After months of review, the Federal Election Commission determined that Twitter did not violate election laws by restricting access to a New York Post article alleging the president’s son, Hunter Biden, engaged in influence-peddling via shady overseas business dealings.
The social media giant had both blocked users from sharing a link to the article and from sharing the link with other users through direct message.
The agency ruled that the social media company did not act out of political motivation but for a commercial purpose and therefore did not break the law, according to a explanation of the decision acquired by The New York Times.
Twitter’s censorship of the October Hunter Biden article triggered backlash from conservatives and Republican lawmakers, who argued that such preferential treatment of a presidential candidate’s family member by a tech titan constituted an “illegal in-kind contribution” to the campaign.
The Post story, based on email correspondence between Hunter Biden and an executive at Ukrainian energy firm Burisma Holdings, presented incriminating evidence that the Ukrainian company may have exploited the president’s son’s political leverage. Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma in April of 2014.
The emails at the heart of the Post article were reportedly recovered from a laptop computer that was left behind at a repair shop in Delaware in April 2019 but never collected. The owner of the repair shop, John Paul Mac Isaac, reported the laptop’s contents to authorities and entered into communication with the FBI, which subsequently secured possession of the device, Fox News reported.
The FBI subpoenaed the laptop and hard drive allegedly belonging to Hunter Biden as part of an investigation into alleged money laundering.
A senior federal law enforcement official told Fox News that the emails extracted from the laptop were “authentic.” Rudy Giuliani, then chief of the Trump campaign legal team, had acquired the emails and provided them to the Post, which then published its exposé of the Biden family’s alleged international business malfeasance.
The FEC decided last month that Twitter had “credibly explained” that it blocked the article from being shared in accordance with its “hacked materials” policy. That policy prohibits uploading content “obtained through hacking that contains private information, may put people in physical harm or danger, or contains trade secrets.” Critics pointed out that the material was not hacked, but rather taken from a laptop that became property of the repair shop owner after Hunter failed to retrieve it. Twitter has also declined to block many articles that were actually based on hacked material.
Two weeks after the story broke on October 30th, Twitter unlocked the Post’s account. CEO Jack Dorsey recognized in October that blocking links “with zero context as to why” had been “unacceptable.”
— jack⚡️ (@jack) October 14, 2020
The company then promised to revise its hacked materials policy and permit articles like the Post’s to be distributed with accompanying labels providing more context.
At a House hearing on the matter in March, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey admitted his company’s decision to suppress the story was a “mistake,” but one that was not necessarily malicious in intent.
“It was literally just a process error. This was not against them [the Post] in any particular way,” Dorsey told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in comments reported by the Post.
Twitter’s head of site integrity reportedly had been notified by federal law enforcement early in the 2020 election cycle to anticipate the disclosure of materials by “malign state actors” designed to target political campaigns and those associated with them, including Hunter Biden, the F.E.C. documents showed.
The FEC concluded there was “no information that Twitter coordinated” with the Biden campaign to give it an unfair advantage by limiting viewing of the Post article via its platform.