Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wrote to the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday, asking why their platforms had chosen to censor a New York Post story reflecting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in a poor light, calling the move an “obvious and transparent attempt” to influence the forthcoming election.
Twitter “shouldn’t act as Biden’s PR team,” Cruz tweeted earlier in the day.
Cruz in his letters to the tech giants contrasted the way the social media platforms have treated “less well-sourced” reporting critical of other candidates – citing in Facebook’s case a 2017 Buzzfeed report on the so-called “Steele dossier” and New York Times reports on President Trump’s tax returns.
“This rush to limit the dissemination and reach of a report – containing information of high public interest and consequence – and the contrast with how similarly situated material on other candidates has been handled, strongly suggests that the true motivation is to influence the upcoming presidential election,” he wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
To Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Cruz wrote, “Twitter well-knows its incredible ability to influence public dialogue by promoting some stories while suppressing others, and it has plainly decided that the American people should not be seeing or discussing this particular story, which could significantly influence voters’ views of candidate Biden.”
The New York Post report alleged that Hunter Biden arranged a meeting in Washington in 2015 between his father – then vice president – and a top adviser to the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings, Vadym Pozharskyi.
The reporting included a leaked email dated April 17, 2015, purportedly showing Pozharskyi thanking the younger Biden for setting up the meeting: “Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together.”
The newspaper said the email came from the hard drive of a damaged laptop dropped off for repair at a store in Delaware last year but never picked up again. The shop owner reportedly gave a copy of the hard drive to a lawyer for Trump’s personal attorney, former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani, who gave a copy to the paper. The laptop and hard drive were in the possession of the FBI, it said.
A year before the alleged Biden-Pozharskyi meeting, Hunter Biden had joined Burisma’s board at a reported salary of some $50,000 a month, despite having no prior experience in the gas industry or in Ukraine.
Less than a year after the alleged meeting, the vice president threatened to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees for Kyiv unless the government fired its prosecutor-general, Viktor Shokin, who was in the process of investigating Burisma’s oligarch owner for corruption. (Shokin, who was widely viewed as ineffective in combating endemic corruption in Ukraine, was soon thereafter removed from his post.)
Trump accused Biden of seeking while in office to disrupt a corruption probe. Claims that Trump subsequently withheld military aid from Ukraine in a bid to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating those claims against Biden were at the center of the Democrats’ impeachment case against him.
Biden told a Fox News reporter in September last year, “I’ve never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings.” The email published by the New York Post would appear to contradict that. Biden’s campaign said categorically on Wednesday, “we have reviewed Joe Biden’s official schedules from the time and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place.”
Facebook limited distribution of the New York Post story. Company spokesman Andy Stone tweeted, “While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want be clear that this story is eligible to be fact checked by Facebook’s third-party fact checking partners. In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform.”
Stone later tweeted again, “This is part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation. We temporarily reduce distribution pending fact-checker review.”
Meanwhile Twitter blocked any attempt to link the story on its the platform. Trying to do so brought up an error message saying, “We can’t complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful. Visit our Help Center to learn more.”
Twitter pointed to its “Distribution of hacked material policy,” which states, “we don’t 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.”
“Twitter has apparently decided to preemptively censor this report,” Cruz wrote to Dorsey. “Twitter’s censorship of this story is quite hypocritical, given its willingness to allow users to share less-well-sourced reporting critical of other candidates for public office. Accordingly, this can only be seen as an obvious and transparent attempt by Twitter to influence the upcoming presidential election.”
Cruz asked Dorsey and Zuckerberg to provide the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, which he chairs, with answers to specific questions.
The questions cover the decision to limit or block access to the New York Post story, as well as earlier decision relating to reports on the Steele dossier and Trump’s tax returns.
If the social media platforms chose not to limit the reach of those reports relating to Trump, Cruz wrote, “please explain a politically neutral principle for why this reporting is treated differently.”
H/T CNS News