The discovery phase of a free speech lawsuit from GOP state attorney generals, represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, has revealed that the Biden administration pressured social media companies, including Twitter and Facebook, to censor users online who were posting information the White House deemed "Covid misinformation."
The Wall Street Journal reports, "Newly released documents show that the White House has played a major role in censoring Americans on social media."
The details of the censorship efforts out of the White House emerged on January 6 as part of Missouri v Biden, brought by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt along with Louisiana's AG and four additional private plaintiffs including epidemiologists Martin Kulldorff and Jay Bhattacharya, with attorneys from the New Civil Liberties Alliance.
"Email exchanges between Rob Flaherty, the White House’s director of digital media, and social-media executives prove the companies put Covid censorship policies in place in response to relentless, coercive pressure from the White House—not voluntarily," reports the Wall Street Journal.
"You are hiding the ball," Flaherty wrote to a Facebook executive on March 14, 2021, and included an article from the Washington Post on the "spread of ideas that contribute to vaccine hesitancy."
"I think there is a misunderstanding," the executive responded.
"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... This would all be a lot easier if you would just be straight with us," Flaherty wrote back.
Another email exchange from March 21 and 22, 2021, had Flaherty again telling the exec to intervene over online posts expressing "skepticism" over the Covid vaccine. Flaherty also said he was "confused about how you're measuring reduction of harm on" on WhatsApp, especially "given its reach in immigrant communities and communities of color."
Flaherty asked the exec on April 9, 2021 what "actions and changes" Facebook was taking so the company was not "not making our country’s vaccine hesitancy problem worse."
Flaherty acknowledged that Facebook instituted an "algorithmic shift that promoted quality news and information about the election" but only "after an election that you helped increase skepticism in, and an insurrection which was plotted, in large part, by your platform."
"I want some assurances, based in data, that you are not doing the same thing again here," Flaherty said.
"Understood," replied the exec.
In subsequent emails in April of the same year, Flaherty asked why Facebook allowed a "top post about vaccines today" from Tucker Carlson.
"I want to know what 'Reduction' actually looks like," Flaherty said.
Then on April 23, 2021, Flaherty sent the exec a White House internal memo that read, "Facebook plays a major role in the spread of COVID vaccine misinformation."
The memo said Facebook failed "to monitor events hosting anti-vaccine and COVID disinformation" and directed some users to "COVID-skeptics/anti-vaccine 'trusted' messengers."
In April, Flaherty also told an executive at Google that there was "more work to be done" at the company to reduce "Covid-19 misinformation."
As the Wall Street Journal reports, "The First Amendment bars government from engaging in viewpoint-based censorship."The revelations out of Missouri v Biden corroborate details released in the Twitter Files, a series of reports detailing conversations at Twitter over several years concerning the company's efforts towards censorship, especially concerning Covid, and information suppression along with collusion with government agencies towards those goals.
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