Twitter's Block Of NY Post Biden Story Draws RNC Complaint

Law360 (October 16, 2020, 11:20 PM EDT) -- The Republican National Committee reportedly filed a Federal Election Commission complaint against Twitter on Friday, alleging that the social media giant's decision to limit the distribution of two New York Post stories containing claims about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden amounts to an illegal in-kind contribution to the Biden campaign.

The RNC urged the FEC to investigate Twitter Inc. and levy its maximum penalty against the social media giant, arguing that the "blatantly partisan election activity" is a violation of federal election law, according to according to a copy of the complaint posted by Fox News. Twitter's "censoring" of the reports constitutes a "thing of value" for the Biden campaign, the complaint alleges.

"Respondent's ham-handed attempts to justify its active media support as a result of nonpartisan corporate 'policy' only illustrates the corporation's true partisan motives," the complaint said.

The Post's stories are based on emails allegedly discovered on a laptop a Delaware computer repair store owner said he believed belongs to Biden's son, Hunter. The laptop was allegedly dropped off at the store in April 2019 and was never retrieved. According to the Post, President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani and former top White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon obtained the leaked documents and provided them to the publication this week.

The Post, citing the emails, reported in one story that Hunter Biden and his father had a meeting in 2015 with an executive at the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma Holdings. The younger Biden had served on the company's board. Biden's presidential campaign dismissed the story, telling reporters Wednesday that the former vice president's official schedule at the time showed no meeting ever took place.

The campaign also noted that investigations by Republicans on the Senate's Homeland Security and Finance committees, who have been skeptical of Hunter Biden's overseas business dealings while his father was in office, found no evidence of wrongdoing by either of the Bidens.

Both Twitter and Facebook — who recently announced efforts to curb the spread of political misinformation — made the unusual steps to limit readership after the stories started to circulate on the platforms.

Twitter blocked posts that linked to the Post's stories. The company said Wednesday the images contained in the articles include personal and private information — such as email addresses and phone numbers — that violate its policies.

"As noted this morning, we also currently view materials included in the articles as violations of our Hacked Materials Policy," the company added. "Commentary on or discussion about hacked materials, such as articles that cover them but do not include or link to the materials themselves, aren't a violation of this policy. Our policy only covers links to or images of hacked material themselves."

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey later tweeted, "Our communication around our actions on the @nypost article was not great. And blocking URL sharing via tweet or DM with zero context as to why we're blocking: unacceptable."

But the RNC responded Friday in the FEC complaint that Twitter's attempts to justify its actions "make clear that these public explanations are simply a pretense for its blatantly partisan election activity," it said. "The company's 'private information' assertion is especially preposterous in light of its recent response to the New York Times' reporting on President Trump's income tax returns, which were obtained in violation of federal law."

Representatives for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Three Senate Republicans announced earlier this month that the Judiciary Committee will vote Tuesday on whether to demand testimony from Dorsey concerning the social media giant's actions around the news stories.

--Editing by Michael Watanabe.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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