The Biden White House pressured Facebook executives to remove posts about COVID-19, including claims that the virus was man-made, according to internal company communication released by the House Judiciary Committee.
"Can someone quickly remind me why we were removing—rather than demoting/labeling—claims that Covid is man made," asked Facebook's president of global affairs Nick Clegg in a July 2021 email to colleagues obtained by the Wall Street Journal.
"We were under pressure from the administration and others to do more," Facebook's vice president of content policy responded, speaking of the Biden administration. "We shouldn’t have done it."
The emails date to the spring and summer of 2021, when the Biden administration launched its campaign to promote the COVID vaccine. Administration officials feared that "false information" on Facebook was dissuading people from getting the shot and pushed Facebook to "more aggressively police vaccine-related content," according to the Journal.
"They’re killing people," President Joe Biden said that July.
The Republican-led House Judiciary Committee acquired the internal communications as part of an investigation into the Biden administration's alleged efforts to censor social media posts about COVID-19, vaccines, and other topics.
"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," Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), chair of the House panel, said Thursday.
Three months before Clegg's July 2021 email discussion, Facebook's parent company Meta said it would stop banning posts claiming the coronavirus was man-made or manufactured given the "increasing debate about the virus's origin."
"There is likely a significant gap between what the [White House] would like us to remove and what we are comfortable removing," the Facebook vice president said. The executive listed as an example the White House's desire for Facebook to remove humorous or satirical content about the vaccine's side effects.
"The [White House] 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 responded, an apparent reference to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
In another July email to colleagues just before a meeting with the U.S. surgeon general about vaccine misinformation, Clegg wrote: "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.
The White House said its discussions with Meta were "aimed at promoting the adoption of vaccines and other public-health goals," according to the Journal.
"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.