Congressional Republicans were up in arms Thursday after the Biden administration revealed it was flagging “problematic” Facebook posts with “misinformation” about COVID-19 to the social media giant.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the Surgeon General’s Office had “increased disinformation research and tracking” and added that it was “important to take faster action against harmful posts … and Facebook needs to move more quickly to remove harmful violative posts.”
Psaki was joined by Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who said the administration was asking Big Tech to “consistently take action against misinformation super-spreaders on their platforms” and calling on news organizations to “proactively address the public’s questions without inadvertently giving a platform to health misinformation that can harm their audiences.”
The comments touched off an uproar among longtime Big Tech critics like Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who accused the White House on Twitter of “using @Facebook
to impose its #COVID19 speech code. The social media platforms are increasingly just arms of the federal government and the Biden White House.”
“I think it’s really scary to have the federal government of the United States, the White House, compiling lists of people, organizations, whatever, and then going to a private company that, by the way, is a monopoly, Facebook, and saying ‘You need to censor. You need to do something about this. You need to tell these users, these private users on a private company what they can or cannot say,’” Hawley told Fox News’ “Special Report” Thursday evening.
“I mean, I just think this kind of coordination between Big Government and the big monopoly corporation, boy, that is scary stuff and it really is censorship,” added Hawley, a longtime advocate of breaking up Big Tech companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon.
“At this point, you really have to wonder how private of companies they are,” Hawley went on.
“I mean, if you’re taking direction from the federal government, openly coordinating with the federal government, you’ve got the government saying, ‘We think that this speech ought to be censored,’ and Big Tech, if they carry out those instructions, I mean, that looks like they’re starting to operate as a public utility, and there are many people out there who say we ought to just treat them as public utilities. We ought to just regulate these private companies as such,” he said.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) referenced George Orwell’s classic novel “1984,” accusing the White House of “‘Ministry of Truth’ level malfeasance.”
“These are state-controlled-media tactics we rightfully condemn in dictatorships,” he tweeted. “If an administration has a message to get out, let them express it. But when the government works to throttle speech with which they disagree, it has crossed a line.”
“Big Government is now Big Brother under @POTUS,” warned Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). “Why anyone would think govt is the font of all wisdom and all other perspectives need to be silenced is beyond me. The censorship that results from this unholy alliance between big govt/big tech has, and will continue to, cost lives.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) noted the irony of the administration’s announcement.
“We have to break up Big Tech’s monopoly power,” he added.
Psaki noted Thursday that “there’s about 12 people who are producing 65 percent of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms. All of them remain active on Facebook, despite some even being banned on other platforms, including … ones that Facebook owns.”
The press secretary and surgeon general declined to comment Thursday on the occasionally shifting nature of “misinformation” about the coronavirus pandemic. For example, the government initially advised Americans not to wear masks in the early days of the outbreak before reversing course.
Earlier this year, Facebook stopped censoring posts that claimed COVID-19 may have emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China due to “evolving” information that bolstered the theory.