A federal judge accused Facebook on Tuesday of coordinating with the White House to censor posts that did not violate its content policy, including a video by former Fox News host and Daily Caller co-founder Tucker Carlson.
Judge Terry Doughty of U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana Monroe Division described in his injunction the efforts from White House officials to pressure Facebook to censor a video Carlson made about vaccines in April 2021. (RELATED: REPORT: Fox News Trying To Silence Tucker Carlson)
A federal district judge preliminary banned Biden Administration officials from continuing to speak and meet with Big Tech officials to pressure them to censor viewpoints the US Govt dislikes.
The 1st Am bars such censorship pressures:https://t.co/jGL6a5O8oi
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) July 4, 2023
On April 14, 2021, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Digital Strategy Rob Flaherty emailed Facebook demanding censorship of Carlson and then-Fox News host Tomi Lahren, according to Doughty. He claimed the top post about vaccines that day was “Tucker Carlson saying vaccines don’t work and Tomi Lahren stating she won’t take a vaccine.”
Facebook promised Flaherty a report by the end of the week.
The same day, then-White House advisor Andy Slavitt emailed Facebook executive Nick Clegg about Tucker Carlson’s “anti-vax message” and complained about Facebook’s lack of action, Doughty reported.
“Not for nothing but the last time we did this dance, it ended in an insurrection,” Slavitt said, according to court filings. (RELATED: ‘He’s Curious’: Tucker Carlson Reveals Why He Thinks The Media Hates RFK Jr.)
Clegg responded with a detailed report about Carlson’s post and said the video was being “demoted” despite, according to Clegg, it not violating Facebook’s content policy on COVID-19 vaccines. Facebook also attached a label to the video with authoritative COVID information and did not recommend it to users, Doughty wrote.
Facebook employee Brian Rice sent Clegg’s report about Carlson’s post to Flaherty, who responded by asking for more details on why Carlson’s video was not removed. Flaherty also alleged, according to Doughty, that Facebook provided incorrect information through Crowd Tangle, a content moderation platform for publishers.
“If the allegations made by Plaintiffs are true, the present case arguably involves the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history,” Louisiana Judge Terry A. Doughty said.
Jen Psaki Repeatedly Pushed Big Tech To Censor COVID Information, Federal Judge…
— Nicole Silverio (@NicoleMSilverio) July 5, 2023
Flaherty continued to demand answers from Facebook in an April 16 email about the Carlson video, according to the records cited by Doughty. Facebook sent Flaherty a follow-up on April 21 after an apparent call with the White House official, basing the call off of context within an email from Facebook to Flaherty.
He was told Carlson’s video did not violate Facebook’s policy, but Facebook demoted the video by 50% for seven days and would continue demoting it, according to Doughty.
Carlson’s video was not the only example of vaccine skepticism being suppressed on the platform even though the content did not violate Facebook’s guidelines, according to Doughty. (RELATED: Fauci Claimed He Had ‘No Involvement’ In Redacting Sensitive Emails, But Legal Filings Tell A Different Story)
Facebook sent an email in February to Flaherty and White House Digital Director of the COVID-19 Response Team Clarke Humphrey about how the platform “expanded its COVID-19 censorship policy to promote authoritative COVID-19 vaccine information and expanded its efforts to remove false claims on Facebook and Instagram about COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccines, and vaccines in general,” Doughty said.
“Facebook also informed Flaherty that it was working to censor content that does not violate Facebook’s policy in other ways by ‘preventing posts discouraging vaccines from going viral on our platform’ and by using information labels and preventing recommendations for Groups, Pages, and Instagram accounts pushing content discouraging vaccines,” Doughty added. “Facebook also informed Flaherty that it was relying on the advice of ‘public health authorities’ to determine its COVID-19 censorship policies.”
The tech corporation promised to aggressively enforce its new policy and suggested a meeting between Flaherty and its “misinformation” team, according to Doughty. Their email referenced previous meetings with President Joe Biden’s transition team. (RELATED: Jen Psaki Repeatedly Pushed Big Tech To Censor COVID Information, Federal Judge Says)
Flaherty allegedly pressed Facebook in March about removing “borderline content” and accused Facebook of “hiding the ball” about COVID-19 vaccine “misinformation” based on an article by the Washington Post. He referred to a series of meetings with Facebook about “borderline content” and said Facebook misled the White House about its “borderline policies,” Doughty noted.
Flaherty, Slavitt and other White House officials met with Facebook on March 19, 2021, and Facebook sent the White House a response to its demands soon after the meeting, according to the filings.
“Facebook noted that in response to White House demands, it was censoring, removing, and reducing the virality of content discouraging vaccines ‘that does not contain actionable misinformation,'” Judge Doughty wrote.
Flaherty replied to Facebook with a request for further information and a plan from Facebook to suppress content about “vaccine hesitancy” on the platform. He demanded Facebook do more to censor “sensational” content regarding skepticism of vaccines, according to Doughty.
Facebook and the White House allegedly scheduled a meeting the next week to discuss Flaherty’s concerns.
🚨BREAKING: A Federal Judge in Missouri v. Biden just granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting the FBI, DOJ, DHS & other agencies from working with Big Tech to censor on social media
Big win for the First Amendment on this Independence Day🇺🇸
I’m proud to have led the fight. pic.twitter.com/59FzDVuI4f
— Eric Schmitt (@Eric_Schmitt) July 4, 2023
The platform later provided a report showing “censorship with explanations and screen shots of sample posts of content that it does and does not censor. The report noted that vaccine hesitancy content does not violate Facebook’s content-moderation policies, but indicated that Facebook still censors this content by suppressing it in news feeds and algorithms,” Doughty claimed.
In order to censor content, Facebook used a “spectrum of levers,” such as hiding the content from other users, “de-boosting” the content and preventing the content from being shared, Doughty alleged. Facebook, for example, allegedly censored content from vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s nonprofit organization, Children’s Health Defense, prior to Kennedy’s Democratic presidential campaign.
Children’s Health Defense was part of a “Disinformation Dozen,” specifically targeted by the Biden administration, according to Doughty. The “Disinformation Dozen” were censored and accounts linked to it were eventually removed, Doughty noted.
Doughty’s injunction will prevent the Biden administration from coordinating with social media platforms to censor certain posts. In the “Missouri v. Biden” case, thousands of internal documents from the federal government were produced, including some of the emails Flaherty sent about Carlson and Lahren’s content.
“That’s the most basic right of all, to know what goes into your body, to know something about it. But in trying to say that, we were censored and now we know we were censored by the White House,” Carlson said on his Fox News show.
Meta, Facebook’s parent company, did not respond to a request for comment.