In an effort to be proactive and prevent a potential decrease in vaccine uptake, Facebook requested talking points from the Biden administration as evidence emerged of rare cases of life-threatening blood clots associated with the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) single-dose COVID-19 vaccine. Documents shared with the Daily Caller News Foundation confirm this request.
On April 13th, 2021, the CDC and FDA released a collaborative announcement that temporarily suspended use of the J&J COVID-19 vaccine due to 6 reported cases of severe blood clots in adult women among 7 million people who have received the dose.
A Facebook employee wrote an email later that day asking Biden administration COVID-19 czar Andrew Slavitt for “any messaging” that the White House might want the company to promote. They looped in White House Director of Digital Strategy Rob Flaherty and Director of Strategic Communications and Engagement for the COVID-19 Response Team Courtney Rowe in a follow-up email moments later, according to documents obtained by the New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA) and shared with the DCNF.
The NCLA has been involved in a current lawsuit brought by the Attorneys General of Louisiana and Missouri, claiming illegal collusion between the federal government and social media platforms. Through discovery proceedings, they were able to gain access to these emails for use as evidence.
In response to the email, Flaherty proposed that the company construct a context panel in order to provide more information about their vaccine. He further encouraged them to inform users that these clotting incidents are far and few between, while emphasizing on the fact that both FDA and CDC have formulated an action plan. Additionally, he highlighted how this particular vaccine is distinctly different from Moderna or Pfizer vaccines; hence why they were not affected by it – as indicated by the documents received. The White House official expressed their enthusiasm to provide further details about the information that should be included in the context panel.
Moreover, he gave Facebook a declaration from the White House, and stated that the CDC would create a FAQ sheet on the J&J vaccine which they “would love to have amplified”, as indicated by emails. To top it off, Flaherty implored Facebook to share just as much positive news about the vaccine in comparison to negative—as far as requesting for them to even modify their algorithms!
In the emails, Flaherty proposed that Facebook must take responsibility to ensure beneficial reviews regarding the J&J vaccine are heard by as many people as possible through either a direct product interference or algorithmic boosting. This action would be crucial for shielding against any false information spread about it.
The Facebook employee expressed her immense gratitude to Flaherty for proposing a context panel and enquired if he had any ideas on how to ameliorate the existing COVID-19 news panel. She also thanked him for his willingness in sharing CDC messaging, before declaring that they would be thrilled to chat about potentially changing their algorithm so as to modify information distribution. Finally, she committed herself towards providing data concerning “misinformation.”
Over the course of the following week, Flaherty engaged in a heated debate with the company concerning its failure to block out Tucker Carlson's remarks about Johnson & Johnson's vaccine and how it has been advertised by authorities. Eventually, on May 5th 2022, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came out with an official statement that limited J&J’s vaccine for those who couldn't receive other options or simply declined them due to potential risks like blood clots.