The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) played a direct role in policing permissible speech on social media throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Confidential emails obtained by Reason show that Facebook moderators were in constant contact with the CDC, and routinely asked government health officials to vet claims relating to the virus, mitigation efforts such as masks, and vaccines.
For a broader analysis of the federal government’s pandemic-era efforts to suppress free speech—and whether they violated the First Amendment—see Reason‘s March 2023 cover story on the ramifications of these emails. This article provides screenshots of the emails themselves.
After Elon Musk took control of Twitter, he permitted several independent journalists to peruse the company’s previous communications with the FBI, the CDC, the White House, and government officials elsewhere. These disclosures, which have become known as the Twitter Files, reveal that government bureaucrats put substantial pressure on Twitter to restrict alleged misinformation relating to elections, Hunter Biden, and COVID-19.
The Facebook Files, which were obtained by Reason as a result of the state of Missouri’s lawsuit against the Biden administration, reveal that the CDC had substantial influence over what users were allowed to discuss on Meta’s platforms: Facebook and Instagram.
The messages reveal an environment where the CDC kept tabs on Meta’s moderation practices and regularly told the company what the agency wanted it to do.
For instance, in May 2021, CDC officials began routinely vetting claims about COVID-19 vaccines that had appeared on Facebook. The platform left it up to the federal government to determine which assertions were accurate.