The White House Is Not Colluding With Facebook on Censorship

Susan Heavey, Elizabeth Culliford, and Diane Bartz, Reuters:

Facebook is not doing enough to stop the spread of false claims about COVID-19 and vaccines, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday, part of a new administration pushback on misinformation in the United States.

Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, needs to work harder to remove inaccurate vaccine information from its platform, Psaki said.

From the White House transcript of that press briefing, in response to a reporter’s question about what actions the U.S. federal government is taking:

In terms of actions, Alex, that we have taken — or we’re working to take, I should say — from the federal government: We’ve increased disinformation research and tracking within the Surgeon General’s office. We’re flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation. We’re working with doctors and medical professionals to connect — to connect medical experts with popular — with popular — who are popular with their audiences with — with accurate information and boost trusted content. So we’re helping get trusted content out there.

Psaki’s admission that the government is “flagging” posts with misinformation has caused quite the gnashing of teeth in pockets of the professional commentary circuit, with the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board calling it “censorship coordination”.

But, as Mike Masnick writes at Techdirt, that is not an accurate portrayal of what the Biden administration is doing:

It’s a simple fact: the US government should not be threatening or coercing private companies into taking down protected speech.

But, over the past few days there’s been an absolutely ridiculous shit storm falsely claiming that the White House is, in fact, doing this with Facebook, leading to a whole bunch of nonsense — mainly from the President’s critics. It began on Thursday, when White House press secretary Jen Psaki, in talking about vaccine disinfo, noted that the White House had flagged vaccine disinformation to Facebook. And… critics of the President completely lost their shit claiming that it was a “First Amendment violation” or that it somehow proved Donald Trump’s case against the social media companies.

It did none of those things.

I think Ken White’s messaging is better than the official White House version, but I do not think it would ameliorate the situation for those who believe the administration is colluding with Silicon Valley, or who are exploiting vaccine misinformation for their own gain.