The recent exposure of the so-called “Twitter Files” has revealed a troubling attempt by the Biden White House to police content on private communication platforms. Now, journalist David Zweig is shedding light on the government’s efforts to pressure Meta into moderating content on WhatsApp, a platform primarily designed for private messaging. The latest revelation raises even more concerns about free speech and privacy. It highlights the need for open dialogue in the digital age.
Zweig’s investigative report is based on legal documents obtained through discovery associated with litigation. They reveal communications between the White House and Meta starting immediately after Biden assumed office. The primary concern was “vaccine hesitancy” and how Meta would combat it across its various platforms, including Facebook and Instagram. However, repeated queries about WhatsApp, a platform designed for private messaging, stand out as a particularly alarming development.
This is so, so far over the censorship line, I am not even sure what to compare it to.
The Biden administration literally may be one of the most pro-censorship administration's in modern history. https://t.co/jRnEr4Sj8o
— Pradheep J. Shanker (@Neoavatara) March 24, 2023
The White House’s Director of Digital Strategy, Rob Flaherty, pressed Meta executives about interventions taken on WhatsApp to reduce harm. Flaherty was seemingly dissatisfied with earlier explanations and continued to push for answers. At the time, Andrew Slavitt, White House Senior Advisor on the Covid Response, was also involved in the email chain, demonstrating the administration’s high priority on getting Meta to moderate its content.
The structure of WhatsApp makes targeted suppression or censorship nearly impossible. In response to the White House’s concerns, Meta focused on “pushing” information to users through partnerships with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and more than 100 governments and health ministries. Initiatives such as a WhatsApp chatbot in Spanish were created to help users make local vaccination appointments. Meta also informed Flaherty about measures to reduce forwarded messages and ban accounts involved in mass marketing and scams, including those related to “COVID-19 misinformation.”
Despite understanding the limitations of WhatsApp as a private messaging platform, Flaherty continued to inquire about its potential for curbing misinformation. The persistence of these queries is noteworthy, as it shows the White House’s interest in moderating content on a platform fundamentally different from public social media networks like Facebook and Instagram.
Zweig’s report emphasizes that the exchanges about WhatsApp are concerning not because of what Meta did or did not do but because a White House official expressed interest in moderating content on a private messaging service in the first place. This raises questions about free speech and privacy, and it is a reminder of the importance of preserving these rights in an increasingly digital world.
The government’s attempt to control information on private messaging platforms like WhatsApp is a clear overreach, and it threatens the fundamental principles of free speech and privacy. Moreover, this approach undermines the importance of open dialogue, especially on matters of public health, and it sets a dangerous precedent for future administrations.