Judge Who Banned Feds From Censoring Social Media Lists Evidence: Here's What's In It

A federal judge’s order showed the Wyoming Dept of Health fell victim to the federal government’s collusion with social media giants during Covid when the Wyoming agency was unable to share its “valid public health messages." The CDC then asked Facebook to fix the issue.   

Clair McFarland

July 08, 202319 min read

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden (Getty Images)

The federal judge, who blocked President Joe Biden’s Administration from pressuring social media companies to censor users, issued a 155-page memorandum showing specific examples of social media companies striving to appease government agents.

Louisiana U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty showed that the highest executive agencies in America work frequently with social media platforms to suppress disfavored speech.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has had direct access to social media giants’ internal listening applications. Facebook repeatedly sought to get into the White House’s “good graces,” even as President Joe Biden accused platforms of “killing people” by not censoring COVID-19 “misinformation.”

Social media sites exceeded their own censorship policies to appease federal agencies on COVID-19, and tweaked the public discourse ranging from vaccines to gender, to abortion, to the 2020 election.   

The Wyoming Department of Health also fell prey to Facebook’s censorship algorithms: the agency reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April 2021 that Facebook’s algorithms were so tight the Wyoming agency couldn’t dispatch its own, “valid public health messages,” which prompted the CDC to ask Facebook to fix the issue.   

Expedited Discovery  

Doughty allowed expedited discovery in the case, unveiling numerous emails and communications between government agents and social media executives. A top priority for Biden’s White House and the CDC was curbing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.

The following are just a few events the judge detailed in his memorandum: 

Jan. 23, 2021 – Three days after Biden took office Clarke Humphrey, Digital director for the federal COVID-19 response team, emailed Twitter asking for removal of an anti-vaccine tweet by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.   

February 2021 - Twitter sent Rob Flaherty, former deputy assistant to the president, a support portal for expediting flagging since the government had “recently bombarded” the outlet with censorship requests.   

Facebook started sending Carol Crawford, CDC Digital Media Director, CrowdTangle reports on Jan. 25, 2021. CrowdTangle is a social-media listening tool for Facebook parent-company Meta, that shows discussion themes on social media channels.   

The CDC has had “privileged access” to CrowdTangle since early 2020, the memorandum notes. But Facebook synced its data weekly with the CDC starting Jan. 27, 2021.   

Crawford and other CDC officials offered Facebook a PowerPoint slide deck on March 21, 2021, showing the agency’s proposed post-flagging narratives about how it had “debunk(ed)… allegedly erroneous claim(s)” such as vaccine-induced infertility, side effects, and deaths,” Doughty recounted.  Facebook later removed posts about infertility and other side effects.   

The CDC gave similar flagging slides to Google and YouTube.

Actually, Remove Posts  

Feb. 8, 2021 – Facebook emailed Flaherty and Humphrey to explain how it had expanded its COVID-19 censorship policy to promote vaccine information and remove false claims on Facebook and Instagram.

Flaherty demanded more information from Facebook on the new policy.

He accused Facebook of causing “political violence” by failing to censor “false COVID-19 claims.” Facebook countered, saying mere vaccine skepticism doesn’t violate its policies. But, the platform said, it would reduce the posts’ distribution and add strong warning labels.   

Facebook told Flaherty it was relying on “public health authorities” to determine its censorship policies Doughty later noted that Facebook came to rely on the CDC to tell it what was true and what wasn’t.

“Misinformation” included claims of vaccine toxicity, claims about the side effects of vaccines and downplaying the severity of COVID-19.

March 12, 2021 – Facebook emailed Flaherty a detailed report of vaccine uptake survey data.  

From late May to mid-July 2021, a senior Meta executive reported censoring content to honor the White House’s “requests.”   

“We think there’s considerably more we can do in ‘partnership’ with you and your team to drive behavior,” wrote the executive.   

‘Hold Me Accountable’

March 15, 2021 – Flaherty demanded answers for a Washington Post article accusing Facebook of allowing information spread leading to vaccine hesitancy.   

“I’ve been asking you guys pretty directly, over a series of conversations, for a clear accounting of the biggest issues you are seeing on your platform when it comes to vaccine hesitancy,” wrote Flaherty.   

Facebook denied “hiding the ball.”   

Flaherty said the White House was looking for more aggressive action on “borderline content.”  

Facebook sent a conciliatory response: “We obviously have work to do to gain your trust… we are also working to get you useful information that’s on the level. That’s my job and I take it seriously – I’ll continue to do it to the best of my ability, and I’ll expect you to hold me accountable.” 

‘You Guys’ Caused Jan. 6

March 19, 2021 – Facebook met in person with White House officials, and the platform reported it was censoring, removing and reducing the virality of content discouraging vaccines, though the content “does not contain actionable misinformation.” Meaning, the platform suppressed or removed even posts not removable under Facebook’s policy.

April 9, 2021 – Facebook told Flaherty it was using message-forward limits and other speech-blocking techniques on WhatsApp, against COVID-19 “misinformation.”   

Flaherty accused Facebook of enabling the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, and indicated Facebook would be responsible for COVID-related deaths if it did not censor more information.   

Wyoming Department Of Health Having Issues  

The CDC’s Crawford emailed Facebook twice in April 2021 about a Wyoming Department of Health report, noting that the algorithms Facebook and other platforms were using to “screen out postings of sources of vaccine misinformation” were also “screening out valid public health messages.”   

Facebook was relying on the CDC to dictate which posts were true. For example, Facebook asked whether the spike proteins in the COVID vaccine were dangerous, and whether the shots could cause Guillain-Barre Syndrome or heart inflammation.

Not Tucker Carlson  

April 14, 2021 – Flaherty demanded that Facebook censor Fox News personalities Tucker Carlson, who said the vaccines didn’t work, and Tomi Lahren, who said she wouldn’t take the vaccine.  

“This is exactly why I want to know what ‘Reduction’ actually looks like,” wrote Flaherty. “If ‘reduction’ means ‘pumping our most vaccine hesitant audience with Tucker Carlson saying it does not work’… then… I’m not sure it’s reduction!”  

Facebook promised the White House a report by the end of the week.  

Andrew Slavitt, former White House Senior COVID-19 Advisor, also emailed Facebook executive Nick Clegg expressing displeasure at Facebook’s failure to censor Tucker Carlson.   

“Last time we did this dance, it ended in an insurrection,” wrote Slavitt.   

Clegg said Carlson didn’t qualify for removal under Facebook’s policy, but the platform was demoting the video.   

Flaherty was incredulous. He asked for a better explanation of how the video had been “demoted” since it had 40,000 shares.   

Facebook promised to get Flaherty more information. It followed up April 21, 2021, saying Facebook gave the video a 50% demotion for seven days and would continue to demote it.   

Vaccine Halt Messes Things Up  

April 13, 2021 – The White House worried a temporary halt of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to blood clotting would exacerbate vaccine hesitancy.

Flaherty asked Facebook to “amplify” pro-vaccine messages. The agent also asked Facebook to monitor “misinformation” relating to the pause and demanded a detailed report within 24 hours.   

Facebook provided the detailed report that same day.   

Facebook said it would “de-boost” various posts, even though the posts didn’t violate its policy.  These included:  

·         true but shocking personal anecdotes against the vaccine;  

·         disparaging others based on their vaccination choice  

·         discussing vaccine choice in terms of personal or civil liberties;  

·         and concerns relating to mistrust in institutions or individuals.   

Facebook actively suppressed content from Robert F. Kennedy’s nonprofit anti-pharma group Children’s Health Defense.

‘Shady’s Back’  

April 21, 2021 – Flaherty, Slavitt, and Health and Human Services officials met with Twitter officials for a “misinformation” briefing and ways the White House could “partner.”

White House officials wanted to know why independent reporter and vaccine skeptic Alex Berenson had not been kicked off Twitter.  

Berenson is a former reporter for the New York Times and has authored 13 novels and three non-fiction books, according to his Substack bio.  

Twitter permanently deplatformed Berenson Aug. 28, 2021.   

The platform didn’t restore Berenson’s account until October of 2022, when new owner Elon Musk took control of the site.    

“Shady’s back,” tweeted Berenson.   

Here’s YouTube  

April 21, 2021 – Flaherty, Slavitt, and another agent met with YouTube officials to brainstorm how the White House could “partner.”

“Misinformation” on YouTube had aroused the concern of “the highest – and I mean the highest – levels of the White House,” said Flaherty in a recap the next day.   

White House officials wanted to meet with YouTube every other week and address the problem of people viewing “vaccine-hesitant content,” the court’s memorandum says.   

Beyond The Policy

In May of 2021, Clegg emailed Slavitt and apologized for not catching three pieces of vaccine content that many people saw before Facebook demoted them.   

“Notably,” wrote Judge Doughty, “These three pieces of information did not violate Facebook’s policies.”  

Facebook teams spent 24 hours analyzing gaps in the platform’s information nets.   

People Will Think This Is A Cover-Up, Though  

The White House increased its demands.   

Facebook suggested that too much censorship might be counterproductive and drive vaccine hesitancy.   

“Among experts we have consulted, there is a general sense that deleting more expressions of vaccine hesitancy might be more counterproductive to the goal of vaccine update,” wrote Facebook, “because it could prevent hesitant people from talking through their concerns and potentially reinforce the notion that there’s a cover-up.”   

Or Else We’ll Start An Anti-Trust Program  

But the White House persisted. On May 5, 2021, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki publicly pushed platforms to censor COVID-19 “misinformation.”   

She said there could be “legal consequences” if they do not censor “misinformation” “more aggressively,” recounted Judge Doughty.   

Biden wanted platforms to stop amplifying “untrustworthy content… especially related to COVID-19 vaccinations and elections,” said Psaki.   

She made what Doughty called a threat, of a “robust anti-trust program.”   

It Gets Tense  

Flaherty chastised Facebook the next day for missing some “misinformation.”   

Things got tense between Facebook and the White House, Doughty wrote.   

“Are you guys f(***)ing serious?” wrote Flaherty to Facebook on July 15, 2021. “I want an answer on what happened here and I want it today.”  

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy announced an advisory declaring health “misinformation” an “urgent public health crisis.” He urged social media companies to stifle “misinformation super-spreaders.”   

They’re Quoting VAERS  

The CDC meanwhile was having issues with posters citing a government website: the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a voluntary database logging adverse events following vaccination, at VAERS.hhs.gov.   

The CDC was concerned about VAERS-related “misinformation” as Facebook users cited VAERS data to raise concerns about the safety of vaccines in ways the CDC found to be “misleading.”   

Crawford and the CDC gave Facebook written materials to use to mitigate the “misinformation.”

For Wyoming, VAERS users logged 24 post-COVID-vaccination deaths for the state. Users nationwide catalogued more than 17,000 for the United States as a whole.

The database does not prove causation.

The Wyoming reports ranged from people trying to err on the side of caution by noting recent vaccination in the deaths of people were already declining, to people who were certain the vaccines were to blame in the deaths of otherwise healthy recipients.

‘They’re Killing People’  

July 16, 2021 – Biden told the public that social media platforms were failing the public on COVID-19 information.   

“They’re killing people,” said the president, adding, “Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that they’re killing people.”   

Clegg emailed the Surgeon General that day.   

“I imagine you and your team are feeling a little aggrieved – as is the (Facebook) team, 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.”   

Kate Bedingfield, White House Communications Director, announced four days later the White House would be announcing whether platforms are legally liable for “misinformation” spread on their sites. The White House was examining how “misinformation” fits into liability protections in Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, which shields platforms from being held responsible for third-party posts’ content.   

The plaintiffs in this case will likely emphasize the liability rhetoric as the case progresses: they need to prove coercion to show a definite First Amendment violation.

Disinformation Dozen  

All the pressure “apparently” worked, concluded Judge Doughty. Companies censored and removed the accounts of 12 members of the government’s information-war foes, the “Disinformation Dozen.”   

The Disinformation Dozen are:   

·         Joseph Mercola  

·         Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.  

·         Ty and Charlene Bollinger  

·         Sherri Tenpenny  

·         Rizza Islam  

·         Rashid Buttar  

·         Erin Elizabeth  

·         Sayer Ji  

·         Kelly Brogan  

·         Christiane Northrup  

·         Ben Tapper  

·         Kevin Jenkins  

Oct. 29, 2021 – Facebook asked federal officials to provide a “federal health contract” dictating what content it wanted Facebook to censor.

The response: Federal health officials would be the arbiters of accuracy.

No Vax Memes

January 2022 – Facebook reported to federal officials it had labeled and demoted vaccine humor posts which could discourage vaccination.   

It had also “labeled and ‘demoted’ posts suggesting natural immunity to a COVID-19 infection is superior to vaccine immunity,” recounted Doughty from the discovery evidence.   

March 3, 2022 – The Office of the Surgeon General issued a formal Request for Information demanding that Facebook, Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Microsoft report on their censorship policies, information about disfavored speakers, and the spread of “misinformation.”  

“(Surgeon General) Murthy also specifically called upon Spotify to censor health information,” Doughty’s memorandum says.   

Because, Elon Musk  

April 25, 2022 – Psaki referenced the threat to social-media companies and the government’s ability to amend Section 230. Doughty’s memorandum says she linked “these threats to social-media platforms’ failure to censor misinformation and disinformation.”   

Psaki’s remarks came in response to news that Elon Musk was set to take control of Twitter.   

Facebook Getting Concerned

The day the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer’s COVID vaccine, Aug. 23, 2021, Flaherty emailed Facebook asking how the platform planned to promote the new approval. The White House provided its own suggested language.   

By Nov. 2, 2021, a Facebook official reached out to the CDC to obtain clarity on whether the vaccine was harmful to children, and other concerns.   

At least six of Facebook’s concerns were “false,” said the CDC. Namely, the agency insisted the vaccines don’t weaken the immune system; or cause auto-immune diseases, antibody-dependent enhancement, immunodeficiency, harmful breastmilk, or inflammatory syndrome in children.   

Facebook voiced its worries again Feb. 3, 2022, asking if vaccines could cause Huntington’s and Parkinson’s Disease, death, heart attacks, autism, birth defects, and many other issues.   

June 13, 2022 - Flaherty demanded Meta issue periodic COVID-19 insight reports tracking “misinformation.” He was especially concerned about “misinformation” hampering the upcoming vaccine rollout for children under 5 years old.   

Meta agreed to give the White House the reports.

Twitter Locking It Down  

The CDC urged Twitter to shut down narratives mirroring Facebook’s health concerns. That included vaccine shedding, vaccine-induced population reduction, miscarriages and bleeding, and posts saying the government was lying about vaccines.

Twitter replied that it had “reviewed and actioned” at least some of the examples.   

Lab Leak Theory  

New Intelligence prompted the U.S. Energy Department four months ago to conclude that an accidental laboratory leak in China most likely caused the coronavirus pandemic, the New York Times reported. The news story was published Feb. 26, 2023.  

But three years earlier, that narrative was a “conspiracy theory,” according to a Feb. 9, 2020 podcast with then- director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and Dr. Peter Daszak of the Eco Health Alliance.   

Fauci publicly and repeatedly discredited the lab-leak theory. Twitter and Facebook censored posts in favor of the theory.   

“However, Dr. Fauci claims he is not aware of any suppression of speech about the lab-leak theory on social media, and he claims he does not have a Twitter or Facebook account,” wrote Doughty. The judge nevertheless indicated that social media companies’ censorship maneuvers matched Fauci’s concerns and theories about what was and wasn’t true.

Social media platforms censored references to the Great Barrington Declaration, an expert-penned document critical of the government’s COVID response. They also censored posts about ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. Fauci had publicly opposed all three narratives   

Ivermectin’s purported effectiveness, said the CDC in all caps, was “NOT ACCURATE.”   

FBI Active And Involved  

The FBI is actively involved in reporting disinformation to social media platforms, according to the testimony of Elvis Chan, FBI Assistant Special Agent for its San Francisco Division’s Cyber Branch.   

Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, Microsoft, Yahoo, Wikimedia Foundation, and Reddit participate in an industry working group with the FBI, Chan testified.  

Other federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of Director of National Intelligence, and the Department of Justice National Security Division also participate in these working groups.   

Social-media companies shared disinformation content with the agencies during the 2022 election cycle at these meetings, and FBI would provide overviews of things they were seeing from Russian actors, the memorandum says.   

“Chan assumes the meetings will continue through the 2024 election cycle,” Doughty added.

These meetings began as early as 2017.  But the FBI kept round-the-clock surveillance of “disinformation” and “misinformation” just before each election cycle.   

Before the Hunter Biden laptop story broke Oct. 14, 2020, the FBI and other federal officials repeatedly warned social media sites to be alert for “hack and dump” operations.  

In the laptop story, the New York Post indicated then-presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter was involved in criminal acts, including international corruption, based on a data dump from a laptop believed to be Hunter Biden’s.

Facebook and Twitter both censored the story days ahead of the 2020 election.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told Congress on Oct. 28, 2020, that the FBI had been warning companies that year, to view with suspicion any sudden troves of documents.   

Abortion, Climate, Gender, Policy 

The White House didn’t limit its requests to the COVID narrative, wrote Doughty. It asked platforms to censor “misinformation” about climate change, gender, abortion and economic policy.    

June 16, 2022 – the White House announced a new taskforce to target “misinformation” and “disinformation” campaigns targeted at women and LGBTQ+ people who are public and political figures, leaders, activists and journalists.   

The taskforce would reel in “online harassment and abuse.”   

The White House memorandum “again threatened social-media platforms with adverse legal consequences if the platforms did not censor aggressively enough,” Doughty wrote.      

Community Notes  

Musk’s version of Twitter uses Community Notes: readers can add notes factchecking questionable tweets and providing references.

Community Notes often tagged President Joe Biden’s Tweets in 2022.   

Flaherty emailed Twitter that August to dispute a note on one of Biden’s tweets about gas prices. Doughty’s order doesn’t say how the dispute ended.   

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter