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House Subcommittee Report Alleges Biden Administration Pressured Social Media on 'COVID Misinformation'

House Subcommittee Report Alleges Biden Administration Pressured Social Media on 'COVID Misinformation'

May 1, 2024

House Subcommittee Report Alleges Biden Administration Pressured Social Media on 'COVID Misinformation'

A report from a Republican-led House subcommittee has been released, claiming that the Biden administration exerted undue pressure on social media companies to tackle "COVID-19 misinformation," potentially infringing on First Amendment rights. The report, shared with The Verge, aligns with a pivotal Supreme Court case, Murthy v. Missouri, which is currently deliberating the difference between legal persuasion and illegal coercion by the government.

The investigation was spurred by House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH), who subpoenaed major tech companies, including Meta (formerly Facebook), Google, and Amazon, to examine their communications with federal agencies. Jordan oversees the House Judiciary Committee’s Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, which recently held a hearing featuring former Biden administration officials Andy Slavitt and Rob Flaherty.

During the hearing, Slavitt and Flaherty defended their actions stating their intent was not to coerce but to understand and discuss the platforms' policies on misinformation. Flaherty emphasized the role of the White House communications office in urging accurate information dissemination.

The report indicates that while the Biden administration did apply pressure on social media platforms, it also shows moments where tech executives resisted, were persuaded, or were frustrated by the approach taken by the administration. The tension peaked when President Biden accused Facebook of "killing people" by allowing misinformation to spread, a statement he later clarified.

Internal communications at Meta reveal that top executives, including then-COO Sheryl Sandberg and global affairs president Nick Clegg, were deeply troubled by Biden's remarks. This spurred discussions on how to respond and whether to reduce engagement with the government.

Emails also highlighted the debate within Meta regarding the handling of the COVID-19 lab leak theory, where Mark Zuckerberg expressed regret over earlier decisions to flag the theory as misinformation under administration pressure.

The report refrains from using the term "collusion" and instead focuses on "coercion," which directly relates to the ongoing Supreme Court case. The case will determine whether the alleged pressure from the Biden administration on social media platforms to modify content moderation strategies constitutes a violation of the First Amendment.

The committee's findings have raised questions about the extent to which the government can influence social media policies without overstepping constitutional boundaries. With the Supreme Court decision expected by the end of June, the case will have significant implications for future interactions between the government and social media companies.

As the House subcommittee continues its investigation, potential legislation such as the Censorship Accountability Act is being considered, which would allow individuals to sue executive branch officials for alleged censorship.

Representatives from Amazon, Google, and Meta declined to comment on the report. The White House and Democratic Judiciary Committee staff did not respond in time for The Verge's publication. The current state of the event remains dynamic, with the Supreme Court's ruling highly anticipated for its potential to redefine the boundaries of government influence on online speech.

Subcommittee Report

The Verge Article


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