Meta Produces ‘Facebook Files’ Detailing Government Censorship Efforts

Joseph Lord
By Joseph Lord
July 27, 2023Congress
Meta Produces ‘Facebook Files’ Detailing Government Censorship Efforts
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg in file photos. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times; Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

The House Judiciary Committee has indefinitely suspended its efforts to advance contempt of Congress proceedings against Meta and CEO Mark Zuckerberg after the tech giant released documents to the panel detailing collusion between Facebook and the White House.

The documents were handed over to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) just hours before the panel was set to vote on contempt of Congress charges for the social media company and its founder, Mr. Zuckerberg.

In a Twitter thread, Mr. Jordan dubbed the newly-released documents “the Facebook files.” The name is a reference to an earlier data dump of files released to the public from social media giant Twitter after Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk purchased the platform for $44 billion.

Elon Musk
SpaceX, Twitter, and electric car maker Tesla CEO Elon Musk attends an event during the Vivatech technology startups and innovation fair at the Porte de Versailles exhibition center in Paris, on June 16, 2023. (Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images)

After he purchased Twitter for $44 billion last year, Mr. Musk released a litany of files, dubbed the Twitter files, discovered during an investigation of previous management. These showed that the company had been in communication with sources as diverse as the White House, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and governmental actors in Ukraine. Often, these groups would request the removal of conservative or independent viewpoints that went outside of the official narrative, and in many cases, Twitter leadership acquiesced in the request.

Now, Mr. Jordan says Republicans have received a new batch of “smoking gun” files from Meta which prove Facebook and Instagram, both owned by Meta, censored Americans because of pressure from President Joe Biden’s White House. The documents also implicate others, including the office of the surgeon general, in the information suppression push.

“Never-before-released internal documents subpoenaed by the Judiciary Committee PROVE that Facebook and Instagram censored posts and changed their content moderation policies because of unconstitutional pressure from the Biden White House,” Mr. Jordan wrote.

He reported a summary of the files, saying that they showed that Facebook experienced “tremendous pressure” in the first half of 2021—mere months after Mr. Biden took office—to remove content the administration deemed anti-vaccine.

“These documents, AND OTHERS that were just produced to the Committee, 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,” Mr. Jordan wrote.

In an email circulated in April 2021, Mr. Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg reported that they were “facing continued pressure from external stakeholders, including the [Biden] White House” to remove posts disliked by the White House.

That same month Nick Clegg, Facebook’s president for global affairs, informed his team that, after an hour-long call with Andy Slavitt, senior advisor to Mr. Biden, Mr. Clegg had been informed of “some pretty serious—and sensitive … issues we need to address.”

For example, Mr. Slavitt reported to Mr. Clegg that there was a consensus among “misinfo researchers” that Facebook is a “disinformation factory.” It is not clear which researchers or group made the declaration. The same researchers, Mr. Slavitt said, had applauded YouTube for its removal policy regarding vaccine content, but said Facebook had “lagged behind.”

Mr. Clegg also said “the principal focus for Andy S and his team in the coming weeks is to reach the ‘hardest to reach’ people who have a propensity to consume vaccine hesitant related content and who are not swayed by official/authoritative sources of content. Our systems, he believes—as confirmed by the researchers feed vaccine hesitant related content to pockets of the population and that’s the problem he wants our help to resolve.”

White House Demands Meme Removal

Mr. Clegg reported that Mr. Slavitt was “outraged—not too strong a word to describe his reaction,” that Facebook had not removed a highly-rated post about vaccines that had received a great deal of attention.

Specifically, the files show that Mr. Slavitt and the White House had such a strong reaction to an Internet meme reading, “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 to—”

A reproduction of the meme allegedly sought for removal by the White House. (Courtesy of Jim Jordan)

The meme was a reference to well-known television ads related to asbestos exposure and other materials later deemed to cause substantial harm to health and well-being.

In a caption on the meme in question, Mr. Jordan wrote, “Even memes weren’t spared from the Biden White House’s censorship efforts.”

Mr. Clegg said in the email to his team at Facebook that he had countered Mr. Slavitt’s request with First Amendment concerns.

“I countered that removing content like that would represent a significant incursion into traditional boundaries of free expression in the U.S.,” he wrote. “But [Mr. Slavitt] replied 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.”

Later, Brian Rice, Facebook’s VP of public policy, said in an email that Mr. Slavitt’s demand felt “like a crossroads for us with the White House in these early days.”

Still, anxious not to upset the White House, Mr. Rice recommended that executives in the company “take stock of where we are in our relations with the [White House], and our internal methods too.”

Tucker Carlson Demoted at White House Request

In another case, Facebook demoted the reach of a post by Tucker Carlson, at the time the number one rated cable television personality, at the White House’s request—despite his post not formally violating any rules.

In a list of talking points to appease the White House if questions were raised about the video, Mr. Clegg was advised the proper response to a question along the lines of “How was this [Tucker Carlson] post not violative?”

The response read, “While we remove content that explicitly directs people not to get the vaccine, as well as content that contains explicit misrepresentations about vaccines, we reviewed this content in detail and it does not violate those policies.”

Tucker Carlson
Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson speaks at the Turning Point Action Conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., on July 15, 2023. (Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images)

Thus, the company acknowledged internally and in its conversations with the White House that Mr. Carlson’s video was not in violation of the rules.

Despite this, the company was ready to demote Mr. Carlson’s video by 50 percent in order to satisfy White House demands.

“The video is receiving 50% demotion for seven days as it is in the queue to be fact checked,” the email advised Mr. Clegg.

Public Pressure Influences Facebook Policy

The documents also show Facebook scrambling to respond to mounting public pressure from Mr. Biden and the White House in July 2021.

That month, Mr. Biden accused Facebook of “killing people” by not censoring content that the administration deemed to be “misinformation.”

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks at a proclamation signing ceremony in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House on July 25, 2023. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

In an Aug. 2, 2021, document, Facebook executives said that they were seeking third-party advice from misinformation specialists “to brainstorm some additional policy levers we can pull to be more aggressive against COVID and vaccine misinformation.”

They confessed that the move stemmed from “the continued criticism of our approach from the U.S. administration and a desire to kick the tires further internally on creative options.”

But the documents show that it was not just the White House that prompted internal policy changes at Facebook: sometime after Aug. 6, 2021, Facebook offered several “discreet policy options for reducing the prevalence of COVID-19 misinformation on our platforms” after a discussion with the surgeon general.

For one, the company offered to make pages linked to those deemed “misinfo violators” non-recommendable to other users.

The company specifically cited Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a vaccine safety advocate, who had been removed from Instagram for alleged vaccine misinformation, and thus would be ineligible for recommendation to Facebook users.

Facebook also said it would alter rules to make it easier for an account to be given “misinfo repeat offender status,” a status under which an account would face demotion and demonetization.

In addition, the company decided to more strongly demote vaccine information rated “partly false” by “fact-checkers,” raising the demotion rate to 80 percent from its previous 50 percent demotion.

On the same front, Facebook offered a solution to marking certain domains as “repeat offenders,” which the document said would “penalize the URL domains from which the content was shared.”

Contempt Proceedings Delayed Indefinitely

In the face of its newfound willingness to comply with the Judiciary panel, Mr. Jordan said, “The Committee has decided to hold contempt in abeyance. For now.”

He criticized the company for its earlier noncompliance, writing, “Only after the Committee announced its intention to hold Mark Zuckerberg in contempt did Facebook produce ANY internal documents to the Committee, including these documents, which PROVE that government pressure was directly responsible for censorship on Facebook.”

The compliance comes over five months after the committee first requested the materials on Feb. 15. Until now, Meta has reportedly only produced external communications with only a handful of the internal documents requested.

Still, Mr. Jordan indicated that Meta and Mr. Zuckerberg could still face contempt proceedings for future noncompliance: “To be clear, contempt is still on the table and WILL be used if Facebook fails to cooperate in FULL.”

From The Epoch Times

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