US Senator Josh Hawley shoots letters to Twitter's Jack Dorsey and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, asking them to testify at Senate sub-committee after social media giants blocked a news story about Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

Twitter's Jack Dorsey (L) and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg (R) are facing Republicans' ire after their platforms blocked a news article targeting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son.
Twitter's Jack Dorsey (L) and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg (R) are facing Republicans' ire after their platforms blocked a news article targeting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son. (Reuters Archive)

US Senator Josh Hawley has formally summoned CEOs of Twitter and Facebook to appear before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee after the social media platforms decided to block stories from the New York Post that made claims about Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's son.

"As your company is no doubt aware, corporations are forbidden from contributing anything of value – financial or otherwise – to support the election of candidates for public office," said Hawley's letter to Twitter's Jack Dorsey and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday. 

"Accordingly, this hearing will consider potential campaign law violations arising from your company's decision on October 14, 2020, to support the presidential campaign of Joe Biden by suppressing the distribution of New York Post's article."

Hawley's office said that both CEOs should come to testify and "both are engaged in censorship."

"They're both massive monopolies. They should answer to the Judiciary Committee. They should answer to the full Senate," on Twitter.

"No woke capitalist should be able to shape the outcome of an election by silencing speech."

Earlier, Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham and Republican senators Ted Cruz and Hawley said the committee will vote on sending the subpoena on Tuesday, October 20, and plan to have Dorsey and Zuckerberg in front of the committee by Friday, October 23. 

Ruckus over story on Bidens

The Post said it had obtained a computer abandoned by Hunter Biden that implicated his father in his Ukraine business affairs.

The former vice president – the Democratic presidential nominee in the November 3 election – has repeatedly denied any such involvement.

"Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad," the newspaper's headline read.

As Biden's campaign denied he had ever met the businessman, Facebook and Twitter placed restrictions on linking to the article, saying there were questions over its veracity.

The Post report, Hawley said, is "clearly relevant to the public interest" and reveals "potentially unethical activity by a candidate for president."

US President Donald Trump rebuked Facebook and Twitter for blocking links to the article purporting to expose corrupt dealings by his election rival.

Facebook slows spread of story 

Social media giant Facebook earlier said it was slowing down the distribution of the story so that its fact-checkers could evaluate its authenticity. 

"While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want to be clear that this story is eligible to be fact-checked by Facebook's third-party fact-checking partners," Facebook's spokesperson Andy Stone said in a tweet on Wednesday. "In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform."

"This is part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation," Stone added.

Twitter said it too was limiting the article's dissemination due to questions about "the origins of the materials" included in the article.

Controversial claims

The Post's story includes files and emails that were allegedly taken from a laptop that previously belonged to Joe Biden's son. 

Citing emails, the Post claimed that Hunter introduced his father, then vice president, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm "less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company."

"The computer was dropped off at a repair shop in Biden's home state of Delaware in April 2019, according to the store's owner," the Post claimed.

The unidentified shop owner told the newspaper that after the computer seemed to have been forgotten, he copied the hard drive and gave the machine to federal authorities.

The shop owner passed the hard drive copy to Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's personal lawyer, who provided it to the newspaper.

The Bidens have rejected the claims, calling the story "widely discredited conspiracy theories" and while the Democratic challenger's campaign has not denied the existence of the computer or validity of the emails on it, Giuliani has a record of dispersing disinformation about both the Bidens and Ukraine.

"But the story's sourcing has raised questions about its authenticity: The files that allegedly belonged to Hunter Biden were provided to the Post through an attorney for Rudy Giuliani, who is the personal lawyer for President Trump," Business Insider reported. 

"We temporarily reduce distribution pending fact-checker review," Stone said while tweeting a link on how Facebook is trying to contain misinformation related to the US presidential election.

But Sohrab Ahmari of the Post dubbed the move as the "Big Tech information coup."

Facebook bars deceptive campaign

In August, Facebook said it derailed a campaign using fake accounts to praise US President Donald Trump as part of its latest crackdown on orchestrated deception.

Facebook removed 200 accounts and 55 pages at the social network and 76 Instagram accounts it said were part of the deception campaign and violated a policy against coordinated inauthentic behaviour.

About 373,000 accounts followed one or more of the campaign's Facebook pages and around 22,000 people followed one or more of the Instagram accounts, according to the social network.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies