More than we signed up for? ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ 

October 21, 2020

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Engineered Democracy

Katherine Chuang

After the 2016 election, Facebook was widely criticized for failing to address “pseudo-news” articles shared on the platform. Their algorithm (and others like it) are engineered for engagement over facts, which is thought to have sown divisiveness via misinformation. (WSJ

Last week, this issue reared its head again. The New York Post published a story about an email from 2015, in which an advisor for Burisma (a Ukrainian energy company), thanked Hunter Biden for introducing them to Joe. This has prompted calls for investigation into both Hunter and Joe Biden’s possible involvement with the Ukrainian government and Burisma. The President’s former lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was the one to leak the information to the New York Post, which he said was received from a hardware repairman.

Circulation of the post has been limited by both Facebook and Twitter, who continue to strongly deny any left-leaning bias (WSJ). If you’ve been following the news at all, the debate on social media censorship is polarized and intense. Many feel strongly on whether or not social media companies have the right to over-engineer your feed, especially when it comes to censoring highly influential individuals and content, as is protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Let’s break it down.


  • Section 230. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization committed to a free and fair internet, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act “provides websites, blogs, and social networks that host speech with protection against a range of laws that might otherwise hold them legally responsible for what their users say and do.” (EFF

  • 230 tweaks. On September 23rd, Attorney General William Barr said, “For too long Section 230 has provided a shield for online platforms to operate with impunity,”. The Department of Justice has drafted legislation to reform what they say is the “willful distribution of illegal material or moderation of content in bad faith.” (DOJ)

  • Censored. Last Wednesday, Facebook and Twitter determined that the content posted about Hunter Biden’s involvement in Ukraine violated guidelines on preventing misinformation and they responded by limiting the articles’ spread. (WSJ

  • Subpoenaed (yes, we spellchecked). On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced plans to subpoena Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, who publicly criticized his company’s inadequate response to the public concern. Additional testimonies before the Senate Commerce Committee are expected from Twitter and Facebook CEOs on October 28th. (AP)


How It's Being Spun

Katherine Chuang

Here are the narratives from both sides, along with supporting headlines and article snippets. The bias ratings refer to news outlets as a whole, not a specific article.

Knowing the bias in our news helps us understand the big picture. If you're reading on mobile, the Left's narrative will appear above the Right's. Next week, we'll switch it up.

Narrative from the Left

Why should social media companies not protect democracy by regulating the information that factors in our vote? The Hunter Biden story is yet another example of tech companies doing their job by censoring fake news. 

Headlines & Snippets

Hunter Biden Story is Russia Disinformation, Dozens of Former Intel Officials Say

"Such an operation would be consistent with Russian objectives, as outlined publicly and recently by the Intelligence Community, to create political chaos in the United States and to deepen political divisions here but also to undermine the candidacy of former Vice President Biden and thereby help the candidacy of President Trump," the letter reads. (Politico)

Trump’s Attacks On Hunter Biden Have Gone Nowhere, but He Can’t Let Them Go

Trump and his followers used to spend considerable energy taunting Hunter Biden at campaign rallies and on Twitter, eager to make an issue out of his work overseas and raise suspicions that his father, the former vice president, somehow used his influence to help enrich his son. (BuzzFeed)

Donald Trump's Top Intelligence Official is Fueling Wild Election Conspiracies

“I will be entirely apolitical as the director of national intelligence,” Ratcliffe, now the DNI, pledged. Fast-forward five months, and after releasing a raft of previously classified documents in an apparent attempt to undermine the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Ratcliffe is now apparently willing to do whatever it takes to boost his boss’ reelection bid. (VICE)

Narrative from the Right

Big Tech oligarchs are disproportionately censorsing real news from President Trump and Conservative pundits. Biden isn’t the messiah they think he is, and the American people deserve to know about his family’s shady dealings.

Headlines & Snippets

Twitter, Facebook Have Censored Trump 65 Times Compared to Zero for Biden, Study Says

"Big Tech has caused serious damage to President Donald Trump’s ability to be heard on social media. Twitter and Facebook have censored the president’s social media accounts and the accounts belonging to his re-election campaign at least 65 times. In contrast, the companies have not censored... Joe Biden and his campaign accounts. At all,” MRC analysts wrote. (Fox News)

Pence: ‘The American People Have a Right to Know About the Business Dealings of the Biden Family

"The American people have a right to know about the business dealings of the Biden family. We just spent the last three-and-a-half years where the Democrat nominee in 2016 had worked with a foreign entity to try and dig up dirt on President Trump. And I don’t remember the media shutting off access to that information." (Breitbart)

How Big Tech is Working on Stealing the Presidential Election from Trump

Big Tech uses certain buzzwords to justify its censorship, cleverly all vague, used as excuses to crack down on conservative content. They include “fake news,” “misinformation,” “hate speech,” “harassment” and even “bots.” Twitter employees have admitted if an account has a certain number of words, such as “guns” and “God” in their profile, they may delete it claiming it was a bot. (Townhall)

What Does It All Mean?

Little is certain about the specifics of the Hunter Biden story. It appears to be another partisan headline-grabber that will reinforce already established opinions. More importantly, the influence of Big Tech over political news continues to blur the lines between private companies and public information. Protections provided by Section 230 are well-intentioned, but become convoluted when company policy has the power to influence the course of an election.

  • If your news outlets lean Right, you’re recognizing this as further evidence that liberal social media tycoons are pushing a leftist agenda, silencing patriotic Americans, and censoring any story that they disagree with. It’s not the CEOs right to determine what’s appropriate and true for me. Especially when it’s information on suspicious activity by the guy they're going to vote for, of all people.

  • If your news outlets lean Left, you’re seeing this as another swing and miss by conservatives in an effort to discredit Joe Biden.The real issue here is content moderation by Big Tech. Considering what happened in 2016, you’re probably worried about another round of foreign interference. You believe it’s appropriate for social media platforms to err on the side of caution when censoring misinformation.

With the current information that’s available, it is difficult to draw concrete conclusions around Joe and Hunter Biden’s involvement with the Ukranian government. Without more evidence, the story remains suspended within the realm of Big Tech censorship and Section 230 reform. Surprisingly, this issue is less partisan than you may think. According to the Pew Research Center, 90% of Republicans say it’s likely that social media sites censor political viewpoints, while 62% of Democrats say the same (Pew). 

This is an important discussion to have as political discourse is ever-increasing on these platforms. 75% of Americans believe that tech companies have a responsibility to prevent the misuse of their platforms to influence the election (Pew). Still, there is concern that tech companies are not up to the challenge: Only around a quarter of people are very or somewhat confident in the platforms’ measures to limit political misinformation (Pew). 

That begs the question: if social media companies have a responsibility to manage their platforms, but aren’t up to the challenge, who is? The influence of social media platforms will only grow, so politicians and citizens have no choice but to continue to wrestle with this question. For now, the solution isn’t readily apparent. We have to work together to create one.


It's Not All Bias 

Usually, we highlight instances where traditionally biased news outlets concede a point to the other side's narrative. We scoured news stories from Breitbart to MSNBC, but the Left and Right have yet to find common ground on this topic. This doesn't mean that all hope is lost, but it does mean we need to try extra hard to understand the facts before arguing. 

Let's Argue Less

Now that you understand more about tech censorship, you're ready to take the next step.

Weekly Civility Challenge

Send us a short story about a civil conversation you've had recently. What was it like? How did you avoid a shouting match?

Reply to this email with your response and we’ll feature the winner next week!

Last Week's Winner

Here's the best response we received. Thanks Abigail A.!

"I’ve had a lot of conversations with my parents lately. Recently, my dad and I had a poignant conversation where we found that you can validate someone’s feelings without agreeing on their conclusions. 

We need more vulnerable conversations where we’re willing to lay down our pride and hear the heart of the other person. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with their stance, but it does wonders to hear how they came to their conclusions."

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