Facebook and Twitter are both taking steps to slow the spread of a New York Post story that claimed to have obtained emails from the laptop of Joe Biden’s son.
Though the New York Post has called the emails “a smoking gun,” the origins and authenticity of the messages are murky at best, and experts have pointed to several red flags in the story, which Biden’s campaign has disputed.
A Facebook spokesperson said Wednesday that the social network was “reducing its distribution” until the story had been reviewed by the company’s fact checking partners. The spokesperson, Andy Stone, said this was “part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation.” When Facebook reduces distribution, it doesn’t block a link from being shared, but it takes steps to make it less visible in users’ News Feeds to prevent misinformation from going viral.
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
Several hours after the story was first published, Twitter took an even more aggressive step: it blocked the URL from being shared in tweets and direct messages. Previously-tweeted links now surface a warning that “this link may be unsafe.”
In a statement, a Twitter spokesperson confirmed the move. “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,” the spokesperson said, pointing to the company’s policy on hacked materials and guidelines for blocking specific URLs.
Both Facebook and Twitter have recently ramped up their policies on misinformation and election interference in an effort to prepare for presidential election.
Facebook said last month that it was “particularly focused on” the threat posed by “hack-and-leak operations,” which was a tactic used in 2016. The company has also recently cracked down on other types of viral misinformation and disinformation, including QAnon and militia movements, Holocaust denial and anti-vaccine advertising. Twitter has also updated several policies with an eye toward the days and weeks following the election, and has said it will limit retweets in some cases to prevent misinformation from spreading.
Update 10/14 8:00pm ET: In a series of tweets, Twitter further explained why it had blocked the NY Post story, citing its anti-doxxing rules in addition to the “hacked materials” policy. “The images contained in the articles include personal and private information — like email addresses and phone numbers — which violate our rules,” the company wrote.
“Commentary on or discussion about hacked materials, such as articles that cover them but do not include or link to the materials themselves, aren’t a violation of this policy. Our policy only covers links to or images of hacked material themselves.The policy, established in 2018, 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.
“We know we have more work to do to provide clarity in our product when we enforce our rules in this manner. We should provide additional clarity and context when preventing the Tweeting or DMing of URLs that violate our policies.”
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey also said the company’s handling of the situation was “not great” and that the lack of “context” for the company’s actions was “unacceptable.”