On Wednesday the social media platforms Twitter and Facebook limited the distribution of a story that appeared in The New York Post, which reported an unconfirmed claim about Democratic Presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden. The Biden campaign had pushed on the report that Joe Biden met with a representative of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings in 2015.
As the story, which ran on the front page of the paper under the headline “Biden Secret E-mails,” began to make the rounds on social media it was quickly shuttered. Facebook limited the distribution of the story after its outside fact-checkers reviewed the claims, and as a result the platform’s algorithms wouldn’t place posts linking to the story as high up in an individual’s news feed. That would reduce the number of users who might ever see the story.
Twitter went even further, and blocked users from linking to the Post’s two stories about the Biden e-mails, while it also blocked users from posting pictures of the alleged emails mentioned in those stories. Attempts to share the story on Twitter were met with a message, “Tweet failed to send. Your Tweet couldn’t be sent right now and has been saved as a draft. Please try sending it again later.”
#TwitterCensorship Makes the Rounds
The actions by the social media platforms, especially those of Twitter, have prompted complaints from conservatives that information critical of Joe Biden and his son Hunter was being censored. This of course prompted a new round of tweets on Twitter with the hashtag #TwitterCensorship.
User Brian (@brainfortrump) tweeted, “FACEBOOK AND TWITTER are the ICS NETWORK from THE RUNNING MAN!” A clear reference to the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger science fiction film The Running Man, which featured a dystopian society where misinformation is spread via TV.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) (@tedcruz) took it further and tweeted, “My letter to @jack regarding @Twitter’s censorship of the @nypost,” where the Senator called out Twitter’s CEO directly along with an image of the letter that was sent to the company.
Many other users on social media also accused Twitter – as well as Facebook – of censorship. One user, #IAmAntifa #BlackLivesMatter (@Freethoughts212) addressed this debate from another direction and tweeted, “@jack funny you censor stories about Joe and Hunter Biden yet haven’t gotten around to terminating proud boys and white supremacists accounts! We see you Jack ass!” Almost ironically this tweet, which clearly called for individuals and groups to be silenced, was accompanied with #TwitterCensorship and #CensorshiopIsBadActually.
Is This Really Censorship
Cleary a lot of people see this as censorship and even some think that perhaps a few individuals or groups should be silenced. Yet, this isn’t really a case of censorship – and we’ve been down this road before. It was just a year ago that YouTube was called out for removing a controversial video.
“Social media companies, like other companies, have the freedom to choose how they want to run their business, as long as they comply with applicable law,” Robert Foehl, executive in residence for the business law and ethics department at the Ohio University Online Master of Business Administration program, explained at the time.
“A significant concern that has been raised over the last few years relates to freedom of speech, censorship, and social media’s role in the free expression of ideas,” Foehl added. “There is increasing concern about the impact that social media content decisions have on that freedom. However, it is important to remember that the constitutional right to freedom of speech in the United States only protects against inappropriate restrictions of speech by state actors (government and related institutions). Our freedom of speech rights do not generally apply to non-governmental entities, like private companies. As such, the right to free speech does not apply to speech contained in social media platforms.”
Senator Cruz, who served as longest serving Solicitor General of Texas from 2003 to 2008 after graduating magna cum laude in 1995 with a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School, should know the answer far more than the average American. Twitter can’t really be accused of censorship, at least not in the way that the government could be.
At least one individual on Twitter (@katypicklejar) asked a valid question: “Would ya rather have #TwitterCensorship or government Censorship?”