Facebook and Twitter Have Made a Mess of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden Story

Twitter and Facebook knew this was coming. For the last four years, they have ostensibly been preparing for foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election. Pressed by lawmakers, executives from both companies insisted that they had learned their lesson. “In 2016, we were not prepared for the coordinated information operations we now regularly face,” wrote Mark Zuckerberg in a 2018 blog post. “But we have learned a lot since then and have developed sophisticated systems that combine technology and people to prevent election interference on our services.”

Both companies were tested for the first time during this election cycle on Wednesday, and both stumbled out of the gates

The trouble, once again, came from a set of emails. On Wednesday, The New York Post published a story based on a tranche of emails it claimed had been recovered from a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden, including one suggesting that he had set up a meeting between his father, Joe Biden, and a Ukrainian oligarch. Joe Biden has long denied such a meeting ever took place, while President Trump rejoiced, claiming that it vindicated him for making baseless allegations of corruption against the former vice president.

But everything about the story was fishy. The emails themselves were acquired by Rudy Giuliani, the president’s lawyer. Giuliani was a key figure in the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump’s impeachment. Intelligence agencies had also recently warned the White House that they suspected Russian intelligence officers were using Giuliani “as a conduit for disinformation aimed at undermining” Biden’s campaign, per The New York Times. Meanwhile, no one knew if the laptop involved actually belonged to Hunter Biden. The owner of a Delaware computer repair store who supposedly passed its contents on to the FBI and Giuliani said he couldn’t recall if Hunter Biden left the computer with him or not.

At this point, it’s not clear if all the emails recovered are authentic, if some are authentic and some (including the claim that the former vice president had met with a Ukrainian oligarch) are fake, or if the whole thing is an elaborate forgery. What is clear is that this was intended, as my colleague Matt Ford argued earlier in the week, as an October surprise to benefit Trump—and that it may have been the result of yet another foreign plot.

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