A man wearing a face mask walks past a Twitter logo outside their New York City headquarters. Facebook and Twitter took steps to limit the spread of a controversial New York Post article critical of Joe Biden, sparking outrage among conservatives and stoking debate over how social media platforms should tackle misinformation ahead of the US election.
John Nacion | LightRocket | Getty Images
The Republican National Committee on Friday filed a federal elections complaint over Twitter‘s decision earlier this week to ban sharing on its platform recent news articles about Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
The RNC complained to the Federal Election Commission that Twitter’s blocking of The New York Post articles amounts to an “illegal corporate in-kind political contribution” to former Vice President Biden’s campaign, which is seeking to unseat President Donald Trump, the Republican incumbent.
A computer hard drive said to be owned by Hunter Biden was used as source material by the New York Post for the articles subject to Twitter’s ban. A copy of the hard drive was provided to the newspaper by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, the Post said.
Twitter has said it banned the Hunter Biden articles in question because they were found to be in violation of Twitter’s Hacked Material Policy, which does not “permit the use of our services to directly distribute content obtained through hacking that contains private information, may put people in physical harm or danger, or contains trade secrets.”
The social media giant also said it was banning links to the articles because they contained images of hacked material with personal and private information.
Shortly after the RNC’s complaint to the FEC became public Friday, Twitter said it had reversed its ban and would let users share The Post’s articles. A Twitter spokesman said that the company’s decision reflected the fact that alleged personal information contained in the articles had become widely available across the internet.
The RNC’s complaint says that Twitter is “engaged in arguably the most brazen and unprecedented act of media suppression in this country’s history, and it is doing so for the clear purpose of supporting the Biden campaign.”
The complaint notes that Twitter has “also suspended, or locked, the accounts of users who shared the articles or details about the articles, including the Trump campaign (@TeamTrump), White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany), Republicans on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee (@JudiciaryGOP).”
The RNC wants the FEC to investigate the claim, and to impose the maximum penalty allowed if Twitter is found to have violated the law.
The complaint notes that federal campaign finance law “strictly prohibits corporations from making contributions to federal candidates.”
“The term ‘contribution’ is defined in relevant part to mean ‘anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing an election,’ and includes in-kind contributions such as services,” the complaint says.
Twitter’s “suppression of the New York Post articles provides a thing of value to the Biden campaign,” the RNC argued in its complaint.
“Respondent is acting as Biden’s media operative, taking proactive steps to shield Biden from negative news coverage by blocking its distribution and muzzling those who try. If Respondent charged for this service, Biden no doubt would gladly pay a significant price.”
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement, “Twitter’s decision to censor news articles that harm Joe Biden’s candidacy is so transparently biased it would make even the governments of China or North Korea blush.”
Spokesman for Twitter and for Biden’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment on the RNC’s complaint.
On Thursday, in response to criticism over its ban, Twitter said it was making changes to its hacked material policy.
Twitter said it will no longer remove hacked content unless it is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them. The company also said that it will label tweets to provide context, as opposed to blocking links from being shared at all.
But the ban on the Hunter Biden articles remained intact until Friday, Twitter had said, noting that it would will still apply rules “to the posting of or linking to hacked materials, such as our rules against posting private information, synthetic and manipulated media, and non-consensual nudity.”
On Friday, Twitter dropped the ban.
However, The New York Post reported Friday evening that despite that move, “Twitter has refused to unlock The Post’s [Twitter] account unless the news organization deletes six tweets about its own reporting on Hunter Biden’s emails — despite a policy change sparked by outrage over that very same social-media suppression of the stories.”
The newspaper said that Twitter representative told The Post, “While we’ve updated the policy, we don’t change enforcement retroactively. You will still need to delete the Tweets to regain access to your account.”
A check of The Post’s Twitter account on Friday night showed that the last tweet or retweet from it came on Wednesday.
The Post has reported that the emails from the computer hard drive believed to be owned by Hunter Biden show that Hunter facilitated a meeting between Joe Biden and Vadym Pozharsky, an advisor to the board of Burisma, the Ukraine gas company on whose board Hunter Biden sat.
The purported meeting, which the Biden campaign and Hunter Biden’s lawyer have denied occurred, supposedly took place less than a year before the then-vice president pressured the Ukraine government to oust a prosecutor.
That prosecutor has since claimed he was investigating Burisma at the time of his ouster.
But Biden’s campaign has noted that Biden’s pressure on the Ukrainian government was done because the American government believed the prosecutor was not doing enough to investigate corruption.
NBC News reported Thursday night that federal investigators are probing whether the emails cited by The Post are linked to a foreign intelligence operation. The hard drive was originally left at a Delaware computer repair shop.
According to the FEC’s web site, the commission “has held a long and diverse list of goods and services (both tangible and intangible, both easy and difficult to value) to qualify as contributions” to a political campaign.
However, none of the services given as examples of such contributions on the site involves a social media platform decision to enforce its own rules.
“The Commission has, consistent with judicial rulings, interpreted ‘anything of value’ broadly under [election law],” the site says.
“The Commission has found that even where the value of a good or service ‘may be nominal or difficult to ascertain,’ such good or service is nevertheless a ‘thing of value’ under the” law, the site notes.