An FBI agent’s testimony in a freedom of speech case confirms that the bureau ran an operation during the 2020 election that requested social media companies remove content as disinformation, suggesting the government’s requests succeeded about half of the time and were conducted with a “headquarter stamp of approval.”
Elvis Chan, the FBI assistant special agent in charge of the Cyber Branch in San Francisco, told lawyers for the Missouri and Louisiana attorneys general in a lawsuit over social media censorship that he supervised a “command post” in his home city that helped the nationwide disinformation censorship operation function in fall 2020.
He described a sprawling operation that at times enlisted the help of FBI field offices around the country, federal prosecutors, and FBI and Justice Department lawyers before his unit would make the final request to social media to block content deemed by the operation to be disinformation or in violation of each company’s term of service.
“We would receive some responses from the social media companies,” he recalled. “I remember in some cases they would relay that they had taken down the posts. In other cases, they would say that this did not violate their terms of service.”
Chan’s description, released as part of his deposition this week, was the most detailed to date of how extensive the FBI’s censorship activities were during the 2020 election, raising immediate flags among incoming House Republican committee chairmen worried the operation may have violated constitutional prohibitions on government infringing free speech.