SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Facebook and
Twitter cast doubt on a New York Post story that made
claims about Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's son,
taking proactive steps to restrict dissemination of the story in
the hours after it was published on Wednesday.
The story contained alleged details of Hunter Biden's
business dealings with a Ukrainian energy company and said that
the former vice president had met with an adviser of the
company. The story, which Reuters did not independently confirm,
sourced details to emails that it said were given to the lawyer
of Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal attorney.
Robert Costello, the lawyer for Giuliani cited in the Post
story, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Twitter prohibited its users from posting links to the Post
story, while Facebook reduced how often the story shows up in
users' news feeds and elsewhere on the Facebook platform.
Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement
that Republican-led Senate committees have previously concluded
that Biden engaged in no wrongdoing related to Ukraine.
"The New York Post never asked the Biden campaign about the
critical elements of this story," Bates said. "We have reviewed
Joe Biden's official schedules from the time and no meeting, as
alleged by the New York Post, ever took place," he added.
Trump, who has been trailing Biden in national polls ahead
of the Nov. 3 election, said it was "terrible" that Twitter and
Facebook "took down the story of 'Smoking Gun' emails related to
Sleepy Joe Biden and his son, Hunter" and vaguely alluded to a
threat of regulatory action.
The New York Post, in an editorial responding to the
companies' actions, said: "Censor first, ask questions later:
It's an outrageous attitude for two of the most powerful
platforms in the United States to take." The newspaper did not
immediately respond to a request for comment.
Facebook, the world's biggest social network, limited
dissemination of the Post story within hours of its publication
on Wednesday, according to a tweet by spokesman Andy Stone.
Stone cited a policy saying that Facebook can temporarily
take action against content pending review by news organizations
and others in its third-party fact-checking program "if we have
signals that a piece of content is false."
Facebook took the same action at least once previously, in
response to false claims - also involving the New York Post -
that Biden wore an earpiece at last month's debate. A review by
Reuters found https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-fact-check-false-evidence-of-biden-ea/fact-check-false-evidence-of-biden-being-wired-or-using-earpiece-idUSKBN26L3D0
that the mark on Biden's shirt was likely a shirt crease.
Twitter said the story violated its "hacked materials"
policy, which bars the distribution of content obtained through
hacking that contains private information or trade secrets, or
puts people at risk of physical harm. It provided no details on
what materials it viewed as hacked in the Post articles.
"It was not hacked at all, Giuliani told Reuters.
Twitter said in a series of tweets that images contained in two
Post articles included personal information such as email
addresses and phone numbers, which put them in violation of the
company's "private information policy."
The swift actions by the social media companies earned
praise from some disinformation researchers, who raised red
flags about the provenance and credibility of the Post's story,
but some said it raised questions about their processes for
deciding to contain the spread of false information.
Cristina Tardaguila, associate director of the International
Fact-Checking Network, said she considered Facebook's decision
to take action without disclosing its methodology "disturbing."
Although Facebook can ask fact checkers for ratings on
particular pieces of content, multiple fact-checking partners,
including a unit of Reuters, said the company had not done do in
this case, nor had they opted to initiate a check on their own.
Despite the moves to restrict dissemination, the information
in the story circulated widely on both platforms. Versions of
the story reached the top 10 list of most-shared
English-language links in Facebook pages and groups, while the
topic was still among those trending on Twitter as of Wednesday
(Reporting by Katie Paul; Additional reporting by Elizabeth
Culliford; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Leslie Adler)