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Facebook execs felt 'pressure' from Biden White House to censor COVID vaccine skepticism, emails show: report

Michael Shellenberger's Public newsletter reported that Facebook executives predicted their actions to censor vaccine skepticism would backfire, according to internal emails.

Facebook executives reportedly felt "pressure" to censor skepticism towards the COVID vaccine on its platform by the Biden White House and even predicted such actions would backfire, according to newly surfaced emails. 

Public, the Substack newsletter founded by independent journalist Michael Shellenberger, reported Tuesday on emails from the Facebook Files, the internal documents from the Meta-owned platform obtained by House Republicans.

The report showed that Facebook’s Director of Strategic Response Rosa Birch attempting to push back on the vaccine-skeptic censorship requests, saying it would "1/ prevent hesitant people from talking through their concerns online and 2/reinforce the notion that there’s a cover-up."

"Birch stressed that a large and strong body of research showed the importance of ‘open dialogue,’ access to information, and creating ‘an open and safe space for people to have vaccine-related conversations,’" Public reported. "Birch worried that censorship might ‘risk pushing [the vaccine hesitant] further toward hesitancy by suppressing their speech and making them feel marginalized by large institutions.’ The White House rejected Birch’s evidence-based case against censorship.

NEW FACEBOOK FILES REVEAL LENGTHS WH WAS WILLING TO GO TO TRY TO CONTROL COVID NARRATIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Citing an April 2021 email to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, Birch wrote, "We are facing continued pressure from external stakeholders, including the White House and the press, to remove more COVID-19 vaccine-discouraging content."

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Separate emails from Facebook President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg similarly showed resistance towards the censorship, writing "I countered that removing content like that would represent a significant incursion into traditional boundaries of free expression in the US." 

Except Clegg reversed course, telling colleagues "Given what is at stake here… it would also be a good idea if we could regroup to take stock of where we are in our relations with the WH [White House], and our internal methods too."

Public outlined how the media had a role in increased censorship on Facebook, citing a New York Times story about a prominent vaccine skeptic that ramped up efforts to limit his viral reach and a July 2021 email then-White House official Andy Slavitt sent to Facebook of a tweet from NBC News reporter Ben Collins calling for more censorship.

"This seems like a political battle that’s not grounded in facts, and it’s frustrating," one Facebook employee told top executive Aaron Berman.

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Berman, who Public dubbed a "top censor" at Facebook, replied "There are so many untested assumptions in what the administration is saying recently — social media misinfo is increasing, it’s leading to death, it has an impact different from misinfo [in] other places — not to mention how their definition of ‘misinfo’ is completely unclear."

In a separate email exchange, Berman complained how the Biden administration was using Facebook as a scapegoat due to their failing efforts to vaccinate more Americans, writing "It also just seems like when the vaccination campaign isn’t going as hoped, it’s convenient for them to blame us."

Public reported Monday that the pressure Facebook was feeling from the White House may have been tied to an issue the tech giant was having with the European Union, hoping to rely on the Biden administration for support over Facebook's "ability to transfer the data of European users to its servers in the United States," according to the Substack newsletter. 

"In July 2021, after a White House official demanded that Facebook censor more information… Clegg, asked his colleagues to comply. The reason? Because of ‘the bigger fish we have to fry with the Administration — data flows etc…’" Public reported. "By ‘data flows,’ Clegg was referring to the EU’s demand that Facebook stop transferring European user data — which Facebook advertisers value for targeting customers — to the United States." 

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Public continued, "The dispute was no small matter. In May of this year, EU regulators fined Meta, Facebook’s parent company, a record $1.3 billion for breaking the EU’s privacy regulations. The regulator said that Meta had violated a 2020 ruling by the EU’s highest court. Two months later, on July 10, 2023, the Biden Administration and European Union announced a deal, the ‘EU-US Data Privacy Framework.’ The series of events suggests a quid pro quo. Facebook would bow to White House requests for censorship in exchange for its help with the European Union."

The White House did not immediately respond to Fox News' request for comment. 

For more Culture, Media, Education, Opinion, and channel coverage, visit foxnews.com/media

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