Top Republicans blast Biden admin for chilling speech with new COVID misinformation effort
Story on the Washington Examiner website here: GOP says surgeon general chilling speech via Big Tech with 'misinformation' push
Republicans are outraged at President Joe Biden's surgeon general for demanding that major social media companies submit detailed information and data regarding COVID-19 misinformation on their platforms.
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on Thursday formally requested the data from major tech platforms through a Request for Information, saying that COVID-19 misinformation had led people to reject coronavirus treatments, vaccines, and other public health measures.
With a deadline of May 2, Murthy demanded the Big Tech companies provide "aggregate data" on how much COVID-19 misinformation exists on their platforms, how many people saw it, and the effectiveness of their misinformation policies.
Republicans in Congress say the request chills speech and represents government overreach.
“Does this guy have any business being the Big Brother? Who the heck does this guy think he is to make a database like this? It’s asinine and tyrannical,” Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona told the Washington Examiner.
“I don’t trust Murthy. I don’t trust what he’s asking for, and aggregate data from the tech companies will eventually lead to granular data where individuals could be isolated and canceled by the Left, which is a huge abuse of power,” said Biggs, who is the former chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Conservatives and Republicans have slammed social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as the Biden administration, for suppressing certain information related to COVID-19 under the rationale of reducing harmful misinformation.
The Wuhan lab leak theory, for example, was considered misinformation in 2020, including by the World Health Organization, and was censored on social media platforms, including Facebook.
Now, influential scientists, such as Biden's chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, and Biden administration officials have indicated they are open to the possibility that the virus escaped from a lab in China.
Republicans say Murthy’s demands from the Big Tech companies will cause greater suppression of speech, particularly of conservative voices.
“This is just the latest move by the Biden [administration] to silence their political enemies. If this were truly about preventing 'misinformation,' Joe Biden, his Surgeon General, and Dr. Fauci would all be banned from social media,” Republican Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana told the Washington Examiner.
“The increasing pressure on private businesses to censor political speech from this administration is completely unconstitutional and should outrage every American,” said Banks, who is chairman of the influential Republican Study Committee in Congress.
Murthy and the Biden administration say the new misinformation initiative is aimed at saving lives and helping inform future pandemic responses.
“Technology companies now have the opportunity to be open and transparent with the American people about the misinformation on their platforms,” Murthy said in an emailed statement to the New York Times. “This is about protecting the nation’s health.”
The surgeon general’s office defined health misinformation as information that is “false, inaccurate, or misleading, according to the best available evidence at the time.”
Republicans say Murthy’s initiative is yet another reason to hold the Big Tech companies accountable by regulating or breaking them up entirely.
“Big Tech is compiling your data and handing it over to the Biden administration,” GOP Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado told the Washington Examiner.
“This is wrong, unconstitutional, and shows just how badly we need to break up these Big Tech companies that are acting as another government agency,” said Buck, who is the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee’s powerful antitrust panel, which is in charge of regulating the tech companies.
Some Republicans, however, are optimistic that Murthy’s request for additional information and data could help increase free speech and could hold the government and the tech giants accountable for bad behaviour.
“First of all, as a doctor, I applaud Surgeon General Vivek Murthy for what he’s doing to reduce medical misinformation and I want the tech companies to cooperate,” said Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas, who is a physician.
“I’m hopeful that his request will be used to advance transparency and accountability to remove actual harmful information regarding this virus, not just information that goes against CDC recommendations and undermines this administration’s effort to preserve massive government overreach into our lives,” Marshall told the Washington Examiner.