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Are you telling me Biden curated your Facebook feed to remove COVID man-made story?

Yes, that's what I'm telling you. Why do you have a problem with the government dictating what you can read? Please...stop being a whiner. That freedom of the press stuff is so old school.


Facebook Bowed to White House Pressure, Removed Covid Posts

Internal Meta emails say pressure from Washington was behind a decision to take down posts attributing pandemic to man-made virus

By Ryan Tracy, WSJ

July 28, 2023 5:30 am ET


Facebook has long said that its content-moderation decisions are independent and not made with regard to politics. '

WASHINGTON—Facebook removed content related to Covid-19 in response to pressure from the Biden administration, including posts claiming the virus was man-made, according to internal company communications viewed by The Wall Street Journal.


The emails show Facebook executives discussing how they managed users’ posts about the origins of a pandemic that the administration was seeking to control. “Can someone quickly remind me why we were removing—rather than demoting/labeling—claims that Covid is man made,” asked Nick Clegg, the company’s president of global affairs, in a July 2021 email to colleagues.


“We were under pressure from the administration and others to do more,” responded a Facebook vice president in charge of content policy, speaking of the Biden administration. “We shouldn’t have done it.”


The discussion took place three months after Facebook, which is owned by Meta Platforms META 3.94%increase; green up pointing triangle, decided to stop banning posts asserting that Covid-19 was man-made or manufactured, in light of increasing debate about the virus’s origin.


The email, and a number of other such internal company communications, were obtained by the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee, which has been investigating what GOP lawmakers say is the Biden administration’s improper efforts to censor Americans’ speech on social media about Covid and other topics.


The White House says its discussions were aimed at promoting the adoption of vaccines and other public-health goals.


Nick Clegg, president of global affairs at Meta, questioned why the company was removing claims that Covid is man-made.


“We have consistently made it clear that we believe social-media companies have a critical responsibility to take account of the effects of their platforms that they have on the American people, while making independent decisions about the content of their platforms,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a Thursday press briefing. Asked to comment for this article later Thursday, a White House spokesperson pointed to those comments.


Facebook has long said that its content-moderation decisions are independent and not made with regard to politics. A spokesman declined to comment for this article.


The emails viewed by the Journal, which haven’t been previously reported, date to the spring and summer of 2021, when the White House was mounting a nationwide push for Americans to get vaccinated for Covid-19. Part of that push included a public and private campaign to get Facebook to more aggressively police vaccine-related content.


Administration officials had come to believe that many Americans were hesitant to get vaccines because of false information they saw on Facebook. “They’re killing people,” President Biden said that July.


The tongue-lashing caused Facebook to re-evaluate its policies about Covid-19 content—discussions that involved high-level company officials including Clegg and then-Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, the emails viewed by the Journal show.


Following the president’s “killing people” comment, the Facebook vice president circulated a memo assessing the difference between Facebook’s content policies and the Biden administration’s demands—some of which the 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 vice president said.


As one example, the executive listed the White House’s desire that the company take action against humorous or satirical content that suggested the vaccines aren’t safe.


The White House says its discussions with social-media companies were aimed at promoting the adoption of vaccines and other public-health goals.


“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 vice president wrote.


“I can’t see Mark in a million years being comfortable with removing that—and I wouldn’t recommend it,” Clegg wrote in a subsequent email, an apparent reference to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.


In some of the emails, Facebook executives expressed concern that removing posts in which Americans expressed hesitation about getting vaccinated could actually make them less likely to get a shot.


“There may be risk of pushing them further toward hesitancy by suppressing their speech and making them feel marginalized by large institutions,” said one draft memo to Facebook leadership, included in an April 2021 email. Removing such posts could also fuel conspiracy theories about a coverup related to the safety of vaccines, the draft memo said.


At the same time, Facebook officials appeared to feel pressure to address the White House’s concerns. As Clegg prepared to meet the U.S. surgeon general about vaccine misinformation in late July 2021, he emailed 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.”


“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,” he said.


Facebook at the time was hoping to facilitate an agreement between U.S. and European officials allowing user data to flow across the Atlantic in compliance with privacy laws.


By August 2021, Facebook executives were emailing each other about new planned changes to their Covid content policies. One change increased the punishments faced by users who ran afoul of content policies and had accounts on both Facebook and Instagram, another social-media platform owned by Meta, the emails show.


For example, the company had previously removed the Instagram account of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a vaccine skeptic now turned presidential candidate. But his Facebook account hadn’t faced the same punishment because it hadn’t posted the same content, the emails show.


Under the new policy, Kennedy’s Facebook account wouldn’t be recommended to other users, a Facebook executive explained in an August email describing how the company was following up on the Biden administration’s requests.


Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), chair of the House panel, said “these documents begin to reveal the pressure that Facebook and other social-media companies were under to alter their content-moderation policies and remove protected speech to appease the federal government, particularly the Biden White House.”


Earlier Thursday, Jordan canceled a committee vote on whether to recommend that Zuckerberg be held in contempt of Congress for not turning over documents about the company’s communications with the government. The company has been turning over additional documents this week and says it has made nearly a dozen witnesses available for testimony.


“While these documents are jarring, they are just the beginning of the story,” Jordan said. “We expect Facebook to continue to produce documents, and if not, contempt remains on the table.”


Democrats have said that the Republican-led investigation itself is aimed at bullying platforms like Facebook into loosening content-moderation policies. They also say that the Trump White House engaged in similar badgering of social-media companies as the Biden administration.


“In 2021, in the darkest days of the pandemic, of course the Biden administration was working every possible angle to keep people alive,” a spokesman for Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said in a statement.


“The documents Mr. Jordan selectively released show that the company often disagreed with the White House and denied the Administration’s requests, and every witness we have interviewed has confirmed that only Meta made decisions about how to enforce its own terms of service,” the statement said.


Write to Ryan Tracy at ryan.tracy@wsj.com

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