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US Lawmakers Grill Former Biden Admin Officials Who Pressured Social Media Companies To Censor

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In a session of the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, Congressman Jim Jordan intensely questioned Rob Flaherty, former White House Director of Digital Strategy, on the Biden administration’s messaging on COVID-19 and its interactions with Big Tech platforms.

During the hearing, Jordan pressed Flaherty on several controversial statements made by the administration regarding the pandemic. Flaherty was specifically grilled about whether these statements constituted misinformation or disinformation, particularly in relation to claims that vaccinated individuals could not contract the virus, the effectiveness of masks, and the denial of natural immunity.

“Was that a guess or was that a lie?” Jordan asked pointedly about the administration’s early assurances regarding vaccines – that they prevent disease transmission. Flaherty responded, “Congressman, when we were communicating on behalf of the administration, we were communicating the best information provided by some of the best medical scientists in the world.”

Jordan continued to press for clearer answers, challenging Flaherty to define “misinformation.” Flaherty’s response was evasive, noting, “Congressman, you know, certainly there’s different and varying definitions of misinformation…”

The Congressman also scrutinized Flaherty’s role in influencing content moderation on social media platforms, citing specific instances where the White House appeared to have urged tech giants to censor certain viewpoints, particularly conservative ones. “You weren’t a medical expert, but you could suggest to Facebook that they needed to change their algorithms so that the American people would not see stuff from the Daily Wire, they’d only see stuff from the New York Times,” Jordan highlighted, emphasizing the selective suppression of information.

Flaherty defended his actions, stating, “Congressman, again, we had the ability to flag whatever we wanted, and the platforms had an ability to say, ‘No.’ I can’t speak to whether or not they took any action on the particular meeting.”

Congressman Matt Gaetz Intensely Questions Rob Flaherty on Censorship and Pressure on Social Media Platforms

Congressman Matt Gaetz aggressively questioned Rob Flaherty on his role in influencing content moderation on social media platforms, particularly regarding COVID-19 information. Flaherty dodged most of the questions, seemingly reluctant or unwilling to provide a specific answer.

Gaetz pressed Flaherty on who specifically directed the efforts to flag and possibly censor online content. Gaetz asked pointedly, “When we say we, I just want to know which human beings were involved in deciding like this Leonardo DiCaprio meme had to go.” Flaherty’s response was vague, often using collective terms without giving specific names: “In general, we were discussing specific pieces of content when we were discussing it.”

The meme, referenced by Congressman Gaetz, that The White House flagged.

Gaetz, dissatisfied with the lack of clarity, pushed further for specifics, highlighting an email from Flaherty dated April 21, 2021, expressing concern over YouTube promoting vaccine hesitancy. Flaherty mentioned in the email, “This concern is shared at the highest, and I mean highest, levels of the White House.” When asked to clarify whom he was referring to, Flaherty responded, “Congressman, I can’t recall specifically who I’m referencing.”

The Congressman’s line of questioning also delved into the extent of the White House’s influence over social media companies’ content policies. Gaetz brought to light another email exchange involving Facebook executives, discussing pressure from the administration to remove claims that COVID-19 is man-made. Flaherty could not directly confirm his involvement when Gaetz asked, “Were you part of that pressure campaign?”

The discussion took a critical turn when Gaetz cited documents suggesting the US Surgeon General requested the removal of true information about vaccine side effects. “Mr. Flaherty, should true information be removed?” Gaetz asked. Flaherty responded, “Congressman, I can’t speak to what they’re writing.”

Congressman Gaetz expressed his concerns about the implications of such actions: “What we have a problem with is when the United States government is putting their thumb on the scale.” He emphasized the potential threat to freedom of speech and the principle of open discourse on digital platforms, highlighting a broader debate on the balance between public health messaging and censorship.

Congressman Greg Steube Grills Andy Slavitt Over Alleged Coercion of Social Media Platforms

Congressman Greg Steube challenged former White House Senior Advisor for the COVID-19 Response, Andy Slavitt, regarding his involvement in what Steube termed a coercion campaign against social media platforms and retailers like Amazon to control information related to COVID-19.

Steube questioned the sincerity of Slavitt’s earlier statements in which he claimed, “Further we had no intention of coercing social media companies into taking action. And I never received any indication that our dialogue was ever interpreted that way.” Steube countered sharply, outlining a series of email exchanges that suggested otherwise. “What was your intent? If your intent wasn’t to coerce,” Steube pressed, pointing to an internal Amazon document that noted, “Feeling pressure from the White House.”

Highlighting the absence of medical or scientific qualifications between Slavitt and another former White House official, Rob Flaherty, Steube underscored the aggressive push from non-experts to influence content related to the pandemic. He cited numerous emails where both engaged extensively with social media platforms to flag and potentially remove content they deemed misinformation, including specific books on Amazon that discussed vaccine safety and efficacy.

On March 2, 2021, a particularly active day of communications cited by Steube, Slavitt and his colleagues pushed Amazon to define their policies on content, as illustrated in an email exchange initiated by Flaherty at 6:16 PM, which read, “Let’s talk about what your policies are. We want to understand what lines are here.”

Steube further detailed an internal email from Amazon on March 12, 2021, where pressure from the White House regarding book bans was explicitly mentioned. This campaign continued into April, with another internal Amazon email discussing the removal of 1,500 books due to what was described as White House coercion.

The Congressman passionately argued that these actions represented a significant breach of First Amendment rights (something currently being decided by the Supreme Court) and accused Slavitt of misleading the committee and the public in his testimony. “So to testify under oath that you didn’t intend to coerce the social media companies, to act in a certain manner favorable to your political position is an outright lie to the American people,” Steube concluded, underscoring the gravity of the accusations and the evidence laid out during the hearing.

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