Fact Check: Do Screengrabs Prove Google Censored Hunter Biden iCloud Leaks?

Hunter Biden has provided plenty of stories which have, at points, proved damaging to president Joe Biden and his family, both before and after he took the White House.

His history of drug abuse and investigations into his tax affairs have made him an easy target for Republicans, who say they will investigate his foreign business dealings if they win a House majority in the November 2022 midterms.

Despite widespread coverage from many notable media outlets, conspiratorially-minded opponents of the President still insist that investigations of Hunter have not been thorough, implying a deliberate effort by mainstream institutions to protect him.

Now, with new rumors swirling about the president son's past following an alleged data leak, the same type of conspiratorial narratives have re-emerged.

Hunter Biden Joe Biden
Hunter Biden (R) is currently subject of an alleged leak of information from an iCloud account, with some critics suggesting search engine Google is suppressing the story. Pictured here with his father and US President Joe Biden, who is holding Hunter's son, Beau Biden, on a balcony of the White House, 4 July, 2022. Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

The Claim

Tweets sent in July 2022 imply that Google results about an alleged leak of data relating to Hunter Biden have been "censored" by the search engine.

Other searches around the topic are said to have yielded a similar warning, giving the impression that stories are being suppressed.

The Facts

Conservative pundits have regularly criticized what they view as a suppression by the Big Tech and mainstream media of scandals concerning Hunter Biden.

The most notable of these was the Hunter Biden laptop story, which alleged information leaked from a laptop, left by the president's son at a repair shop in Delaware, pointed to evidence of wrongdoing in foreign business dealings, which may have implicated Joe Biden.

Although the story was widely investigated and parts of it have been debunked, narratives still persist that the story was covered-up.

The latest story relates to a reported leak of Hunter's iCloud files (Apple's proprietary online data storage service).

Posts on social media claim the account was hacked, which revealed compromising data, photos and video. While this content includes media featuring someone, at the very least, with a likeness to Hunter Biden, none of the content has been formally verified, nor is it known whether iCloud (if one exists) was successfully hacked.

And at least some of the content appears to have used unrelated materials nefariously mixed in with genuine files (including posts that were later removed by conspiracy-focussed subReddits for being misleading).

Nonetheless, the allegations spread quickly on social media and remained a trending topic on Twitter as of Monday, 11 July, 2022.

However, much like some of the conspiratorial narratives surrounding the laptop story, some are claiming that large multinationals like Google are suppressing the distribution of this new story; specifically, they imply the search engine has thrown up a warning and "censors" results.

Google has been criticized in its past for its compliance with censorship rules, particularly in dealings abroad. Recently some of its employees were reportedly furious by its decision to remove a voting app designed to organize opposition against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, in this case, the page shown on Twitter is a cropped version of a full search page, which does include some relevant results about the iCloud allegations.

The banner, shared on Twitter, is a relatively recent feature introduced to flag results that may not have been shared among a wide range of sources—one of the measures introduced to combat viral misinformation.

A Google blog post published in 2021 states that it had "trained our systems to detect when a topic is rapidly evolving and a range of sources hasn't yet weighed in.

"We'll now show a notice indicating that it may be best to check back later when more information from a wider range of sources might be available."

A Google spokesperson told Newsweek these notices involved "no manually triggering" and that its automated search systems "don't understand the political ideology of content, and it's not a ranking factor for search results."

Crucially, this means the search results about Hunter Biden have not been censored in their entirety. As discovered by Newsweek, searching "Hunter Biden iCloud" and other related queries yields a page labeled with said warning message, followed by relevant results.

In spite of claims that the story has been suppressed, some mainstream publications including Sky News have already reported about this and other leaks.

Were Republicans to secure the House majority in the upcoming midterm elections, it is feasible there will be even further scrutiny of the president son's affairs. Representative James Comer of Kentucky, the Republican poised to chair the Committee on Oversight and Reform in a GOP-led House, told Newsweek earlier this month he would prioritize an investigation into the foreign business dealings of the president's son.

Newsweek has contacted Apple, The White House and Hunter Biden's lawyer, Chris Clark, for comment.

The Ruling

Fact Check - False


The tweets give the misleading impression that all stories about the "leak" are being censored by Google. This is not true. The disclaimer used by Google was introduced to warn users about new and trending stories which may not have been verified by a wide range of sources. Searching for the topic still provides relevant, if not authenticated, results.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek's Fact Checking team

Updated, 7/1/22, 12:07 ET: This article was updated to include a comment from Google.

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