FBI Coordination With Big Tech Censorship Ahead of 2020 Election Revealed in Agent Deposition, Missouri AG Says

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
reporter
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
December 4, 2022Updated: December 6, 2022

Editor’s note: The deposition was released on Dec. 6.

Original story below.

Officials from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security frequently met with major social media companies ahead of the 2020 election and pointed out users and pieces of content for removal, according to information from a deposition of a senior FBI agent revealed by a state attorney general.

“We found that the FBI plays a big role in working with social media companies to censor speech—from weekly meetings with social media companies ahead of the 2020 election to asks for account takedowns,” Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said in a series of tweets on Dec. 2, three days after deposing Special Agent Elvis Chan, who’s in charge of cyber affairs at the FBI San Francisco Field Office.

Chan has given major social media companies warnings that have led them to censor information about a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden, shortly before the election that put Biden in office, according to a lawsuit against the Biden administration led by Schmitt and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.

FBI Director Wray
FBI Director Christopher Wray at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on May 25, 2022. (Bonnie Cash/Pool/Getty Images)

The laptop contained information about the younger Biden’s overseas dealings that appears to indicate attempts to sell access to his father, who at the time was vice president.

The suit alleges the administration violated the First Amendment by influencing social media to censor speech, including the laptop story. Some survey data suggest Biden might have lost the election if his voters were aware of the information.

Chan testified that he and officials from the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force and the DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency were meeting social media officials on a quarterly, then monthly, and finally, weekly basis as the election approached, Schmitt said in his tweets.

“Chan stated that the FBI regularly sent social media companies lists of URLs and social media accounts that should be taken down because they were disinformation from ‘malign foreign influence operations,’” Schmitt said, adding that “on many occasions, the platforms took down the accounts flagged by the FBI.”

Epoch Times Photo
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. (Matthew Pearson/CPI Studios)

The FBI defended itself by suggesting it was merely providing the companies with information about who’s doing the talking on their platforms.

“The FBI regularly engages with private sector entities to provide information specific to identified foreign malign influence actors’ subversive, undeclared, covert, or criminal activities,” the bureau said in a statement to Fox News.

“It is not based on the content of any particular message or narrative.”

Yet the attorneys general believe the FBI was specifically trying to suppress the Biden laptop story.

“Chan personally told the social media companies that there could potentially be a Russian ‘hack and leak’ operation shortly before the election,” Schmitt said.

Chan also referred to the operation as a “hack and dump,” an unnamed source in Schmitt’s office told Fox News.

Epoch Times Photo
The FBI logo is seen outside the bureau’s headquarters in Washington on July 5, 2016. (Yuri Gripas/AFP/Getty Images)

“On information and belief, the FBI’s reference to a ‘dump’ of information was a specific reference to the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, which was already in the FBI’s possession,” the suit says.

The FBI argued the tech companies are censoring the content of their own accord.

“Private sector entities independently make decisions about what, if any, action they take on their platforms and for their customers after the FBI has notified them,” its statement said.

The deposition, however, indicated that the FBI saw to it that its censorship suggestions were acted upon.

After flagging some links and accounts “the FBI then inquired whether the platforms have taken down the content,” Schmitt said in the tweets.

There’s also evidence that the companies felt compelled to act on the takedown requests because they were coming from the FBI.

“If the FBI … if they come to us and tell us we need to be on guard about something, then I want to take that seriously,” Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Meta (Facebook’s parent company), said during an August interview with podcast host Joe Rogan.

The FBI told Facebook ahead of the election to be “on high alert” regarding something “similar” to “Russian propaganda” ahead of the 2016 election, Zuckerberg said.

“There’s about to be some kind of dump … that’s similar to that, so just be vigilant,” he recounted the FBI message as saying.

Nigeria Meta Court Case
A car passes Facebook’s new Meta logo on a sign at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on Oct. 28, 2021. (Tony Avelar/AP Photo)

Facebook then suppressed the Biden laptop story.

Zuckerberg said he couldn’t remember if the FBI flagged the story specifically but said it “basically fit the pattern” the FBI had identified.

Meanwhile, Twitter suppressed the story under its policy against “hacked” information, even though there was no evidence the information was hacked.

There was some confusion among Twitter leadership on how the suppression was justified, according to internal Twitter communications obtained by independent journalist Matt Taibbi.

“I support the conclusion that we need more facts to assess whether the materials were hacked,” Twitter’s then-Deputy General Counsel James Baker, former general counsel for the FBI, said in an internal communication.

“At this stage, however, it is reasonable for us to assume that they may have been and that caution is warranted.”

Chan’s deposition was ordered last month by federal District Judge Terry Doughty, a Trump appointee.

Chan “played a critical role for the FBI in coordinating with social-media platforms related to censorship,” the  judge said.

The order meant a significant victory for Schmitt and Landry.

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The Twitter splash page on a digital device in San Diego on April 25, 2022. (Gregory Bull/AP Photo)

“Since filing our lawsuit, we’ve uncovered troves of discovery that show a massive ‘censorship enterprise,’” Schmitt said in a statement to The Epoch Times.

“Now we’re deposing top government officials, and we’re one of the first to get a look under the hood—the information we’ve uncovered through those depositions has been shocking, to say the least. It’s clear from Tuesday’s deposition that the FBI has an extremely close role in working to censor freedom of speech. Stay tuned.”

Landry added: “Americans should be angered that during the 2020 election cycle, federal agencies peddled information that has since been disproven. Additionally, agencies like the FBI contacted social media platforms to censor free speech to ‘protect us’ from disinformation. This case is just one of the many steps we have taken to stand up for the First Amendment rights of our citizens. No American should be censored by the government.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly omitted the time James Baker served as a deputy general counsel at Twitter. The Epoch Times regrets the error.

Petr Svab
reporter
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.