According to internal communications viewed by The Wall Street Journal, Facebook removed content related to Covid-19 following pressure from the Biden administration. The emails revealed discussions among Facebook executives on how to handle users’ posts regarding the virus’s origins, which the administration was trying to control. The company’s president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, questioned the decision to remove posts about Covid being man-made, prompting a response from a Facebook vice president responsible for content policy, admitting they were under pressure from the Biden administration to take stronger actions.
The emails date back to the spring and summer of 2021 when the White House was aggressively pushing for vaccine adoption across the nation. The Biden administration believed that false information on Facebook was contributing to vaccine hesitancy, leading to their request for stricter content moderation. Facebook’s executives, including Clegg and then-Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, discussed the differences between the company’s content policies and the White House’s demands.
While the emails showed some resistance to the administration’s requests, Facebook also felt pressure to address their concerns. The company was hoping to resolve issues related to data flows with the U.S. and European officials, making it important to maintain a positive relationship with the administration. As a result, Facebook made changes to their Covid content policies, increasing punishments for users who violated content guidelines on both Facebook and Instagram.
Republican lawmakers, led by the House Judiciary Committee, obtained these emails as part of their investigation into what they claimed were the Biden administration’s improper efforts to censor speech on social media platforms about Covid and other topics. Democrats, on the other hand, argued that the investigation was an attempt to pressure Facebook into loosening content moderation policies and highlighted that the company often disagreed with and denied the White House’s requests, asserting that Facebook made its own decisions on content enforcement.