CDC Met With Big Tech Officials in Bid to Tackle COVID-19 Misinformation, Emails Show

CDC Met With Big Tech Officials in Bid to Tackle COVID-19 Misinformation, Emails Show
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., on April 23, 2020. (Tami Chappell/AFP via Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) met with executives from Big Tech companies in an effort to cut down on narratives deemed by officials as COVID-19 misinformation, according to newly released emails.

The CDC hosted meetings on May 14 and May 28 in 2021, with slides outlining what the government agency described as false or misleading narratives about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines, according to the emails, which were obtained by America First Legal.

"We would like to establish COVID BOLO meetings on misinformation and invite all platforms to join the meetings. We are aiming for our first one on Friday at noon," Carol Crawford, a CDC official, wrote to executives at Google, Twitter, and Facebook before the first meeting.

BOLO stands for "Be on the Lookout," she noted.

At least one of the narratives deemed misinformation was later proven to be accurate—namely, that COVID-19 vaccines affect male fertility.

Others included the vaccines causing people to become magnetic, that vaccinated people can cause issues for people near them, and that vaccinated people were developing blood clots when they traveled by airplane.

In one message to Todd O'Boyle, a senior manager of public policy at Twitter, Crawford sent a list of specific posts discussing some of the rumors.

"Todd, we wanted to point out two issues that we are seeing a great deal of misinfo about—vaccine shedding and microchips. The below are just some example posts," Crawford wrote.

Boyle had written to Crawford in April, telling her that his team "has asked for examples of problematic content so we can examine so we can examine trends," adding that "all examples of misinformation are helpful."

Crawford later reached out to Twitter to alert the company that the CDC was working with the U.S. Census Bureau "to leverage their infrastructure to identify and monitor social media for vaccine misinformation."

"We would like the opportunity to work with your trust team on a regular basis to discuss what we are seeing. I understand that you did this with Census last year as well. Are you all interested in scheduling something to kick it off and discuss next steps?" she added.

"This sounds great!" Meredith Lightstone, another Twitter official, said.

Facebook and Google

Facebook executives, meanwhile, worked with the CDC on the company's COVID-19 information page, and reached a deal that enabled the company to put the CDC's logo on the page. Facebook also donated $15 million in ad credits, which an agreement said "will be used by CDC's COVID-19 response to support the agency's messages on Facebook, and extend the reach of COVID-19-related Facebook content, including messages on vaccines, social distancing, travel, and other priority communication messages."

The executives informed Crawford and other CDC officials in early 2021 of their efforts to crack down on COVID-19 misinformation, which included an announcement that the company would be working with groups to encourage people to get vaccinated while making it harder to find accounts "that discourage vaccination."

Crawford at one point asked Google to tweak its search rankings to make it so a specific CDC page ranked higher in the results, and asked Google-owned YouTube to share a CDC video.

She also suggested YouTube staffers had assisted the CDC in a campaign.

"Thank you so much for all the assistance on the college influencers. We appreciate the special help you are providing us as we navigate this new territory," she wrote.

“These explosive smoking-gun documents, obtained as a result of America First Legal’s litigation against the Biden Administration, conclusively demonstrate that Big Tech has unlawfully colluded with the federal government to silence, censor, and suppress Americans’ free speech and violate their First Amendment rights," Stephen Miller, a Trump administration official who is now president of the legal group, said in a statement.

"Government is expressly prohibited from censoring competing or dissenting viewpoints or from silencing its political opponents whether it does so directly or whether it uses an outside corporation to achieve its draconian, totalitarian ends. AFL will not rest in the fight against illegal collusion between Big Tech and Big Government to trample on your voices and the Bill of Rights,” he added.

Twitter declined to comment.

The CDC, Google, and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

Correction: A previous version of this article inaccurately stated the amount the CDC received in Facebook ad credits. It is $15 million. The Epoch Times regrets the error.