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The New York Post's dubious Hunter Biden article was shared 300,000 times on Facebook even after the company said it limited its reach

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  • The dubiously-sourced New York Post article about Joe Biden’s son Hunter has been shared nearly 400,000 times on Facebook, according to data from CrowdTangle.
  • Although Facebook said Wednesday afternoon it was restricting distribution of the article while it was fact-checked, the story has been shared more than 300,000 times since Facebook announced what actions it was taking, Business Insider has found.
  • The high number of interactions with the article is just the latest challenge Facebook has faced as it tries to mitigate the spread of falsehoods and viral political misinformation on its platform ahead of the election.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The New York Post article containing dubious allegations about Joe Biden’s son has been shared on Facebook more than 300,000 times since the company said it was “reducing” distribution of the controversial story.

Posts containing a link to the story have generated nearly 1.5 million interactions on Facebook since it was first published Wednesday morning, according to data from the Facebook-owned analytics firm CrowdTangle. The overwhelming majority of these user interactions — including reactions, comments, and shares — came after Facebook said Wednesday afternoon it would temporarily reduce the distribution of the article until it was verified by a third-party fact-checker.

In the nearly 30 hours since Facebook said it was placing restrictions on the Post story, Business Insider found that URL has been shared nearly 400,000 times on the platform. The massive number starkly undercuts Facebook’s insistence it has the policies and systems in place to withstand criticism it doesn’t do enough to stop the spread of viral misinformation on its platforms, especially ahead of the November 3 presidential election. Facebook announced its plan to slow the article slightly before it had been shared 50,000 times, according to CrowdTangle data viewed Wednesday afternoon.

The Post article, published Wednesday morning, includes files and emails that were supposedly taken from a laptop that previously belonged to Hunter Biden. A spokesperson for Hunter Biden called the story “widely discredited conspiracy theories” in a statement to the New York Post.

But the story’s sourcing has raised questions about its authenticity: The files that allegedly belonged to Hunter Biden were provided to the Post through Rudy Giuliani, who is the personal lawyer for President Donald Trump.  The Post said Giuliani obtained the files from an anonymous repair shop owner, where the laptop was allegedly left for repairs and never returned.

The Post also learned of the files’ existence from Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former campaign manager who is currently facing fraud charges. Giuliani is also under federal criminal investigation over whether he violated foreign lobbying laws, and two of his Ukrainian associates reportedly tasked with collecting “dirt” on Joe Biden were arrested and charged with campaign finance and wire fraud last year.

Facebook’s approach to the Post story is consistent with the way the platform has dealt with viral political misinformation in the last year. Facebook implemented a policy in late 2019 to “temporarily reduce” the distribution of a piece of content, before it’s been fact-checked, if the company has “signals” it could be false. If the content in question is then found by fact-checkers to be false, the piece of content will be downrated in the algorithm and thus appear less frequently in front of Facebook users.

However, it’s unclear whether the Post story has been reviewed yet, or whether a decision on its falsehood has been reached. 

Deciding the authenticity of the Biden story is seemingly in the hands of Facebook’s third-party network of more than 50 fact-checking organizations — which includes the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse, and the Daily Caller, the right-wing site founded by Tucker Carlson. Although Facebook executives consistently boast about the success of its outsourced fact-checking program, critics have slammed it as ineffective and underutilized in mitigating misinformation on a platform with billions of pieces of content posted each day.

Twitter joined Facebook later on Wednesday in taking action to stem the spread of the Biden story, citing a violation of its policy against distributing “hacked materials.” Twitter blocked users from tweeting out the New York Post story URL, as well as “any links to or images of the material in question.”

Both Facebook and Twitter are now facing pushback from Donald Trump and GOP officials about its handling of the incident. After Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey apologized Wednesday night for Twitter’s lack of communication regarding its actions, Senate Republicans are now planning to subpoena Dorsey to testify about its decision.

Are you a Facebook insider with insight to share? Contact Paige Leskin via email (pleskin@businessinsider.com), or Twitter DM (@paigeleskin) using a non-work device. You can also message her securely on encrypted messaging app Signal (+1 201-312-4526)