In the wake of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s disclosure last week that Facebook limited distribution of the Hunter Biden laptop story in the run-up to 2020 election based on warnings from the FBI, you may have wondered how the bureau was going to respond.
You probably got it wrong. My money, for what it’s worth, was on outright denial or obfuscation. Little did you or I know that the spin would amount to this: Don’t worry, we do this kind of thing all the time.
Just a refresher: In a podcast posted Thursday, Zuckerberg told Spotify’s Joe Rogan that the FBI had warned the laptop and its contents, which first began being reported by the New York Post in October 2020, could be “Russian propaganda.”
“The FBI, I think, basically came to us — some folks on our team — and was like, ‘Hey, just so you know, you should be on high alert. We thought that there was a lot of Russian propaganda in the 2016 election. We have it on notice that, basically, there’s about to be some kind of dump that’s similar to that. So just be vigilant,’” Zuckerberg said.
BREAKING: Mark Zuckerberg tells Joe Rogan that Facebook algorithmically censored the Hunter Biden laptop story for 7 days based on a general request from the FBI to restrict election misinformation. pic.twitter.com/llTA7IqGa1
— Minds? (@minds) August 25, 2022
He went on to say that, while Facebook didn’t outright ban sharing the story in the same way that Twitter did, Facebook did restrict its reach to a “meaningful” degree. That’s the kind of thing most people would call “censorship.”
“We just kind of thought, ‘Hey, look, if the FBI’ — which I still view as a legitimate institution in this country, it’s a very professional law enforcement — ‘they come to us and tell us that we need to be on guard about something, then I want to take that seriously,'” Zuckerberg said.
According to Fox News, he added the laptop “basically fit the pattern” of disinformation he’d been warned by the FBI about.
This, naturally, produced an immediate negative reaction among conservatives who already distrusted Big Tech. So, to allay their censorship fears, the FBI told America that they needn’t fret — this is a common thing.
In a statement Friday night, according to NBC, the FBI said it “routinely notifies U.S. private sector entities, including social media providers, of potential threat information, so that they can decide how to better defend against threats.”
The statement added that it provides corporations with “foreign threat indicators to help them protect their platforms and customers from abuse by foreign malign influence actors.”
“The FBI will continue to work closely with federal, state, local, and private sector partners to keep the public informed of potential threats, but the FBI cannot ask, or direct, companies to take action on information received,” the statement continued, according to Fox News.
Of course, if a company doesn’t act on the FBI’s guidance — which can described as heavy-handed guidance at best — there are likely repercussions in terms of that entity’s relationship with the federal government.
This is doubly true if that guidance involves a radioactive laptop belonging to the son of a presidential candidate that contains, inter alia, emails in which it was suggested that 10 percent of a deal with a government-linked firm in China be reserved for “the big guy.”
It’s triply true if you have a former business associate of that presidential candidate’s son coming forward to identify the presidential candidate as “the big guy.”
Since the election, Facebook has rebranded itself as “Meta.” On Friday, it’s worth noting, Meta itself tried to save its hide (and Zuckerberg’s in the process) by insisting his statements to Rogan were nothing new and that they aligned with testimony Zuckerberg gave the Senate in October of 2020.
“The FBI shared general warnings about foreign interference — nothing specific about Hunter Biden,” Meta said in a tweet.
As we’ve said, nothing about the Hunter Biden laptop story is new. Below is what Mark told Sen. Johnson in Oct 2020 and what Mark told Joe Rogan this week. The FBI shared general warnings about foreign interference – nothing specific about Hunter Biden. https://t.co/pHtzvh6r0r
— Meta Newsroom (@MetaNewsroom) August 26, 2022
For what it’s worth, here’s the video. Zuckerberg’s response under questioning by GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin lacked the specificity of his answer to Rogan and was significantly more defensive in nature.
Whatever you think of Zuckerberg and the novelty of what he said on “The Joe Rogan Experience” last week, the real headline is the FBI’s reaction to this.
If the bureau wished to instill confidence in those who have lost it through a litany of trust-eroding deep-statery — the Hunter Biden laptop, the Hillary Clinton email server investigation, the Mar-a-Lago raid, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, James Comey, etc., etc. etc. — the appropriate response would have been to go on record as saying something to the effect that:
“The 2020 presidential election represented an extraordinary one-off for the agency given the acrimony over alleged (if mostly unproven) interference in the 2016 election. Thus, sparing, non-specific guidance was given to certain sensitive platforms but articulated that there would be no retribution, official or political, if that guidance wasn’t followed.”
Instead, the FBI’s messaging on the matter, again in summation, was brazen:
“Well, we don’t see what the big deal is, we do this kind of thing all the time. You just don’t know about the other times we sought to control the free flow of information. Carry on, then!”
And the agency wonders why Republicans are calling for drastic reform of the bureau. Get a clue, folks.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.