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[Official] Censorship from governmental actors thread

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout: Debate & Discussion' started by Os Trigonum, May 28, 2021.

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  1. Os Trigonum

    Os Trigonum Contributing Member
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    https://reason.com/volokh/2023/06/10/when-government-uses-private-companies-to-regulate-speech/

    2 minutes ago
    When government uses private companies to regulate speech
    Federal courts must up their game to handle the new symbiosis of government power and private businesses

    by Randy E. Barnett

    Columbia Law School Professor Philip Hamburger has an important essay this weekend on the Wall Street Journal opinion page: How the Government Justifies Its Social-Media Censorship. Hamburger heads the New Civil Liberties Alliance, which is challenging the federal government's use of privately-owned social media platforms to suppress the speech of Americans. [Disclosure: I am on the NCLA Board of Advisors.]

    In Missouri v. Biden, NCLA is challenging the constitutionality of pressure that officials at the White House, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies have brought to bear on tech companies to suppress so-called "misinformation." Recent examples include the suppression of speech on private platforms about the Hunter Biden laptop story, the lab-leak theory of COVID-19's origins, the efficacy of mask mandates and COVID-19 lockdowns, and election integrity and the security of voting by mail.

    In his op-ed, Hamburger identifies five Supreme Court doctrines that, when combined, have facilitated the modern regime of stealthy government censorship of speech on these and other topics of which the government disapproves:
    1. An expansive understanding of Congress's power to regulate commerce;
    2. An overemphasis on coercion;
    3. Misunderstanding privatized censorship;
    4. The "government speech" doctrine; and
    5. Qualified immunity.
    To appreciate how these five doctrines perniciously interact, you need to read the whole op-ed. But I will focus here on #3: misunderstanding "privatized" censorship.

    As Hamburger notes, "[w]hen government uses private organizations such as Facebook and Twitter to censor speech, it's widely assumed that the silenced speakers are suppressed merely by private actors, not by government." The Supreme Court only recognizes this to be government suppression of speech when the government "has exercised coercive power or has provided such significant encouragement, either overt or covert, that the choice must in law be deemed to be that of the State." (Blum v. Yaretsky (1982))

    Hamburger contends that this this standard is too high. Blum and related cases concerned suits against private actors for their speech suppression on the ground that they have become government actors, in which case such a standard might be reasonable. But this same standard, he contends, should not be applied to suits against the government for its actions in getting private parties to suppress speech.

    Hamburger contends that, "ecause the First Amendment bars 'abridging' the freedom of speech, any law or government policy that reduces that freedom on the platforms—for example, by obtaining content or viewpoint discrimination—violates the First Amendment."

    In such a case, the constitutional issue should be whether "it is government policy [that] is abridging the freedom of speech—meaning it has caused a reduction in the freedom—not whether the private platform has been converted into a government actor." To illustrate this, Hamburger offers this helpful analogy:

    If FBI agents politely ask a private construction firm to bulldoze your house, and the firm patriotically cooperates, the FBI will have acted unconstitutionally—even though the private firm is merely private and acted consensually. Similarly, when FBI agents or other officials persistently seek the consensual cooperation of social-media platforms in suppressing disfavored speech, the FBI agents are abridging the freedom of speech. (emphasis added)

    So, whether or not these "government threats have turned the platforms into government instruments"—which current doctrine requires be shown—what matters is whether FBI agents and other officials have themselves abridged the freedom of speech.

    As Hamburger concludes:

    Supreme Court doctrine . . . dangerously encourages government to think it can use private firms to circumvent the First Amendment—as long as it doesn't turn them into government actors. This is especially worrisome because it seems paradoxical and hazardous to say that private companies can be considered government actors. Many judges are reluctant to reach so perverse a conclusion, thus giving even greater leeway for privatized government censorship.

    The new symbiotic relationship of government and private power—which used to be called "fascism" by political theorists—is the constitutional challenge of our age. Federal courts must up their game to meet this challenge lest this comprehensive stifling of freedom of speech by the federal government slip between their doctrinal cracks.

    Read the whole thing.

    RANDY E. BARNETT is the Patrick Hotung Professor of Constitutional Law at the Georgetown University Law Center, and the Faculty Director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution.
     
  2. Os Trigonum

    Os Trigonum Contributing Member
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    a ruling in Missouri vs Biden

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/judge-...ech-on-social-media-29334362?mod=hp_lead_pos1

    Judge Orders Biden Officials to Limit Contact With Social-Media Companies
    Ruling says Biden administration policing of social media likely violated First Amendment
    By Jacob Gershman
    Updated July 4, 2023 at 6:35 pm ET

    A federal judge issued a broad preliminary injunction limiting the federal government from communicating with social-media companies about online content, ruling that Biden administration officials’ policing of social-media posts likely violated the First Amendment.

    In a 155-page ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty of Louisiana barred White House officials and multiple federal agencies from contacting social-media companies with the purpose of suppressing political views and other speech normally protected from government censorship.

    The judge’s injunction came in a lawsuit led by the Republican attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana who alleged that the Biden administration fostered a sprawling “federal censorship enterprise” in its effort to stamp out what it viewed as rampant disinformation circulating on social media.

    The government, the lawsuit claimed, pressured social-media platforms to scrub away disfavored views about Covid-19 health policies, the origins of the pandemic, the Hunter Biden laptop story, election security and other divisive topics.

    A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment on the ruling. In a brief previously filed with the court, the department denied the plaintiffs’ allegations and said that the federal government took necessary and responsible actions to deal with a pandemic and foreign attempts at election interference.

    The case is among the most potentially consequential First Amendment battlespending in the courts, testing the limits on government scrutiny of social-media content on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other major platforms.

    Never before has a federal judge set such sweeping limits on how the federal government may communicate with online platforms, according to lawyers involved in the case.

    Some legal scholars have been skeptical that the government can be held responsible for content-moderation decisions ultimately made by private companies or that courts could intervene without chilling legitimate government speech about controversial matters of public interest.

    The Justice Department is likely to appeal the injunction.

    The judge’s Independence Day order is likely to intensify conservative criticisms about internet censorship and the debate over the government’s role in encouraging platforms to remove content that it considers to be misinformation, malicious content or harmful to public health.

    “[T]he evidence produced thus far depicts an almost dystopian scenario,” wrote Doughty, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, in his ruling. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth.’”

    The judge said the plaintiffs “have presented substantial evidence in support of their claims that they were the victims of a far-reaching and widespread censorship campaign” that he said almost exclusively targeted conservative views.

    Missouri v. Biden, as the case is called, is among dozens of so-called censorship-by-proxy lawsuits challenging account suspensions, content removals and other suppression of social-media posts on First Amendment grounds.

    The plaintiffs have argued that White House and other government officials bullied social-media companies into suppressing views disliked by the administration—including criticism of mask mandates and objections to Covid-19 vaccination for children—with veiled threats of new regulatory liabilities and antitrust enforcement.

    Other courts have rejected similar claims, including in a lawsuit Trump brought against Twitter when it banned him after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, reinstated Trump, but after a federal court threw out Trump’s lawsuit due to in part an absence of evidence that Twitter had banned him at the government’s behest.

    Courts have thrown out other lawsuits by censored medical activists, independent journalists and conservative commentators for failing to show that the social-media companies were doing the government’s bidding.

    The Missouri v. Biden lawsuit has cast a wider net than other cases, with the states asserting an interest in protecting the speech rights of their citizens.

    Doughty also permitted the plaintiffs at an unusually early stage in the case to gather additional evidence, such as email communications between White House officials and social-media companies, and to depose high-ranking government officials including Dr. Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

    The judge referred to numerous email exchanges between White House officials and platform executives. In one email to Google employees from April 2021, the White House’s then-director of digital strategy, Rob Flaherty, charged that YouTube was “funneling” people into vaccine hesitancy. “This is a concern that is shared at the highest (and I mean highest) levels of the WH,” he wrote.

    The Missouri v. Biden lawsuit alleges the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department’s Global Engagement Center and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency colluded with social-media platforms “in hundreds of meetings about misinformation” and systematically flagged “huge quantities of First Amendment-protected speech to platforms for censorship.”

    Other plaintiffs in the suit include epidemiologists who are authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, an October 2020 open letter critical of Covid-19 government lockdown policies and school closures. They allege that Fauci helped lead a campaign to discredit the declaration and suppress it on social media.

    “What a way to celebrate Independence Day,” Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey tweeted in response to Tuesday’s ruling. In an earlier interview, Bailey described the case as the “most important First Amendment lawsuit in a generation.”

    The Justice Department, representing the government defendants, filed a brief nearly 300 pages long denying the allegations, including that any of the content moderation decisions at issue were the result of government pressure.

    “The record in this case shows that the Federal Government promoted necessary and responsible actions to protect public health, safety, and security when confronted by a deadly pandemic and hostile foreign assaults on critical election infrastructure,” the department said.

    The department also warned that the proposed injunction sought by the plaintiffs “would significantly hinder the Federal Government’s ability to combat foreign malign influence campaigns, prosecute crimes, protect the national security, and provide accurate information to the public on matters of grave public concern such as healthcare and election integrity.”

    Doughty wrote that his order isn’t a blanket ban on government communication with social media. He said agencies could inform platforms about postings involving criminal activity, national security and public-safety threats or content intending to mislead voters about voting requirements and procedures.

    Nothing in his order, he wrote, prevents federal agencies from ”exercising permissible public government speech promoting government policies or views on matters of public concern.”

    Appeared in the July 5, 2023, print edition as 'Judge Limits Federal Officials’ Contact With Social Platforms'.
     
  3. Os Trigonum

    Os Trigonum Contributing Member
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    commentary on this ruling

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-key-...n-government-covid-9b457364?mod=hp_opin_pos_1

    A Key Ruling Against Social-Media Censorship
    The judge in Missouri v. Biden likens the federal government’s suppression of dissent to the ‘Ministry of Truth’ in ‘1984.’
    By Philip Hamburger
    July 5, 2023 at 12:21 pm ET

    This July Fourth there was special reason to celebrate. Judge Terry Doughtyissued a preliminary injunction in Missouri v. Biden, which stands to become one of the most important free-speech cases in the nation’s history.

    At stake is the federal government’s use of social-media platforms to censor Americans. Officials kept most of their censorship regime secret through two election cycles. Discovery in Missouri v. Biden, however, revealed extensive evidence of government coercion and encouragement of censorship. It is the most massive assault on free speech in the nation’s history.

    Holding that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their First Amendment claims, Judge Doughty issued a preliminary injunction against eight federal agencies—including the Justice Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also enjoined were many officials, including the surgeon general and a host of White House staffers. The judge barred them from (among other things) “threatening, pressuring, or coercing social-media companies in any manner to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce posted content of postings containing protected free speech.”

    The plaintiffs include two states, Missouri and Louisiana. Epidemiologists Jay Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff are among the individual plaintiffs represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, where I am the CEO. They were co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, which criticized Covid lockdowns. Four days after it was issued, Anthony Fauci and other government officials proposed a “take down” of it.

    The government-orchestrated censorship involves monitoring billions of posts and suppressing millions. It targets speech about electoral politics, medical and scientific debates, foreign policy and more.

    Judge Doughty observes that “the censorship alleged in this case almost exclusively targeted conservative speech.” That reveals “viewpoint discrimination,” which is distinctively suspect in First Amendment jurisprudence.

    “The United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth,’ ” the judge writes. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has expanded its understanding of “infrastructure” to include “the spread of false and misleading information”—judged, naturally, by CISA. The agency asserts that the “most critical” infrastructure “is our ‘cognitive infrastructure.’ ” It views our minds as public property, to be protected through censorship.

    Judge Doughty could have dismissed the case without an opportunity for discovery, as another judge did in another NCLA case, Changizi v. HHS, involving the same sort of censorship. Judge Doughty understood, however, that a largely secret censorship system can’t be evaluated under the First Amendment until after discovery.

    The government will surely appeal in hope of preserving its censorial power over our “cognitive infrastructure.” So this isn’t the end of the censorship; it’s just the beginning of the end. But it’s important and well worth celebrating.

    Mr. Hamburger teaches at Columbia Law School and is CEO of the New Civil Liberties Alliance.


     
  4. Os Trigonum

    Os Trigonum Contributing Member
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    Turley

    https://jonathanturley.org/2023/07/...free-speech-in-government-censorship-efforts/

    Biden’s ‘Orwellian Ministry of Truth’: Court Finds a ‘Massive Attack’ on Free Speech in Government Censorship Efforts
    July 6, 2023

    [​IMG]
    Below is my column in the Messenger on the recent opinion finding that the Biden Administration is violating the First Amendment through a massive censorship operation. In response, many politicians and pundits are simply repeating the definition of censorship as its defense: we are banning views because they need to be banned. Every authoritarian government in history has justified censoring citizens because their views are harmful or false. Others are only focusing on the injunctive relief rather than the court’s finding that these states are substantially likely to prevail on the merits in showing that the government use social media companies as surrogates for censorship.

    Here is the column:

    The most massive attack against free speech in United States history.” Those words by Chief U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty are part of a 155-page opinion granting a temporary injunction, requested by Louisiana and Missouri, to prevent White House officials from meeting with tech companies about social media censorship.

    The July 4 decision came six months after I testified before Congress that the Biden administration used social media companies for “censorship by surrogate.” Despite furious attacks by congressional Democrats in that and later hearings, a court has now found that the evidence overwhelmingly shows systematic violation of the First Amendment by the Biden administration. Judge Doughty found that the two states “are likely to succeed on the merits in establishing that the government has used its power to silence the opposition.”

    The question is, when will the evidence of systemic censorship force Democrats in Congress to drop their unified opposition to any investigation of this unprecedented partnership of government, corporate and academic interests? That triumvirate arguably has created the most extensive censorship system we have ever seen.

    According to Judge Doughty, the government used layers of coordination and consultation to “assume a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth.’” The court found that “the censorship alleged in this case almost exclusively targeted conservative speech.”

    The government is now enjoined from speaking with social media representatives for “the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.” Exceptions are made for criminal and national security concerns.

    The judge’s order names various agencies, including the Department of Justice, State Department, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as individual officials like Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Jen Easterly, who leads the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

    Mayorkas not only attempted to create the infamous Disinformation Governance Board but has given grants to an array of controversial censorship programs. I also testified recently on the efforts of Easterly, who radically extended her regulatory authority by declaring “critical infrastructure” includes “our cognitive infrastructure” and “building that resilience to misinformation and disinformation.” That included barring “malinformation”that is “based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm, or manipulate.” You read that correctly: It can be true information which the government nevertheless believes is being used for a misleading purpose.

    The injunction in this case is likely to face tough scrutiny and skepticism on appeal. Doughty was previously rebuked by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit when it blocked his order to compel former White House press secretary Jen Psaki to testify in the case.

    However, the judge’s temporary-relief order is less important than the judicial scrutiny of this long-concealed network of censorship and blacklisting maintained by the government.

    In February’s hearing before the House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, I warned that “the massive censorship system employed by social media companies presents the greatest loss of free speech in our history.” The Trump administration had some back-channel communications with social media companies, but that was radically expanded under President Biden.

    Democrats on the committee struggled to ignore the content of the then-recently released “Twitter Files” while attacking every witness who discussed those files.

    Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) criticized me for offering “legal opinions” without working at Twitter. I later noted that it was like saying a witness should not discuss the contents of the “Pentagon Papers” unless he or she worked at the Pentagon. Wasserman Schultz tried to portray the Twitter Files allegations as mere opinions; she cut me off when I tried to explain that the Twitter Files contents — like those of the Pentagon Papers — are “facts,” while the implication of those facts are opinions.

    Now, a judge has laid out 155 pages of such facts, in addition to the thousands of pages of the Twitter Files.

    It is, however, unlikely to change the Democrats’ scorched-earth strategy of attacking every hearing witness who supported an investigation into government censorship. The attacks have continued in the media, too. Some of those objecting to this censorship were bizarrely denounced as protecting white supremacists and insurrectionists. For example, MSNBC contributor and former senator Claire McCaskill denounced subcommittee witnesses Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) as “Putin apologists.”

    When two journalists testified before the subcommittee about their investigations of censorship programs, Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands), the subcommittee’s ranking member, called them “so-called journalists.” Plaskett later suggested one of them, Matt Taibbi, be criminally investigated. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas) and other members pressed the journalists to reveal their sources.

    These attacks reflect a growing problem for Democrats who have tied the party to the cause of speech limits, blacklisting and censorship. When the party controlled both houses of Congress, these members simply denied allegations of censorship as conspiracy theories and said there was no real evidence while opposing any effort to acquire evidence.

    Then Democrats lost control of the House, and Elon Musk purchased Twitter, opening up its files for full public view. The resulting Twitter Files forced everything into the open.

    This censorship system included funding groups to blacklist targeted individuals and sites. With the help of companies like Microsoft, federal agencies poured millions into efforts to target not just social media accounts but the advertisers for conservative sites.

    more
     
  5. Os Trigonum

    Os Trigonum Contributing Member
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    conclusion

    As new details emerge, Democrats have doubled down. In one hearing, former Twitter executive Anika Collier Navaroli testified on how she and her staff approached censorship. Navaroli said they pushed to remove anything they considered “dog whistles” and “coded” messaging; she said they refused to prioritize the free speech of posters but, instead, asked “whose free expression are we protecting at the expense of whose safety.” She said they were unwilling to allow the safety of others “to go to the winds so that people can speak freely.”

    It was a chilling account of ill-defined, biased censorship. However, committee Democrats heralded her censorship work.

    They also clearly agreed with the standard of former Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal that the company would “focus less on thinking about free speech” and more on “who can be heard.” The Twitter Files showed that the federal government supplied thousands of names and sites of precisely who should not be heard.

    The left was once the target of censorship and blacklisting during the Red Scare. Today, they have literally adopted the arguments used to target liberals and socialists.

    In my hearing, Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) quoted from the 1919 decision in Schenck v. United States to justify censoring those with opposing views. When I pointed out that he was quoting from a case justifying the arrest of socialists due to their political views during the Red Scare, Goldman shot back that “we don’t need a law class here.”

    They may not “need” such facts — but they, and the public, are going to get them from Congress and the courts. The mantra of “Nothing to see here” is fast becoming an embarrassing case of willful blindness.

    Jonathan Turley, an attorney, constitutional law scholar and legal analyst, is the Shapiro Chair for Public Interest Law at The George Washington University Law School.

     
  6. Amiga

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    Laughable and of course Turley and MOGO is on board.

    Restricting the Government from Speaking to Tech Companies Will Spread Disinformation and Harm Democracy (justsecurity.org)

    On July 4, federal Judge Terry A. Doughty in the Western District of Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction in Missouri v. Biden, a case that basically turns some elected Republicans’ fixation on social media censorship into legal reality. The impetus behind the case is the now thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory that the government is somehow strong-arming Big Tech into censoring conservative speech and speakers in violation of the First Amendment.

    While there are, in theory, interesting questions about when and how the government can try to jawbone private entities to remove speech from their platforms, this decision doesn’t grapple with any of them. In fact from the 155-page opinion, it’s not even clear this case really raises those questions. Each step in the reasoning of the decision manages to be more outlandish than the last – from the idea that the plaintiffs have standing to the notion that the plaintiffs are entitled to an injunction at this stage of the case to the sweep of the injunction that the district court issued.


    But the absurdity of different aspects of the decision in Missouri v. Biden should not obscure the bigger picture of what happened. Invoking the First Amendment, a single district court judge effectively issued a prior restraint on large swaths of speech, cutting short an essential dialogue between the government and social media companies about online speech and potentially lethal misinformation. Compounding that error, the district court crafted its injunction to apply to myriad high-ranking officials in the Biden administration, raising grave separation of powers concerns. And equally troubling is how the court’s order, which prevents the government from even speaking with tech companies about their content moderation policies, deals a huge blow to vital government efforts to harden U.S. democracy against threats of misinformation.

    Legal Missteps in the Opinion
    Identifying the opinion’s many legal errors would require a lengthy article, so we’ll note just a few.

    ...

     
  7. Os Trigonum

    Os Trigonum Contributing Member
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    lol. Fight Turley with Tribe. good one
     
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  8. rocketsjudoka

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    I’ve been traveling so haven’t had much chance to read about this opinion. I think there is a good argument regarding government coercion of private platforms but simply saying that government can’t even talk to private platforms seems excessive. Government officials still have free speech rights too so it seems like it would be violating their rights to say they can’t even contact a private platform.
     
  9. Os Trigonum

    Os Trigonum Contributing Member
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  10. Os Trigonum

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  11. Sweet Lou 4 2

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    I don't see how the gov't violated anyone's right to free speech here. A private platform is free to do what it wants, and that includes taking the advice of gov't officials. So long as there is no coercion, I can't see this standing up.
     
  12. ThatBoyNick

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    Invisible Fan and Os Trigonum like this.
  13. Os Trigonum

    Os Trigonum Contributing Member
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    EVERYONE should adopt this avatar for the next 24 hours
     
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  14. Os Trigonum

    Os Trigonum Contributing Member
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  15. Os Trigonum

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    here's the WSJ reporting mentioned in the Reason piece

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-bowed-to-white-house-pressure-removed-covid-posts-2df436b7

    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
    July 28, 2023 at 5:30 am ET

    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 , 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.

    “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-Pierresaid 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 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.



     
  16. Commodore

    Commodore Contributing Member

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  17. Os Trigonum

    Os Trigonum Contributing Member
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  20. B-Bob

    B-Bob "94-year-old self-described dreamer"

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    [​IMG]
    Haha. Neither is Godzilla though. It's like King Cesar versus Angilas or something. :D

    Os, I actually like this topic and appreciate you keeping it alive. I do think some people turn a blind eye when they feel like their own priorities (or even safety) are benefitted, like with the Patriot Act eroding privacy so badly and now we have a new clumsy and potentially corrosive era defining and handling weaponized "misinformation," (which I probably think is more of a real concern than you might).

    On the central issue, I see it like this: Social media suddenly and without much warning expanded the 1st amendment rights of normal citizens a lot, and for celebrities and politicians a ****-metric ton. They used to need a press conference and could only send out, like, newsletters to their most avid supporters, who probably didn't read their newsletters anyway.

    So... now any attempt to regulate or restrict any entity's social media behavior will necessarily be scaling back (abridging, I guess) their (recently super-sized) 1st amendment rights. For once, I even like reading what partisans write about it b/c they don't necessarily have their "side" fully fleshed out yet, but I guess it's hardening as we speak to respective corners.

    EDIT: we definitely need Brad Pitt. And we need more celebrity politicians, ASAP. If the democrats ever figured this out, lord have mercy.
     
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