- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 1, 2022

A pair of attorneys general said on Thursday that they have unearthed the Biden administration‘s sprawling effort to censor and suppress content online, which was revealed through the private communications of dozens of government officials with social media companies. 

The attorneys general in Missouri and Louisiana, who are working with the New Civil Liberties Alliance, made details of the communications public in a court case seeking access to records that the federal government is withholding. In a court filing, they said the communications reveal that federal officials engaged in a “Censorship Enterprise” spanning 11 federal agencies.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt said the Justice Department refused to produce communications between its officials and social media companies, so lawyers filed a petition with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana to compel the government to produce the documents.

“We have already received a number of documents that clearly prove that the federal government has an incestuous relationship with social media companies and clearly coordinate to censor freedom of speech, but we’re not done,” Mr. Schmitt said in a statement.

“The Department of Justice is cowering behind executive privilege and has refused to turn over communications between the highest-ranking Biden administration officials and social media companies,” he added.

Mr. Schmitt published some of the records on Twitter. One example shows a White House official asking Facebook employees to take down the Instagram account “anthonyfauciofficial,” which Mr. Schmitt said was a parody of Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

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“Any way we can get this pulled down?” wrote Clarke Humphrey, COVID-19 response digital director at the White House. “It is not actually one of ours.”

“Yep, on it!” replied a Facebook official whose name is redacted.  

Mr. Schmitt said other emails show the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency reaching out to Google, Facebook’s parent company Meta, Microsoft and Twitter after the rollout of the Department of Homeland Security’s disinformation governance board, which was paused and then killed amid public outcry.

Mr. Schmitt’s joint declaration submitted Wednesday with Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and supported by lawyers from the New Civil Liberties Alliance details the extensive nature of the government’s work with the technology platforms.

“Meta, for example, has disclosed that at least 32 federal officials — including senior officials at the [Food and Drug Administration], the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and the White House — have communicated with Meta about content moderation on its platforms, many of whom were not disclosed in response to plaintiffs’ interrogatories to defendants,” the joint declaration said.

“YouTube disclosed 11 federal officials engaged in such communications, including officials at the Census Bureau and the White House, many of whom were also not disclosed by defendants,” it added.

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NCLA litigation counsel Jenin Younes said the federal government has fought at every step to keep its actions hidden.

“If there was ever any doubt the federal government was behind censorship of Americans who dared to dissent from official COVID messaging, that doubt has been erased,” Ms. Younes said in a statement. “The shocking extent of the government’s involvement in silencing Americans, through coercing social media companies, has now been revealed.”

Ms. Younes told The Washington Times that the court filing contains only a “small amount” of what the lawyers have obtained through discovery, particularly from the technology companies. 

Details about the Biden administration’s conduct raised the hackles of Republican lawmakers. 

“Confirming that this is the most dangerously anti-free speech administration in American history AND that Facebook (or Meta or whatever) is nothing but an appendage of the deep state,” Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, said on Twitter as he shared news of the court filing. 

Republican Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin also are working to get more details about the federal government’s private interactions with social media companies. The senators requested records of the government’s contacts with Facebook in a recent letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray. 

House lawmakers, meanwhile, are pursuing legislation to restrict the Biden administration from facilitating such social media censorship. 

Three Republican representatives proposed the Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act this week to stop federal employees from using their positions to influence technology platforms’ censorship decisions.

The bill would create restrictions to prevent government employees from advocating any private entity to censor or discourage speech. It also would impose penalties, including a combination of civil fines and disciplinary actions, consistent with existing punishments for federal officials who engage in political activity in their government capacity. 

The bill was authored by Reps. James Comer of Kentucky, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the leading Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform, Judiciary, and Commerce committees, respectively.

Republicans on the oversight and judiciary committees also wrote to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting details about his company’s interaction with the FBI, Mr. Comer said.

The White House and Meta did not respond to requests for comment about the information made public by the state attorneys general.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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