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Warner: Biden administration needs to step up social media misinformation fight

Chris Graham
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U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., thinks the Biden administration has been “too restrained” in its pushback against a MAGA-backed legal effort to prevent the White House, FBI and CDC from working with social media companies to combat the flood of misinformation on things like election conspiracies and COVID vaccine efficacy and safety.

“There was a court case last July that basically said the U.S. government can’t even have voluntary conversations with these social media companies, and most parts of American government have had not even voluntary conversations with the social media companies since July on these issues. This is an area where I’m equal opportunity calling out. I think the Biden administration, where the Supreme Court put a hold on this decision, I think the Biden administration lawyers have been too restrained,” Warner said in a conference call with reporters last week.

“We’ve got to be able to talk to social media companies. If we see foreign interference, if we see patterns that are coming from our adversaries, we’ve got to be able to share that information back and forth. And I’m, frankly, I think the lawyers are being are being too reluctant on that issue,” Warner said.

A federal district court judge in Louisiana, Terry Doughty, who, not surprisingly at all here, was an appointee of Donald Trump, issued a preliminary injunction in July based on his finding that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their claim that the Biden administration had helped suppress “disfavored conservative speech” by suppressing views on mask-wearing, lockdowns and vaccines  and talking points that questioned the validity of the 2020 election.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the injunction in a September ruling that found that the White House, Office of the Surgeon General, FBI and CDC had “coerced or significantly encouraged” the platforms to suppress conservative speech, transforming decisions by those companies into “state action” in violation of the First Amendment.

The appellate court also extended the lower-court injunction’s reach to the U.S. Cybsecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in October, put a stay on the injunction, and agreed to hear the Biden administration’s appeal – but in an abundance of caution, the administration has pulled back from its efforts to ask social media companies to address the continued spread of misinformation on their platforms.

The frustration for Warner, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is that the inaction on the part of the Biden administration leaves an information vacuum in which bad actors are free to take advantage.

“If we think back in terms of 2016, when Russia so actively interfered in our election, they used social media platforms on a lot of that interference. I’m afraid, now in 2024, we’re 10 months away from a national election, that we may be less prepared, and less ready, for a variety of reasons,” Warner said. “One, we have nation-states like Russia who are clearly interested in intervening in our election to try to affect our policy on Ukraine. They know if certain presidential candidates are successful, America will walk away from Ukraine, and that is in Vladimir Putin’s best interest. We know nation-states like Iran will try to diminish our support for allies in the Middle East and may interfere. We know China has an active policy of trying to drive American policy decisions, and they have not yet to date have been as active as some of the other nation-states. Our election systems, I believe, are vulnerable for a variety of reasons, and we’ve got nations who are interested in interfering.

“Secondly, we have a number of Americans who have lost faith in our election systems, and there’s a lot more believability about some of the crazy theories that bump up on the internet. And we saw one of those theories, not election-related, but around Taylor Swift this week, where, these things get traction, and there’s just a lot of Americans that are open to that these days,” Warner said.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].