Sen. Josh Hawley Slams White House Flagging of COVID-19 Online Misinformation

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing May 11, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The committee is hearing testimony on "Prevention, Response, and Recovery: Improving Federal Cybersecurity Post-SolarWinds."
(Image credit: Tasos Katopodis-Pool/Getty Images)

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) wants Facebook and Twitter to explain the White House's admission Thursday that the Biden Administration has been flagging vaccine-related misinformation on social media.

The senator fired off letters to the CEOs of both companies citing White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki's statements in the daily press conference Thursday (July 15) that the Biden Administration has been in "regular touch" with social media platforms about COVID-19-related posts and flagging the "problematic" ones.

"Facebook should provide, publicly and transparently, data on the reach of COVID-19 -- COVID vaccine misinformation. Not just engagement, but the reach of the misinformation and the audience that it's reaching," Psaki said. "That will help us ensure we're getting accurate information to people. This should be provided not just to researchers, but to the public so that the public knows and understands what is accurate and inaccurate."

Also Read: Attorneys General: Facebook, Twitter Fail to Sufficiently Combat Anti-Vaxxers

"We are in regular touch with these social media platforms, and those engagements typically happen through members of our senior staff," she said, adding: "We're flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation."

That sounded to Hawley like the government and Facebook teaming up for a speech police action. He and other Republicans already argue that social media is in league with Democrats to censor conservative speech. Republicans have been more inclined to criticize the vaccination effort, and are less likely to have been vaccinated themselves.

"This casual admission of collusion—between the state and corporations that have monopolized the flow of information and therefore dictate the terms of service for the public square—is shocking," Hawley wrote in a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He wrote a similar letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

Hawley said that "collusion" raises the spectre of social media becoming an arm of the federal government.

He asked Zuckerberg for a "full accounting" of the content the Biden Administration has flagged, what posts it has asked to remove, and what content Facebook has removed.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.