(New York) By limiting sharing of a controversial article in the New York Post about Joe Biden, the Democratic White House nominee, Facebook and Twitter this week revived the debate over their neutrality. trying to defend themselves despite their increasingly frequent interventions.
Posted Oct 15, 2020 at 3:58 PM
The two social networking giants have angered Republican President Donald Trump and his relatives, who accuse them of overstepping their roles and their opponents within three weeks of the November 3 presidential election.
The two Californian groups are advancing in minefields, caught between their ambition to position themselves as impartial hosts and the need to fight against disinformation and attempts at large-scale manipulation.
For the Trump camp, emails published by the New York Post on Wednesday support the theory that former Barack Obama vice president Hunter Biden's son used his father's position in the frame. of his company in Ukraine.
But because they considered the origin and veracity of these documents to be suspicious, Facebook and Twitter decided to prevent sharing the link to the article and thereby significantly reduce its visibility.
Twitter justified its decision by the presence in the article of private elements (e-mail addresses, telephone numbers) and illegally obtained illegal content, the distribution of which is prohibited by the site.
Facebook said the information would be subject to verification.
In any case, these measures show an evolution in the view that the two groups have of freedom of expression.
Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, the bosses and founders of Facebook and Twitter, have both said in the past that their platforms are not intended to be "arbiter of the truth".
On Wednesday, Mr. Dorsey admits Twitter & # 39; s communication about the blocks "wasn't great," but had no doubts about their merits.
Furious Republican senators plan to sue the leader on Friday, October 23, ten days before the presidential election, before the Judicial Commission of the Senate.
The bosses of Twitter, Facebook and Google have already scheduled a hearing in the Senate on the status of digital platforms on October 28.
"If (the platforms) had not done anything, they would have been pilloried, accused of allowing the instrumentalization of social media. By acting as they did, they are accused of censorship," summarizes Bret Schafer, disinformation specialist for the Alliance for Securing Democracy group, together.
For the expert, the platforms apply their own rules to pirated or stolen material, but it is sometimes difficult to distinguish this type of content from research reporting.
This dilemma, between authorizing or preventing this type of publication, could encourage ill-intentioned actors to disseminate false information to see if it is widely disseminated or blocked, but still debated, says Mr. Schafer.
"Either way, it's a win-win situation for these actors," he emphasizes.
Lost battle beforehand
For some observers, the two platforms strayed by imposing too strict restrictions.
"Twitter & # 39; s ban on the NY Post newspaper about Joe / Hunter Biden is a mistake, it echoes the article more than it would otherwise have," said political scientist Ian in a tweet. Bremmer, professor at Columbia University.
"It is difficult to credibly defend that this particular article is the subject of such treatment," he continues.
Facebook and Twitter are eager to prove that they are no longer vehicles for mass disinformation, as they did during the 2016 campaign.
But doing too much puts them at risk of being stuck in a losing battle. beforehand, notes Milton Mueller, a professor at Georgia Tech University.
"They are on a slippery slope trying to cope with the situation and should have more confidence in the public dialogue to assess this type of information," said the internet management expert.
It is impossible, he says, for the networks to decide the relevance of investigations such as those into Mr. Trump's tax returns or the charges against Mr. Biden.
Platforms should "withdraw the most aggressive forms of content moderation and make it clear that democracy and freedom of speech are complex issues and that people should take care of themselves," said Mueller.