Friday’s White House press briefing grew tense as the Biden administration continued its collusion with Facebook and the rest of Big Tech to crack down on dissent (under the guise of fighting misinformation about coronavirus vaccines).
As usual, Fox News’s Peter Doocy and Real Clear Politics’s Philip Wegmann were the rare voices to raise concerns as they inquired about whether it could be seen as “spying on people’s Facebook profiles,” how long this partnership has been going on, and if there are any safeguards to protect speech.
Doocy set Press Secretary Jen Psaki up by leading with a question about China’s lack of cooperation into the origins of the coronavirus, citing one Chinese conspiracy theory that the virus came from smuggled in “frozen food.”
After Psaki said the administration is “concerned...about misinformation” from China, Doocy used that as a springboard to the federal government’s work with social media platforms: “[S]peaking of misinformation and the announcement from yesterday, for how long has the administration been spying on people's Facebook profiles looking for vaccine misinformation?”
Psaki immediately became disgusted, telling Doocy he had offered up “quite a loaded and inaccurate question, which I would refute.”
Over some tense crosstalk, Psaki insisted they’re “in regular touch with” social media companies just as they talk to “a range of news outlets,” but Doocy countered with the fact that Fox News “expect[s] the White House to be watching” while ordinary Americans on Facebook are totally different.
In doing so, Psaki scored an own goal in having undermined the left’s claims about social media companies by describing them like news platforms with users acting as reporters (although they would somehow claim only they can lay claim to who is and isn’t a journalist).
Next, Doocy pushed back on Psaki’s claim that the posts are “publicly open information” and thus fair game, asking whether the 12 people the administration believes hold the lion’s share of blame for misinformation have been told that the government is surveying them.
It was here that Psaki went personal, accusing Doocy of insufficiently caring about those who have gotten sick and died from the coronavirus (click “expand”):
PSAKI: Our biggest concern here and I frankly think it should be your biggest concern is the number of people who are dying around the country because they're getting misinformation that is leading them to not take a vaccine.
DOOCY: But —
PSAKI: Young people, old people, kids, children, this is all being — a lot of them are being impacted by misinformation.
DOOCY: The big concern, though, I think, for a lot of people on Facebook is that now this is big brother watching you.
PSAKI: They're more concerned about that than people dying across the country because of a pandemic or misinformation is traveling on social media platforms. That feels unlikely to me. If you have the data to back that up. I'm happy to discuss it.
Doocy shifted course to his second-to-last line of attack with the fact that Facebook hasn’t taken action on now-false claims from Dr. Tony Fauci in earlier 2020 that, in Doocy’s words, “there’s no reason to be walking around with a mask.”
Psaki’s word salads came back with this answer, insisting there’s no reason to because “science evolves” and “information evolves.”
She then tried to move on, but much to the anger and disgust from the other reporters, Doocy had one more question about how things thought to be false could turn out to be true (with the lab-leak theory being something that was once censored and could pan out to be the real cause of the pandemic).
Gaslighting once more, Psaki said the White House “[doesn’t] block anything” as it’s up to “Facebook and any private sector company” to “[make] decisions about what information should be on their platform.”
In other words, Big Tech isn’t censoring anyone, but the White House is telling them what they need to censor...or else?
Fast-forward to the final exchange of the briefing and Wegmann asked a series of basic but significant questions about how the government has “identifie[d] what is misinformation,” “how you flag it to Facebook,” “how many times” they’ve done this, “how long has this been going” on, and if there’s “any...safeguard” to protect “free speech.”
As you’ll see below, Psaki refused to actually answer of these questions (click “expand”):
WEGMANN: Clarifying question —
WEGMANN: — on — on how you identify this misinformation. I'm wondering if you could tell us specifically the administration identifies what is misinformation and then how you flag it to Facebook. That's one. Two is how many times has the administration flagged this kind of information and then three, how long has this been going? And then finally, I know that — that you are deadly serious about this conversation. You talked about how this is life and death. But are there any types of safeguards that the administration is putting in place to make certain that they do not chill free speech while they are going after this kind of misinformation?
PSAKI: First of all, to be crystal clear, any decision about platform usage and who should be on the platform is orchestrated and determined by private sector companies. Facebook is one of them, right? And there are a range of media who are also — have their own criteria and rules in place and they implement them, and that's their decision to do. That is not the federal government doing that. It is life and death, and it is a public health issue in the country. That's why the surgeon general was here talking about it yesterday. There are trends we can see and you can all probably see on Facebook and other social media platforms and so what we raise are issues like there is a lot of information out there about — about — the — the false claim that Covid-19 causes infertility. Everyone in this room knows that's factually inaccurate. We raised for them in our direct channels, of which every administration has always had with every social media platform that we are seeing this trend. It's troubling. That information is inaccurate.
WEGMANN: But specifically — so — you're not going after — you're saying these are general areas of misinformation that you should take a look at, not specific posts.
PSAKI: Yeah. Yes it is also publicly available who the individuals are who have — who have spread most of the information, wasn't publicly available by the United States government. It's publicly available information, so that's how it works.
Exit question: If this were still the Trump administration with Kayleigh McEnany at the podium saying these things, what would the chances have been that everyone from Yamiche Alcindor to Jim Acosta to Peter Alexander to Brian Karem to April Ryan would have blown a collective gasket?
To see the relevant transcript from July 16's briefing (including questions form the far-left on voting from American Urban Radio Networks’s Ebony McMorris and TheGrio’s April Ryan), click here.