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Hunter Biden phone hack claims testing platforms’ misinformation policies

Once again, search and social media platforms are facing moderation challenges related to data allegedly leaked from the president’s son’s devices.

Over the weekend, users of 4Chan’s /pol/ messageboard were thrown into a frenzy of excitement by a poster claiming to have hacked into Hunter Biden’s phone. Exact details are hard to confirm, but the original poster suggests they used a tool called iPhone Backup Extractor to recover backup copies of content from an iPhone and iPad owned by Hunter Biden – possibly compromising their iCloud account and downloading data from the cloud.

The 4Chan poster shared additional instructions on how to decrypt backup files, and other users started sharing images, videos and messages allegedly taken from the phone. No media has confirmed that the content is authentic, but Motherboard reports that at least some of the images shared on 4Chan had not previously appeared anywhere else online. Meanwhile, the Secret Service said late Monday that it was aware of the alleged hack but was “not in a position to comment publicly on any investigative actions”.

Some videos appear to show Hunter Biden smoking crack or having sex with women considered escorts. It’s great fodder for conservative pundits, but there’s no real argument that releasing these clips is in the public interest – especially since so much similar material has emerged when hard drive content of Hunter Biden’s laptop was shared with the New York Post in 2020. (Many details of his hard-partying lifestyle were published by Hunter Biden himself in his 2021 memoir, Pretty Things.)

There have been legitimate corruption concerns over Hunter Biden’s business ties to China and Ukraine, but so far no evidence of wrongdoing has been produced – and nothing in the latest leak gives an overview of these concerns. As a result, the story was difficult for the mainstream media, with most holding back early coverage of the leak.

Twitter has made no public statement regarding the restriction of links to 4Chan posts and/or other references to the iCloud hack, although it’s unclear what decisions may have been made behind the scenes. Twitter has a policy that prohibits the sharing of pirated material, and although the #HunterBiden hashtag was listed as a trending topic at the start of the week, it no longer appeared to be a visible trending topic on Tuesday afternoon. Twitter did not respond to moderation questions sent by The edge at the time of publication.

Meta spokesman Dave Arnold said The edge that the content was allowed on Facebook, as references to the story were considered news.

“Although these posts appear to be from pirated sources, they are still allowed as newsworthy content under our Community Standards,” Arnold said.

Google took more identifiable action, showing users a notification box for certain search terms related to allegedly pirated material. In response to queries such as “hunter biden crack”, users received a message telling them that the results were changing rapidly, with a prompt to come back later for more reliable information. The results then appeared below the message box.

Search terms related to the leaked data returned a notice from Google that results were changing rapidly.

Google spokesperson Ned Adriance said The edge that reviews were first rolled out in June 2021 as part of the company’s attempt to bolster information literacy by giving additional context around search results.

“These notices appear automatically when our systems detect that a topic is moving quickly, such as in a news situation, and a range of sources has yet to weigh in,” Adriance said. “There is no manual triggering involved…Our automated search systems do not understand the political ideology of content, and it is not a ranking factor for search results.”

Nevertheless, some conservative sources accuses Google of censoring search results, despite the search results appearing directly below the review. This is a sensitive topic, especially in relation to Hunter Biden, due to the aggressive moderation of the New York PostThe original laptop story. When the story was first published in 2020 – just a month before the presidential election – Facebook and Twitter both restricted sharing of the URL on the platforms, citing the need to limit the spread of information potentially false.

Google’s strategy appears designed to prevent the exploitation of “data gaps”: search queries that generate low-quality information before well-researched information is released to fill the gap. Emily Dreyfuss, a senior fellow with the Technology and Social Change team at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics, and Public Policy, says Google is making the right decision in this case by giving context without preventing the results from being seen.

“As the most powerful arbiter of online information in the United States, Google has a responsibility to prioritize high-quality information,” Dreyfuss said. “Here, Google informs the searcher that what they are looking for is disputed in some way – it is breaking news or the story is evolving – and therefore the results are not necessarily reliable. , but above all, it does not censor these results.”

Google’s notification was similar to labels introduced by Twitter to address election misinformation in 2020, Dreyfuss said.

Updated July 12, 3:39 p.m. ET: Updated story to include Meta commentary.

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