WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans declared war on social media giants Thursday after Twitter and Facebook blocked users who tried to share New York Post stories critical of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
During a campaign rally in Greenville, N.C., Trump said that “if big tech persists in coordination with the mainstream media, we must immediately strip them of their Section 230 protections,” a reference to a Communications Decency Act provision that shields interactive computer services from liability for content posted on their sites.
In Washington, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai released a statement that joined Trump’s reasoning. Pai argued social media giants “do not have a First Amendment right to special immunity denied to other media outlets” and said he was ready to move forward with rules to clarify the meaning of the Section.
“Winter is coming,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., warned during a Trump campaign call, as he faulted “big-tech oligarchs” for applying lesser standards for stories about Trump and Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
A Senate Judiciary subcommittee invited Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to explore whether the platforms had engaged in “campaign contribution law violations” with Biden’s presidential campaign by suppressing the distribution of the New York Post’s journalism.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called a judiciary hearing on Tuesday for the committee to vote on the issuance of a subpoena for Dorsey to testify before the panel Oct. 23.
On C-SPAN, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, charged that Facebook and Twitter had engaged in “active censorship” of a major publication and complained that Twitter had blocked his attempts to post links to the Post stories. Cruz also said he did not know if the Post stories were “true or not.”
“Never before have we seen active censorship of a major press publication with serious allegations of corruption of one of the two candidates for president,” Cruz said. “This is election interference, and we’re 19 days out from an election.”
Ironically, Cruz then posted video of his remarks on Twitter.
The Post reported Wednesday that a water-damaged computer left unclaimed in a Delaware repair shop appeared to contain emails that undercut Joe Biden’s claims that he had never spoken to Hunter Biden about business dealings in Ukraine, where the younger Biden served on the board of the gas company Burisma.
The Post published a 2015 email, ostensibly from Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the Burisma board, that thanked Hunter Biden — who joined Burisma’s board in 2014 — for “giving me the opportunity to meet your father” and spend time together.
Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates questioned the story’s legitimacy and told Politico there was no meeting listed in Biden’s official schedules.
Factcheck.org looked at the Wednesday story and noted there is no way to verify the email as authentic.
“The Biden campaign says ‘no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place’ because it wasn’t on Biden’s schedule. Of course, that isn’t evidence a meeting didn’t occur — but the email (if authentic) isn’t evidence that a meeting did occur, either. The New York Post did not confirm that the meeting happened, and it’s unclear from the email if the meeting did occur,” the fact checking organization noted.
Thomas Rid of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies tweeted, “Be careful, withhold judgment. Did Hunter Biden himself hand in the laptop? Still unclear. Did the machine contain hacked files? Unclear. Were forgeries added to the mix? Unclear. Was a foreign intelligence service involved? Also unclear.”
Twitter and Facebook blocked posts that contained links to the story. Among users blocked by Twitter was White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
On Wednesday, Dorsey tweeted, “Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable.”
Official Twitter tweets, however, noted the first Post story violated its rules against using hacked materials and posting personal materials.