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Meta Relies On ‘Human Rights Norms’ To Censor Protected Speech, Board Member Admits

A Meta Oversight Board member dismisses ‘First Amendment jurisprudence,’ even as the FBI restarts its social media censorship machine.


A member of the Meta Oversight Board said in a recent livestream that Meta places “international human rights norms” above the First Amendment when it considers free speech issues. This admission is especially concerning considering a recent revelation that the FBI and CISA have renewed collaboration with social media companies to censor posts they label “disinformation.”

“As Meta became more global, it realized what an outlier the United States was, and could not simply default back to U.S. First Amendment jurisprudence,” said Kenji Yoshino, a member of the Meta Oversight Board, an independent entity that advises the platform. “Our baseline here is not the U.S. Constitution and free speech, but rather international human rights norms.”

Meta’s Censorship in Theory

Yoshino, a board member for the left-wing William J. Brennan Center for Justice, made this comment in a livestream with fellow Meta Oversight Board member and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution Michael McConnell. The National Constitution Center hosted the online panel on April 29, and its CEO Jeffrey Rosen moderated the discussion about ways Meta shapes content during elections.

Meta originally sought to follow the First Amendment, Yoshino said. But as Meta expanded across the world, he noted, it shifted its content policies beyond the First Amendment.

McConnell disagreed with Yoshino’s reasoning and said the more important distinction is the First Amendment’s application to private entities. But he admitted he agrees with Meta’s ability to censor content. “Even within the United States, private companies are free to not convey speech that they disagree with over their platforms,” he said.

Meta has always prohibited some content like obscenity from the very beginning, according to McConnell. The Wall Street Journal, however, reported last year that Meta-owned Instagram connected vast networks of pedophiles, and its algorithms promoted child sexual content.

Meta’s censorship does not always originate from the company. Sometimes, the American government pressures Meta to shape content.

“We’re talking about governments all over the world — but the United States government is not immune either. But there are times when they are using — misusing — their power over the companies to avert criticism,” McConnell said.

Meta’s Censorship in Practice

The House Judiciary Committee released a report on May 1 that detailed the role of social media, including Meta, in censoring Americans for the administration of President Joe Biden. Meta worked with White House officials to censor conservatives concerned about the Covid-19 vaccine, including Tucker Carlson, Tomi Lahren, and The Daily Wire.

Facebook told Biden officials in a 2021 meeting that the company was “actively pushing to remove” the “Disinformation Dozen,” a list of Covid-policy critics like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. published by the left-wing Center for Countering Digital Hate — the overseas dark-money group that tried to demonetize The Federalist in 2020.

But apparently that was not enough for former White House Director of Digital Strategy Rob Flaherty. “Some partners give us lots of information, some partners tell us to f-ck right off,” he said. “My dream is for FB to play ball.”

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg mentioned this government pressure in emails on July 16, 2021. “The WH put pressure on us to censor the lab leak theory,” Zuckerberg wrote.

Last July, Republican House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan wrote Zuckerberg with concerns the government was using Meta to silence political opponents. The House Judiciary Committee first subpoenaed Meta about this last February.

“We have obtained evidence that the federal government has coerced or colluded with technology, social media, and other companies to moderate content online,” Jordan wrote. “These examples reinforce the Committee’s serious concerns about whether the Executive Branch is engaging in censorship by proxy — using surrogates to censor, suppress, or discourage speech in a manner that the government is unable to do itself.”

The Intercept reported in 2022 that Meta was working with the Department of Homeland Security to target “disinformation” and had launched a portal — still online — where federal officials could report content for censorship.

Meddling in Elections

“We’re coming together today for the elections priority, and under that bucket, we have a weather eye out for a number of issues,” Yoshino said. “But predominant among those are things like misinformation during elections, the suppression of dissident political voices would be another big one, and finally, violence and incitement.”

Meta should know about suppressing dissident political voices, considering its online censorship policies and election interference.

Flaherty emailed Facebook officials in 2021 demanding more censorship of individuals opposing Biden’s Covid measures, according to the House Judiciary report. He accused Facebook of helping “increase skepticism” in the 2020 election and demanded “assurances … that you are not doing the same thing again here.”

Facebook officials said they understood, the report said.

Meta currently has more than 40,000 people working on election “safety and security” worldwide, according to its website. Meta removes all content it thinks will “directly contribute to interference with the functioning of political processes,” the company’s website reads.

Moreover, Zuckerberg funneled $350 million to election offices through the left-wing Center for Tech and Civic Life in 2020, boosting turnout in Democrat jurisdictions. Groups with close ties to CTCL accessed absentee ballots in places like Wisconsin.

At the same time, Meta worked with the federal government to silence “disinformation,” censoring ads for former President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and removing a video where he called children “almost immune” from Covid-19 — though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later found children were at far lower risk from the virus than others.

When the New York Post published the Hunter Biden laptop story on Oct. 14, 2020 — revealing Joe Biden’s involvement in Hunter’s shady business dealings just before the general election — the FBI told social media companies to censor it as a “hack and leak” operation, even though it knew the story was true all along.

Meta’s censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop story at the FBI’s request likely shifted the outcome of the 2020 election, as 79 percent of Americans thought in 2022, according to a Tipp Insights poll.

Meta Oversight Board Member Pamela San Martín said in January that Meta plans to go beyond its 2020 election interference. “Even though we’re addressing the problems that arose in prior elections as a starting point,” she said at the time, “it is not enough.”

Foreign Pressure to Censor Opponents

America’s government joins with that of China, which also pressured Meta to remove content critical of the regime, according to McConnell.

“There are governments — China is one of them — that put tremendous effort into getting criticism of the government eliminated from world discussion,” McConnell said. “And they bring pressure in various ways, and we try to be alert to that and be a guard against it.”

Meta, however, has been colluding with Vietnam’s communist government to stifle opposition, according to The Washington Post.

Still, the European Union — like China — thinks Meta is not going far enough. It launched an investigation on April 30 into Meta’s handling of so-called “disinformation” ahead of European Parliament elections.

The European Commission said it suspects Meta of not complying with the body’s “Digital Services Act,” which made “misinformation” and “disinformation” illegal last year. Meta had pledged in February to counter these in European elections.

Yoshino said Meta has been trying to “balance out these different values” in areas like elections. “If the baseline is international human rights norms,” Yoshino said, “oftentimes that calculus comes out differently than it would if the baseline were U.S. First Amendment norms.”

So much for free speech and the First Amendment.

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