Facebook said wednesday that would reduce the spread of a New York Post article that published unverified claims about former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, pending review by the site’s fact-checking partners.
But for more than a year, the social network has given a platform to a dubious group of Ukrainian agents – including one that the US Treasury has sanctioned and considered an “active Russian agent” trying to interfere in the 2020 election – to propagate an unfounded or debunked conspiracy theories about the Biden family.
These Ukrainians have been instrumental in helping Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani in his efforts to smear the Bidens and help President Donald Trump win re-election. Along the way, they have attracted more than 200,000 followers and friends on Facebook, in part because of their popularity among supporters of the US president who see them as sources of Biden-related allegations.
And when the New York Post article was published, the group celebrated on Facebook by re-posting unconfirmed information about the Bidens.
Facebook did not immediately respond to questions about Ukrainians’ posts.
At the center of the personal Facebook pages of three men – Andriy Telizhenko, Oleksandr Onyshchenko and Andriy Derkach – were articles on the history of the New York Post. While they didn’t share the link to the story directly, they did share links to reports about it or pictures of it.
Telizhenko, a former Ukrainian diplomat and longtime associate of Giuliani who has been a key source of alleged filth on the Bidens, published an image of Trump holding up a copy of Wednesday’s edition of the New York Post with the headline “Biden Secret E-Mails.”
Two hours later, Telizhenko posted a link to a pro-Trump blog post on another New York Post story, writing in English: “A Senate committee to investigate recently discovered Hunter Biden emails. And overnight he released a third post with yet another link to an article related to The Post’s report.
The posts have been shared 5, 14 and 2 times, with 36, 13 and 7 likes, respectively, at the time of posting, engagement amounts that are in line with Telizhenko’s previous posts.
Onyshchenko, another associate of Giuliani and former Ukrainian lawmaker of the now-defunct pro-Russian Party of Regions, who is now a fugitive for allegedly embezzling more than $ 120 million from a Ukrainian gas company, also posted about history.
Summarizing the report in Russian, Onyshchenko’s post was shared 22 times and received over 145 likes, engagement amounts that are online – if not slightly higher – than his usual posts.
Derkach, Member of the Ukrainian Parliament, as the US Treasury sanctioned last month and described as “a Russian agent active for more than a decade, with close ties to Russian intelligence services”, posted in Russian about unverified allegations he made previously about the Bidens after the New York Post article was published.
He told BuzzFeed News in Kiev on Wednesday that he had nothing to do with the New York Post story, but was happy to read it. He said he believed the report reinforced his own unsubstantiated allegations against the Bidens. He also directed BuzzFeed News to a recent video that he shared on his social media platforms, including Facebook.
Derkach has met Giuliani on at least three occasions, including in Kiev last December, when he passed the documents from the former mayor of New York, the two men claimed to be showing corruption on the part of the Bidens. A Facebook message from that meeting, which included three photographs of the two men together in a Kiev hotel, was shared 118 times, commented 38 times, and liked 550 times.
Facebook has been Derkach’s main platform for sharing content on leaked and edited audio recordings, believed to have come from conversations Biden had while he was vice president with former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. U.S. officials called the tapes disinformation, and the Biden campaign said they were part of a Russian campaign to interfere in the election and help Trump.
The tapes, which have never been authenticated, provide no evidence to substantiate accusations that Biden abused his power to aid his son’s business interests in Ukraine.
Seven of the last nine videos posted by Derkach on his Facebook page over the past five weeks have focused on Biden-Poroshenko’s recordings and related documents. Collectively, they have been viewed over 83,000 times. Four of them show his appearances on pro-Russian Ukrainian TV channels linked to Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian legislative colleague who is a close friend of President Vladimir Putin.
Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation researcher at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told BuzzFeed News that she believes Facebook may have taken action to limit the dissemination of the New York Post story out of fear that the information contained therein was obtained unlawfully.
“It would be more difficult for them to take similar action with some of the other stories that have been released in connection with the Biden-Ukraine plot, as they do not directly deal with illegal material or other direct violations of the terms of service,” she said.
But Derkach’s recordings could. A Ukrainian investigation into their origin was launched earlier this year. Attorney General Iryna Venediktova said in September that her office was also looking to see if they had been edited, Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported.