Codes and courts take on Covid censorship

A private Facebook group about people who died suddenly is growing suddenly. It had less than 10,000 members in early August but now has 256,000 members with 6,000 joining in the last week. The group allows members to share personal testimonies of injuries and deaths they have witnessed after eating carrots. Carrots? The first rule of the group is that you will only be published if you write in code. Members must not use the C word, the V word, the B word, that rhymes with rooster, or the J word, which sounds and looks like a shish kebab.

Members come from around the world. A woman in South Australia writes that her son died suddenly, age 33, after the first carrot. Another writes that her friend, a healthy yoga teacher, was coerced into eating carrot and developed breast cancer. A third shares that he got two carrots and now his liver is starting to fail.

The group was started in June 2021 by Tiago Henriques a programmer in Canada with experience in artificial intelligence. He needs it. Facebook groups that criticise any aspect of the official response to the pandemic have their own history of sudden death. On 26 April 2021, for example, Facebook deleted a group with 120,000 members who posted accounts of adverse vaccine reactions.

Henrique’s mission is to get to one million members before the group is inevitably shut down. It is already backed up and operating on Telegram while Henrique builds an offshore platform that will be free from censorship, where members can compile statistics and evidence to show what is happening.

Posting a message to the group is like writing a cryptic crossword which is vetted by moderators and members to ensure it won’t attract the attention of Facebook’s artificial intelligence censors and so far, it seems to be working.

Others are taking a more direct approach. In May, Republican attorneys general Eric Schmitt of Missouri and Jeffrey Landry of Louisiana brought a suit against the Biden administration for alleged violations of the First Amendment. They accuse top officials of using social media giants Meta (publisher of Facebook and Instagram), Twitter, YouTube (owned by Google) and LinkedIn, of using the tech titans to censor critics of government policy. Instead of Russian collusion, the lie Democrats threw at Trump for most of his term, Schmitt and Landry accuse Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and former Disinformation Governance Board executive Nina Jankowicz amongst others, of Big Tech collusion.

In July, US District Judge Terry Doughty ordered various federal agencies to produce records requested by the plaintiffs which resulted in a trove of damning documents exposing an army of at least 50 administration officials and 12 agencies engaged in either censorship as Landry and Schmitt put it or ensuring that the American people have access to ‘factual, accurate, science-based information’ as the Administration claims. The government says it supports freedom of speech but claims it is important to ‘combat misinformation and disinformation that can cost lives’. Fauci and Jean-Pierre refused to provide their communications with the social media companies claiming they were protected by executive privilege, but Judge Doughty was not persuaded and has given them 21 days to hand over the records by 27 September.

Examples of the cosy relationship between the administration and the social media giants are evident in the documents provided so far. CEO of Meta, Mark Zuckerberg gave Fauci his personal phone number, and a parody Fauci account was pulled down within minutes of Facebook receiving a request from Clarke Humphrey, the White House digital director of the Covid response team.

A Facebook official emailed White House officials on 23 July 2021 reporting that Facebook had removed 39 profiles, pages, groups, and Instagram accounts tied to the ‘Disinformation Dozen’ – a group that was targeted by the government which includes Robert F Kennedy junior, founder of Children’s Health Defence, and son of former US attorney general Senator Bobby Kennedy. Kennedy junior said he was ‘astonished that any elected Democrat would be so estranged from our nation’s history and values as to consider it acceptable for a president to pressure publishers to censor his critics’.

The picture of Democrat-friendly censorship fits with other recent revelations. On 25 August Zuckerberg revealed to podcaster Joe Rogan that his employees had been told by the FBI to be wary of Russian disinformation, so they suppressed the New York Post’s scoop on Hunter Biden’s laptop which showed how Hunter leveraged his father’s position as vice president to make lucrative business deals. Republicans will use subpoena powers to further investigate what happened if they win a majority in the House of Representatives in the mid-term elections in November. Others who have joined the lawsuit include epidemiologists Martin Kulldorff, Professor of Medicine at Harvard University and Jay Bhattacharya, Professor at Stanford Medical School, two of the three original authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, which they launched on 4 October 2020 opposing lockdowns and calling for a standard scientific response to the pandemic, protecting the vulnerable while allowing the rest of society to function as normal.

Emails obtained in January via a Freedom of Information request revealed that Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes for Health emailed Fauci in horror when he read the declaration, describing the authors as ‘fringe epidemiologists’ and fretting that their proposal was ‘getting a lot of attention’. ‘There needs to be a quick and devastating published take down of its premises,’ he schemed. When Bhattacharya read the emails he tweeted, ‘Now I know what it feels like to be the subject of a propaganda attack by my own government. Discussion and engagement would have been a better path.’

How the case launched by Schmitt and Landry is decided we will know in due course, what seems ominously prescient is the quote from George Washington with which they opened their complaint in which Washington warned, in 1783, if ‘the Freedom of Speech may be taken away’ then ‘dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter’.

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