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All That and a Bag of Mail: The Problem With Big Tech

Congrats, you’ve made it to another Friday, and we have a loaded weekend of college football and NFL games to entertain you until — hopefully — you return to work or school on Monday.

I want to begin this edition of the Friday mailbag addressing the question that I’ve been asked the most: what’s my take on the big tech companies, Twitter and Facebook, refusing to allow the distribution of the New York Post story on Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, peddling influence to his father to Ukraine and China in exchange for massive amounts of cash?

The New York Post story relies on direct emails that are alleged to have been sent to Hunter Biden. The emails were allegedly obtained after Hunter Biden took his laptops to be repaired and never returned to pick them up.

If you haven’t heard about the stories at all, you can read them here. Here is the story about Hunter Biden brokering a meeting with a Ukrainian businessman for his dad. And here is the story about China’s influence with Hunter Biden.

If you’re not taking the time to read it, here’s the most important part of the New York Post story on Ukraine:

“Hunter Biden introduced his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company, according to emails obtained by The Post.

The never-before-revealed meeting is mentioned in a message of appreciation that Vadym Pozharskiy, an adviser to the board of Burisma, allegedly sent Hunter Biden on April 17, 2015, about a year after Hunter joined the Burisma board at a reported salary of up to $50,000 a month.

“Dear Hunter, thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together. It’s realty [sic] an honor and pleasure,” the email reads.

An earlier email from May 2014 also shows Pozharskyi, reportedly Burisma’s No. 3 exec, asking Hunter for “advice on how you could use your influence” on the company’s behalf.”

Is it a surprise to me that a top politician’s family members would try to cash in on a parent’s prominent status to make themselves more money than they would without that politician’s standing? No, it isn’t, that’s been happening since time immemorial.

Access to powerful people often leads to cash. It always has, it always will.

So I can totally understand why if you’ve already decided how you will vote you don’t care about this story (or stories like it) at all.

What I’m more interested in here, by far, isn’t the story itself, it’s the response of tech companies to this story. Both Facebook and Twitter refused to allow this story to circulate on their platforms. In fact, they even went so far as to prohibit the sharing of the story from the New York Post on their networks.

What rationale did Twitter cite to limit the story’s dissemination? Twitter said they had a policy, established in 2018, that “prohibits the use of our service to distribute content obtained without authorization. We don’t want to incentivize hacking by allowing Twitter to be used as distribution for possibly illegally obtained materials.”

First, rather than completely slam Twitter, I want to point that this policy can make sense in some limited instances. For instance, if a totalitarian state like North Korea hacks emails at Sony Entertainment in an effort to embarrass Sony executives for making a movie critical of North Korea’s dictator, I can see an argument for why North Korea shouldn’t be rewarded for this behavior. Those Sony emails were improperly obtained via hacking and most of the stories were salacious in nature. That is, the inner workings of a Hollywood studio, while entertaining, aren’t integral to the functioning of an American democracy and given the fact they were obtained by a hacking led by a totalitarian dictatorship, I can understand why Twitter might not want to widely disseminate these emails.

There are other examples of where this policy could make sense too.

Remember the release of all the naked photos of celebrities a few years ago? I can certainly understand why Twitter would want to block the distribution of illegally obtained naked photos. That’s a clear violation of privacy and blocking websites that link to those stories makes sense to me.

But there’s a difference between the Sony hacking and naked photos — or videos — that are illegally obtained and stories about politicians behaving nefariously, which may emerge in less than ideal circumstances.

Sometimes information is so important that the method of its being obtained shouldn’t be the primary focus.

The Hillary Clinton emails obtained back in 2016 via a phishing expedition, to me, are a good example of this. Because those emails dealt with the DNC’s rig job against Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton. Arguably, that’s the exact kind of information we should want to see the light of day. If elected officials are behaving in an improper fashion, we should be aware of that behavior, ideally, in a democracy.

And that’s true even if the information is obtained in an unsavory manner.

If the information is accurate and directly implicates politician’s in their positions of power, then I believe voters should be able to see it.

That’s where, to me, the Hunter Biden emails fall. Plus, unlike with the Hillary Clinton hacking, there’s no indication that the emails were even obtained in an improper manner.

Twitter’s policy, as written, is far too broad as it would (potentially) ban the distribution on social media of many of the most important stories in our country’s history. The Pentagon Papers, WikiLeaks war logs, the Edward Snowden documents, the Panama Papers, you name it, all of them would technically not be allowed to be distributed on Twitter or Facebook as Glenn Greenwald noted.

What’s more, it’s not just that the policy is misguided in many instances, it’s that the policy hasn’t been applied in a content neutral manner at all for the past several years.

Twitter has not stopped the circulation of any stories about President Trump that are based on improper or illegally obtained documents. Just this month Twitter widely aided and abetted the distribution of the New York Times expose on Donald Trump’s tax returns. Not to mention the entire Steele dossier, which has been proven to be false, and many other stories about the president that have been based on “possibly illegally obtained materials.”

Twitter didn’t ban the distribution of any of these stories.

Nor should they, by the way, in my opinion because those stories would fit my Hillary Clinton and Hunter Biden exception. We should want information to circulate widely about our political figures. In theory, holding powerful people accountable makes our democracy more honest and transparent.

What happened with the Hunter Biden story is straightforward and clear: Twitter didn’t want the Hunter Biden story to circulate widely on its network because they were worried it would damage Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. That is, Twitter made a decision to protect Joe Biden on its platform while it has consistently made decisions to allow Donald Trump to be attacked on its platform.

The rationale and the policy they cited for blocking the distribution of this story is completely bogus.

It’s illogical, insulting, and frankly it harms the democratic functions of a free press in this country. As I’ll detail in a moment, Twitter and Facebook are adopting the same policies as China, they’re blocking the distribution of content that harms a powerful person. They are choosing sides.

What’s even wilder is this: Donald Trump was impeached for far less than what Joe Biden’s son is accused of doing based on evidence released from his own email account.

The difference in treatment for these stories is staggering. Any media outlet that isn’t covering the Hunter Biden story is participating in a transparent rig job.

Democrats impeached the president for his call with Ukraine’s president asking for Ukraine to look into this issue. Now that the Hunter Biden emails have surfaced, it appears the president was 100% correct. Did Joe Biden have a secret meeting with Ukraine officials, cover it up, and then lie about it?

That’s certainly what Hunter Biden’s email would suggest.

Now, again, you may not care. Or may not think a story like this should impact your presidential vote. But for a technology company to unilaterally and arbitrarily suspend all discussion of this issue?

That should be terrifying to anyone. Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican or an independent, this should trouble you immensely.

There absolutely, positively have to be content neutral rules in place for major tech companies, which are acting as default monopolies when it comes to online news distribution in our country. If those tech companies decide to favor one political party’s side over the other, that’s not proper behavior and we need major investigations to uncover how and why this is occurring.

Not allowing a story like this to circulate artificially constrains the marketplace of ideas and keeps the American public from being exposed to all arguments and perspectives about an important election decision. When editors at Twitter and Facebook are artificially manipulating which stories you see — and favoring one political party in the process — it’s also no longer possible for the tech platforms to claim they are not exercising editorial decision making.

We justifiably rip China to the high heavens for not allowing its citizens unfettered access to the Internet. But why is it better for American tech companies to do the same thing to our citizens? Yes, I understand, these are private tech companies as opposed to a country, but if the result is the same — a stifling of legitimate news if it discredits people in positions of power — then the impact can be just as dismal. China’s government protects Chairman XI just like Twitter and Facebook are protecting Joe Biden.

That can’t happen in our country.

I wrote about this recently here at Outkick and I’d encourage you to go read it. A few weeks ago Twitter labeled a Jason Whitlock column about Katie Nolan as sexist and made it one of the top trending topics in the country. Again, the company itself said this..

Well, who made the decision at Twitter that Whitlock’s column was sexist?

We have no idea.

But some anonymous person at Twitter made that editorial decision and then made it a top trending topic in the country.

Without any acountability at all!

Now, to be clear, I’m not arguing that an individual person doesn’t have the right to have that opinion about Whitlock’s column, even if I disagree with it, but this is a clear example of Twitter editorializing as opposed to simply allowing stories to circulate freely.

Put simply, this Hunter Biden big tech cover up is a massive story that goes to the very heart of our democracy.

Twitter and Facebook shouldn’t be permitted to behave as they have with this Hunter Biden story. There should be severe and significant consequences.

Peter writes:

“Why is the NFL seemingly resistant to adding extra weeks to the schedule to account for covid cancellations? It’s not like they have to compete for stadium time with concerts and monster truck shows this winter?”

I don’t get it either.

The solution to NFL teams having covid issues — which will inevitably continue to happen all fall and winter as long as positive tests is the criteria in play — is an easy one — add additional weeks as necessary to the end of the season.

Does anyone really care if the Super Bowl is played a couple of weeks later than expected?

Heck, right now the NFL doesn’t even have to change the date for the Super Bowl.

All they’d have to do is eliminate the bye week after the AFC and NFC championship games. Given that there is likely to be limited media interaction, if at all, for this year’s Super Bowl, why do we even need two weeks here? Just eliminate the extra week before the Super Bowl and instead add an 18th week to the end of the season.

Now, to be fair to the NFL, it’s possible they are trying to avoid adding weeks so far because they don’t want to schedule an 18th week and then have a team have another issue emerge after their bye week has already occurred and after they already have an 18th week scheduled. Then you might need to add a 19th week. So it’s possible, maybe even probable, the NFL is just holding out as long as they possibly can.

If teams are able to finish their seasons without needing to play extra games then they would get that week off before the playoffs start.

If teams needed to play the games that would mean they’d gotten two bye weeks during the season. So everyone would end up being treated the same here.

This seems like an incredibly easy fix to me.

But, and here’s another potential issue at play, couldn’t that give one team a default bye week just before the playoffs? So the better solution might be to put the new added week in at the 16th or 17th week of the season instead of adding it to the end of the year. That way everyone would still play in week 18 — or whatever the final week of the season ends up being — to avoid some teams potentially gaining a competitive advantage by not having to play in the final week of the season. (This would also avoid the teams that garner the number one overall seed, and a resulting bye in the first round of the playoffs, from sitting out for two weeks, which might be longer than their coaches prefer).

Finally, I don’t see why this addition would have to just be one week. I don’t see why the NFL couldn’t add multiple weeks to the end of the season if necessary. Is anyone really going to complain if the NFL season lasts a few weeks longer? I know the TV networks won’t complain and I doubt any fans would either. Is any fan really exulting when the Super Bowl ends and we have to wait six or seven months for regular season games to be played again? I know I’m not.

This is why I’m not worried about the NFL being able to finish their season. They will find a way to get it done, even if it takes a bit longer than expected.

If anything, I’m surprised there haven’t been more positive tests than there have been so far.

Chase writes:

“Have you ever seen so many sports organizations and other businesses push to get out and vote and swing an election like they have in 2020?”

No, I think it’s crazy.

This is what social media has done to us, it’s turned everything political.

And I believe when the Trump era ends we’ll go back to much less overt politicization in this country because I think most people are sick of politics infecting every fiber of the country, especially the sports world.

At least I hope that’s where we’re headed.

Dan writes:

“Do you think this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for people who love attending live events (sporting events, concerts, theme parks) and understand the low risk of COVID to younger healthy people?”

I don’t think it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity, I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Hopefully we won’t have a new virus situation like this every twenty years.

But I think if you look at the data and make smart decisions about your health this is a fantastic time to travel and attend events.

My parents are going to turn 76 years old this year.

They just got back from a week in Disney World with my nephews and nieces. They said the parks were all the least crowded they’d ever seen them. And my parents have been going to Disney World, just about yearly, since my sister and I were little kids. (What’s more, Disney has seen zero confirmed cases of the coroanvirus spreading in their parks. So it’s not just less crowded than ever before, it’s also safe!)

On Tuesday I took my kids to the Bills-Titans game. (And I’ll do so again on Sunday for Texans-Titans). There were only 8,400 fans there. We had no one close to us in the seats and they’d ziptied 60,000 empty seats to ensure no one else was sitting in any seats that weren’t occupied.

My kids loved the experience.

It was close to a perfect fan experience if you have young kids.

My kids could see the field without anyone blocking their view, they could yell and scream and feel like their voices were having an impact on the game, and they could turn to me and ask a question about the game and I could hear them. There were no lines for the bathrooms or the concession stands. There were no lines to enter the stadium. The parking lots were mostly empty making the entrance and exit to the game from a parking perspective very easy.

There were also no crowds on the concourses, meaning it was easy for me to keep up with my kids in the stadium.

I mean, it was pretty phenomenal, honestly.

It was like having a football game being played just for a tiny amount of VIPs present.

I’ve bought tickets for pretty much every Titans home game this year and I think it will be one of the most enjoyable fan experiences we have as a family.

And no one was ever remotely close to us for longer than thirty seconds or a minute or so. Given our ages and lack of co-morbidities, I’m not afraid of the virus at all in the first place, but I honestly don’t think we could even have been exposed to the virus in the stadium in the first place.

Next weekend I’m headed up to Knoxville for the Alabama-Tennessee game and I’m curious what that experience will be like there too.

So far, I’d recommend attending games highly and my parents would recommend attending Disney World too.

Jonathan writes:

“How many people would pay for a live feed of Nick Saban watching the game from home? Imagine seeing his reaction to a horrible coaching decision or bad call, knowing he’s not there and has no control. Or have him do live analysis during the game? Do a PPV, with proceeds to charity!”

I would 100% buy this on pay per view.

100%.

I love the idea, it’s pure genius.

Also, I got another question on this angle, how many covid tests do you think Nick Saban is taking right now trying to get three negatives in a row? They have to be testing him like crazy trying to get him back on the sideline for Saturday.

Dr. Chris writes:

“Clay – my school district is insane and will not bring kids back full time until at least the end of January. Our school board is a bunch of paranoid corona bros/gals. Our kids go 2 days a week and it’s a disaster. What recourse should we pursue?”

This is why private school enrollment is surging, honestly.

Because parents who are fortunate enough to have the resources to put their kids in private school are aware of the tremendous disadvantage that remote schooling is creating for kids all over the country.

Which means the kids who are going to end up losing out the most are the disadvantaged kids who were already the farthest behind. Meaning social justice warriors, who claim to care about equality more than anything in the country, are undertaking the greatest system for inequality in most of our lives.

Rich kids are getting great schooling, while poor kids are losing a year of schooling. This distance in educational achievement won’t be made up for most poor kids for the rest of their lives.

The most frustrating thing about all of this is the data is clear: schools are not leading to a substantial spread of the coronavirus. In fact, the data is clear that we never should have shut down schools in the first place.

The fact that any schools are still closed in this country is a triumph of idiocy and fear porn.

What I think every parent should be doing is using your voice to argue as loudly as you can that schools need to reopen immediately.

I do suspect, however, that as soon as the presidential election is over, regardless of who wins, much of the sanity in this country as it pertains to the virus will begin to recede.

In the meantime, I think you should scrutinize the decision-making of your local school district and consider moving to counties or districts that found ways to make in-person learning happen.

I live in Williamson County, Tennessee, just south of Davidson County in the Nashville area. Our kids have been in school since August. I lived in Davidson County for most of my life — 35 of my 41 years to be exact — and went to Nashville public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.

But if my kids still lived in Davidson County they’d still be doing remote learning.

I’ve never been more glad to live in Williamson County than during this coronavirus mess. Our schools, restaurants, bars, shopping malls, gyms, you name it, they’ve almost all stayed open.

Just a few miles up the road in Davidson County that hasn’t been the case at all.

We may move again one day to a new house, but I’m so disgusted with the response of Davidson County officials to the coronavirus that I’m not sure I will ever buy a house and live in that county again.

Given what I would pay in property taxes, that’s a pretty big potential hit to Davidson County revenues over the next forty or so years of my life.

And I’m sure there are many people like me who are making similar decisions all over the country. I believe the coronavirus will lead to millions of people moving to new states, new cities, or new counties. And the migration of those tax dollars outside of cities will be a massive story for decades to come.

Ultimately markets win.

And when politicians make bad decisions, the marketplace punishes them for those bad decisions.

And I think many left leaning cities that overreacted to the coronavirus are going to be reaping a whirlwind as a result.

Thanks for reading Outkick and I hope all of you have fantastic weekends.

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is an author, radio show host, lawyer, TV analyst, and the founder of OutKick (formerly known as Outkick the Coverage).
Read More about Clay >>

11 Comments

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  1. I am not sure that the political rhetoric will slow down if/when Trump leaves the office. If anything it might embolden the left to invade lives even more. The politics that are being stated during the sporting events are one sided. Why would it stop if their side wins? They attacked McCain and Romney long before Trump came along with ridiculous lies. Unfortunately it will probably get worse in my opinion. At least until something crazy happens which I would not want to speculate on.

  2. “Congrats, you’ve made it to another Friday.” No kidding!

    I would watch the Saban live stream! Great idea. On the flip side, hassling people with politics is going to be the “new normal” like all the Coronabros commercials profess. Mid terms are in two years so the countdown is on.

  3. Great point on the uncrowded events. Here in New York City, you have to make reservations to go to museums and botanical gardens. But they are MUCH less crowded and you can see things like Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” without dealing with crowds. I’ve been going to at least one place a week now because it’s so much of a better experience than with the massive numbers of people trampling over you to see dinosaur bones and what-not.

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