By Alice Seeley

In January, the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), an ethics watchdog group, filed a shareholder resolution calling on Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google and YouTube, to disclose requests from the White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other federal agencies about whether the Biden administration has been essentially outsourcing censorship to Google and YouTube.

This comes after a statement in July 2021 from White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki that the administration was “in regular touch with these social media platforms, and those engagements typically happen through members of our senior staff, but also members of our COVID-19 team, given, as [Surgeon General] Dr. [Vivek] Murthy conveyed, this is a big issue of misinformation, specifically on the pandemic.”

Chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, Peter Flaherty, stated that NLPC “filed a proposal for consideration by the shareholders to require Alphabet to produce a report showing if anyone from the government asked them to remove content.” 

Flaherty said he expects Alphabet to ask the Securities and Exchange Commission for permission to omit the resolution from consideration by its shareholders. He claimed it is clearly in the public interest to know if “the government is compelling censorship” on two of the most widely used venues on the Internet. 

“The case for this kind of disclosure is double-barreled. All citizens should be aware when the government engages in censorship, even if it is through a private-sector company, and shareholders of that company should know when they become a party to it,” said Flaherty. “The administration keeps labeling certain information about the pandemic’ disinformation’ and gets it yanked off social media, only to later embrace the same information. Alphabet should not be contributing to such a farce.” 

If the request is granted, Alphabet would also have to disclose “an itemized listing of such take-down requests, including the name and title of the official making the request, the nature and scope of the request, the date of the request, the outcome of the request, and a reason or rationale for the Company’s response, or lack thereof.”

If evidence is found that there is coordination between Alphabet and the Biden administration, this could amount to “unconstitutional censorship, opening the Company to liability claims by victims,” citing Supreme Court rulings “that private entities may not engage in suppression of speech at the behest of the government, as it has the same effect as direct government censorship.”