According to documents released by the House Judiciary Committee, White House aides under President Biden’s administration pressured Facebook to censor a Covid-19 vaccine meme that was posted by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
However, the world’s largest social media platform pushed back, citing concerns over infringing upon free speech rights. Despite these objections, the reach of Carlson’s post was ultimately reduced by 50 percent.
Andy Slavitt, a senior adviser to President Biden at the time, was “outraged” that Facebook did not remove the contentious post. The meme, shared by a user named Timothy McComas, humorously suggested potential negative long-term effects of the Covid-19 vaccine. Despite the post’s satirical nature, Slavitt viewed it as a direct comparison of Covid-19 vaccines to asbestos poisoning, potentially undermining vaccine confidence.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) highlighted the issue in the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee, noting the Biden administration’s potential violation of the First Amendment. The case presented suggests a conflict between government directives and social media companies’ role in preserving users’ free speech.
Throughout this period, Facebook faced mounting pressure from external stakeholders, including the White House, to remove posts criticizing the Covid-19 vaccines. As a result, Facebook’s vice president for public policy Brian Rice acknowledged a crossroads between the company and the Biden administration’s approach to handling vaccine misinformation.
In an attempt to maintain relationships with the White House, Facebook crafted talking points stating they had reduced the reach of Tucker Carlson’s video by 50 percent in response to White House demands, despite it not violating any policies.
Despite Facebook’s efforts, the White House continued to scrutinize the company for not taking enough action against vaccine misinformation. In response, Facebook’s leadership proposed more aggressive measures against misinformation following continued criticism from the Biden administration.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the Biden administration’s actions by emphasizing their promotion of responsible actions to protect public health and security.
The censorship of social media by the government led to backlash from civil libertarians and resulted in a plan to create a “Disinformation Governance Board” being shelved.