Several scientists have joined a lawsuit filed by the states of Louisiana and Missouri alleging that the Biden administration worked with tech companies to censor American citizens discussing issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA) joined the lawsuit representing Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, and Martin Kulldorff, former professor of medicine at Harvard University as well as a former member of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Vaccine Safety Subgroup. Two more doctors, Jill Hines and Aaron Kheriaty, are also represented by NCLA in the lawsuit.
At the behest of the federal government, social media platforms “repeatedly censored” NCLA clients because their views on the platforms about COVID-19 restrictions opposed “government-approved” views, the NCLA said in an Aug. 2 press release.
The censorship is part of the federal government’s “ongoing campaign to silence” those with opposing views, said NCLA. Government officials have issued “public threats” to punish social media firms that do not comply, they said.
The federal government “fostered, encouraged, and empowered the creation” of social media firms with “disproportionate ability” to suppress and censor speech based on the speaker, content, and viewpoint, the lawsuit states (pdf).
Government censorship can take several forms like shadow bans, de-platforming, de-boosting, restricting access to content, demonetizing, requiring users to take down content, and imposing warning labels requiring click-through to access content, said NCLA.
Actions of the federal government “gravely threaten the fundamental right of free speech and free discourse for virtually all citizens in Missouri, Louisiana, and America, both on social media and elsewhere. And they have directly impacted individual Plaintiffs in this case, all of whom have been censored and/or shadowbanned as a result of Defendants’ actions,” the lawsuit states.
Bhattacharya and Kulldorff are co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, which advocated for a targeted approach to COVID-19 rather than widespread mandates and lockdowns.
Both doctors have faced opposition from pro-lockdown individuals, including government officials. The duo have worked with the Trump administration and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on health policy issues during the pandemic.
CDC’s Alleged Collusion With Social Media
Last month, nonprofit America First Legal (AFL) released documents revealing “concrete evidence of collusion” between the CDC and social media companies to “censor free speech and promote Biden Administration propaganda,” a July 27 press release said.
Documents revealed that the CDC sent a chart of posts to Twitter that it had deemed “misinformation.” The CDC conducted regular BOLO, or “Be On the LookOut,” meetings where the agency shared what they believed was “misinformation” with social media firms. The CDC recommended that information about the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) be added to posts, such as that it “accepts reports from anyone.”
Officials also sent Facebook links that the agency had flagged as disinformation. Facebook granted the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services $15 million in ad credits as a “non-monetary gift” to promote vaccine, travel, social distance, and other messages related to COVID-19, something which might be in violation of the Antideficiency Act’s limitation on voluntary services.
Following the Wyoming Department of Health’s posts being blocked as vaccine misinformation on Facebook, the CDC asked the company to ensure that “verifiable information sources” remain unblocked. A COVID-19 Misinformation Reporting Channel for CDC and Census was established to report to Facebook.
With Google, the CDC requested that the agency’s vaccine page be promoted in search results. Google’s News Lab asked the agency to keep the company updated on “infodemiology”—or scanning the internet for content about heath—and that employees’ focus at the time was “primarily on election but the two are inevitably related.”
In the press release, Stephen Miller, president of America First Legal, blamed Big Tech for “unlawfully” colluding with the federal government to “silence, censor, and suppress” the free speech rights of Americans as well as violate their First Amendment rights.
“Government is expressly prohibited from censoring competing or dissenting viewpoints or from silencing its political opponents, whether it does so directly or whether it uses an outside corporation to achieve its draconian, totalitarian ends,” he said.