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Twitter did not violate election laws when it throttled Hunter Biden article, FEC rules

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 9/15/2021 Jessica Guynn, USA TODAY
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Twitter did not violate election laws when it limited the spread of a New York Post article about then Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son Hunter shortly before the election, the Federal Election Commission has determined.

a hand holding a cell phone: A Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone with former President Donald Trump's photograph. © OLIVIER DOULIERY, AFP via Getty Images A Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone with former President Donald Trump's photograph.

The election commission rebuffed GOP accusations that Twitter suppressed the article to tip the election to Biden, finding instead that Twitter did so for business reasons. It published the decision on its website Wednesday.

The decision by Facebook and Twitter to throttle the spread of the article about Hunter Biden’s business dealings last October fueled the ire of former President Donald Trump and top conservatives.

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The Republican National Committee claimed Twitter was in cahoots with the Biden presidential campaign and that the company's actions were an illegal “in-kind” contribution.

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The FEC said Twitter “credibly explained” why it blocked the New York Post article.

Twitter declined to comment.

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Emma Vaughn told the New York Times that the committee was weighing its options to appeal “this disappointing decision.”

Twitter quickly reversed its decision on the Hunter Biden article. CEO Jack Dorsey said the company made a mistake in blocking its distribution and subsequently changed its policy on hacked materials. 

a man wearing a suit and tie: In this Nov. 7, 2020 file photo, President-elect Joe Biden, right, embraces his son Hunter Biden, left, in Wilmington, Delaware. © Andrew Harnik, AP In this Nov. 7, 2020 file photo, President-elect Joe Biden, right, embraces his son Hunter Biden, left, in Wilmington, Delaware.

The FEC also rejected claims that Twitter violated election laws by “shadow banning” or limiting the visibility of posts from conservatives or in labeling Trump’s tweets.

The ruling is likely to anger conservatives who accused social media companies of election meddling and are some of Big Tech’s most virulent critics. 

In a tense hearing on Capitol Hill following the Hunter Biden article’s publication, Senate Republicans questioned the heads of Facebook, Twitter and Google on how they police content on their platforms, accusing them of politically motivated bias and suppression and warning them of challenges to decades-old legal protections that shield tech companies from liability for what users post.

Who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear,” Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, said to Dorsey at the time.

Social media companies say they don't target conservatives, only harmful speech that violates their rules.

The Republican claim that powerful technology companies are biased against conservatives is emerging as a top issue to rally the base in the 2022 midterm elections.

Last week Texas became the second state to pass a law cracking down on social media companies for allegedly censoring conservative speech.

 A similar law in Florida was blocked in June by a federal judge one day before it could take effect.

Dozens of states are considering legislation to restrict how social media platforms regulate people's speech, though few have gotten this far.

These bills resonate with conservatives who believe their First Amendment rights are violated when social media posts are labeled or removed or when their accounts are banned for violating the policies of social media platforms. Trump's suspensions from the major platforms inspired the new bills.

Trump, who was banned from the major social media platforms after the Jan. 6 insurrection, escalated his war with Big Tech in July when he filed suit against Facebook, Google and Twitter and their CEOs, claiming the companies violated his First Amendment rights.

The First Amendment protects people from censorship by the federal government, not from content moderation decisions by private companies. 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Twitter did not violate election laws when it throttled Hunter Biden article, FEC rules

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