On Wednesday, the New York Post published an article about emails obtained from a laptop abandoned by Hunter Biden at a repair shop that confirm some of the accusations regarding impropriety in Hunter Biden's position on the board of Burisma and former Vice President Biden's involvement. This might have been a story that only made an impression with the devoted MAGA crowd, except that Twitter decided it violated a policy against "hacked materials," blocked users from tweeting the article, and suspended accounts that had posted it, including the accounts of White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, the Trump campaign's account (@TeamTrump), and the New York Post itself. This policy was not applied to the New York Times story from a few weeks ago that published information from President Trump's tax returns that had been obtained not just through irregular channels but illegally. Facebook quickly followed suit to suppress the story, and the mainstream media completely ignored that the story had been published.
Through their latest instance of censorship of conservative viewpoints (or in this case, what should be a news bombshell running in every publication), the social media giants succeeded in 1. giving the story much wider reach and attention than it would have otherwise received, 2. making many Republicans who previously would have resisted changing the regulatory scheme for big technology companies more open to regulation, 3. earning their CEOs a likely subpoena to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 4. starting an FCC rulemaking process regarding the meaning of Section 230, 5. accelerating the abandonment of their platforms for alternatives like Parler (Follow the RNLA here!), and 6. prompting an FEC complaint from the Republican National Committee for an illegal corporate campaign contribution.
(One has to wonder if Twitter has any escalation or review policies in place before they suspend the account of say, one of the two major political parties' presidential campaign. Perhaps a cautionary tale for in-house counsel everywhere.)
First, the RNC's complaint with the FEC (full complaint posted by Fox News):
The RNC, in its complaint, said Twitter “is a partisan actor, run by partisan Democrats” and is “using its corporate resources to provide active support for Joe Biden’s campaign in violation of federal law,” and demanded the FEC “conduct an immediate investigation” into Twitter’s “illegal in-kind contributions to the Biden campaign,” and “impose the maximum penalty allowed under the law.” . . .
The complaint references federal campaign finance law, which “strictly prohibits corporations from making contributions to federal candidates,” and notes that “contribution” is defined to mean “anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing an election.”
The RNC also noted that the “suppression” of The Post article “provides a thing of value to the Biden campaign.”
“[Twitter] is acting as Biden’s media operative, taking proactive steps to shield Biden from negative news coverage by blocking its distribution and muzzling those who try,” the complaint read. “If [Twitter] charged for this service, Biden no doubt would gladly pay a significant price.”
Second, FCC Chair Ajit Pai announced that he was moving forward with rulemaking regarding Section 230 in the wake of the suppression of the Hunter Biden story:
I intend to move forward with an @FCC rulemaking to clarify the meaning of #Section230.— Ajit Pai (@AjitPaiFCC) October 15, 2020
Read my full statement below. pic.twitter.com/LhUz5XMdSC
Third, Republican senators will hold a vote next week to subpoena the Twitter and Facebook CEOs to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee next Friday. Sen. Josh Hawley invited both CEOs to testify on "a date to be determined":
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 asymmetrically applying its terms of service and restricting the distribution of a New York Post article entitled “Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad,” as well as by suspending the official account of the presidential campaign of Donald Trump for discussing this story. It will also consider your company’s decision to double down on that potential violation by, on October 15, 2020, suppressing the Post’s follow-up story.
Sen. Ted Cruz said:
We have seen Big Tech - we've seen Twitter and Facebook - actively interfering in this election in a way that has no precedent in the history of our country. [...] The Senate Judiciary Committee wants to know what the hell is going on. Chairman Lindsey Graham and I have discussed this at length, and the committee today will be noticing a markup on Tuesday to issue a subpoena to Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee next Friday. To come before this Committee and the American people and explain why Twitter is abusing their corporate power to silence the press and to cover up allegations of corruption.
Let me be clear: I don't know if these New York Post stories are true or not. Those are questions Vice President Biden should answer. But Twitter and Facebook and Big Tech billionaires don't get to censor political speech and actively interfere in the election. That's what they're doing right now. And so on Tuesday the Judiciary Committee, the full committee will be voting on subpoenas - to subpoena Jack Dorsey to come before our committee.
Whatever you think about changing the regulatory scheme for big technology companies (and opinions vary widely among Republicans), the technology companies themselves seem to be trying to build a record to argue for greater regulation of their companies. Which is certainly a curious way to run a business.