The Hunter Biden story is a crucial moment: does Twitter care more than News Corp about fact-checking?


The Guardian: The Hunter Biden story is a crucial moment: does Twitter care more than News Corp about fact-checking?

Tech firms, newly sensitive to fake news, stopped the story circulating. Now the global media giant has roared in outrage

Media organisations shouldn’t publish allegations unless they believe them to be true, after making appropriate checks. This is a normally uncontroversial principle of journalistic practice, reflected in media law. It forms the underpinnings for the social licence to operate that allows journalists access to the powerful and the freedom to deal with confidential sources and leaked information.

Now, that idea is in play on the international stage in a stoush between News Corp and the tech platforms Twitter and Facebook.

It’s a crucial moment in modern media, mainly because the tech platforms seem to be trying to heed the traditional responsibility of publishers, while the world’s most powerful traditional media organisation, News Corp, seems willing to overlook it.

The battleground is a story published in Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, the essence of which is an allegation that presidential candidate Joe Biden used his previous position as US vice-president to benefit the Ukraine business interests of his son, Hunter.

The evidence for this is emails claimed to have been found on the hard drive of a computer that Hunter Biden may or may not have dropped at a computer repair shop. The proprietor of the shop gave the hard drive to President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, who gave it to the New York Post.

There are lots of reasons to doubt the veracity of the emails. Most US media have reported the allegations with a heavy dose of scepticism.

Twitter and Facebook, newly sensitive to the risk of spreading fake news, took steps to stop the New York Post story circulating. Now News Corp has ranged its global journalistic voice in outrage against that decision.

Twitter and Facebook are censors, they say. Yet in acres of commentary on the controversy, there is almost no acknowledgement from any News Corp masthead that the original story may well have been false.

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