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The Biden Laptop Story and Why We Must Amend Section 230


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Real Clear Politics

Kalev Leetaru

March 28, 2022

Last week, the New York Times finally acknowledged that the New York Post’s October 2020 story about Hunter Biden’s laptop was real. When the story broke in the Post in the days leading up to the 2020 presidential election, it was widely dismissed as “Russian disinformation,” with social media platforms moving swiftly to restrict sharing of it. The restrictions significantly reduced visibility of the story, and a year and a half later, the platforms have still not offered a full accounting of how they decided to suppress it – thus reinforcing the need for social platform transparency.  

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This raises perhaps the most important question: How did social media platforms decide to suppress the Post story until after the election? What was the evidence they used to determine that the story was likely false? At the time, Facebook cited “signals” that the story was false and that the need to “reduce the spread of misinformation” meant that it could not wait until fact checkers had a chance to vet the story. The company has never explained what those signals were. Twitter cited an ever-changing litany of policies in explaining its ban, suggesting a company that decided first to ban the article and then hunted for a rationale to justify its action.

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All of this happens in the shadows. The social media platforms that increasingly act as our digital public squares invisibly curate and cultivate the political discourse and information environment to promote the views with which they agree and silence those that they oppose. As the New York Post saga reminds us, this curation extends even to journalism with relevance to an American presidential election. Unless they are held accountable, the platforms will never be forced to explain their actions, learn from their mistakes, or improve their practices.

As the 2022 midterms approach in an increasingly divided nation and dangerous world, these challenges are ever more pressing. Change is needed. It is time to amend Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act to force transparency on the social media platforms that now wield so much influence – and control – over our public discourse.

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