‘Absolutely unacceptable’: Twitter slammed
Donald Trump's re-election campaign has accused Twitter of censoring its content after the social media giant briefly locked its official account overnight.
The campaign posted a video featuring a number of quotes from the President's opponent, Joe Biden, in which the Democrat claimed he did not have contemporaneous knowledge of his son Hunter's business dealings in Ukraine while he was vice president.
Those quotes were juxtaposed with highlighted excerpts from a New York Post article, published yesterday, which reported Hunter had in fact introduced his father to a top executive at the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, whose board he served on at the time.
The video's caption labelled Mr Biden "a liar who has been ripping our country off for years".
Twitter took it down, and locked the Trump campaign's account. The campaign's social media manager Mike Hahn then posted a screenshot of a message from the company, which said the post had "violated our rules against posting private information".
The account has since been unlocked and the video in question has been reposted. You can watch it here.
We are back and we are re-posting the video Twitter doesn’t want you to watch.— Team Trump (Text VOTE to 88022) (@TeamTrump) October 15, 2020
JOE BIDEN IS A LIAR WHO HAS BEEN RIPPING OFF OUR COUNTRY FOR YEARS!
PASS IT ON. pic.twitter.com/pSWyycFrEF
'UNACCEPTABLE': TRUMP SUPPORTERS' FURY
There is a fair bit to unpack in the allegations against Mr Biden. We will get to that shortly.
First though, let's deal with the backlash against Twitter and other social media companies from the President and his supporters.
Today's brief suspension of the Trump campaign's account was not an isolated incident. Twenty-four hours earlier, social media companies intervened to stop The Post's original story from being widely shared.
Twitter, for example, locked the accounts of White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany and One America News Network host Jack Posobiec when they linked to the article.
Later, CEO Jack Dorsey admitted the company had failed to sufficiently explain why it had stepped in.
"We want to provide some much needed clarity around the actions we've taken," Twitter said in a statement.
"The images contained in the article included personal and private information - like emails and phone numbers - which violate our rules.
"We also currently view materials included in the articles as violations of our Hacked Materials Policy.
"The policy prohibits the use of our service to distribute content obtained without authorisation. We don't want to incentivise hacking by allowing Twitter to be used as distribution for possibly illegally obtained materials.
"We know we have more work to do to provide clarity in our product when we enforce our rules in this manner."
That explanation did nothing to satisfy Twitter's critics, who accused it of interfering to help Mr Biden politically.
"It's out of control. And it's like a third arm - maybe a first arm - of the DNC (Democratic National Committee)," Mr Trump himself told Fox Business today.
"Twitter, Facebook, they're all - like, really, it's a massive campaign contribution. This is a third arm of the DNC, the radical left movement.
"Joe Biden is a totally corrupt politician. He has been all his life.
"Hey, Hunter was a disaster. Hunter didn't have a job. Hunter got thrown out of the military. You know why he was thrown out, OK? He was thrown out of the military, didn't have a job, didn't have anything, his father becomes VP, and then Hunter starts making millions and millions of dollars a year. And the father gets some of that too, OK? You check him out.
"Put him through a Mueller investigation. On day one, 24 hours, they'd find out."
Over on Newsmax, the President suggested repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects social media companies from litigation over content generated by their users.
It also gives companies the ability to screen content on a broad range of grounds.
"No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected," the relevant part of the law reads.
Mr Trump repeated the suggestion at a campaign rally in North Carolina.
"If big tech persists in co-ordination with the mainstream media, we must immediately strip them of their Section 230 protection. OK? It's very simple," he said.
"They got total protection. They don't get sued, they don't get anything. They're totally protected. So the government gave that. So that takes away that little feeling that, 'Oh gee, we can't talk to them about freedom of the press.' No, we're going to take away their Section 230 unless they shape up."
Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, demanded Mr Dorsey and Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg appear at a Senate committee hearing on "digital platforms and election interference" at some point before the election on November 3.
"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," Senator Josh Hawley wrote in a letter to Mr Dorsey.
"This hearing will consider potential campaign law violations arising from your company's decision, on October 14, to support the presidential campaign of Joe Biden by asymmetrically applying its terms of service and restricting the distribution of a New York Post article, as well as by suspending the official account of the presidential campaign of Donald Trump for discussing this story."
Mr Hawley's Senate colleague Deb Fischer said Twitter's actions were "ridiculous and unacceptable".
Absolutely ridiculous and unacceptable moves by @Twitter and @Facebook in handling the @nypost story on Hunter Biden’s emails.— Senator Deb Fischer (@SenatorFischer) October 15, 2020
The efforts to block @realDonaldTrump’s campaign & team from sending this story are unacceptable.
THE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST BIDEN
So what exactly was in the article that sparked all this rancour? The Post's opening line sums it up pretty concisely.
"Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-vice president Joe Biden, 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 paper wrote.
It said it had obtained emails from the Burisma official in question, Vadym Pozharskyi.
In one of them, sent in 2015, Mr Pozharskyi thanked Hunter Biden for "giving me an opportunity to meet your father and spend some time together".
An earlier email from 2014 showed him asking Hunter for "advice on how you could use your influence" on Burisma's behalf.
According to The Post, the emails ended up in the possession of Mr Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani - who has been privately investigating Hunter Biden for years - after someone brought a computer with a sticker for the Beau Biden Foundation to a repair shop in Delaware and never returned to pay for it.
The repair shop's owner reportedly copied the computer's hard drive and gave it to Mr Giuiliani's lawyer, along with the FBI.
The article sparked a furious response from the Biden campaign, which said there was no record of any meeting between Mr Biden and Mr Pozharskyi taking place.
Putting that aside, there is a more fundamental problem with the allegation against the Democratic nominee.
Mr Trump and Mr Giuliani have long argued that Mr Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its prosecutor-general, Viktor Shokin, in 2016 because he was investigating Burisma.
In fact, Mr Shokin was not investigating Burisma. Mr Biden pushed Ukraine to get rid of him at the direction of then-president Barack Obama, and with the support of other European nations, who believed the prosecutor was doing too little to combat corruption.
"Shokin was not investigating. He didn't want to investigate Burisma," Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Action Center, told The Washington Post back in July.
"And Shokin was fired not because he wanted to do that investigation, but quite to the contrary, because he failed that investigation."
So to sum up, Mr Trump thinks Mr Shokin was fired for investigating a company connected to Joe Biden's son, when he was actually ditched because of an international consensus that he was bad at his job and had failed to crack down on corruption.
Mr Trump and Mr Biden are both holding town hall events today, in the timeslot that would have been used for the second presidential debate if it had not been cancelled.
The Hunter Biden issue and the conduct of social media companies are both likely to come up at some point.
Originally published as 'Absolutely unacceptable': Twitter slammed