January 11, 2024
FOIA for EPA Records on Facebook Censorship of East Palestine Posts Filed
WASHINGTON – Yesterday, we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking communications between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Facebook regarding posts about the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
The request comes after reports that Facebook flagged or removed posts by whistleblowers and community activists about potential health impacts of the Norfolk Southern train derailment. The posts were on pages such as “East Palestine Off the Rails” and personal accounts of residents and whistleblowers. This FOIA specifically requests EPA communications with Facebook employees about train derailment-related content and any EPA contracts or financial ties with the social media company.
The FOIA request was filed after whistleblower client Scott Smith, an independent scientist who discovered elevated dioxin levels in East Palestine, reported that Facebook flagged his verified public figure profile after resident and outspoken advocate, Jami Rae Wallace, tagged Smith on his Facebook timeline on November 25 when she shared the Huffington Post article, A Roll of the Dice: The Unknown Threat of Exposure to Chemical Mixtures.” Previously, Jami Rae Wallace received a text from Mark Durno, EPA Region 5 leader on the ground and Homeland Security Advisor, telling her to remove her Facebook post where she posted to think critically about answers the EPA was giving residents regarding their health.
“This post may go against our guidelines on suggested content,” Facebook alerted. “This post may show content that is broadly disliked. Common reasons are clickbait, contests or giveaways, engagement bait or links to low quality or deceptive websites.” Smith’s post also contained the following message from Facebook: “Here is the content that hurt your good standing.”
The flagged news article focused on synergistic toxicity, the cumulative impacts of multiple chemicals and how scientists fail to adequately assess chemical mixtures in disasters like East Palestine, where residents were exposed to a cocktail of chemicals after the fiery derailment last year and subsequent burning of multiple train cars. Chemicals burned or created by the ignition include vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, dioxins, and more. The EPA has continually maintained that the chemicals of concern were all below action levels while residents continue to report symptoms.
This situation comes one month after Norfolk Southern served Smith with a subpoena for his communications and test results on the water, furnace filters, and soil contamination in East Palestine.
Whistleblower client, Scott Smith, stated,
“Anyone who cares about their constitutional rights and free speech needs to pay attention to what is happening in East Palestine, Ohio. That is why we need EPA records to shine light on any coordination with Facebook to suppress the free sharing of information on what is currently happening to residents there. The government should not be serving as a mechanism of censorship to protect multi-billion-dollar corporations.”
Our Environmental Investigator, Lesley Pacey, commented
“Facebook should not be censoring independent scientists or East Palestine residents who are understandably concerned about pollution in their backyards. The public has a right to discuss and debate the government’s response to this environmental disaster as well as post news articles that legitimately address potential health risks. Facebook unfairly targeted Smith’s post when it was scientifically factual. Was there an algorithm that flagged the post or another reason? Social media censorship should never interfere with informed public discourse, especially during an ongoing health emergency.”
Contact: Andrew Harman, Government Accountability Project Communications Director
Email: [email protected]
Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.