Washington, D.C. – November 30, 2023
In a pivotal shift, the U.S. federal government has ceased its practice of alerting certain social networks, including Meta, about potential foreign disinformation campaigns on their platforms. This marks a departure from the longstanding strategy aimed at preventing interference from entities such as Russia in American politics, and it comes less than a year before the crucial U.S. presidential elections.
As of Wednesday, Meta no longer receives notifications regarding global influence campaigns from the Biden administration, terminating an extensive partnership between federal authorities and the world’s largest social media company. Senior security officials also confirmed that federal agencies have halted communications regarding political disinformation with Pinterest.
This development underscores the profound impact of a conservative legal campaign targeting initiatives established to prevent a recurrence of the 2016 election interference by Russia. The legal actions, including lawsuits, congressional inquiries, and online attacks, have created a chilling effect on programs designed to combat health and election misinformation.
Ben Nimmo, Chief of Global Threat Intelligence for Meta, revealed that government officials stopped communicating foreign election interference threats to the company in July. This change occurred following a federal judge’s decision that limited the Biden administration’s interactions with tech platforms in response to a lawsuit, Missouri v. Biden, alleging coordination that violated the First Amendment.
The legal battle has led to a broader uncertainty about the appropriateness of communications between the federal government and the tech industry, impacting the fight against foreign interference. Senator Mark R. Warner, Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, expressed concern, stating that “legal warfare by far-right actors” has undermined major improvements in identifying and countering foreign malign influence activity targeting U.S. elections.
The eroding partnership between the government and tech companies is critical to election integrity globally, especially with upcoming polls in Taiwan, the European Union, India, and the United States. Foreign actors, including China and Russia, have grown more aggressive in exacerbating political tensions, while advanced artificial intelligence facilitates the creation of convincing political propaganda.
The legal uncertainties arising from Missouri v. Biden and a parallel investigation led by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) have created challenges in defining appropriate interactions between the federal government and the tech industry. Meta’s announcement indicates a broader pullback from routine communications with Silicon Valley by the Biden administration.
Despite concerns about the potential suppression of Americans’ voices, Republican lawmakers, led by Jordan, argue that efforts to combat disinformation have resulted in censorship. The ongoing legal battles and political scrutiny have left foreign policy officials unsure about appropriate communications with tech companies, creating challenges for the government’s functionality.
The Department of Justice, the State Department, and the FBI declined to comment, and the White House remained unresponsive to comment requests. The shifting landscape has also impacted university academics and disinformation research groups, creating a climate of uncertainty and limiting their ability to collaborate with industry and the public.
As the 2024 presidential campaign approaches, Meta’s Nathaniel Gleicher emphasized the importance of continued collaboration between the defender community and the government to evolve defenses against foreign interference. The growing threat of influence operations from Russia, Iran, and China makes this collaboration crucial to safeguarding democratic processes and countering disinformation campaigns.