Royal Alexander: Censorship by Facebook and Twitter is stunning

Only days before the election, these tech giants block access to damaging news about the candidate they support

The censorship we have witnessed this week is a perfect example of why millions of Americans trust neither the national media nor social media. This is the behavior of totalitarian regimes and dictatorships. Not America.

The New York Post, one of the oldest and largest newspapers in the world, broke a story regarding the discovery of credible evidence in the form of emails revealing that Hunter Biden, the son of presidential candidate, Joe Biden, clearly leveraged his dad’s then-position as Vice President by gaining favors from his dad that benefited the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma. One 2015 email indicates that Vadym Pozharskyi, a Burma adviser, thanked Hunter Biden for “giving an opportunity” to meet former VP Joe Biden.

This new, independent revelation regarding influence-peddling by Hunter Biden is obviously newsworthy given that the former VP has repeatedly said he had “never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings.” The new emails strongly suggest that former VP Biden was not only aware of his son’s business dealings but actually participated in meetings to benefit him.

Regardless, Facebook immediately stated that it “was reducing [the New York Post article’s] distribution on our platform.” What this really means is Facebook would tweak and alter its algorithms to limit the ability of users to view, discuss or share the article.

Twitter’s effort to suppress the Post article went well beyond Facebook’s. Twitter entirely banned all users’ ability to share the article on both its public timeline and private Direct Message function. Twitter first responded to attempts to link to the article with the “error” response. It later changed its response by telling users who tried to post and circulate the article that it judged its contents to be “potentially harmful.”

Twitter then continued its censorship efforts by locking the account of the New York Post itself! The next day, the Post published a similar article highlighting likely influence-peddling by Hunter Biden with, this time, a Chinese energy company for which he was apparently to be paid $10 million a year for “introductions alone.” Twitter banned that article as well. (Imagine the screaming we’d see if even a whiff of this kind of corruption could be attributed to Don, Jr., or Eric Trump regarding Pres Trump. On behalf of Joe Biden, though, there is media blackout).

It’s simply insufficient to say that no duty of fairness and evenhandedness is owed by Facebook and Twitter because the First Amendment only applies to government, not private, actors. Government censorship of speech is not the only kind. Private sector suppression of speech is equally threatening, chilling and damaging. Democracy can only function with a free exchange of information. Facebook and Twitter may not be government actors, but they are quasi-public entities, and they are behemoths. They are essentially monopolies and possess enormous leverage as a result.

They owe a duty of fairness for many reasons, not least because Twitter and Facebook directly benefit from a valuable legal advantage contained in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This law protects them from any legal liability for content published on their sites, much of which may be defamatory. These two giants should not be allowed to receive valuable federal benefits on the one hand then also take the position that “we are private companies so we can suppress speech whenever we like.”

These two companies are no longer, if they ever were, neutral arbiters simply operating information exchange platforms. They have become the equivalent of media companies who regularly make editorial decisions in the composition of their news feeds and in so doing, reflect a distinctly Leftist bent. They remain legally unaccountable for damage done by the content on their platform and they have broad discretion to censor 3rd party speech. This is too much. I am hopeful changes to Section 230 will be made to limit the legal protections of social media companies.

Given the special status they enjoy, Twitter and Facebook have an obligation to act in the public interest and they are not doing so. I would support the DOJ either breaking them up on grounds of antitrust and monopoly or Congress removing their Section 230 advantage and regulating them as public utilities.