Did conversations between Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Anthony Fauci have anything to do with the social media platform’s crackdown on COVID-related speech? House Republicans would like to know.
After an exchange between the two showed up in the Fauci email dump last week, Kentucky Rep. James Comer and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan — the ranking Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the House Judiciary Committee, respectively — sent a letter to Zuckerberg on Wednesday demanding the CEO of the social media giant surrender any communications the company has had with Fauci and other federal employees involving the coronavirus, Just the News reported.
“In light of Facebook’s subsequent censorship of certain COVID-19 content — including content about the pandemic’s origin — these communications with Dr. Fauci raise the prospect that the federal government induced Facebook to censor certain speech in violation of the First Amendment,” the letter read.
Comer and Jordan requested “all documents and communications between or among Facebook employees referring or relating to any request by any U.S. government official to censor or moderate content related to COVID-19.”
The letter came amid a rapid one-two punch of bad publicity for the Menlo Park, California-based tech giant in regard to COVID-19. Comer and Jordan want to know if they’re related.
Late last month, in response to a series of reports that indicated the theory that the virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China, might not be as outré as many believed — and that “gain of function” research, which can increase a pathogen’s transmissibility or virulence, also wasn’t out of the question — Facebook announced it would “no longer remove the claim that Covid-19 is man-made from our apps.”
According to Forbes, such posts had been censored since February 2020.
Then came the emails between Zuckerberg and Fauci, which were published days later after they were obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request:
Very exciting. pic.twitter.com/eENFc1Yzxx
— Phil Kerpen (@kerpen) June 2, 2021
As Comer and Jordan pointed out, however, it wasn’t just assertions that COVID-19 was man-made or had emerged via a lab leak that were being censored by the platform.
While vaccine skepticism is the censorship flavor of the week — and, let’s face it, that’ll likely get you banned from almost every mainstream social media platform — Facebook was also actively censoring anti-lockdown protests and banned DIY mask companies early in the pandemic, the letter noted.
And while Facebook was making decisions about which voices to quash, it was also making questionable decisions about which voices to turn up the volume on.
“While censoring and suppressing these types of speech, Facebook amplified sources like the World Health Organization — even though such sources have proven to be conflicted and unreliable in the past,” the GOP lawmakers wrote.
“Facebook’s censorship decisions did not occur in a vacuum, and there are indications that Facebook may have made content-moderation decisions regarding COVID-19 at the behest of certain government policies and positions. The federal government appears to have had significant contact with Facebook about COVID-19 during the pandemic,” they said.
“You emailed personally with Dr. Fauci to enlist him in Facebook’s ‘Coronavirus Information Hub’ and encouraged him to provide a video ‘because people trust and want to hear from experts rather than just a bunch of agencies and political leaders.’
“It also appears that you shared some of Facebook’s confidential trade or commercial secrets with Dr. Fauci, as portions of your email exchange with Dr. Fauci were redacted when made publicly available.”
Comer and Jordan also called into question the timing of Facebook’s decision to stop muzzling speech about COVID-19’s origins.
“It appears possible that Facebook’s altered approach to content moderation concerning the COVID-19 pandemic, after ‘consultation with public health experts,’ could have been driven or strongly encouraged by U.S. officials,” they noted.
It’s worth noting that the decision came after President Joe Biden ordered a 90-day review of the intelligence regarding the origins of the virus, spurred on by a May 23 Wall Street Journal report that U.S. intelligence had credible evidence that three employees at the Wuhan Institute of Virology became so sick with COVID-like symptoms that they were hospitalized.
That said, in a surprisingly decent timeline titled “How the Wuhan lab-leak theory suddenly became credible” put together by the usually groan-worthy Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post’s chief “fact-checker” (there aren’t air quotes emphatic enough to put around that title), he noted that was hardly the first credible sign the Wuhan Institute of Virology may have been the origin of the coronavirus.
As early as July of last year, media reports began to surface that the virus known to be most closely related to SARS-CoV-2 — RaTG13, which is 96 percent identical to the virus that causes COVID-19 — was stored at the Wuhan Institute of Virology after being discovered in an abandoned mine in 2013.
Later that month, WIV researcher Shi Zhengli gave an interview with Science magazine in which she said a leak from the lab was impossible but acknowledged some research on coronaviruses was done at security level 2, not the most restrictive level 4.
In November, a widely read scientific paper said that “[t]he genetic structure of SARS-CoV-2 does not rule out a laboratory origin” and that “a natural host, either direct or intermediate, has not yet been identified.”
Then in January, an extensive piece by Nicholson Baker in New York Magazine laid out a number of problems with discarding the lab leak hypothesis.
Not only did the piece — published in a hard-left magazine, no less — indicate a lab leak was more probable than previously thought, it also didn’t rule out genetic manipulation.
Baker pointed to a French study that found the virus contained “spike protein contained a sequence of amino acids that formed … a chemically sensitive region on the lobster claw of the spike protein that would react in the presence of an enzyme called furin, which is a type of protein found everywhere within the human body, but especially in the lungs,” which made it more transmissible.
This “particular molecular feature [was] not found in SARS or any SARS-like bat viruses, but present in a slightly different form in the more lethal MERS virus,” Baker wrote — and noted that, until the talk was taken down, a professor at National Taiwan University argued the virus was, from a mutation standpoint, “unlikely to have four amino acids added all at once. … From an academic point of view, it is indeed possible that the amino acids were added to COVID-19 in the lab by humans.”
All of this information, therefore, was available to Facebook and for quite some time. Why stop suppressing speech so recently?
If Comer and Jordan are successful, we could perhaps learn the answer.
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