HomeHealth Care NewsWhite House Pressured Facebook to Censor, AGs’ Lawsuit Reveals

White House Pressured Facebook to Censor, AGs’ Lawsuit Reveals

Facebook bowed to White House pressure by censoring “often-true content” alleged to promote “vaccine hesitancy,” during the COVID-19 pandemic, a lawsuit reveals.

White House Director of Digital Strategy Rob Flaherty reprimanded executives at Facebook, Google, and other social media companies for not acting more forcefully to remove content in a series of emails that surfaced during the discovery phase of Missouri v. Biden, a lawsuit by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana and four individuals.

The emails are threatening, Jenin Younes, a litigator from the New Civil Liberties Alliance who is representing the private plaintiffs, told The Heartland Daily Podcast on January 20.

“He is constantly berating the companies,” said Younes. “He is aggressive. His tone is, basically, do what I want to do or else.”

‘Often-true Content’ Censored

Flaherty accused Facebook of promoting reluctance to take the COVID-19 shots in a March 14, 2021 email to a company executive.

“We are gravely concerned that your service is one of the top drivers of vaccine hesitancy—period. … We want to know that you’re trying, we want to know how we can help, and we want to know that you’re not playing a shell game. …”

The Facebook executive detailed changes to their censorship policies in a March 21, 2021 email.

 “[W]e have been focused on reducing the virality of content discouraging vaccines that does not contain actionable misinformation,” said the executive. “This is often-true content… [that] can be framed as sensation, alarmist, or shocking. We’ll remove these Groups, Pages, and Accounts. …”

‘Same Thing Again’

 Flaherty said Facebook’s previous failure to censor was responsible for doubts about the integrity of the 2020 election and for the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, in an April 9, 2021 email quoted in an op-ed by Younes and Aaron Kheriaty, one of the private plaintiffs in the lawsuit, in The Wall Street Journal on January 8.

Flaherty blamed the platform for “… an election that you helped increase skepticism in, and an insurrection which was plotted, in large part, by your platform,” wrote Flaherty. “I want some assurances, based in data, that you are not doing the same thing again here.”

 Younes and Kheriaty write: “The executive’s response: ‘Understood.’”

First Amendment Applies

Social media companies have stated publicly their eagerness to combat COVID-19 “misinformation,” but the emails demonstrate the Biden administration violated what is known as “state action theory,” says Younes.

“The government can’t use private companies to get around the Constitution,” said Younes.

Until now, “state action theory” often came up in the context of the Fourth Amendment, which limits government search and seizure, says Younes.

“The government can’t hire a company or threaten a private company or individual [to] break into your home, or tell a private company to do it voluntarily because they don’t have a warrant,” said Younes.

Social media can censor content as a group, says Younes.

“That is why this is new terrain,” said Younes “I think it’s really important that we get the courts to recognize the government can’t circumvent the First Amendment by getting the tech companies to censor people based on whether they express unfavorable viewpoints.”

AnneMarie Schieber (amschieber@heartland.org) is the managing editor of Health Care News.

AnneMarie Schieber
AnneMarie Schieber
AnneMarie Schieber is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Health Care News, Heartland's monthly newspaper for health care reform.


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