SAN FRANCISCO — It is the 11th hour before the presidential election. But Facebook and Twitter are still changing their minds.
With just a few weeks to go before the Nov. 3 vote, the social media companies are continuing to shift their policies and, in some cases, are entirely reversing what they will and won’t allow on their sites. On Friday, Twitter underlined just how fluid its policies were when it began letting users share links to an unsubstantiated New York Post article about Hunter Biden that it had previously blocked from its service.
The change was a 180-degree turn from Wednesday, when Twitter had banned the links to the article because the emails on which it was based may have been hacked and contained private information, both of which violated its policies. (Many questions remain about how the New York Post obtained the emails.)
Late Thursday, under pressure from Republicans who said Twitter was censoring them, the company began backtracking by revising one of its policies. It completed its about-face on Friday by lifting the ban on the New York Post story altogether, as the article has spread widely across the internet.
Twitter’s flip-flop followed a spate of changes from Facebook, which over the past few weeks has said it would ban Holocaust denial content, ban more QAnon conspiracy pages and groups, ban anti-vaccination ads and suspend political advertising for an unspecified length of time after the election. All of those things had previously been allowed — until they weren’t.
The rapid-fire changes have made Twitter and Facebook the butt of jokes and invigorated efforts to regulate them. On Friday, Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, said he wanted to subpoena Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to testify over the “censorship” of the New York Post article. Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, said that Twitter was “against us.” And President Trump shared a satirical article on Twitter that mocked the company’s policies.
“Policies are a guide for action, but the platforms are not standing behind their policies,” said Joan Donovan, research director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School. “They are merely reacting to public pressure and therefore will be susceptible to politician influence for some time to come.”
A Twitter spokesman confirmed that the company would allow the link to be shared because the information had spread so widely across the internet that it could no longer be considered private. He declined further comment.
“Meaningful events in the world have led us to change some of our policies, but not our principles,” said Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman.
This is a developing story and will be updated.