“Suppose that the Trump White House, backed by Republicans controlling both Houses of Congress, publicly demanded that all libraries in the United States burn books criticizing the President and the President made statements implying that the libraries would face ruinous legal consequences if they did not comply, while senior White House officials privately badgered the libraries for detailed lists and reports of such books that they had burned and the libraries, after months of such pressure, complied with those demands and burned the books.
“Suppose that, after four years of pressure from senior Congressional staffers in secret meetings threatening the libraries with adverse legislation if they did not cooperate the FBI started sending all libraries in the United States detailed lists of the books the FBI wanted to burn, requesting that the libraries report back to the FBI by identifying the books that they burned and the libraries complied by burning about half of those books.
“Suppose that a federal national security agency teamed up with private research institutions, backed by enormous resources and federal funding, to establish a mass-surveillance and mass-censorship program that uses sophisticated techniques to review hundreds of millions of American citizens’ electronic communications in real time, and works closely with tech platforms to covertly censor millions of them.”
The first two hypotheticals are directly analogous to the facts of this case. And the third is not hypothetical at all—it is a description of the Election Integrity Partnership and Virality Project.
Here we continue with a lightly edited version of reporter Tracy Beanz’s coverage of the case and our activities in court last week. Today we discuss how the Office of the Surgeon General got in on the state censorship action.
Facebook responded to the White House’s incessant and abusive demands for more censorship with, “We hear your call for us to do more, and as I said on the call we are committed to working towards our shared goal.” This after a triple punch of threats were lobbed by the White House and the Office of the Surgeon General (OSG), Dr. Vivek Murthy, at social media companies in mid-July 2021.
By the next day the so-called “Disinformation Dozen” were completely deplatformed, as was Alex Berenson, per the White House’s demands. This was in direct response to the public threats coming from authoritarian government actors. Facebook and other social media companies scrambled desperately to assure the White House that they would censor virtually any piece of COVID-related speech that the President and his appointees disfavored.
The government maintains in its arguments that they never “forced” social platforms to do anything—however even their argument against all of this proves the Plaintiffs’ point: the government shouldn’t even be *assisting* social media platforms with censorship activities against American citizens. In previous precedent-setting cases the court has clarified that state action (the criteria for a First Amendment free speech violation) does not require overt coercion; various forms of subtle pressure or entanglement in censorship activates are sufficient to constitute state action.
The Office of the Surgeon General under Murthy got involved too, coordinating with the White House. They ran a lot of their censorship through the Virality Project, but they also acted directly with social media companies in meetings. Eric Waldo, Murthy’s right-hand man, was deposed in his stead—and it was damning. Eric Waldo was listed in the 6 pages of witnesses that the government let go or reassigned a few weeks ago.
The Surgeon General demanded a set of actions in regards to censorship—and the platforms responded, under duress. Murthy described disfavored viewpoints as “an imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health” and said of social platforms, “We are asking them to consistently take action against misinformation super-spreaders on their platforms. This wasn’t “assisting” which would also be illegal. Additionally he stated, “We can’t wait longer for them to take aggressive action because it’s costing people their lives.” Again, what cost people their lives was the CENSORSHIP.
The Office of the Surgeon General threatened social media companies with legal and regulatory measures should they not police and remove and censor Americans sharing health information they didn’t approve of.
The list of ways the government colluded with, threatened, and acted as an arm of social media companies when it comes to censoring speech is miles long. Here is another example. Murthy/Waldo and company. reach out to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Google with demands, and all of the companies respond with how they diligently complied in the face of regulatory retaliation.
Murthy even went so far as to put out an official RFI (Request for Information) to the social media companies demanding information on their censorship policies and how they were enforced, as well as detailed information on disfavored speakers. This is unbelievable, but their hubris has gotten the best of them.