Concrete evidence of collusion between the CDC and Big Tech has again emerged in documents released by America First Legal (AFL) on Wednesday. According to an email sent out by AFL, "the Biden White House and the CDC were both actively working with Big Tech companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google to flag and suppress what they dubiously called 'vaccine misinformation,' which seemed to be any information that the Biden Administration didn't approve of." The organization says these documents are merely the "tip of the iceberg."
Psaki Signals Government Coordination with Big Tech
AFL became alarmed when the former Press Secretary Jen Psaki admitted in a July 15, 2021, press briefing that the White House and social media companies were coordinating efforts to ensure misinformation was being identified. Psaki said the Biden administration was in the process of identifying "problematic posts" about the pandemic on Facebook. Psaki stated:
"We are in regular touch with the social media platforms, and those engagements typically happen through members of our senior staff and also members of our COVID-19 team—given as Dr. Murthy conveyed, this is a big issue, of misinformation, specifically on the pandemic.
We've increased disinformation research and tracking within the Surgeon General's Office. We are flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation. It's important to take faster action against harmful posts and Facebook needs to move more quickly to remove harmful violative posts."
On July 16, 2021 AFL immediately filed FOIA requests to the Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The FOIA requests were filed to gauge the degree to which such coordination took place. At the time, AFL President Stephen Miller released the following statement:
"Jen Psaki has unwittingly confirmed a shocking truth: the White House is using massive Big Tech companies as a censorship arm of the federal government. If true, this means that Big Tech censorship is state censorship and thus facially unconstitutional. There is no dividing line between government and big tech—it is an incestuous union, and you cannot tell where one ends, and one begins.
Staffers flow freely back and forth, policy is made in tandem, and each protects the other. AFL is filing these urgent FOIA requests so the full scope of this earth-shaking scandal will be revealed—and so that, in turn, this unconstitutional behavior can be ended.
The casual ease with which Psaki practically bragged about directing Big Tech to silence Americans is chilling. Authoritarian countries, not democracies, censor and blacklist their citizens. A tiny handful of companies control almost all communication in the U.S. The fact the White House has apparently admitted that they are acting as state agents and de-platforming Americans should horrify anyone and everyone who cares about civil liberties and the First Amendment."
Biden Administration and CDC Obstruct Release of Documents
The Biden administration and the CDC obstructed AFL's requests, and the organization ultimately had to sue the CDC for the release of the documents. The 286 pages of documents not only reveal coordination between the CDC and Big Tech platforms, but the CDC allegedly also worked with the Census Bureau to "leverage their infrastructure to identify and monitor social media for vaccine misinformation."
"Be On The Lookout": CDC Warns Twitter and Facebook
The CDC sent out "Be On The Lookout meetings" or BOLOs to various Big Tech platforms with detailed flagging of posts and users. As seen here in email correspondence between Carol Crawford, CDC Chief of the Digital Media Branch, and Todd O'Boyle, Policy Director at Twitter, top agency officials were concerned with "misinfo about vaccine shedding and microchips." Crawford copied Jennifer Shopkorn, the Census Bureau's Senior Advisor for Communication.
AFL/CDC Big Tech Coordination
Crawford specifically requested that those who attended the BOLOs not share the information and slides discussed "outside your Trust and Safety Teams." A sampling of slides below shows heightened concern by officials over misinformation and "rumors" about vaccines and infertility from spike proteins, among other things.
AFL/Social Media Misinformation and Rumors/CDC
CDC Targets Posts and Users
Requests for guidance from the CDC on misinformation targeting specific users also came from O'Boyle at Twitter. In an April 2021 email with the subject line reading "request for problem accounts," O'Boyle requests input from the CDC. He writes, "all examples of misinformation are helpful, but in particular, if you have any examples of fraud—such as fraudulent COVID cures, fraudulent vaccine cards, etc." O'Boyle references in another email that it is "tricky" to coordinate misinformation targeting efforts with the CDC during the week when the "Twitter CEO" was scheduled to testify before Congress.
The CDC was also found directly targeting the removal of Facebook and Instagram posts that allegedly went counter to the CDC's approved messaging on the various pandemic-related subject matter.
AFL FOIA/CDC targets posts/users for removal
AFL alleges the CDC and HHS were also given "15 Million dollars worth of Facebook ad credits as "non-monetary gift" on vaccines, social distancing, travel, and priority communication messages–potentially in violation of the Antideficiency Act's limitation on voluntary services (31 U.S.C. § 1342) (pp. 104, 116-119)." A Facebook COVID-19 Misinformation Reporting Channel was set up by Genelle Adrien, and training on the proper use of the channel was put into place. Adrien also coordinated the proper wording of content with the CDC for the FAQ Modules on Facebook's COVID-19 Information Center. Adrien is on Facebook's Politics and Government Outreach team.
Google's Credibility Guru Helps Optimize Search Engine for CDC
Google was also coordinating its efforts with the CDC to monitor and censor pandemic-related information. The CDC specifically sought Google's help to prioritize and promote its vaccine finder page at the top of the search engine. Emails also show fact-checking efforts and the development of a Google Question Hub to answer vaccine questions "to push back against the misinformation that threatens people's health, now and when a COVID-19 vaccine is available." At one point, Google's "credibility guru" Alexios Mantzarlis mentions he is"spinning down on COVID to focus on the election" because the "two are inevitably related." In some cases, the CDC had access to "directly edit code" for Google's knowledge base. Additionally, "signal boosts" were given to the CDC by Google to amplify WHO's Infodemic Manager Training. The WHO's unicorn program coordinated its infodemic campaign to control misinformation with the CDC. The video below discusses the dangers of users on social media who have the ability to author, edit, and disseminate misinformation.
The documents above are evidence of a government that has entered and now situated itself squarely in the realm of authoritarian rule, ushering in what may be an unprecedented sea change in American governmental policy if not addressed with impunity. Miller's July 2021 Twitter post captures the danger of politicized coordination between influential government agencies, Big Tech, and much of the media as willing accessories. Miller states that "the definition of 'misinformation,' when deployed by ruling authorities exercising a regime of censorship, is simply any expression of thought which dissents from a rigidly enforce[d] party orthodoxy."