The Biden administration worked in tandem with social media giants like Facebook and Twitter to censor statements they deemed “misinformation” about topics including the COVID-19 pandemic, two Republican state attorneys general said Thursday as they pushed for the release of emails between top executive branch officials and Big Tech titans.
In a petition filed Wednesday in Louisiana federal court, state Attorney General Jeff Landry and his Missouri counterpart Eric Schmitt charged that “dozens of federal officials across at least eleven federal agencies” engaged in a “massive, sprawling federal ‘Censorship Enterprise,’” with the “intent and effect of pressuring social-media platforms to censor and suppress private speech that federal officials disfavor.”
The Biden administration has not been shy about leaning on social media companies to police their content. On July 15, 2021, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki admitted her colleagues were “flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.”
“It’s important to take faster action against harmful posts … and Facebook needs to move more quickly to remove harmful violative posts,” Psaki added at the time.
The following day, Biden accused platforms like Facebook of “killing people” by allowing so-called “misinformation” to propagate unchecked.
Shortly after Biden’s comments, an email from an unidentified Facebook official to Surgeon General Vivek Murthy read in part: “I know our teams met today to better understand the scope of what the White House expects from us on misinformation going forward.”
Seven days later, on July 23, the same Facebook official proudly informed officials at the Department of Health and Human Services that the company was taking action against a group dubbed the “disinformation dozen” for their posts about COVID-19 vaccines.
“[W]e removed 17 additional Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts tied to the disinfo dozen (so a total of 39 Profiles, Pages, Groups and IG accounts deleted thus far, resulting in every member of the disinfo dozen having had at least one such entity removed),” the email read, later adding: “We also expanded the group of false claims that we remove to keep up with recent trends of misinformation that we are seeing.”
The relationship was so cozy that on July 20, 2021, White House COVID-19 Response Team Digital Director Clarke Humphrey received a response from Facebook in seconds when he asked about getting a fake Dr. Anthony Fauci Instagram account taken down.
“Hi there — any way we can get this pulled down?” Humphrey wrote, along with a link to the account. “It is not actually one of ours.”
“Yep, on it!” the answer came back.
Another email, from April 2021, shows a scheduled meeting for White House staffers to be “briefed by Twitter on vaccine misinfo.” Still another record, from July 28 of that year, shows a Facebook official proposing to a CDC counterpart that “in addition to our weekly meetings, doing a monthly misinfo/debunking meeting, with maybe claim topics communicated a few days prior so that you can bring in the matching experts and chat casually for 30 minutes or so.”
“Yes, we would love to do that,” the CDC official answered.
“We have already received a number of documents that clearly prove that the federal government has an incestuous relationship with social media companies and clearly coordinate to censor freedom of speech, but we’re not done,” Schmitt said in a statement Thursday.
“The Department of Justice is cowering behind executive privilege and has refused to turn over communications between the highest-ranking Biden Administration officials and social media companies. That’s why, yesterday, we asked the Court to compel the Department of Justice to produce those records. We’re just getting started – stay tuned.”
The AGs say they have identified at least 45 people within HHS and the Department of Homeland Security alone who communicated with social media companies about “misinformation”. They also claim that officials at other agencies, including the Census Bureau, the Food and Drug Administration, the FBI, the State Department, and the Treasury Department were at least aware of the “Censorship Enterprise.”
In addition to the document dump, Meta has disclosed that at least 32 officials, including workers at the FDA, US Election Assistance Commission and the White House have communicated with the company about content moderation — but those contacts weren’t disclosed in the government’s disclosures, Landry and Schmitt said. YouTube disclosed contacts with 11 officials, some of which weren’t shared by the government in response to the lawsuit, the AGs alleged.