White House Pressured Facebook to Remove COVID-19 Vaccine Meme, Documents Show

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
July 27, 2023US News
White House Pressured Facebook to Remove COVID-19 Vaccine Meme, Documents Show
CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg appears on a monitor as he testifies remotely during a hearing to discuss reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act with big tech companies in Washington on Oct. 28, 2020. (Michael Reynolds/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

White House officials applied increasing pressure to Facebook to remove posts that allegedly contained content discouraging people from receiving COVID-19 vaccines, according to documents made public on July 27.

“We are re facing continued pressure from external stakeholders, including the White House and the press, to remove more COVID-19 vaccine discouraging content,” a Facebook employee told CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg in April 2021 in one of the messages.

The employee noted that the company shared a list of the highest-performing posts related to vaccines for the week of April 5, 2021.

“While authoritative information dominated the list, the White House was concerned that the #3 post was a vaccine discouraging humorous meme, and they called on us to delete the meme,” the worker wrote.

The meme in question featured an actor pointing to a television, with language superimposed over the image stating, “10 years from now you will be watching TV and hear … ‘did you or a loved one take the covid vaccine? You may be entitled…'”

Andy Slavitt, at the time a White House health official, was “outraged” that Facebook did not remove the post, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s president of global affairs, recounted in a later email.

Mr. Clegg said he told Mr. Slavitt that removing the content would “represent a significant incursion into traditional boundaries of free expression in the US,” but Mr. Slavitt said that the post “was directly comparing Covid vaccines to asbestos poisoning in a way which demonstrably inhibits confidence in Covid vaccines amongst those the Biden administration is trying to reach,” according to the missive.

Due to the growing pressure, Facebook began an effort to change its policies on supposed COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation to censor more content, according to other messages released Thursday.

The documents were obtained and released by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Mr. Slavitt could not be reached.

Other missives showed that Facebook curtailed the reach of a popular video from then-Fox News host Tucker Carlson despite finding that the post did not violate its COVID-19 policies.

Earlier messages, uncovered in litigation against the government, showed that Mr. Slavitt and other White House officials were pressuring Facebook to take action on the post from Mr. Carlson and that they were informed of the curtailed reach.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the panel, said the messages and other documents the committee obtained “prove that the Biden Admin abused its powers to coerce Facebook into censoring Americans, preventing free and open discourse on issues of critical public importance.”

The documents were produced after the committee announced it would vote to hold Mr. Zuckerberg, Meta’s CEO, in contempt for defying requests for internal documents related to government pressure to censor.

The contempt effort is being paused for now but will resume if Facebook fails to continue cooperating, Mr. Jordan said.


In a lawsuit lodged by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri, the government was accused of illegally pressuring Big Tech companies like Facebook into censoring users.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, in July prohibited the White House and many federal agencies from communicating with the companies on content moderation as the case advances.

The plaintiffs “have produced evidence of a massive effort by Defendants, from the White House to federal agencies, to suppress speech based on its content,” Mr. Doughty wrote.

He said the attorneys general are likely to succeed in their case in showing that the government “has used its power to silence the opposition.”

Documents made public in the case show that officials pressured social media firms to remove content that offered certain views, including those that opposed COVID-19 vaccines, masking, lockdowns, the theory that COVID-19 came from a Chinese laboratory, and stories stemming from a laptop computer that has since been confirmed to have belonged to President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden.

The Department of Justice appealed the ruling, arguing that the stay could prevent federal agencies from engaging with social media companies for legitimate reasons like fighting crime.

An appeals court panel later blocked the ruling for the time being. A different panel is being asked to consider the case and issue another ruling.

Another suit was brought by reporter Alex Berenson in April, largely based on documents from the earlier case and on emails he recovered as part of a settled lawsuit against Twitter.

The documents show that top Biden administration officials pressured Twitter to take action against Mr. Berenson, who posted criticism of the COVID-19 vaccines. Mr. Slavitt was one of the officials. In one message, a Twitter employee said Mr. Slavitt asked why Berenson hadn’t been “kicked off” the platform. Twitter officials updated Mr. Slavitt about punitive actions taken against Mr. Berenson. Twitter later admitted that it wrongly suspended Mr. Berenson’s account, and reinstated him.

Epoch Times reporter Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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