Facebook fumed as Biden administration pressured platform to censor content

The initial batch showed that Facebook executives had considerable concerns over complying with White House requests.

Published: July 28, 2023 11:09pm

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan has begun releasing subpoenaed documents from Facebook showing the social media platform faced intense pressure from the Biden administration to remove content that ran contrary to the White House agenda and ultimately complied. 

The Ohio Republican obtained documents following a high-profile standoff with the big tech platform in which his committee vowed to hold Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in contempt of Congress.

Jordan released the first batch Thursday in what he called the "Facebook Files," seemingly referencing the series of bombshell reports about Twitter and its censorship activities on behalf of the government.

The initial batch showed Facebook executives had considerable concerns over complying with White House requests.

One communication shows a Facebook employee circulated an email for Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg that described the administration as applying "continued pressure" on the platform.

Another communication shows Facebook President for Global Affairs Nick Clegg describing exchanges between him and a senior Biden adviser over removing specific posts, including a meme suggesting COVID vaccines may result in side effects.

Clegg objected on First Amendment grounds, telling the Biden adviser that "removing content like that would represent a significant incursion into traditional boundaries of free expression in the U.S."

The rest of the first document dump describes an intensifying fear within Facebook's leadership over White House pressure. Facebook tried unsuccessfully to placate the White House, which ultimately condemned the platform for what it considered a lack of action publicly.

The Office of the U.S. Surgeon General also appeared to have applied pressure on Facebook including pushing the company to remove accurate information about side effects.

Jordan released the second batch on Friday.

"In sum­mer of 2021, the White House was mount­ing a na­tion­wide push for Amer­i­cans to get vaccinated for Covid-19. Part of that push in­cluded a pub­lic and SECRET campaign to get Facebook to more ag­gres­sively po­lice vac­cine-re­lated con­tent, including TRUE information," Jordan tweeted.

Jordan pointed to an email from Clegg questioning why the company was censoring content related to the lab leak theory suggesting that COVID had escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

That communication shows a response from an unnamed individual stating that the company had done so "because we were under pressure from the administration ... we shouldn't have done it."

He also highlighted the company's negative response to President Joe Biden's public claims that the company and other social media platforms were "killing people" by permitting misinformation online. 

Several communications show employee frustrations with the Biden administration's narrative. One such email suggested that it was "convenient" for the administration to blame the platform when its vaccination campaign was not going well.

Another communication called the effort an apparent "political battle that's not fully grounded in facts."

The company ultimately relented in the face of the continuous government pressure and changed its content moderation policies.

Just the News has sought comment from the White House.

Ben Whedon is an editor and reporter for Just the News. Follow him on Twitter.

The Facts Inside Our Reporter's Notebook

Unlock unlimited access

  • No Ads Within Stories
  • No Autoplay Videos
  • VIP access to exclusive Just the News newsmaker events hosted by John Solomon and his team.
  • Support the investigative reporting and honest news presentation you've come to enjoy from Just the News.
  • Just the News Spotlight

    Support Just the News