NY Post story goes massive on social media despite crackdowns

Story by Neal Rothschild, Sara Fischer

Facebook and Twitter’s frantic attempts to stop the spread of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden story didn’t prevent the article from becoming the top story about the election on those platforms last week, according to data from NewsWhip.

Why it matters: The data shows that even swift, aggressive content suppression may not be swift or aggressive enough to keep down a story with as much White House backing and partisan fuel as this one.

By the numbers: The Post’s story generated 2.59m interactions (likes, comments, shares) on Facebook and Twitter last week — more than double the next biggest story about Trump or Biden.

  • 5 of the 10 biggest stories were about the Hunter Biden story, the fallout, or how Facebook and Twitter reacted.
  • It was the 6th-most engaged article this month, trailing pieces like Trump testing positive for COVID-19 and Eddie Van Halen’s death.
  • 83% of the interactions happened on Facebook, with the other 17% on Twitter.

Between the lines: Critics worried that Twitter’s move to disable sharing of the article (it also suspended the New York Post’s account) and Facebook’s decision to limit its reach may have inadvertently brought it even more attention.

  • Behind the Biden story itself, Facebook and Twitter’s response to the report was the second biggest topic last week. The backlash largely came from the right, which accused the tech platforms of meddling in the election through inappropriate censorship.
  • After hearing from critics, Twitter on Friday said it would modify its hacked materials rules to no longer remove hacked content unless it is directly shared by hackers or those acting in concert with them and to instead label tweets to provide context.

Be smart: “This gets at the fundamental question that we’re facing in 2020 of what is truth, what is information and how does a platform like Twitter or Facebook evaluate truth?” Bryce Webster-Jacobsen of cyber intelligence firm GroupSense tells Axios. “Nudity and terrorism and violence — those are pretty objective measures. Truth is much more subjective.”

Our thought bubble: We can’t know how much higher the numbers for the Post story might have been if Facebook and Twitter hadn’t taken action.

What’s next: The platforms have said that they are still working to determine the most effective policies for limiting the spread of misinformation in breaking news without infringing on free speech.

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