Furious congressional Republicans vowed Thursday to subpoena the head of Twitter after the social media platform blocked the Trump campaign, an official government website, and scores of other users for sharing reports about Hunter Biden’s emails that contradict his father’s claims.
Following Facebook’s lead, Twitter restricted distribution of the bad news for Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden by redirecting users to a webpage warning that the story’s hyperlink was “unsafe.” Twitter then took more aggressive action against its users, including preventing tweets linking to the story and direct messages sharing the story in private.
The news articles from the New York Post provided details of Hunter Biden’s sweetheart deals in China and Ukraine while his father was vice president and wielding Obama administration influence in those countries. The details appear to contradict the Democratic candidate’s claim that he did not know about his son’s business deals while vice president.
In response to the censorship, Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, said Senate Republicans plan to compel Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to explain his company’s actions to a Senate panel next week.
“Senate Judiciary Committee wants to know what the hell is going on,” Mr. Cruz told reporters. “Chairman Lindsey Graham and I have discussed this at length, and the committee today will be noticing a markup on Tuesday to issue a subpoena to Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee next Friday.”
Mr. Dorsey tweeted Wednesday evening that his company bungled how it explained the crackdown on anti-Biden content. He said blocking the sharing of the news without context was “unacceptable.”
On Thursday, Twitter continued locking the accounts of users who shared New York Post articles involving Hunter Biden or the material in the stories, including the Trump campaign’s official account, @TeamTrump. Twitter also locked White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s personal account until she deleted an offending tweet.
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee fought Twitter’s efforts by engaging in a social media version of whack-a-mole. They reprinted the story on their House website and posted a link to their Twitter account, @JudiciaryGOP.
Twitter responded by slapping a warning on the link, saying, “The link you are trying to access has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially spammy or unsafe, in accordance with Twitter’s URL Policy.”
Not to be deterred, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee, put the story on his website and tweeted it.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican, tweeted the New York Post story one line at a time to get around Twitter’s block.
President Trump warned that Twitter’s insertion of itself into the campaign with less than three weeks until Election Day on Nov. 3 would result in a “big lawsuit.”
“It’s like a third arm, maybe a first arm of the [Democratic National Committee]. Twitter and Facebook, they’re all, really, it’s a massive campaign contribution,” Mr. Trump said on Fox Business. “This is a third arm of the DNC: the radical left movement. And that’s the biggest problem our country has.”
A Twitter representative told The Washington Times that suspended accounts sharing material in the articles “may be required to delete those Tweets” because of the company’s policy on hacked material and personal information.
Users who delete the tweets that the company deems to contain offending material will be granted the opportunity to resume tweeting, according to Twitter.
Dan Gainor, vice president of the conservative Media Research Center’s TechWatch, said Twitter and Facebook’s actions expose their anti-conservative bias to the world.
“Twitter and Facebook are involved in a conspiracy to fix the presidential election,” he said. “Twitter’s bizarre defense claimed it was restricting ‘content obtained through hacking,’ but it set no such limits on stories about Trump’s tax returns.”
Democrats used Twitter’s crackdown on anti-Biden content to suggest that Twitter refuted the allegations in the article, which Twitter has not done.
“Twitter’s response to the actual article itself makes clear that these purported allegations are false and not true,” Jamal Brown, Biden campaign spokesman, said in an interview on Cheddar. “And glad to see social media companies like Twitter taking responsibility to limit misinformation.”
Twitter refused to answer why it did not apply the same content enforcement standard to news reports of Mr. Trump’s purported tax returns that originated in The New York Times or news of the anti-Trump “Steele dossier” from 2016 that has been discredited as Russian disinformation.
Twitter and Facebook’s actions were condemned by tech policy experts who fear that the companies’ handling of anti-Biden content will lead to new regulations.
“Twitter and Facebook are dead wrong on this, though the First Amendment protects their right to be wrong,” said Jesse Blumenthal, director of technology and innovation at the Charles Koch Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank. “Facebook and Twitter made the wrong decision to block the distribution of the NY Post article. The answer to bad speech is more speech, not ineffective attempts to suppress information.”
David Greene, senior staff attorney at the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said it is difficult to categorically label Twitter’s block of anti-Biden content as right or wrong.
He said it was “important to remember that content moderation at scale is impossible to do perfectly, and nearly impossible to do well, even under the most transparent, sensible, and fair conditions.”
For congressional Republicans, Twitter’s explanations smacked of excuses to justify political censorship.
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, said the social media giants were tempting federal action to rein them in, such as a rewrite of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects the companies from liability for material posted by users.
“For all of those tech oligarchs who think they can get away with this, I will simply say that winter is coming. They have enjoyed total immunity,” Mr. Cotton said on a conference call with reporters that was organized by the Trump campaign. “That is going to change soon because the millions of Americans who believe in God and believe in national sovereignty and believe in the Constitution will not tolerate these monopolists continuing to dictate the flow of information in this country.
“Big Tech oligarchs [are] declaring war on Donald Trump, on the Republican Party, and conservatives across America.”
Soon afterward, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said his commission would issue new guidance on Section 230.
• Valerie Richardson contributed to this report.