Recently discovered documents from Facebook have brought to light that the Biden administration exerted pressure on the social media giant to censor its users’ comments, potentially violating their right to free speech as guaranteed by the Constitution.
Jim Jordan, the US House Judiciary Committee Chairman and a Republican, obtained these documents during the committee’s investigation into the alleged “weaponisation” of the government. He asserted that the documents prove Facebook and Instagram altered their moderation policies and censored posts due to “unconstitutional pressure from the Biden White House.”
In another April 2021 email, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s president for global affairs, informed his team at Facebook that Andy Slavitt, a Senior Advisor to President Biden, was “outraged . . . that [Facebook] did not remove” a particular post. pic.twitter.com/5muflAQjcx
— Rep. Jim Jordan (@Jim_Jordan) July 27, 2023
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One piece of evidence cited by Jordan was an email from a Facebook employee to top executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg in April 2021.
The email mentioned “continued pressure from external stakeholders, including the White House and the press, to remove more Covid-19 vaccine-discouraging content.” For instance, the White House insisted on censoring a humorous meme suggesting vaccine risks.
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During the same period, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s president for global affairs, informed his colleagues that Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser to Biden on Covid-19 policies, was upset that the platform did not take down the anti-vaccine meme.
Clegg argued that removing the content would infringe on free expression in the US, but Slavitt believed the meme could hinder the government’s vaccine rollout effort.
While social media platforms have the legal right to determine content restrictions, government interference in those decisions could encroach upon free speech rights. The American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern about the government’s attempt to control content moderation requests to Big Tech, stating that the First Amendment prohibits the government from dictating what is considered true or false online.
Meta and Zuckerberg in trouble over documents
Jordan issued a warning earlier in the week, stating that his committee would hold Zuckerberg in contempt of Congress unless Facebook provided the subpoenaed documents on government interventions in content moderation. He alleged that there was sufficient evidence to suggest Facebook withheld evidence of facing similar government pressure, as previously seen with Twitter.
According to Jordan, Facebook executives feared consequences if they did not comply with the White House’s demands. In an April 2021 email, Facebook’s vice president for public policy, Brian Rice, expressed concern about the company’s relationship with the White House and the pressure it faced. Meanwhile, another document revealed that “talking points” were prepared for Clegg to improve relations with the administration. The company highlighted its handling of a Tucker Carlson video that angered the White House, reducing its distribution by 50% pending fact-checking, even though it didn’t violate platform policies.
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