Hunter Biden, Social Media, and the Pursuit for Truth
On October 14, The New York Post published a story concerning an email found on a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden, the son of the presidential candidate Joe Biden. This email was sent from Hunter to Joe, speaking apparently about a meeting that would be set up between Joe and a top-level executive at the Ukrainian firm, Burisma.
This email is not the first we have seen in connections with the Biden family and Ukraine, with Hunter Biden earning a very large salary from Burisma, despite being very unqualified for such high compensation. This email does not expose anything particularly shocking or new, but it does give another arrow in the quiver of those looking to expose the political corruption of Joe Biden and his family.
However, this email and the story from the New York Post are not the true story that comes out of this reporting. The real story is the response the New York Post article received from social media companies.
The two main culprits here are Twitter and Facebook, with much of this falling on Twitter. This is not particularly surprising as these are the two social media sites generally used to share and spread information of all kinds. Shortly after publication of the Post article, Twitter responded by not allowing users to click on the article if it was posted in a tweet. If you tried to DM someone with the link, you would be prevented from doing so. Twitter did this initially under the guise of declaring that they have deemed it “harmful material”. This was later clarified as being harmful because Twitter does not allow hacked material to be spread on the site. There is no evidence, however, that this material was hacked.
Furthermore, users were banned for sharing this link, although many were able to get their accounts back. Unbelievably, the official New York Post account was banned as well, just for tweeting its own story. Again, it should be emphasized that the New York Post is a large media outlet and one of the most well-known newspapers in the country. White Press Secretary Kaleigh McEnaney’s account was also suspended for sharing the story.
This response was nothing short of politically-driven censorship to curry favor with the Biden campaign. This sort of response to an article, written by a large publication, is completely unprecedented in its thorough and unabashed attempt to prevent anyone from seeing or spreading this article.
There was rightfully an outrage following Twitter’s actions to prevent this material from being spread. Twitter released several press statements in the ensuing hours, frantically attempting to explain why it had taken such measures to halt the spread of this article. These did little to dampen the outrage, and eventually Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had to try and explain Twitter’s actions and pacify the situation. To his credit, he did take responsibility for not explaining clearly why the link was being blocked and prevented from being shared and promised to ensure clearer communication in the future. Changes were also made in Twitter policies to allow this sort of material to be posted, solving what was allegedly the issue Twitter had with the article in the first place.
Facebook’s response was not quite as elaborate as Twitter’s. They slowed distribution of the article while waiting for “fact-checkers” to confirm the contents of the article. The was no evidence of the article containing false information, but Facebook did this preemptively. Eventually, the article was not able to be shared on the site at all and any attempts to do so would result in the article being censored, with a fact-check explanation covering it.
All of this should be extremely worrying. All of this was obviously political, as Twitter had not truly enforced its hacking policies on a wide scale before the New York Post article, even though they certainly should have done so if they were truly interested in enforcing these rules. The New York Times’ reporting on Trump’s tax returns probably should have been censored under these rules, but that story was allowed to roam free. Censoring a potentially harmful story of a candidate three weeks before a presidential election over rules never before enforced in a political environment is little more than a naked attempt to cover up an unfavorable story.
The actions taken by Twitter and Facebook were justified broadly in an attempt to stop the spread of “misinformation”. This language has become commonplace in recently years, as social media has taken more and more steps towards policing the content posted on their platforms. This language of “misinformation”, along with other terms like “fact-checker” are part of the new activist paradigm that social media companies have adopted over the last several years.
The choice of language used should be alarming to anyone who wishes to preserve free expression online. Using words like “misinformation” and “fact-checker” imply that Twitter or Facebook are able themselves to come to an objective judgement of the truth and then impose that judgement from above upon their users. If it is decided that a piece of information is not true, then you are not allowed to come to your own opinion. The deliberation has taken place, and your opinion has been formed for you.
If we desire to discover the truth, we must always allow for the flow of information. Man is fallible and subject to error. Even long-held beliefs can be overthrown by new information. It takes many experiments to prove a theory, but just one to disprove it. Given our own limited state of knowledge, we must not tolerate any monopolies on truth and knowledge. These authorities are not above us, and can themselves be in error in any judgement they make.
These informational gatekeepers are so insidious precisely because they are imposters. Nobody has the truth. This does not mean that reasonable beings cannot discover truth, but that we do not have direct access to it. We can only reason our way there and hope our path is correct. We have proofs and postulates, but these do not amount to the direct truth. Human beings are fallible and can be wrong, even when all the evidence seems to suggest otherwise.
To act as an authority on the truth is reject that one can be fallible. It is to reject that error is possible. When this rejection takes place, the goal of the pursuit of truth at all costs is itself rejected.
When Twitter and Facebook took action to shut down this Hunter Biden story, they are acting as authorities of what is true and what is false. Now, this isn’t to say that this style of censorship is mainstream on social media. Thankfully, it has reached that level of prevalence yet. However, a precedent has now been set. Twitter walked their actions back, of course, but the fact remains that those actions were taken.
One might not believe that any of this is a cause for worry. After all, it’s just a single story, right? If it were just a single story, I may be inclined to agree. However, why stop at just a single story? Is it all that difficult to believe that this power of censorship may be wielded yet again?
Social Media companies are increasing viewing themselves as active agents on their own platforms. They will suppress any viewpoints they deem to be “extreme”. This results in anyone even viewed as a potential threat to be de-platformed. Brett Weinstein was recently banned from Facebook with no course for repealing his ban. His only crime was questioning the current paradigm of Critical Race Theory within academia. He made no calls to violence or alluded to violence in any way. The only violations cited were violations against the vague Facebook Community Guidelines.
Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have all become much more comfortable over the last several years with banning individuals from their platforms. Alex Jones was not banned on platforms until 2018, after having accounts for many years. That activity has only increased until the present day, with no end in sight.
The question at the end of the day is: Do you trust the large social media companies? They might ban those you disagree with and shut down stories you think are false, which you might view as a good thing. However, where does it stop? When the paradigm shifts from free expression to limited censorship, where does it shift from there? They are becoming more and more the watchman over information shared online. But who watches the watchman?