On Wednesday morning, the New York Post published a supposed bombshell of a story about Hunter Biden. Citing emails and documents supposedly recovered by a computer repair shop from an abandoned MacBook Pro, the story alleges that Hunter used his father's influence to benefit a Ukrainian energy firm while Hunter sat on the company's board. The unproven allegations blew up on social media, but you might not see the story much on Facebook. The company announced Wednesday morning that it is "reducing its distribution on our platform" until it is confirmed by third-party fact checkers.
Word of the restriction was delivered via Twitter by Andy Stone, Facebook's head of communications, who said the decision was part of the company's "standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation." Mic reached out to Facebook for additional information about how it intends to limit the spread of the story, and what it will do after the story has been sufficiently fact-checked, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.
Facebook moved relatively quickly on the story, compared to, say, the years it took them to address falsehoods about the Holocaust and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories on the site. But the story spread widely before Facebook hit the brakes. According to Judd Legum, author of the newsletter Popular Information, the story was shared more than 26,000 times in the first five hours after it was published. The Verge, citing data from CrowdTangle, reported the story had more than 40,000 interactions on Facebook before the company acted to limit the spread.
While Facebook restricts the spread of the New York Post story, it's unclear how the company is handling what is sure to be the significant amount of aggregators who will propel it forward without sharing the original source. For example, Ben Shapiro, who regularly appears on the list of top performing posters on Facebook, has already posted multiple stories referencing the New York Post report but published on his own site, The Daily Wire. Those posts have already racked up more than 20,000 interactions and thousands of shares. But because they do not link directly to the Post story, it is not clear if they have any restrictions.
For now, it seems Facebook is only willing to place limits on the original story, and likely won't be able to keep the theories pushed by the Post from permeating in conservative bubbles on the platform. The company is apparently going to wait out the fact-checking effort before lifting its restrictions, though it should be noted that one of Facebook's approved third-party fact-checkers is the Daily Caller, a right-wing website that's lead story on Wednesday was a piece dedicated to spreading parts of the New York Post story.