Newly unearthed documents obtained by America First Legal Foundation reveal that top U.S. health officials worked hand-in-hand with big tech companies to moderate content related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The documents released Wednesday were obtained after America First Legal sued the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) after filing a FOIA request for documents related to communications with big tech firms. They reportedly show that companies including Twitter and Facebook were repeatedly advised by the CDC on what to flag as “misinformation” and how to moderate.
One email from May 2021 shows CDC official Carol Crawford emailing a list of tweets to Twitter employees that the agency regarded as misinformation about vaccine shedding and microchips. Another email from one month prior shows Twitter senior manager for public policy Todd O’Boyle asking Crawford to help identify certain types of misinformation. The employee adds that they’re “looking forward to setting up regular chats.”
Another instance reveals O’Boyle commenting that it would be “tricky” to set up a meeting to discuss misinformation because Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was testifying before Congress that week.
Facebook was also coordinating with the agency. Crawford sent the company a list of posts containing disinformation similar to the list she provided Twitter, and Facebook gave the CDC and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) $15 million in free advertising during the pandemic.
The company additionally set up a Misinformation Reporting Channel for CDC and Census Bureau officials to report posts to Facebook’s team. The Census Bureau was involved because the CDC asked the agency to “leverage their infrastructure to identify and monitor social media for vaccine misinformation.”
Google appears to have gotten in on the action too. The CDC asked the search engine giant to include its vaccine finder page at the top of search results about the vaccine, and a Google employee said that they were working with the CDC to set up a “Question Hub” related to the pandemic.
Much of the information shared by the CDC and other top health agencies and officials in the early days of the pandemic turned out to be misinformation. CDC director Rochelle Walensky once said that vaccinated people wouldn’t transmit COVID-19, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said vaccinated people were a “dead end” for the virus.
Fauci also said Americans shouldn’t wear masks at the start of the pandemic, before quickly giving the exact opposite recommendation.
President Joe Biden himself has spread misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, saying in July 2021 that Americans won’t get COVID-19 if they’re vaccinated.
This isn’t the first time federal agencies and officials have been exposed coordinating with big tech to censor speech. Former White House press secretary Jen Psaki once said that the administration was working with Facebook to flag alleged disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.