Twitter and Facebook Run Interference on U.S. Election by Banning News Story, While Department of Justice Stands Down

Posted on 10/15/2020

Is big tech bigger and stronger than the U.S. government?

Social media networks like Twitter and Facebook are powerful mediums of information that can sway social, economic, and political movements, as newspaper and TV consumption shrink among the U.S. populace. These online tools act like a public square. As the U.S. Presidential election heats up, Twitter banned a story from the New York Post, the fourth most read news publication in the U.S., on Hunter Biden, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s son, regarding his involvement with Ukrainian officials and influence. Some of the charges include Hunter Biden acting as an unregistered foreign agent (lobbyist), something that got Trump’s 2016 campaign manager – Paul Manafort in trouble. Facebook also moved to censor and suppress information on the story. Conservatives argue that Facebook, Twitter, and Google did nothing to stop stories on Republicans and President Trump. Twitter has also censored comments from the President of the United States and locked the White House press secretary from her account. On the left side, many Democrat politicians lauded the efforts of Twitter and Facebook, calling the story disinformation. It is clear the Twitter and Facebook are making more editorial decisions and what content should appear in front of people. Twitter also permitted the President of Iran to issue death threats against U.S. service members, a violation of its own terms of service.

Some argue that Facebook and Twitter are private companies. Can AT&T or Verizon deny a user from sending a news story via text? Platforms are granted broad immunity from prosecution under Section 230, allowing users to exercise their first amendment right to free speech with limited moderation. These brazen moves by big tech is making a stronger case for U.S. government regulators to pursue antitrust or FTC moves against social media firms. So far, the U.S. Department of Justice under U.S. Attorney General Barr has done nothing publicly to deal with political censorship and antitrust issues in big tech. Even if an antitrust case were to proceed, especially in the area of internet search, the DOJ would most likely favor behavioral remedies over structural ones. The European Union has been on the forefront in regulation large tech companies and issuing fines punishing firms like Apple and Amazon on anti-competitive behavior.

The issue still blew up on social media outlets about the censorship. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter finally weighed in:

IN RESPONSE to the backlash:

The Republicans, which control the U.S. Senate and White House, have done little to regulate big tech monopolies over data, search, and free speech. Interestingly, the prospect of a Biden presidency could actually be harder on big tech antitrust, as House Democrats issued a scathing report on the industry as a whole.

Public pension plans and sovereign funds are invested indirectly into social media companies like Snap, Facebook, and Twitter.

UPDATE: Following day, Twitter suspended the official account of the Trump campaign (Team Trump) on Thursday, just 19 days before Election Day. Twitter said that the campaign account’s tweet calling Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden a “liar” and posting a video about Hunter Biden’s business dealings is a violation of its policy. There is a risk by providing a service to one-side of a political party, Twitter could be liable for a massive, in-kind contribution.

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