United States President Donald Trump and his allies on Wednesday criticised Facebook and Twitter for restricting the reach of a New York Post article on alleged corrupt dealings by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine.

Facebook, the world’s biggest social media network, limited the dissemination of the story hours after it was published on Wednesday to have it fact-checked. Andy Stone, a spokesperson for Facebook, said the company can temporarily take action against content pending review by news organisations and others in its third-party fact-checking programme to curb the spread of misinformation.

“While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want be clear that this story is eligible to be fact checked by Facebook’s third-party fact checking partners,” Stone tweeted. “In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform.”

Twitter said the story violated its “hacked materials” policy, which does not allow the distribution of content obtained through hacking, and containing private information or trade secrets, or puts people at risk of physical harm. “The images contained in the articles include personal and private information like email addresses and phone numbers which violate our rules,” it tweeted.

Trump, who is trailing Biden in the national polls before the November 3 presidential election, tweeted: “So terrible that Facebook and Twitter took down the story of ‘Smoking Gun’ emails related to Sleepy Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in the NYPost. It is only the beginning for them. There is nothing worse than a corrupt politician.”

The president also said Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects technology companies from being sued over users’ content on their platforms, should be repealed. “Congratulations to the New York Post for having exposed the massive corruption surrounding Sleepy Joe Biden and our country,” Trump added. “He’s always been a corrupt politician. Disgraceful!”

The story

The New York Post article is based on alleged emails given to the lawyer of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney. The emails, the report claimed, came from data recovered from a laptop and hard drive left by Hunter Biden at a repair shop in Delaware in April 2019. The unidentified shop owner reportedly told the newspaper he copied the hard drive and gave the machine to federal authorities after the computer seemed to have been forgotten.

The article claimed that Joe Biden had met with an adviser to a Ukrainian energy company, on whose board Hunter Biden served. “Smoking-gun email reveals how Hunter Biden introduced Ukrainian businessman to VP dad,” the newspaper’s headline read.

The story cited an email by Vadym Pozharskyi, an adviser to the board of the energy company, Burisma, to Hunter Biden on April 17, 2015, thanking him for “giving an opportunity to meet your father” and to spend “some time together”. The newspaper claimed that this communication contradicted the statements made by Joe Biden that he had never spoken to his son about his business dealings when he was in charge of the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy. However, it is not clear when the meeting was scheduled or whether it ever happened.

Andrew Bates, spokesperson for the Biden campaign, rejected the story and said no such meeting ever took place, CNBC reported.

“The New York Post never asked the Biden campaign about the critical elements of this story. They certainly never raised that Rudy Giuliani  whose discredited conspiracy theories and alliance with figures connected to Russian intelligence have been widely reported  claimed to have such materials.”

— Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates - CNBC

Meanwhile, Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, also accused Twitter and Facebook of “censorship”. In a statement, his office said that he had written letters to Facebook’s Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey, arguing that they were trying to influence the presidential election.