Twitter’s Partisan Censors

Senators have a chance to explain why an open society matters.

Originally posted at the Wall Street Journal

By The Editorial Board Oct. 15, 2020 7:09 pm ET

The political actions taken Wednesday by Twitter—and to a lesser extentFacebook —went far beyond normal content moderation. Here are the facts: Joe Biden supervised the Obama Administration’s Ukraine policy while his son Hunter sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company called Burisma. The New York Post found copies of emails it says are between a Burisma executive and Hunter, including one in which the executive thanks Hunter for “giving an opportunity to meet” his father.

The story might not change voters’ minds. President Trump has tried and failed to make Hunter’s Burisma dealings a campaign issue. Yet Twitter pre-emptively sprang to the defense of the Democratic nominee, taking extraordinary steps to stop Americans from reading it. 

Users who tried to share the link to the Post story were shown a message that they couldn’t do so. The New York Post’s Twitter account with 1.8 million followers was shut down, as was White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany’s; the “Team Trump” campaign account; and even that of Politico journalist Jake Sherman. 

Twitter says it acted because the Post story violated its “hacked materials” policy. It’s true that the provenance of the story is open for debate and scrutiny—the Post says a laptop with the emails was delivered to a Delaware repair shop, and that the owner gave them to Donald Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Notably, the Biden campaign has not explicitly denied the authenticity of the emails. 

Liberals say without evidence that it’s a disinformation operation—which is not out of the question. The Senate Homeland Security Committee is “in the process of validating the information,” Chairman Ron Johnson told Fox. 

The problem is that if Twitter has a policy against “content obtained without authorization,” as the company added, it has a policy against journalism—especially journalism in the Trump era. In 2017 and 2018 the Justice Department fielded 208 criminal referrals for leaks of classified information, more than three times as many as in the prior two years. Stories based on Administration leaks, including about national security matters, have circulated widely on Twitter.

Such stories ought to be read with a skeptical eye. But Twitter would never think of canceling the account of a news outlet reporting on the 2017 leaked emails from the Environmental Protection Agency, for example. The site allowed feverish falsehoods about Brett Kavanaugh to circulate as Democrats sought to sink his Supreme Court nomination. 

Even the most partisan Democrat can see Twitter’s aggressive editorial discretion to silence journalism is not neutrally applied. The company has a progressive agenda and is willing to use its substantial powers over America’s elite information landscape to advance that agenda. It won’t always work; this particular stunt may have increased the circulation of the Post story because the suppression was so outrageous. But it’s an ominous sign of what is to come if Americans become inured to such Big Tech behavior.

The Big Tech bias against conservatives is deep and broad. Dick Costolo, Twitter’s previous CEO, tweeted recently that “me-first capitalists who think you can separate society from business are going to be the first people lined up against the wall and shot in the revolution. I’ll happily provide video commentary.” Shot?

Silicon Valley executives may be surprised in 2021 at the fury and contempt in which they are held by the Democrats’ anticapitalist left-wing. But they shouldn’t be surprised if the free-market Republicans they censor are unwilling to use an ounce of political capital to protect them from a command economy.

Beware of politicians pitching one-size-fits-all policy approaches to this problem. Repealing the liability protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act could make companies’ censorship trigger-finger even more twitchy; government content moderators could be even more abusive; and smashing the companies with antitrust wouldn’t change Silicon Valley’s extreme progressive ideology. Yet we’re open to reforms, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas released an interesting opinion this week on how courts have interpreted Section 230 too broadly.

Beyond policy, a free society can’t survive if its people aren’t committed to it and are willing to justify anything to get power. Silicon Valley’s partisan interference flies in the face of American instincts about democracy, fair play, and the spirit of the First Amendment. A successful Senate hearing next week will expose the depth of the ideological ugliness that is taking place, and what is at stake if Big Tech executives abuse their status to limit American political debate.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal.