10 Times The Censorship Industry Suppressed Factually True Information

The era of online censorship was fueled by media-driven panics about “fake news” and “disinformation.” The focus of fear switched many times, from the spy-thriller narrative of Russian agents spreading disinformation intended to undermine U.S. elections, to “conspiracy theorists” questioning the official response to COVID-19 and undermining “election integrity” by raising concerns about mail-in ballot fraud.

Eventually, these narratives led to the censorship of true information. The Foundation for Freedom Online has compiled some of the top examples:

1. Targeting of Domestic “Malinformation.” 

There are three categories used by the censorship industry and its government partners to distinguish between speech violations on social media: dis- mis- and mal- information (MDM). The DHS’s Cybersecurity Infrastructure and Security Agency (CISA) has been at the forefront of popularizing the MDM framework. They maintain an entire website for MDM resources (as documented by FFO, it was later scrubbed to remove all mentions of targeting domestic speech).

They define disinformation as speech that is deliberately created to mislead, harm, or manipulate. Misinformation is information that is factually incorrect, but not on purpose. The third level of bannable speech – “malinformation” – is defined as factually accurate, true speech that is deemed to be taken out of or lacking context. In other words, malinformation is information that is completely true or accurate, but used in the wrong way. 

2. Suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story

Weeks before the 2020 election, the New York Post released their bombshell story revealing correspondence from Hunter Biden’s laptop that would reveal he arranged a meeting between his father and a Ukrainian business executive. This would spark the most impactful coordinated act of censorship in the 2020 election, with Twitter and Facebook both suppressing the story, hampering its virality and preventing it from reaching millions of Americans.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg would later say, on an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience, that his company’s decision to censor the story had in part been due to FBI warnings about “Russian propaganda.” Records obtained by House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Jim Jordan also revealed that the FBI, when asked by Facebook, initially refused to comment on whether the Hunter Biden story was real. One day later, FBI agent Elvis Chan advised Facebook that there was no evidence that any foreign government was connected to the leaks – but this information would not reach the public eye until Jordan obtained it.

In the meantime, fifty former intelligence officials including NewsGuard advisory board member Michael Hayden signed an open letter denouncing the Hunter Biden laptop story as “Russian disinfo,” while NewsGuard co-founder Steven Brill would repeat a similar claim on CNBC.

3. Vaccine Side Effects 

The Virality Project was composed of the same supposedly “nongovernmental” organizations who coordinated with the federal government to censor the 2020 elections under the name Election Integrity Partnership (EIP): The Stanford Internet Observatory, the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, Graphika, and the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab. After the elections were over, the consortium rebranded as the Virality Project to censor domestic COVID-19 vaccine skepticism online rather than election-related narratives.

One of its top targets was information about COVID vaccine side-effects. In an email exposed through the Twitter Files, members of the Virality Project can be seen recommending censorship of “stories of true vaccine side effects” and “true posts which could fuel hesitancy.”

4. Mask Efficacy 

In 2021, YouTube removed a video from Senator Rand Paul because he called the efficacy of masks into question. He said that  “Most of the masks you get over the counter don’t work. They don’t prevent infection” and “cloth masks don’t work.” 

While YouTube and the censorship industry’s media allies labeled his claims as false, a study has since shown that masking makes little to no difference in preventing COVID. The CDC has since updated its guidance to say that cloth masks “provide the least protection” against COVID. In response to the study, Anthony Fauci has backtracked on his previous mask mandates, saying “the data are less strong” on showing the efficacy of masking on mitigating the pandemic — the same opinion Fauci expressed at the beginning of the pandemic, before switching his position. 

5. Censoring “Narratives”: The Pennsylvania Poll Watcher Story 

By targeting entire narratives rather than individual posts, the censorship industry can censor at scale, regardless of the intent or factual accuracy of individual posts. One example is the Pennsylvania Poll Watcher story, a narrative targeted by the Election Integrity Partnership in 2020 that resulted in over 600,000 tweets being flagged.

The story, about a poll watcher being denied entry to a polling station in Pennsylvania, was not factually inaccurate. Nevertheless, the EIP targeted it for censorship because it lacked “broader context.”

From the November 2022 FFO Report on the DHS-EIP election censorship partnership by FFO Executive Director Mike Benz:

As just one example of the myriad tricks EIP used to shoehorn in censorship of election discussions, in highlights above, you’ll see that EIP labeled the entire narrative surrounding a Pennsylvania poll worker’s denial of entry into a polling station as being “misinformation.” Their reasoning does not even deny the basic facts of the denial of entry, but rather makes a subjective determination about the political motivations behind the narrative.

On that basis alone, they targeted over 600,000 tweets pertaining to that poll worker event for censorship.

From Page 185 of the EIP’s post- 2020 election censorship report:

6. Censoring “mistrust in the media.”

Distrusting the media, or arguing that the media isn’t entirely trustworthy, isn’t inherently factually inaccurate – unless you’re the nonprofit Meedan, which characterized this opinion as a “misinformation narrative” in its application for government funding in 2021.

In its pitch (which resulted in a $5.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation) Meedan presented 4 “common misinformation narratives.” One of the 4 narratives presented was “undermining trust in mainstream media.”

From page 19 of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization Report:

7. Censorship of Scientists Behind The Great Barrington Declaration

While the censorship industry’s efforts to maintain control over COVID-19 narratives have often caught ordinary Americans in its crosshairs, medical professionals and experts were not immune. A group of epidemiologists from Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford co-authored the Great Barrington Declaration in the fall of 2020, advocating against broad lockdown policies in favor of a targeted approach aimed at protecting those most vulnerable to the virus. 

Simply advancing a theory and an alternative policy prescription can’t be characterized as “misinformation.” Nevertheless, the Barrington Declaration authors and their supporters were immediately targeted for censorship.

After the doctors had published their declaration, internal emails reveal then-NIH director Francis Collins called for coordinating “a devastating takedown” of the scientists for being against widespread lockdowns. As revealed by the Twitter Files, Twitter also put one of the co-authors of “The Great Barrington Declaration,” Jay Bhattacharya, on an internal blacklist, targeting him for censorship. YouTube also censored a roundtable with the Barrington Declaration authors, hosted by Florida governor Ron DeSantis. 

Despite the censorship, history seems to be on the side of the Barrington Declaration authors: post-pandemic studies show that broad lockdowns had a negligible impact in preventing excess COVID fatalities, and may have caused more harm than good.

8. The Sunrise Movement 

In November 1, 2020, citizen journalists began to uncover Zoom calls of the “Sunrise Movement” which they described as “part of a loose but extremely coordinated network of liberal activists mobilizing around the country in an effort to ferment chaos in the wake of a potential Trump victory or a contested election.” The Zoom meetings featured activists from Black Lives Matter and Shutdown DC.

As reported by Fox News in November 2020, one of the leaked video recordings they posted was deleted by YouTube for “violating community service guidelines.” Shutdown DC was exposed on the YouTube channel in one of the videos that remains on YouTube. The video showed federal employees attending a training on how to use their positions of power disrupt a Trump re-election. 

While the videos  were never confirmed to contain any factual inaccuracies, the Election Integrity Partnership targeted “Sunrise Zoom Calls” as one of the top misinformation narratives for flagging and censorship. The EIP ended up flagging 475,581 tweets for referencing the “misleadingly edited” footage.

From page 185 of their post-2020 election censorship report:

9. Censoring “Delegitimization” Narratives

The DHS-born Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), the public-private censorship apparatus that censored the 2020 elections, was able to censor Americans by pressuring platforms to adopt a terms of service violation called “delegitimization,” or banning any speech that “casts doubt” on election processes.

Delegitimization policy explained by FFO Director Mike Benz, from the November 2022 FFO report:

“Delegitimization was a brand new censorship category EIP and DHS came up with, and pressured social media companies to implement, beginning in June 2020, five months before the election.

It was through this trick that EIP created 72% of its censorship tickets and targeted over 99% of the posts throttled by narrative during the 2020 election.

This is because the EIP-rigged definition of “delegitimization” – defined to mean any speech that “casts doubt” on any kind of election process, outcome or integrity issues — made all conservative and populist criticism of the administration of the election pre-banned at the narrative level, five months in advance of Election Day.

The result was that a user merely posting “incidents” of election issues was still committing a Terms of Service violation because “incidents” had the effect of “casting doubt”, and thus even factual reporting was effectively banned altogether.”

Using this sleight-of-hand, the EIP could achieve its primary goal of censoring any scrutiny of the election process (mainly mail-in ballots), regardless of the factual accuracy of its content.

DHS – the same agency that provided the impetus for the EIP’s creation – would itself express concerns about mail-in ballots. Documents unearthed by a lawsuit from America First Legal in January 2024 showed that CISA themselves displayed skepticism of the risks of mail-in ballots, including the “implementation of mail-in voting processes and infrastructure within a compressed timeline.”

10. Censoring Comparisons of Covid to the Flu

In August 2022, FFO reported that the DHS made an instructional video that showed viewers how to report family members for posting “disinformation” about the Covid-19. The example they used, even by their own government definition, cannot at all be defined as an example of untrue speech. In the video, the DHS suggests reporting “Uncle Steve” for saying that “Covid-19 is no worse than the flu.”

The DHS has since scrubbed the video from Youtube, but FFO archived the video before the DHS deleted it:

While the federal government previously encouraged family members to report each other for stating the mere opinion that “Covid-19 is no worse than the flu,” they now seem to concur with the opinion. A recent study from the CDC found similar hospital outcomes for those hospitalized Covid and the flu.  The CDC has recently updated their official guidance to treat Covid with the same precautions that one would with the flu.