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Opinion

Big Tech slaps The New York Post to shield Joe Biden

By JOHN KASS | Chicago Tribune | Published: October 15, 2020

The cartoon version of how Americans would lose their intellectual liberty usually involved fire and the burning of books.

Sometimes the cartoon offered an angry man on a white horse leading an authoritarian government. And maybe handmaidens too.

We were always told it would come from the right, but now we see that it comes from Big Tech, which has interfered with a news organization’s coverage of a Joe Biden campaign issue.

Social media giants Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday limited the sharing on their platforms of a story from The New York Post about questionable business dealings of Joe Biden’s son Hunter in Ukraine. The social media giants didn’t feel the story’s sourcing was strong enough.

OK. Social media isn’t government. Twitter and Facebook are private businesses, with user agreements and rules, and they can decide what can and cannot be circulated.

But censorship is censorship, and as Twitter and Facebook swoop in suddenly to protect Biden from what they think is a misinformation campaign, will they continue to allow the spreading of stories about President Donald Trump that also are based on questionable sourcing, such as the anonymous sources journalists have relied on for the many anti-Trump stories in the past four years?

If Big Tech social media censorship is allowed to shape the news and influence our election coverage, we’re lost in the dark.

We might have to burn George Orwell’s novels to stay warm.

This is as much about protecting the liberties of the left as it is the right. And so, I called a former colleague, a respected editor and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize -- back when the Pulitzers actually did mean something -- about all this.

“When did we stop allowing Americans to make their own news judgments?” he asked.

Bingo.

If you’ve seen the popular Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” you know Americans are worried about Big Tech insinuating itself into our daily lives. It shapes our debate on social media and mines our personal data.  Its super algorithms prey upon our insecurities. Viewers come away from the documentary understanding that social media is a great soul-sucking vampire, driving people into depression when they don’t get enough “likes.”

It has herded us into angry tribes, feeding upon the rage for commercial purposes.

Initially, Big Tech’s social media was fun. It purred. It gave us cat videos. And it came up on the republic on little cat feet, like the “Fog” in Sandburg’s poem, but it didn’t just sit on its haunches and move on.

This week it jumped right to the throat of The New York Post, founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton. And with less than 20 days to go in the Trump-Biden presidential campaign, the Post’s story got cut down by the social media platforms we all use to circulate news.

Both social media giants limited access to a story that counters Joe Biden’s claims that he never knew much about his son’s international business dealings. The Post story centers on emails purportedly to and from Hunter Biden that are from the hard drive of a laptop left at a computer repair shop.

Sound incredible? Well then, let me remind you about that dossier the media and Democrats feasted on for years.

Naturally, the Biden campaign decried the Post stories and warned others not to spread them. Facebook hit the pause button on the stories, then Twitter followed.

“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,” announced Facebook’s Andy Stone on Twitter.

Stone previously worked for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and former California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Facebook didn’t prevent its users from sharing the Post stories, but it did “flag” the content for its “independent” fact-checkers to review, thereby limiting the chances of the stories appearing in the news feeds of its users.

Twitter outright blocked users from posting links to the Hunter Biden stories, or sharing them via direct messages, saying the content violated its privacy policies. Some Twitter users who did repost the stories had their Twitter accounts suspended.

Later, Twitter chief Jack Dorsey conceded that “our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero content as to why we’re blocking: unacceptable.”

Agreed. It is unacceptable. Perhaps Dorsey can explain it all under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which reportedly plans to subpoena Dorsey to testify on Oct. 23.

One of those blocked users was the White House press secretary. Another was Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican of Texas.

“This is election interference, and we are 19 days out from an election,” Cruz told reporters after discussing the subpoena with the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

“Never before have we seen active censorship of a major press publication with serious allegations of corruption of one of the two candidates for president,” Cruz said.

The Post did not hide that the main conduit they had to the laptop information was Rudy Giuliani, one of the president’s lawyers. That was not hidden or anonymously sourced. But still, two of the world’s biggest social media platforms decided to limit access to the story.

What the Post offered up was an “October Surprise.” Like it or not like it, but that’s politics. That’s newspapering. That’s liberty.

As Post founder Alexander Hamilton knew: You put stories out, you argue about them, and you let the people make their own judgment.

It’s what we used to do in America.

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