By The Editorial Board – wsj.com – September 20, 2022
The civil case was brought by the Attorneys General of Missouri and Louisiana, who allege that misinformation crackdowns by the tech giants are legally “government action,” since they involve “open collusion” with public officials. In a court filing last week, the AGs posted some of what they have already obtained, which they call “a tantalizing snapshot into a massive, sprawling federal ‘Censorship Enterprise.’”
Well, maybe. Many of the email chains read like good-faith interactions between public officials and internet companies worried about clearly false information. What raises eyebrows in some communications, though, is an oozing solicitousness toward top White House advisers. This week the judge granted additional discovery, meaning more emails soon.
The trouble with seeing all of the correspondence, some of which dates to the Trump Administration, as inherently illegitimate is that much of it seems to involve actual misinformation. The White House flags the Instagram user anthonyfauciofficial, apparently someone posing as Dr. Anthony Fauci, and asks: “Any way we can get this pulled down? It is not actually one of ours.” The answer from Facebook (most of the names are redacted): “Yep, on it!”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells Twitter about false claims circulating that some Covid diagnostics were “revoked by the FDA.” Twitter calls the warning “super helpful.” The CDC also flags tweets saying that Covid vaccines contain microchips or that unvaccinated people are at risk “just by being near to vaccinated people.” The Twitter contact responds that “some of these have been previously reviewed and actioned,” and “I will now ask the team to review the others.”
In some messages, a tech giant is doing the asking, especially as new Covid theories keep popping up. Facebook queries the CDC to see if it can “debunk” claims that vaccines in children might cause hepatitis or ALS or possibly “magnetism,” or that they can “alter blood color.”
In replying, the CDC looks careful. Is it a myth that Covid vaccines are ineffective in kids? “CDC can’t speak to this until the pharmaceutical companies have reported data.” Is heart inflammation a risk? “True, there have been increased reports of myocarditis.” The same goes for “Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) in people who have received the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine, but not the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.”
A Twitter worker tells the CDC: “My team has asked for examples of problematic content so we can examine trends.” Particularly helpful would be “if you have any examples of fraud—such as fraudulent covid cures, fraudulent vaccines cards, etc.” There’s evidence here that the big social sites were worried about a Gresham’s law of information, with bad Covid information driving out the good, so they welcomed help in correcting the record.
More worrying are a few tense emails involving high political appointees who had the White House imprimatur. On July 16, 2021, a reporter asked President Biden about Covid misinformation and his message to sites like Facebook. “They’re killing people,” he said. “Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people.”
That day, a person the AGs describe as “a very senior executive at Meta” sent an email to Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. “I know our teams met today to better understand the scope of what the White House expects from us on misinformation going forward,” the executive says. Oh, is that why it’s called the bully pulpit? In a text message soon after, the exec added: “It’s not great to be accused of killing people—but as I said by email I’m keen to find a way to deescalate and work together collaboratively.”
A week later, the AGs say, “that senior Meta executive” sent a follow-up email. “I wanted to make sure you saw the steps we took just this past week to adjust policies on what we are removing with respect to misinformation,” it says. “We hear your call for us to do more and, as I said on the call, we’re committed to working toward our shared goal of helping America get on top of this pandemic . . . . You have identified 4 specific recommendations for improvement and we want to make sure to keep you informed of our work on each.”
Fascinating. After Mr. Biden publicly accused social sites of killing people, what else did the White House say privately? On Tuesday federal Judge Terry Doughty gave the government 21 days to turn over correspondence that the tech giants might have had with Dr. Fauci, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and several public-affairs staff at the Department of Health and Human Services.
We already know that Twitter worked with the government to censor Covid commentator Alex Berenson. Bring on more Facebook emails.
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