Facebook bowed to White House pressure, removed Covid-19 posts - WSJ

29-07-2023 10:17 AM

Ammon News - Facebook removed content related to COVID-19 under pressure from the White House, including posts claiming the virus was man-made, according to internal company communications leaked to The Wall Street Journal.

“Can someone quickly remind me why we were removing — rather than demoting/labeling — claims that Covid is man made,” Nick Clegg, the company’s president of global affairs, asked in a July 2021 email to colleagues.

According to the outlet, a Facebook vice president in charge of content policy responded: “We were under pressure from the administration and others to do more,” referencing the Biden administration.

“We shouldn’t have done it,” the VP added.

The emails were exchanged around August 2021 — three months after Facebook reversed its ban on posts asserting COVID-19 was man-made.

The flip-flip came more than a year after the social-media giant banned a well-reasoned Post opinion column by China scholar Steven Mosher speculated about a potential lab leak. More than a year later, Mosher still hasn’t had his account reinstated.

Another email viewed by The Journal was circulated the month prior, after Biden accused platforms like Facebook of “killing people” by allowing so-called “misinformation” to propagate unchecked.

In July 2021, the Facebook VP circulated a memo assessing the difference between Facebook’s content policies and the Biden administration’s demands — some of which the Meta-owned company appeared ready to push back on.

“There is likely a significant gap between what the WH would like us to remove and what we are comfortable removing,” the Facebook executive wrote.

One request Facebook was ready to reject, the VP suggested: The White House’s desire that the company take action against humorous or satirical content that suggested the vaccines aren’t safe, according to The Journal.

“The WH has previously indicated that it thinks humor should be removed if it is premised on the vaccine having side effects, so we expect it would similarly want to see humor about vaccine hesitancy removed,” the VP wrote.

Clegg responded: “I can’t see Mark [Zuckerberg] in a million years being comfortable with removing that — and I wouldn’t recommend it.”

According to The Journal, emails showed discussions surrounding Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a 2024 presidential candidate and notorious vaccine skeptic who had his Instagram account revoked over its COVID-related content but not his Facebook account, as it didn’t contain the same type of posts.

These emails, along with a number of other related internal messages, were reportedly also obtained by the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee, which has been investigating what GOP lawmakers claim is the Biden administration’s unlawful censoring of users on social media.

Republican attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana brought the lawsuit last year, alleging that the Biden administration fostered a sprawling “federal censorship enterprise” that pressured social-media platforms to scrub away dissenting views, including criticism of mask mandates and objections to COVID-19 vaccination.

In response to the suit, which claims the government violated the First Amendment, the Justice Department filed a nearly 300-page brief denying the allegations.

The Post has sought comment from Facebook, its corporate parent Meta and the White House press office.

As Clegg prepared to meet the US surgeon general about vaccine misinformation in late July 2021, he wrote to colleagues: “My sense is that our current course — in effect explaining ourselves more fully, but not shifting on where we draw the lines…is a recipe for protracted and increasing acrimony.”

He continued: “Given the bigger fish we have to fry with the Administration — data flows etc — that doesn’t seem a great place for us to be, so grateful for any further creative thinking on how we can be responsive to their concerns.”

At the time, Facebook was hoping to score a data-transfer deal between the US and Europe that would allow the company to continue storing data about European users on US soil. The deal was approved earlier this month.

In other messages, Facebook executives were concerned that deleting posts showing American users were hesitated about getting vaccinated could actually make them even less likely to get the shot, according to The Journal.

Another memo draft written by Facebook leadership in April 2021 and obtained by the outlet read: “There may be risk of pushing them further toward hesitancy by suppressing their speech and making them feel marginalized by large institutions.”

The message also warned that removing such posts could fuel conspiracy theories.

Months later, Facebook executives were conversing about planned changes to COVID content policies that would cause users spreading so-called “misinformation” to face harsher punishments, like having their accounts revoked on Meta-owned platforms besides Facebook, like Instagram.

The messages obtained by The Journal date to the spring and summer of 2021, when the Biden administration was pushing for nationwide vaccine mandates.

In early August of that year, New York City mandated proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter indoor businesses– including all indoor restaurants, entertainment venues and gyms.

Part of the effort included the Biden administration reportedly working in tandem with social media giants like Facebook and Twitter — now known as X — to censor to censor statements they deemed “misinformation” about topics including the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

New York Post

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