Surgeon General Calls On Big Tech To Comply With COVID “Misinformation” Crackdown

Joe Biden’s Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a formal request this week seeking Big Tech’s compliance in cracking down on what the federal government considers to be COVID-19 “misinformation.” The request covers online search engines, social media data and shopping platform information.

The notice reportedly demands information be submitted by May 2 regarding “exactly how many users” have been exposed to “COVID-19 misinformation.” It also seeks the sources of such “misinformation.”

Murthy told the New York Times that tech companies have an opportunity to be “open and transparent” about misinformation appearing on their platforms. He added that the demands for records are “about protecting the nation’s health.”

The notice follows Murthy’s official advisory issued last year requiring a “whole-of-society approach” to address “health misinformation.” He released a “community toolkit” for health care providers, educators, religious leaders and “trusted community members” to assist the government in monitoring disfavored speech.

Free speech advocates argue that the demands of the Biden administration go far beyond increasing community awareness and are genuinely intended to suppress information and the exchange of ideas.

Jacob Sullum with Reason said that even though Murthy does not personally have the power to enforce his demands, tech companies have “strong incentives to cooperate” to avoid lawsuits and regulatory hassles. He points out that Murthy’s definition of “misinformation” is so vague that it includes things he deems “misleading” even though they are verifiably true.

Other scholars have argued that when government officials call on private companies to act against disfavored speech, they can often be deemed to be working on behalf of the government to circumvent the constitutional restrictions on regulating the freedom of speech. Author Vivek Ramaswamy wrote last year in The Wall Street Journal that Supreme Court precedent provides that the government may not encourage or induce private actors to do things it is constitutionally prohibited from doing.

Current and prospective legal challenges to the government’s recruitment of private tech companies to do what it clearly cannot legally do may eventually end up before the Supreme Court.