Twitter’s crackdown on a controversial New York Post story that “purported to show new emails from Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, about his business dealings while Joe Biden was the vice president in the Obama administration,” “nearly doubled” the story’s visibility and triggered the so-called “Streisand Effect,” amplifying the Post’s claims, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a high-profile media intelligence firm.
“When Twitter banned, and then unbanned, links to a questionably sourced New York Post article about Joe Biden’s son Hunter, its stated intention was to prevent people from spreading harmful false material as America heads into the final stretch of the election campaign,” MIT’s Technology Review reported Monday. “But thanks to the cycle of misinformation—and claims from conservatives that social-media platforms are deliberately censoring their views—Twitter managed to do the opposite of what it intended.”
In fact, Twitter’s efforts triggered a massive spike in interest in the story. “According to Zignal Labs, a media intelligence firm, shares of the Post article ‘nearly doubled’ after Twitter started suppressing it,” MIT noted.
The incident was a real-time example of what Zignal Lab’s calls the “Streisand Effect” — a “social phenomenon that occurs when an attempt to hide, remove or censor information has the unintended consequence of further publicizing that information, often via the Internet,” according to Wikipedia. The name comes from singer Barbra Streisand’s efforts, in 2003, to suppress a photo of her Malibu, California, residence over security concerns.
According to Zignal Labs, the effect was immediate and significant.
“Zignal found a surge of shares immediately after Twitter instituted the block, jumping from about 5.5 thousand shares every 15 minutes to about 10 thousand. This doesn’t necessarily mean the block caused the explosion in interest, but the surge corresponds with a series of widely shared tweets from Trump supporters and conservatives accusing the platform of political censorship,” MIT noted Monday.
“The New York Post story, which was blocked on Twitter for about a day, was shared 352,200 times on the platform,” they added.
Twitter now famously blocked the New York Post’s story, citing its policy against unverified information and “hacked materials,” though the social media platform never specified how the story ran afoul of either policy. After a fierce outcry, Twitter reversed its position on the story, as The Daily Wire reported over the weekend, and pledged to change its “hacked materials” policy. Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, even seemed to apologize, tweeting that “[s]traight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix. Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that.”
Twitter, however, did not release its hold on the New York Post’s account, which was locked almost as soon as the initial story about Hunter Biden’s laptop was published, demanding that, to regain access, the Post delete six tweets referencing the coverage.
Worse, still, for Twitter, it appears the incident will now result in a full-scale Congressional investigation. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) have both expressed a willingness to subpoena Twitter officials, including Dorsey. The Republican National Committee also filed a Federal Election Commission claim against the platform Friday, claiming that Twitter’s efforts to suppress the story “amounts to an illegal corporate in-kind political contribution to the Biden campaign.”