Republicans to grill ex-Twitter executives over handling of Hunter Biden story

Republicans in the House of Representatives will grill three former Twitter executives over the alleged censorship of news about Hunter Biden, as the party makes good on its pledge to investigate the US president’s son.

The hearing before the House oversight committee is the first to focus on Hunter Biden since Republicans took control of the House in November. It will examine allegations that Twitter suppressed news stories in 2020 from the New York Post, the conservative tabloid that first reported on the contents of a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden that was found at a Delaware repair shop.

Just weeks before the 2020 presidential election, when the Post’s story first ran, Twitter blocked the newspaper’s account and stopped users from posting links to the article. The platform initially cited violations of its policies on hacked materials — although that policy contains caveats for news reporting on hacks — as well as the sharing of private personal information.

It later unblocked the article, saying that any private information in the piece was now widely available online and in the media. However the Post’s account remained suspended for two weeks. Both Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive at the time, and former global head of trust and safety Yoel Roth have since expressed regret about the episode, with Dorsey labelling it “a total mistake”. 

Elon Musk, who bought Twitter last year for $44bn, has publicly accused the company’s former management of “censoring” free speech and in some cases colluding with the government and federal agencies, citing the laptop story as an example.

The billionaire entrepreneur has also openly criticised the former Twitter executives who will testify at Wednesday’s hearing: its former chief legal officer Vijaya Gadde, Roth and former deputy general counsel James Baker.

Republicans have seized on the incident as proof that Twitter was suppressing rightwing voices, and even some liberals said the decision was overzealous.

Last December, Musk orchestrated the release of select internal Twitter documents and emails, dating back to before his takeover of the platform, of company executives deliberating moderation decisions. Musk, a self-declared “free speech absolutist”, argued these “Twitter Files” showed the company bowing to government demands of censorship. Critics have accused him of politicising fairly routine decision making.

“In the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, Big Tech and the Swamp colluded to censor reporting about the Biden family’s shady business schemes,” said James Comer, the Republican congressman from Kentucky who chairs the House oversight committee.

Wednesday’s hearing comes amid a wider effort by Comer and House Republicans to ramp up oversight of the Biden administration and President Joe Biden’s family in particular.

House Republicans have made clear that they will focus a significant amount of energy on hearings on everything from the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic to the administration’s handling of the influx of migrants at the US-Mexico border.

Hunter Biden has long been the subject of scrutiny from the party. The president’s son, who has spoken openly about his struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, as well as extramarital affairs that led to the end of his marriage, is facing a federal investigation into his foreign business dealings and tax affairs. He has not been charged with a crime and denies wrongdoing.

Last week, Hunter Biden’s lawyers sent letters to federal and state prosecutors calling for criminal investigations into several individuals involved in accessing and sharing information from his laptop.

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