Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden, was once again the topic of conversation on social media, and as of Thursday afternoon there were more than 133,000 tweets related to young Biden. Many openly laughed at him, while others stood up for him – as links to a story that first appeared on a UK tabloid on Wednesday have been fragmented on Twitter.
Latest news or unsubstantiated rumors?
The daily mail newspaper, which had previously published numerous stories about the contents of a laptop computer believed to have belonged to Hunter Biden, claimed he had “dug up pictures” in which the president’s son told a Las Vegas prostitute that Russian drug dealers stole another of his laptops.
The content of said laptops has been controversial since it was first reported in the run-up to last year’s presidential election. Since then, a number of stories have emerged after young Biden allegedly left a laptop in a Delaware repair shop. Biden maintained he had no recollection of ever putting down the laptop.
However, it would have had a plethora of damning content. Yet as News week also reported, if the video posted on The daily mail this week were true, Hunter Biden should have lost three computers containing sensitive information including one in Las Vegas, one in Delaware and yet another that was allegedly seized by federal agents.
While the story seems incredible, many who have openly expressed their opposition to President Biden were quick to share the story on social media.
Tory talk show host and author Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) was among those who shared a link to The daily mail ‘It’s the cover, the post, “The Smartest Person Joe Biden Knows Strikes Again.”
This post was liked over 10,000 times and retweeted some 2,429 times – although there was no corroboration that the story was factual anyway. Instead, this story was published, reposted, and broadcast as if it was a fact.
Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary and White House communications director under President Trump also jumped on the story, posting: Hunter Biden claims Russian stole his laptop … think about it less.”
This isn’t the first time that content from a laptop purportedly owned by Hunter Biden has trended on social media for its content. Several hundred more have called for an investigation, despite Hunter Biden not holding any post.
“It’s an effort not to let history die,” said Roger Entner, technology and telecommunications analyst at Recon Analytics.
It could be seen as a way to target the current president through his family, and it may not be just average Americans.
“We don’t know how many of them are in fact Americans or how many are foreign trolls who profit from stoking divisions in our country,” Entner added.
Defenders of Biden
While many were targeting Hunter Biden, many others rallied to his defense – at least in a roundabout way, highlighting potential transgressions committed by the family of former President Trump. In these cases, many allegations, which have not really been proven, have also been raised as facts.
In this way, one could argue that social media has essentially turned rumors, innuendo and hearsay into weapons like disinformation. But it is also very difficult to debate these issues rationally.
“This is worrying because rumor makes politics dangerous,” said Matthew Schmidt, Ph.D., international affairs coordinator at the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences at New Haven University.
“But that’s not new either,” Schmidt said. “Benjamin Franklin published widely read articles that clearly contained fake news, and pamphleteers distributed thousands of what we would today call blogs – but on paper! In the absence of other forms of mass communication, the printed word had a huge effect on what people believed in public figures. “