senate hearing about use of liability protections in matters of content moderation, but the former two companies’ responses to a recent article regarding Joe Biden could become a center topic of that very hearing later this month.
This latest controversy began after Twitter and Facebook’s response to an unverified story shared by the New York Post, as recently reported on by NBC. The New York Post’s supposedly “smoking gun” story contained an unredacted email which alleged that Biden may have been directly involved in the firing of a Ukraine prosecutor who was investigating business in relation to his son, Hunter Biden, an allegation which the Biden campaign has vehemently denied. Both Facebook and Twitter quickly responded, reducing and restricting distribution of the piece for various policies and technical reasons.
For Twitter’s part, the claim was that because the New York Post contained allegedly hacked materials, including pictures and unredacted emails, the URL was blocked under hacked materials and personal private information policies. This was not said outright, however, prompting CEO Jack Dorsey to admit that the content restriction was not explained well enough, along with clarification of the reasoning for it. Parts of the article which did not contain private information have seemingly been deemed free to share as users commenting on reposted pieces of the article, such on Ohio Representative Jim Jordan’s Twitter and website, have been left intact.
On the other side of the fence, Facebook was less hardcore about reducing visibility of the NY Post article. Instead of outright blocking users from posting the piece, Facebook instead reduced its distribution to feeds pending a fact-checking review. The article is still in circulation on Facebook, often without notification that it is being fact-checked, but supposedly Facebook is actively investigating the piece, as pointed out by spokesperson Andy Stone.
This is part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation. We temporarily reduce distribution pending fact-checker review. https://t.co/vf3CBvLmjj— Andy Stone (@andymstone) October 14, 2020
This comes both after Facebook and Twitter have increased their efforts to police misinformation and hate groups (sometimes less than effectively) and as the two companies find themselves subpoenaed alongside Google to appear before the Senate in a hearing regarding Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which has commonly been used as a legal shield against liability and moderation of user content by social platforms.
With the New York Post story and Facebook and Twitter’s handling of it having drawn such attention, it is almost certain to be a topic of discussion as the CEOs of these companies and Google appear before the Senate during the hearing scheduled for October 28.