by John Hugh DeMastri
Facebook routinely took direction from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding COVID-19 moderation and fact-checking policies throughout 2021, according to documents published Thursday by Reason.
Facebook regularly reached out to CDC staff throughout the year, requesting guidance on the accuracy of claims about both COVID-19 vaccines and the disease itself, in addition to guidance on whether the claims might “cause harm,” according to Reason. The social media titan would regularly make decisions based on this communication, notably reversing its monthslong prohibition on users claiming that COVID-19 leaked from a Chinese laboratory on May 26, 2021, after a conversation with CDC staff the week prior informed the company that, while “extremely unlikely,” the virus having a man made origin was “theoretically possible.”
“Thanks so much again for you and team’s help in debunking a few COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation claims for us,” a Facebook staffer — whose identity was redacted by Reason —wrote to CDC health communications specialist Carol Crawford on May 24, 2021. “As follow up to our meeting, please see the list of claims below with notes from our conversation last Thursday morning. If you could please confirm the conclusions I’ve noted below based on our discussion, that would be great.”
In a November email, Facebook informed the CDC that it had “immediately” updated its policies after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine the week prior, and that it would censor users who claimed the vaccine “is not safe for kids,” according to Reason. Facebook also sent along several claims — which Reason did not publish — about vaccines to the CDC, asking the government to verify not just their accuracy, but also whether belief in those claims would “contribute to vaccine refusals.”
Facebook also regularly sent updates to the CDC on the most popular COVID-19 and vaccine claims being made on the platform, in one case informing the agency that users were making memes critical of Anthony Fauci’s stance on double masking, according to Reason. In another message, Facebook requested fact-checking assistance from the government on over a dozen COVID-19 claims, including whether “face masks contain harmful nano worms or harmful particles.”
11. Meta also kept the CDC apprised of criticism of Anthony Fauci. One email warned the CDC that Facebook users were mocking Fauci for changing his mind about masking and double-masking. The CDC replied that this information was "very helpful." pic.twitter.com/CUM5wwORtM
— Robby Soave (@robbysoave) January 19, 2023
The CDC did take the initiative in one of the published documents, when Crawford issued a “BOLO” — a be on the lookout notice — for a “small but growing area of misinfo” concerning a CDC lab report, according to Reason. Crawford told Facebook staffers that the report had been “misinterpreted” by social media users as evidence that a certain COVID-19 diagnostic test had been revoked by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and included several “example Facebook posts” concerning the report.
The tone in the emails is consistently cordial — in contrast with the more heated tone some of the messages from the White House took — with a Facebook staffer requesting confirmation on the emails of “colleagues” from the CDC, the Census Bureau and the private communications and marketing firm Reingold, who were being onboarded into the company’s “COVID-19 misinfo channel.”
The documents were released as part of an ongoing lawsuit filed by the state attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana against the Biden administration, which alleges social media companies illegally colluded with the federal government to suppress constitutionally protected speech about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines.
Previous documents released revealed Facebook’s willingness to take direction from the Biden White House on vaccine issues, with the company standing ready to “amplify any messaging [The White House] wants” after the CDC and FDA paused the use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine after a half-dozen adult women developed severe blood clots. White House staff also criticized Facebook for insufficiently censoring a post by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, in which Carlson criticized COVID-19 vaccines, with then-White House COVID-19 czar Andrew Slavitt insinuating that refusal to censor the post was akin to promoting “insurrection.”
Meta and the CDC did not immediately respond to a Daily Caller News Foundation.
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John Hugh DeMastri is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “CDC Building” by Raed Mansour. CC BY 2.0.