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Facebook, Twitter limit reach of New York Post article about Hunter Biden

Senate Republicans want to subpoena Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the social networks' actions.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Facebook and Twitter are limiting the reach of a New York Post article that alleges leaked emails show Joe Biden's son introduced the Democratic presidential nominee to a Ukrainian energy executive, raising questions about how social networks fact-check political content. On Thursday, Senate Republicans said they plan to subpoena Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to get some answers.

Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, said in a tweet that the Wednesday article is eligible for fact-checking by the social network's third-party partners, though he didn't indicate what prompted the review. The social network is "reducing its distribution" in the meantime. 

Facebook's and Twitter's actions drew criticism from Republicans and the Trump campaign, which accused the social networks of interfering in the coming election. Conservatives have long alleged that their speech is censored by Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, a charge the companies have repeatedly denied. In May, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that aims to curtail legal protections that shield online platforms from liability for content posted by their users.

Twitter said it's blocking any links or images of the New York Post story about Biden's son, Hunter Biden. The company cited its policies against the distribution of hacked materials. Social media sites are worried about disinformation campaigns in which hackers release documents as part of an attempt to meddle in the Nov. 3 election. 

Read more: Facebook, Twitter are fighting fake news. Why you still need to be careful

Twitter also added in a tweet that the New York Post article contained images that included personal and private information such as email addresses and phone numbers, which is against the social network's rules. 

"Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we're blocking: unacceptable," Dorsey said in a tweet.

On Thursday, Twitter said it was changing its policies about hacked materials. The company said it would no longer remove links that involve hacked materials, unless they're shared directly by the hacker or those acting with the hacker. Instead, the company will label these tweets. Twitter said its rules will still prohibit the posting of hacked materials that include personal information, manipulated media and nonconsensual nudity. 

Facebook exempts politicians from its fact-checking program but works with partners to limit the spread of false news and viral misinformation such as memes and manipulated videos. The social network said that in the US and many countries, if there are "signals that a piece of content is false" it will temporarily reduce the post's distribution while the content is being reviewed by a fact-checker. This is part of the company's effort to stop misinformation from going viral more quickly. In September, Facebook reduced the spread of posts that falsely claimed Biden had worn an earpiece during debates, while those posts were pending review by fact-checkers. 

Republicans plan to subpoena Dorsey

Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee plan to issue a subpoena to Dorsey on Tuesday, requiring the Twitter CEO to testify on Oct. 23 about the platform's decision to block the New York Post article.

"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," Sen. Ted Cruz said Thursday during a press briefing with judiciary committee Chairman Lindsey Graham. "This is election interference, and we are 19 days out from an election."

Twitter declined to comment.

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri and a member of the judiciary committee, on Wednesday sent letters to Twitter and Facebook demanding answers from the platforms. Hawley took issue with Facebook's decision to reduce the spread of a story before the fact-checking process had been completed.

"Is it your normal policy to reduce the distribution of stories on your platform before they have been fact-checked?," Hawley asked in a letter sent to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "If so, what is your specific policy and where is such policy stated?"

On Friday, Hawley urged the committee to subpoena Zuckerberg. Facebook declined to comment.

Stone said in a tweet that Facebook's actions are part of the company's "standard process" to reduce the spread of misinformation. Facebook didn't respond to a request for additional comment. 

Trump and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany also criticized Facebook and Twitter. On Thursday, the Trump campaign Twitter account, @TeamTrump, was apparently locked for attempting to share the New York Post story. The campaign also tweeted from one of its Twitter accounts that McEnany's personal Twitter account was locked for sharing the same story. 

"For Twitter to lock the main account of the campaign of the President of the United States is a breathtaking level of political meddling and nothing short of an attempt to rig the election," said Trump campaign Communications Director Tim Murtaugh in an emailed statement. 

A Twitter spokesperson said accounts that share hacked materials or personal information may be required to delete these tweets. 

The Biden campaign directed CNET to Andrew Bates, director of rapid response for the campaign. Bates shared a tweet in which he denied that a meeting between Biden and the Ukrainian executive ever took place. The New York Post didn't respond to a request for comment. 

The name Hunter Biden and the term New York Post trended on Twitter on Wednesday morning, along with other terms related to the article.  As of Thursday, the New York Post article has been shared on Facebook more than 200,000 times, according to Facebook-owned analytics tool CrowdTangle. 

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