In 2016, hacked emails and foreign meddling shaped the political fight, and social media took much of the blame. Afterwards, the platforms designed circuit breakers to avoid a repeat in 2020.
What's happening: Those breakers tripped Wednesday at both Facebook and Twitter to stop the spread of a New York Post story that reported allegations about Joe Biden's son Hunter, based on what the paper said were emails provided to it Sunday by Rudy Giuliani.
Yes, but: The action by the platforms drew a swift backlash from conservatives — with the ironic result of drawing more attention to the material.
The big picture: For years, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has positioned Facebook as a free-speech champion. "When it's not absolutely clear what to do, we should err on the side of free expression," he said almost exactly a year ago in a speech at Georgetown.
Facebook announced Wednesday that it would slow the distribution of the Post story while its third-party fact checkers reviewed it.
Meanwhile, Twitter took even stronger action, removing all tweets that linked to the Post story.
What they're saying: Conservatives in Congress and beyond immediately protested.
Between the lines: The nature of the Post story, which relies on a trove of emails claimed to have been found on a laptop at a repair shop and funneled to Giuliani, echoes the "hack and leak" scenario that disrupted the 2016 election — and that newsrooms and digital platforms have been on guard against during this election cycle.
Of note: While some have posited that Facebook is moderating conservative content more aggressively as prospects for a Biden win increases, one Facebook veteran told Axios that's not a factor.
Our thought bubble: The imminent election and the frenzy of information operations surrounding it are forcing Facebook and Twitter to make tough calls in real time and limiting their options to please everyone.
What's next: There's still nearly three weeks till Nov. 3, so expect more tough calls. And those on the left cheering should recognize that, sooner or later, Facebook or Twitter will turn down the volume on a questionable story that they have embraced.