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September 15, 2022

In Brief: Feds & Facebook Coordinate Censorship

Newly released emails show tech sites working with public officials, often solicitously.

The FBI and Facebook essentially colluded to help Joe Biden win in 2020. That much we know. Just what that collusion looks like is still being discovered, and The Wall Street Journal editorial board makes some important observations.

One nagging question in the social-media age is how online platforms like Facebook and Twitter choose to “moderate” speech — and why, and whether the government is leaning on them to step it up. Hundreds of pages of emails between federal officials and the big social sites were recently dropped in court, and they make for instructive, if not definitive, reading.

The civil case was brought by the Attorneys General of Missouri and Louisiana, who allege that misinformation crackdowns by the tech giants are legally “government action,” since they involve “open collusion” with public officials. In a court filing last week, the AGs posted some of what they have already obtained, which they call “a tantalizing snapshot into a massive, sprawling federal ‘Censorship Enterprise.’”

First of all, some of the relevant correspondence dates back to Donald Trump’s administration, and some of it deals with legitimate problems such as fake accounts pretending to be Anthony Fauci. (Though the fake ones were probably more truthful than he was.) Other examples:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells Twitter about false claims circulating that some Covid diagnostics were “revoked by the FDA.” Twitter calls the warning “super helpful.” The CDC also flags tweets saying that Covid vaccines contain microchips or that unvaccinated people are at risk “just by being near to vaccinated people.” The Twitter contact responds that “some of these have been previously reviewed and actioned,” and “I will now ask the team to review the others.”

In some messages, a tech giant is doing the asking, especially as new Covid theories keep popping up. Facebook queries the CDC to see if it can “debunk” claims that vaccines in children might cause hepatitis or ALS or possibly “magnetism,” or that they can “alter blood color.”

In replying, the CDC looks careful. Is it a myth that Covid vaccines are ineffective in kids? “CDC can’t speak to this until the pharmaceutical companies have reported data.” Is heart inflammation a risk? “True, there have been increased reports of myocarditis.” The same goes for “Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) in people who have received the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine, but not the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.”

Essentially, the Journal’s editors admit that this isn’t all just black and white, but at the same time they say there’s reason for alarm and investigation because of “oozing solicitousness toward top White House advisers.”

On July 16, 2021, a reporter asked President Biden about Covid misinformation and his message to sites like Facebook. “They’re killing people,” he said. “Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people.”

That day, a person the AGs describe as “a very senior executive at Meta” sent an email to Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. “I know our teams met today to better understand the scope of what the White House expects from us on misinformation going forward,” the executive says. Oh, is that why it’s called the bully pulpit? In a text message soon after, the exec added: “It’s not great to be accused of killing people — but as I said by email I’m keen to find a way to deescalate and work together collaboratively.”

The back-and-forth continued after Biden’s accusation as Meta clearly didn’t want POTUS to blame the company. Indeed, a “senior Meta executive” told the White House that the company was working on its “4 specific recommendations for improvement and we want to make sure to keep you informed of our work on each.” The Journal’s editors conclude:

Fascinating. After Mr. Biden publicly accused social sites of killing people, what else did the White House say privately? On Tuesday federal Judge Terry Doughty gave the government 21 days to turn over correspondence that the tech giants might have had with Dr. Fauci, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and several public-affairs staff at the Department of Health and Human Services.

We already know that Twitter worked with the government to censor Covid commentator Alex Berenson. Bring on more Facebook emails.

Read the whole thing here.

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