Newly discovered emails suggest that the Biden administration may have exerted pressure on Facebook to address skepticism surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine. These findings arose from an examination of internal documents known as the Facebook Files, which were obtained by House Republicans and analyzed by independent journalist Michael Shellenberger’s Substack newsletter, Public.
According to these documents, Facebook’s Director of Strategic Response, Rosa Birch, resisted calls to censor vaccine-skeptic content. She expressed concerns that such actions would stifle free and open dialogue and contribute to suspicions of a cover-up. Birch emphasized the importance of maintaining an environment where discussions about vaccines can take place safely. However, her evidence-based argument was dismissed by the White House.
Emails from April 2021 reveal Birch’s correspondence with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg. In these emails, she discussed the pressure from external stakeholders, including the White House and the press, to remove more COVID-19 vaccine-discouraging content.
Similarly, Facebook’s President of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, initially voiced reservations about the proposed censorship, citing potential limits on freedom of expression. However, Clegg later changed his stance, suggesting the need to reassess relations with the White House due to the gravity of the situation.
Media reports also played a role in shaping Facebook’s approach to censorship. For example, a New York Times article featuring a prominent vaccine skeptic led to intensified efforts to restrict the reach of his content. Additionally, an email from former White House official Andy Slavitt to Facebook discussed a tweet from an NBC News reporter advocating for increased censorship.
The Biden administration’s dependence on Facebook for managing vaccination campaigns sparked internal discussions. Facebook executive Aaron Berman expressed frustration with the administration’s narrative, criticizing it as politically driven and lacking factual basis. Berman also highlighted the vague definition of “misinformation.”
In another email exchange, Berman called out the administration for using Facebook as a scapegoat for its vaccination challenges, suggesting that blaming the company was convenient when efforts didn’t yield expected results.
The pressure faced by Facebook from the White House may have been linked to a separate issue involving the tech giant’s European operations. Facebook encountered difficulties in transferring European user data to servers located in the United States. Clegg’s request for compliance with White House demands for censorship may have been motivated by broader concerns, including ongoing negotiations with the European Union regarding data privacy regulations.
These incidents culminated in a significant fine imposed on Facebook’s parent company, Meta, by EU regulators for violating privacy regulations. Subsequently, an “EU-US Data Privacy Framework” was announced, hinting at a potential reciprocal agreement between Facebook and the White House concerning censorship and collaboration with the European Union.