There’s a reason the right to free speech is enshrined in the First Amendment. The founders had a deep understanding of human nature, and they knew that those in power would, if unencumbered, use their authority to silence the opposition. What the founders couldn’t have foreseen was that Big Tech companies would be so eager to aid and abet government censorship schemes.
Long before the Biden administration’s “Disinformation Governance Board” made its short-lived appearance on the public stage, bureaucrats in the bowels of the Department of Homeland Security had been busy trying to figure out how to stop the spread of dangerous “disinformation.”
You might think this effort was focused on thwarting terrorists, given that DHS was created in the wake of 9/11 to coordinate anti-terrorist activities. Instead, the DHS staff was trying to figure out how to stop things such as a fake coupon for Nike offering 75% off on shoes to “people of color” – which was a response to Nike’s bear hug of race-baiting Colin Kaepernick.
In a 2019 document – titled “Combatting Targeted Disinformation Campaigns” – DHS treated this clever meme as a worrisome example of how “right-wing actors weaponized an existing controversy to do economic harm to a corporation with whom they disagreed.”
That document depicts “disinformation” in terms so sweeping it could justify censoring any speech one disagrees with: “A threat actor starts with an objective, such as changing a population’s opinion on a topic (Brexit, war in Syria, Hong Kong protesters), steering voters toward a preferred candidate, or offering a counternarrative to the status quo.”
Another term for this would be “public discourse.”
It gets worse.
The Foundation for Freedom Online has been pulling together information on these efforts, and found that the focus on attacking domestic speech accelerated in the run-up to the 2020 elections:
To create a ‘whole-of-society’ consensus on the censorship of political opinions online that were ‘casting doubt’ ahead of the 2020 election, DHS organized ‘disinformation’ conferences to bring together tech companies, civil society groups, and news media to all build consensus – with DHS prodding (which is meaningful: many partners receive government funds through grants or contracts, for fear government regulatory or retaliatory threats) – on expanding social media censorship policies.
John Solomon, the editor in chief of Just the News and one of the only reporters to cover these revelations, says that a consortium of four private groups worked with DHS and the State Department “to censor massive numbers of social media posts they considered misinformation during the 2020 election.”
Conservative news sites say they saw a dramatic drop-off in traffic once the consortium was in full gear. This was happening during the Trump administration, mind you.
It gets still worse.
Solomon reports that the consortium’s staff “worked 12-20 hour shifts from September through mid-November 2020” and boasted that it got Big Tech to take action against 35% of the 4,800 URLs they flagged as “disinformation” – with the URLs either flagged, blocked, or removed.
Documents uncovered by the Missouri and Louisiana attorneys general provide a glimpse into just how cozy this relationship has become, and how it continues to expand.
See Also: The Murdering Of Free Speech In America
Among the documents unearthed were ones showing:
- At least 32 federal officials – including senior officials at the FDA, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and the White House – have communicated with Meta about content moderation on its platforms.
- YouTube disclosed that 11 federal officials engaged in such communications, including officials at the Census Bureau and the White House.
- 45 federal officials at DHS, CISA, the CDC, NIAID, and the Office of the Surgeon General (all of which are contained in either DHS or HHS) communicate with social media platforms about “misinformation” and censorship.
- CDC proposed a monthly pre-debunking meeting with Facebook to help them censor free speech as well as regular “Be on the Lookout” calls with major social media outlets.
- A White House official coordinated with Facebook to take parody Fauci accounts down.
Separately, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, Facebook’s parent corporation, admitted that his company gave in to pressure from the FBI to suppress news of Hunter Biden’s laptop in the weeks before the 2020 presidential election.
In July 2021, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki disclosed that the Biden administration was working with Facebook to censor “misinformation” related to COVID-19.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt says “We have already received a number of documents that clearly prove that the federal government has an incestuous relationship with social media companies and clearly coordinate to censor freedom of speech.”
The Justice Department is stonewalling efforts to provide communications between Big Tech and White House staff. (America First Legal just filed its own suit after Justice refused to release documents requested through the Freedom of Information Act.)
Schmitt says that “We’re just getting started – stay tuned.”
We’re glad someone is on the case. Back in the day, we would have dismissed concerns about Big Tech censorship by saying that private companies have the right to manage their own networks.
But that was before it became clear that they’d agreed to play the role of online-Gestapo.
Until Big Tech companies denounce their past practices, repent, and promise never to do the government’s censorship bidding again, they pose a grave threat to the First Amendment and should be treated as such.
— Written by the I&I Editorial Board