Don’t these false or misleading reports lack ‘authoritative reporting’? Where’s Twitter’s ban-hammer?

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On Wednesday, the New York Post published an explosive report on emails the Post claims were obtained from a computer belonging to Hunter Biden. The emails appear to provide more details on Hunter Biden’s ties to Ukrainian energy company Burisma and contradict claims from Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden that he never discussed his son’s foreign business dealings. Critical questions have been raised about the Bidens’ ties to Ukraine and whether the Democratic candidate previously used his position as vice president to benefit his son financially.

The New York Post story quickly became controversial with many journalists disputing the details of the story and questioning the Post’s sources. But outrage was triggered when social media platforms stepped in to prevent users from reading the story and drawing their own conclusions about the Post’s reporting.

Facebook acted first, questioning the veracity of the Post’s report and announcing that distribution of the story on its platform would be limited until an independent fact-checker finished reviewing the Post’s work. Twitter acted next, initially giving some users a warning label stating “headlines don’t tell the full story.”

Then Twitter went further. Engaging in what the New York Post called “extraordinary censorship measures,” Twitter banned users from tweeting the story, from retweeting it, and even from sharing it in direct messages. The New York Post’s Twitter account was locked and subsequently other prominent Twitter accounts that shared the story were locked as well, including the Donald Trump presidential campaign. Twitter also banned a follow-up report from the Post on emails relating to “lucrative” deals with China.

The explanations offered by Facebook and Twitter for their censorship claim that the platforms’ policies are intended to prevent the spread of misleading or inaccurate information. Twitter in particular made the determination that the Post is not a source of “authoritative reporting.”

“Given the lack of authoritative reporting on the origins of the materials included in the article, we’re taking action to limit the spread of this information,” a Twitter spokesperson told the Washington Examiner Wednesday.

In a statement published by Twitter, the company changed its story and said the ban was put in place because “images contained in the articles include personal and private information — like email addresses and phone numbers — which violate our rules.” The images of emails published by the post contain unredacted email addresses. Additionally, Twitter views the emails reported by the post as “violations of our Hacked Materials Policy.”

“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,” Twitter said. “Our policy only covers links to or images of hacked material themselves.” The company explained that this policy, created in 2018, “prohibits the use of our service to distribute content obtained without authorization.”

This public statement made no reference to Twitter’s original rationale for suppressing the New York Post story: That it lacked “authoritative reporting.”

How does Twitter determine what constitutes “authoritative reporting?” The standard clearly isn’t suppressing misleading or inaccurate information. If that were the case, why were the following stories were never censored by Twitter?

  • A February 2017 story from the New York Times alleging that the Trump campaign had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence was riddled with “misleading and inaccurate” information, FBI notes revealed. The story was based on unsubstantiated claims from anonymous sources and was never updated to reflect how it became discredited.
  • CNN claimed in June 2017 that then-FBI Director James Comey would, in congressional testimony under oath, dispute a claim made by President Trump that the FBI director had assured the president he wasn’t under investigation. Comey did not dispute the president in his testimony and CNN was forced to issue a correction to its story.
  • The New York Daily News in 2018 published a report claiming the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter was “trained by the NRA.” In reality, the National Rifle Association had absolutely nothing to do with the shooting.
  • After the Parkland shooting, CNN misleadingly claimed in a graphic posted on Twitter that 22 “school shootings” had already occurred that year. The inaccurate number was inflated by including accidental discharges of firearms on school campuses, gang violence, domestic violence, and university shootings and incidents that did not even include pupils.
  • Remember the massive Cambridge Analytica scandal covered in-depth in by CNN and others in 2018? The UK investigation into digital marketing firm found that allegations of colluding with Russia to influence the results of the Brexit referendum and break U.S. campaign laws were unfounded.
  • The New York Post’s Sohrab Ahmari highlights how the Mueller Report’s release in April 2019 debunked several media narratives that were shared on social media without censorship, including reports that Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort met with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange at Ecuador’s embassy in London; that Jeff Sessions lied when he said he didn’t meet the Russian ambassador as a Trump surrogate; that Michael Cohen traveled to Prague to meet with Kremlin officials; that Trump ordered Cohen to lie to Congress; and of course the salacious and allegations from the Steele Dossier. All inaccurate or false stories.
  • In 2019 CNN, the Washington Post, and other outlets pushed a false narrative that high school student Nicholas Sandmann had provoked an encounter with Native American activist Nathan Phillips in Washington, D.C., near the Lincoln Memorial. The media claimed that Sandmann and others taunted Phillips, claims which viral video showed were false. The Post and CNN went on to settle million dollar defamation lawsuits brought by Sandmann.
  • In September 2019 the New York Times published a smear of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The Times wrote about a previously unreported sexual misconduct allegation against Kavanaugh from his undergraduate days at Yale, but failed to mention that the supposed victim did not recall the alleged incident.
  • In April 2020, Politico issued a lengthy correction and apology for falsely claiming that President Trump owed “tens of millions” to the Bank of China. Tweets propagating the original false story remain undeleted.
  • In September 2020 The Atlantic published claims from four anonymous sources that President Trump referred to a cemetery for fallen WWI soldiers as “filled with losers.” Over 20 witnesses went on-the-record to dispute the Atlantic’s account.

From these examples, which can still be shared on Twitter’s platform, it’s clear that “authoritative reporting” does not mean accurate or well-sourced material.

It’s code for “stories the censors at Twitter agree with.” An unfavorable report about Joe Biden doesn’t qualify.

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