By Brent Kendall and Aruna Viswanatha
WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department said it was concerned that
Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. restricted access to recent New York
Post stories about the son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe
Biden, telling lawmakers the department supported bipartisan
interest in changing a law providing legal protections to online
The department made the comments Tuesday in a letter to Capitol
Hill leaders ahead of a high-profile Senate hearing Wednesday in
which Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack
Dorsey will testify.
The letter, signed by Stephen E. Boyd, the assistant attorney
general for legislative affairs, said online platforms "hold
tremendous power over information" and must "be honest and
transparent with users about how they use that power. And when they
are not, it is critical that they can be held accountable."
"For example, the decision by two social media companies to
restrict access to news content of significant public interest from
the New York Post, a widely distributed journalism publication, is
quite concerning," the department wrote.
The letter didn't mention Facebook, Twitter or the Biden family
by name, but suggested the department didn't believe such conduct
is covered under the legal protections afforded online platforms
and signaled a willingness to get involved in future litigation
over the issue.
The New York Post's articles cited emails it said were written
and received by Hunter Biden and had been provided by allies of
President Trump, who trails the former vice president in polls. The
Trump allies said they received the emails from a computer-repair
person who found them on a laptop.
One article included a copy of an email said to have been sent
to Hunter Biden apparently describing a meeting between his father
and an executive at Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian gas company on
whose board Hunter Biden served. Efforts by Mr. Trump to have
Ukraine investigate the Bidens and Burisma led to the president's
impeachment by the House last year.
The Biden campaign has said that Joe Biden engaged in no
wrongdoing and that no such meeting took place. The Wall Street
Journal hasn't verified the claims made in the New York Post's
articles. News Corp, the corporate parent of Journal publisher Dow
Jones & Co., also owns the New York Post.
Mr. Boyd's letter comes a month after the Justice Department
sent a legislative proposal that calls for Congress to curb
longstanding legal protections for online platforms under Section
230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. Those provisions
give them broad latitude to police their sites and shield them from
legal liability related to users' actions, except in relatively
The department has argued previously that platform companies
must shoulder more responsibility for managing content on their
sites in fair and consistent ways.
In prepared testimony for Wednesday's hearing before the Senate
Commerce Committee, reviewed by the Journal, Messrs. Zuckerberg and
Dorsey said removing Section 230 immunity could make it harder for
them to engage in basic content moderation to address harmful
content and protect people online, though they appeared to signal
openness to moderate changes.
"Our Twitter Rules are not based on ideology or a particular set
of beliefs," Mr. Dorsey said in his prepared remarks. "We believe
strongly in being impartial."
Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook wanted "to be a platform for ideas
of all kinds" and was ready to work with Congress on issues related
to regulating "harmful content, privacy, elections, and data
The Justice Department said it saw legislation as necessary to
give potential victims avenues to seek recourse from online
platforms and to more clearly limit the immunity they currently
enjoy for the content shared on their platforms. "This broad
interpretation of immunity has left online platforms free to
moderate lawful content without transparency or accountability.
Unfortunately, these concerns are not merely hypothetical, as
demonstrated by the actions of certain platforms over the past
several weeks," the letter said.
Earlier this month, both Twitter and Facebook took the unusual
step of slowing the spread of the New York Post articles about
Hunter Biden, saying the articles ran afoul of company
Twitter initially cited the possibility that the materials had
been hacked, and later said the articles also violated its policies
on displaying private information like email addresses and phone
numbers without a person's permission. Facebook said its actions
were in keeping with rules the company announced last year to
prevent election interference, especially through
Republicans immediately criticized both platforms, saying they
were engaging in censorship. Amid the backlash, Twitter soon
changed its policies and apologized for how it initially handled
The Twitter account for the New York Post, which has 1.9 million
followers, has been deactivated since the tech platform determined
that the posts about the Hunter Biden stories violated its rules at
the time of posting and began hiding those messages from users.
Twitter has told the publication that its account would be
reactivated once it deletes the tweets, as others who posted about
the articles have done, including Trump press secretary Kayleigh
McEnany, according to a person familiar with the matter.
A representative for the Post declined to comment.
Having since altered its stance, Twitter will now allow posts
about the Hunter Biden stories, but the social network is still
requiring the Post to delete the messages, saying they violated its
rules at the time of posting.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee last week
authorized the panel's chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), to
issue subpoenas to Messrs. Zuckerberg and Dorsey for their
testimony on the issue, and later announced that the two men would
testify voluntarily before that panel on Nov. 17, after the
The two tech CEOs will appear along with Alphabet Inc. CEO
Sundar Pichai in Wednesday's Commerce Committee hearing about their
policies for moderating content on their platforms.
Write to Brent Kendall at firstname.lastname@example.org and Aruna
Viswanatha at Aruna.Viswanatha@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 27, 2020 18:36 ET (22:36 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Historical Stock Chart
From Nov 2020 to Dec 2020
Historical Stock Chart
From Dec 2019 to Dec 2020