Newly released emails shed light on how social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter coordinated with Biden administration officials to censor COVID-19 claims that ran counter to the administration's position.
The emails were obtained by Republican attorneys general Erich Schmitt of Missouri and Jeff Landry of Louisiana, who have filed a lawsuit to compel the Department of Justice to turn over communications between high-ranking government officials and leaders at major social media companies.
The Republicans allege that Twitter and Facebook parent company Meta coordinated with multiple government agencies in a "Censorship Enterprise" that quashed free and open discussion about the COVID-19 pandemic on their platforms. These companies developed sweeping misinformation policies during the pandemic that led to the bans and suspensions of accounts or pages deemed to have spread "misinformation" about the virus, vaccines, or alternative treatments that were not approved by government health authorities.
Documents already turned over to the Republican attorneys general reveal that officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the White House met with Facebook and Twitter management throughout 2021 and 2022 to discuss misinformation claims. Emails show these social media companies requested and received information from the government that guided their content moderation policies on COVID-19, though the names of specific individuals in these email chains are redacted.
For example, on Feb. 11, 2022, Meta requested information from the CDC regarding certain claims about the COVID-19 vaccine for young children, asking the agency to "indicate if the claim is 1) false and 2) if believed, could contribute to vaccine refusals."
A Meta employee requested that CDC officials provide a statement verifying that claims such as "the COVID vaccine would give children cancer" are false and could contribute to imminent physical harm if believed so that Facebook could proceed to remove those claims once the vaccine received FDA-approval for those age groups.
An April 7, 2022 response from the CDC gave Meta the requested statement that "All the claims below are false EXCEPT the note directly below. Also, it is reasonable to assume these statements may lead to vaccine refusal."
The excepted claim was that COVID-19 vaccines are not effective in preventing severe illness and death in children younger than 5, which the CDC could not speak to at the time because it was waiting for data from vaccine manufacturers.
"Wow, this is amazing, thank you so much [redacted]!! We'll get moving now to be able to remove all but that one claim as soon as the announcement and authorization happens," Facebook wrote back to the CDC.
This email exchange was one of several the Republican attorneys general said show how Facebook "wouldn’t proceed with censoring freedom of speech on their platform until they had input, or a 'debunking' from the CDC."
An April 16, 2021 email from a Twitter.com address shows that Twitter made similar requests for "regular chats" with the CDC to identify "examples of problematic content" the company should remove from its platform.
Other emails show the CDC proposed what the attorneys general called a "monthly pre-debunking meeting with Facebook to help them censor free speech."
"I have been talking about 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. Is that something you'd be interested in?" a Facebook employee wrote to the CDC on July 28, 2021.
"Yes, we would love to do that," a CDC official responded.
The Biden White House has repeatedly denounced health misinformation spread on social media platforms. In July 2021, the U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy sounded the alarm on "disinformation" on social media and said the Biden administration would ask technology companies to "monitor misinformation more closely" and "take action against misinformation super-spreaders on their platforms."
A July 23, 2021 email shows that after Murthy made that announcement, Meta responded by removing accounts tied to the so-called "disinfo dozen," a group of individuals that Democratic lawmakers had identified as the chief spreaders of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. Among them were Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Dr. Joseph Mercola, and Ty and Charlene Bollinger.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt accused the Biden administration of colluding with social media companies to "censor freedom of speech."
"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,” he added.
Meta and Twitter were reached for comment but did not respond before publication.
TheBlaze also contacted the CDC and Department of Health and Human Services but did not receive an immediate response.