Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) on Friday criticized the Biden administration for coordinating with Facebook to flag certain posts for censorship, telling Fox News in an interview that the government's actions "looks like a First Amendment violation."
"The government can't censor speech. The First Amendment makes that very clear. They're a private for-profit corporation that can make its own decisions but when it's doing it with collusion in government it looks to me a lot like a First Amendment violation," Lee said on "America's Newsroom."
During a Thursday news conference, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki revealed the Biden administration's Surgeon General's office is "flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation."
She said senior executive branch staff has interacted with Facebook and other social media platforms to point out disinformation on their platforms.
Social media companies have severely restricted the spread of information that contradicts mainstream narratives from government agencies and public health experts, often suspending accounts or taking down posts that violate their terms of service on COVID-19 information. Conservatives like Lee protested against that censorship, complaining that Big Tech companies have presented themselves as neutral platforms and yet taken it upon themselves to crack down on certain forms of speech.
"What we've seen is social media platforms and search engines on many occasions promising to be even-handed, portraying themselves to their users and to the public as even-handed when they're anything but that. The American people aren't going to tolerate that much longer," Lee told Fox News.
A big problem is sometimes the narrative endorsed by government public health experts and enforced by social media companies isn't always correct. This was demonstrated by the fact that Facebook recently reversed its policy or removing posts claiming that COVID-19 was man-made or manufactured. The change came after scientists began re-evaluating the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and was somehow leaked from that lab. Throughout most of 2020, however, that lab-leak hypothesis was dismissed as a "conspiracy theory" and public health scientists, including those in government, worked behind the scenes to discredit the theory.
"What do those things have in common?" Lee asked rhetorically. "They're all messages that are deemed to be associated in one way or another with the right and not the left. You do not find instances of this happening with messages from the left.
"When they promise their own users that they're going to be even-handed and then do the opposite of that, that is a deceptive business practice," Lee said.
Senate Republicans led by Lee have introduced the PROMISE Act, legislation that would require tech companies to increase transparency on their content moderation policies and would penalize companies that make a "deceptive policy statement" with respect to those policies. Violators of the proposed law would be treated as if they violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act by committing a deceptive business practice and would be subject to all penalties thereof.