By Zachary Stieber
A woman who suffered severe nerve damage after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination and four others with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 vaccine injuries launched a lawsuit against President Joe Biden and his administration on May 22.
Top government officials violated the plaintiffs’ rights to free speech and peaceful assembly when they pressured Big Tech companies to crack down on people sharing their experience after receiving the COVID-19 vaccines, Brianne Dressen, the woman, and the other plaintiffs say.
“Through threats, pressure, inducement, and coercion, Defendants now work in concert with social media companies to censor content the government deems ‘disinformation,’ ‘misinformation,’ and ‘malinformation’—a feat that the government could never lawfully accomplish alone,” the 124-page suit, filed in U.S. court in southern Texas, states.
In addition to Biden, defendants include Rob Flaherty, a top adviser to Biden; White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre; the Department of Homeland Security; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
Defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment, or could not be reached.
Dressen hailed the lawsuit as a major development for those reporting to be suffering from vaccine injuries.
“People injured by the COVID vaccines in the United States have not been able to file suit anywhere, under any circumstance,” she told The Epoch Times. “So this is a landmark case for Americans injured by the COVID vaccine.”
COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers are largely immune from litigation in the United States due to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act declaration entered by the Trump administration in early 2020. Most other vaccine manufacturers are also shielded from liability under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act.
The five people who experienced serious problems following vaccination are joined by Ernest Ramirez, whose son died after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. They’ve repeatedly been censored by platforms like Twitter and Instagram as they tried to share their stories.
Ramirez, for instance, saw a GoFundMe that sought to raise funds for him to travel to Washington to share his son’s story taken down. GoFundMe claimed the account was removed for violating conduct the company prohibits. GoFundMe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Another plaintiff, Nikki Holland, meanwhile, posted videos on TikTok regarding her experiences after being vaccinated, including the injuries she suffered. TikTok said the videos violated guidelines such as one against posting “violent and graphic content.”
“When I really started to share and open up about things, I started to notice that a lot of stuff was being taken down and censored,” Holland told The Epoch Times. “That adds a whole new world of questioning to motive and what’s really going on because … why would you censor something you might need to look into to protect millions of others?”
TikTok did not immediately return a query.
The other plaintiffs are Shaun Barcavage, a former nurse who has been on disability leave since suffering medical problems after receiving Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine; Kristi Dobbs, a dental hygienist who suffered “debilitating medical injuries” after a shot of Pfizer’s vaccine; and Suzanna Newell, who is also on disability leave due to problems following vaccination.
The right to peacefully assemble was also violated when Facebook and other big tech platforms disbanded groups where those with suspected or confirmed adverse reactions following vaccination gathered, according to the suit.
One Facebook group called “A Wee Sprinkle of Hope” was shut down after a group member posted an infographic of symptoms people have experienced following COVID-19 vaccination and Dressen shared a link to a press conference at which she had shared about her symptoms.
Facebook’s message to Dressen was that the group violated the company’s “Community Standards on misinformation that could cause physical harm.” Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for an explanation from the group.
The removal of the groups robbed those suffering injuries after a COVID-19 vaccine of key gathering places for the exchange of information as they sought to figure out how to treat their often-debilitating conditions. Dressen said she is aware of multiple suicides as a result, because the censorship sparked feelings of helplessness amid the suffering.
The deplatforming was “devastating, especially when you’re being censored and no one’s listening to you,” Holland said.
Evidence unearthed in an ongoing case against the government, as well as internal Twitter documents, underpin the new case.
Discovery in Missouri v. Biden litigation, lodged by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana against the Biden administration, has revealed that officials pressured WhatsApp, Facebook, and other technology companies to censor users talking about problems following COVID-19 vaccination, including posts that accurately outlined the lack of evidence for COVID-19 vaccines among certain populations.
The case has provided evidence that government officials “engaged in viewpoint discrimination,” with plaintiffs having “plausibly alleged … extensive and highly effective efforts by government officials to ‘silence or muffle the expression of disfavored viewpoints,” U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, a Trump appointee overseeing the case, wrote in a ruling rejecting the government’s attempt to dismiss it.
Other records, revealed in searches of internal Twitter files, have shown or appeared to show the government colluding with Twitter and outside groups, like Stanford University’s Virality Project, to censor content.
Dressen was among those targeted by the project, which falsely claimed in a brief to partners that Dressen’s story “does not have a proven causal link to the vaccine.” Dressen was diagnosed with a vaccine injury by researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health after her participation in AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine trial.
“It’s very evident that the federal government was involved in stifling free speech of Americans,” Dressen told The Epoch Times.
“The government claims that it suppresses so-called misinformation for the sake of public safety and welfare. It is the government’s view that Americans cannot be trusted with their own minds and must be shielded at all costs from mis-, dis-, and malinformation—which is whatever the government deems it to be. Fortunately, the First Amendment says otherwise: the government may neither censor our clients nor induce others to do so,” Casey Norman, a lawyer with the New Civil Liberties Alliance, which is representing the plaintiffs, added in a statement.
Plaintiffs are seeking a ruling that the defendants violated the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, an injunction enjoining Biden and the other defendants, as well as people acting in concert with them, from continuing. They are also hoping the suit results in the development of new rules.
“I hope by and large that this helps put some reasonable regulations in place in the future,” Dressen said, “so this never happens again.”
Roman Balmakov contributed to this report.