COVID-19 misinformation warnings and the links provided for more information were ubiquitous on social media throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, new emails reveal how Facebook coordinated with government officials to combat COVID-19 misinformation online.
The emails reveal a Facebook employee asked the CDC for information on claims that had been posted on the site regarding COVID-19 vaccine side effects, including heart inflammation and Guillain-Barre syndrome.
The CDC official replied in an email that of the 12.8 million Johnson & Johnson doses administered, there had been 100 preliminary reports of Guillain-Barre. Of the more than 177 million people who received at least one vaccine dose, over 1,000 had reported myocarditis or heart inflammation symptoms. The CDC official described the condition as rare.
Facebook also requested weekly or monthly debunking meetings. The CDC official, whose name was redacted, responded, “Yes, we would love to do that.”
Another set of emails shows Facebook employees shared their plans with HHS officials to demote pages and posts that were labeled as “partly false” or “missing context” the same way they demote anything third party fact checkers label as completely false. One email chain reveals a Facebook employee expressed frustration directly to the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, stating they felt singled out by the Biden administration for allowing misinformation on the site.
“Certainly we understand (and have understood for some time) that there is disagreement on some of the policies governing our approach and how they are being enforced – even as your team has acknowledged the unprecedented scale of our efforts to provide authoritative information to millions of Americans and to help get them vaccinated,” the Facebook employee wrote to the Surgeon General. “But I thought that the way we were singled out over the past few days has been both surprising and misleading, and I believe unproductive to our joint efforts too.”
A group of Republican attorneys general suing senior Biden Administration officials obtained the emails. The attorneys general are accusing the officials of colluding with social media companies to censor free speech. This batch of emails represents part of an initial set of documents they’ve received, and they’re still demanding more.
“The communications already provided by the Department of Justice to the plaintiff states show, as the joint statement points out, a vast ‘Censorship Enterprise’ across a multitude of federal agencies,” according to the Louisiana and Missouri attorneys general offices.
“We have already received a number of documents that clearly prove that the federal government has an incestuous relationship with social media companies and clearly coordinate to censor freedom of speech, but we’re not done,” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said in a statement.