Attorneys general in Missouri and Louisiana filed a motion for preliminary injunction this week demanding a court stop Big Tech companies from colluding with the federal government to inform their political censorship sprees, after the White House has repeatedly bragged about exploiting its relationships with social media companies to suppress information the Biden administration deems “problematic.”
In the motion, Missouri AG Eric Schmitt and Louisiana AG Jeff Landry argue that the Biden administration, in partnership with Meta (formerly Facebook), Twitter, Google’s YouTube, and other Silicon Valley giants, has taken advantage of Big Tech’s grip on the social media platform market to suppress any speech contrary to their chosen narrative
“Freedom of speech is the very bedrock of this great nation, and needs to be protected and preserved. The federal government’s alleged attempts to collude with social media companies to censor free speech should terrify Missourians and Americans alike,” Schmitt said in a statement. “The federal government must be halted from silencing any more Americans, and this motion for preliminary injunction intends to do just that.”
The fed-inspired decision to “shadow-ban, de-platform, de-monetize, de-boost, restrict content access, and suspend many speakers, both temporarily and permanently,” a press release announcing the motion states, has silenced people “from doctors and scientists, to the owner of a conservative radio show, to everyday Americans who dare to voice their opinion in the public sphere.”
As noted by the state attorneys, it was during the height of the government’s panic over Covid-19 that Big Tech censored the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration who criticized the bureaucrats calling for continuous national lockdowns. The “extensive social-media censorship on multiple platforms” endured by authors such as Dr. Martin Kulldorff and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya came shortly after emails between then-Director of the National Institutes of Health Dr. Francis Collins and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci demanding a “quick and devastating … takedown” of the group’s criticism.
The motion follows a complaint from the state attorneys last month against the Biden administration and other federal officials for engaging in “open and explicit censorship programs” such as the Department of Homeland Security’s “Disinformation Governance Board.”
“Having threatened and cajoled social-media platforms for years to censor viewpoints and speakers disfavored by the Left, senior government officials in the Executive Branch have moved into a phase of open collusion with social-media companies to suppress disfavored speakers, viewpoints, and content on social-media platforms under the Orwellian guise of halting so-called ‘disinformation,’ ‘misinformation,’ and ‘malinformation,’” the original petition states.
Twitter repeatedly locks the accounts of conservatives who criticize the left’s narrative. When outrage about the Big Tech company’s knack for political censorship bubbles, Twitter occasionally claims it made a mistake. This week, it happened again.
Citing an “error,” Twitter reinstated the account of “Relatable” podcast host Allie Beth Stuckey on Monday night. But that was only after it received backlash for locking the Christian conservative’s account because she criticized Fox News for celebrating a California couple who forced radical transgender ideology on their 14-year-old daughter when she was an infant.
“I’m stunned that Fox News ran a segment celebrating a girl whose parents ‘transitioned’ her into a boy when she was 5 because she apparently told them she was a boy ‘before [she] could talk.’ Absolutely maddening & heartbreaking,” Stuckey’s original tweet stated.
At the time of the suspension, Twitter claimed Stuckey violated its hateful conduct policy.
“You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease,” a message from Twitter stated.
It was only after Stuckey appealed and several prominent conservatives including Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon tweeted their disgust at Twitter’s decision that the company decided to reverse course on the commentator’s account.
“Just got word from @conservmillen that she’s been locked out for hateful conduct,” Dillon said. “It seems they’ll keep this up until everyone remaining on the platform either agrees with them or censors themselves.”
Stuckey may have won her appeal but Twitter has repeatedly used its sweeping “hateful conduct policy” to deplatform conservatives and even one popular satire account for affirming the realities of the sexes. That’s something even possible Twitter-buyer Elon Musk has noticed.
The Federalist’s John Daniel Davidson was indefinitely banned by Twitter in March after he tweeted that Rachel Levine, the U.S. assistant secretary for health, is obviously a man despite the corporate media, Big Tech, and the Biden administration’s insistence that he is a “trans woman.” Despite appealing numerous times, Davidson still is not allowed back on Twitter unless he bends a knee to Twitter and deletes his original tweet.
Davidson’s suspension occurred shortly after Twitter locked down the Babylon Bee account for calling a male a man. Similarly, Twitter suspended Babylon Bee Editor-in-Chief Kyle Mann for tweeting a joke about Twitter’s subjective user policies. Turning Point USA Founder and President Charlie Kirk and Libs of Tik Tok also suffered suspensions for contradicting the prevailing leftist narrative.
Leaked messages from what appears to be an internal Twitter conversation over Slack show that Twitter employees purposefully target Libs of Tik Tok because they don’t like that the anonymous creator exposes what gender-bending, Trump-hating, racist, groomer leftists have already revealed about themselves online.
Those suspensions were nothing new for Twitter, though. The company’s history of targeting anyone who harms their preferred narrative™ — such as President Donald Trump, Canadian truckers, doctors and scientists discussing the origins of Covid-19, and the New York Post — indicates that Twitter suppressing dissenters is no accident.
Twitter, the platform guilty of election interference, targets conservatives, plain and simple. And any claims the Big Tech company makes of “error” are just a front for their demonstrated goal of silencing influential conservative ideas online.
‘Every American should be deeply concerned by the fact that a few unaccountable big tech companies are controlling the free flow of information.’
Facebook obliterated an award-winning conservative Wisconsin news page and cut off thousands of its followers without warning this week after wrongfully censoring it for months.
The Silicon Valley giant censored Wisconsin Right Now after the popular news site posted a story from The Australian to its Facebook feed that compared a picture of the infamous “Falling Man” from 9/11 to the horrific footage of Afghans falling from planes following President Joe Biden’s disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.https://fd234f0003ecc424d4282e89fd3ef1ef.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Facebook quickly hid the post and slapped it with a community standards violation for “content related to suicide or self-injury.”
WRN appealed the violation, noting that the article did not advocate for self-harm, and Facebook reversed its decision but still unpublished WRN’s page.
A message from Facebook claimed that WRN “violates Facebook Pages terms” but did not specify why. The Big Tech company claimed that WRN could appeal if the unpublishing seemed to be a mistake but the link given by Facebook’s support team is broken.
Facebook did not respond to a request for comment.
“Every American should be deeply concerned by the fact that a few unaccountable big tech companies are controlling the free flow of information in our democracy, and that the decisions they make are often arbitrary and unfair,” Jim Piwowarczyk, WRN owner and contributor, told The Federalist. “What has happened to us is a very troubling example of this, and we call on Facebook to reverse its decision.”
Even before Facebook nuked WRN’s main page, the social media company restricted the page’s ability to invite new followers to “like” the page and live-stream videos for simply reporting the news.
Even though WRN won numerous awards for its airtight coverage of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, Facebook limited the news site’s ability to share articles about the young gunman.
“We led coverage on this case, going to the scene, interviewing witnesses a half-hour after it happened, uncovering missing ballistics evidence mentioned during the trial, and more,” Piwowarczyk explained.
Facebook still suppressed WRN’s coverage even after the media company published an analysis stating the firearm charge against Rittenhouse wouldn’t stand under Wisconsin gun laws, something the judge presiding over the case publicly ruled one day later.
“Facebook then did not remove the violations when Rittenhouse was acquitted,” Piwowarczyk said.
Facebook also enlisted the help of its fake “fact-checkers” to censor reposts about Hillary Clinton’s role in promoting the Russian collusion hoax and a meme about Rittenhouse playing video games with his judge.
“We have reported many stories the mainstream media will not, and it is highly questionable and troubling that Facebook would seek to prevent Wisconsin voters in a key battleground state (where Facebook-traced money was involved in elections) from learning all sides of the equation in the political debate and other news stories, especially as the midterm elections loom,” Piwowarczyk said.
Earlier this week, Twitter locked the account of The Babylon Bee, a right-leaning parody site, after it awarded Rachel Levine, a transgender Biden administration official, the title of “man of the year” in reaction to USA Today naming Levine one of its “women of the year” last week. This is just the most recent example in a long train of Big Tech censorship actions.
Taking a stand against Big Tech censorship, the state of Texas passed an anti-discrimination social media law (HB 20) last September. It seeks to limit Big Tech companies’ power to silence viewpoints they don’t like.
The law does so by prohibiting social media platforms with more than 50 million active monthly users in the United States from censoring users or their expressions based on the viewpoint expressed. Along with explicitly prohibiting viewpoint discrimination by social-media companies, the law enables censored users to seek declaratory and injunctive relief in court.
Texas’ law was cause for hope for many nationwide who want the giant social media platforms to be held accountable for their suppression of free speech. Unfortunately, Judge Robert Pitman, an Obama appointee, in early December enjoined the Texas non-discrimination social media law from going into effect.
But those who want a fair and democratic public discourse need not despair yet. That lower court decision was appealed, and soon the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will hear oral arguments on this appeal.
A wide range of distinguished amici have argued to the court that it should uphold the Texas statute and thereby protect Americans from censorship. The briefs include a profound story by David Mamet, an eminent doctor’s account of how even privatized suppression threatens science, and an exploration of the thought of John Stuart Mill by Columbia students against censorship.
What may need more explanation here is why the protection against tech censorship does not intrude on the tech company’s own free speech. As argued in an amicus brief filed by the Center for Renewing America and the Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, there are good First Amendment reasons for upholding the Texas law and reversing Judge Pitman’s flawed and biased order.
First, the appellate court should correctly recognize that the First Amendment applies differently to speakers than to those who host or transmit speech. While the government forcing a person or group to speak a particular message raises First Amendment concerns, regulating the terms under which entities host or transmit others’ speech complies with the Constitution.
For instance, for centuries courts have required common carriers, industries that play a central role in economic, social, and political life, such as telephones, utilities, and airlines, to treat customers without discrimination. The numerous legal requirements have never raised First Amendment concerns. HB 20’s protection of Texans against social media’s discriminatory viewpoint censorship falls within this general rule, allowing for government regulation of hosting or transmitting speech to ensure such channels of communication are open to all comers.
Pitman’s opinion errs by treating social media’s discriminatory censorship as “editorial discretion” that expresses a coherent “message” worthy of First Amendment protection like a newspaper op-ed page or a parade.
Unlike a newspaper editor or parade organizer, however, social media companies do not review all content they host; they review only a tiny fraction. A newspaper op-ed page or parade expresses the judgment of its editors and organizers with every article or marcher it includes, as well as with the newspaper or parade as a whole. By necessity, a newspaper or parade, given its limited size, exercises powerful editorial control over its content.
In contrast, a social media firm is a passive conduit. It rarely edits, and its infinite bandwidth gives it no need to edit. Moreover, platforms cannot express themselves in the billions of posts they cannot review. Nor can the platforms’ stealthy, inconsistent, and often hidden acts of content moderation constitute a coherent “message,” let alone an expression worthy of First Amendment protection.
Finally, non-discrimination requirements to refrain from discriminatory censorship of others do not burden the platform’s own speech because social media platforms are free to tweet or post as much as they’d like.
Secondly, the court should recognize that Texas can lawfully regulate social media because the platforms are common carriers. For centuries, common carrier laws have required certain industries that hold themselves out to the public to serve all without discrimination. Communications networks have always operated under these non-discrimination requirements. The Texas social media law simply applies these historical precedents to the modern public square: social media platforms.
Pitman ignores the centuries of cases in which courts and regulatory agencies imposed non-discrimination requirements on railroads, telephones, and internet firms and simply asserts that “this Court starts from the premise that social media platforms are not common carriers.”
The opinion justifies this finding with no precedent, but with circular reasoning that because social media companies currently discriminate, they cannot be regulated as common carriers. By Pitman’s reasoning, then, if a telephone company started to discriminate, the state of Texas could no longer regulate it as a common carrier.
Undermining the power of the state to regulate is indeed a strange move for liberals like Pitman, who generally welcome government power into every aspect of our lives. Pitman’s ruling reveals the left’s disturbing protectiveness of Big Tech and a preference for a public discourse controlled by content moderators.
Furthermore, in recognizing Big Tech’s deplatforming and censoring as a First Amendment-protected exercise of “editorial discretion,” the lower court is jeopardizing the bodies of civil rights and common carriage law by essentially asserting that discrimination is expression worthy of First Amendment protection.
Pitman and others on the left incorrectly view the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees as protecting Big Tech’s censorship, rather than preserving Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous concept of the vigorous marketplace of ideas.
It is long past time for states to impose non-discrimination requirements on Big Tech and to hold these companies accountable for their viewpoint censorship. The Fifth Circuit should recognize the substantial government interest in doing so and reverse the lower court’s error-ridden decision. The Texas law would serve the nation as a model for restoring our cherished principles of free speech.
DirecTV announced in January the digital satellite service would no longer carry One America News Network (OAN).
DirecTV announced in January the digital satellite service would no longer carry One America News Network (OAN), owned by Herring Networks. The decision prompted a lawsuit by OAN in response Tuesday, arguing that DirecTV’s refusal to carry OAN could shut it down entirely.
“We informed Herring Networks that, following a routine internal review, we do not plan to enter into a new contract when our current agreement expires,” the company told USA Today two months ago, without expanding on its definition of an “internal review.”
The decision to drop the channel by OAN’s largest distributor is expected to take OAN off DirecTV airwaves by the end of April and threatens the outlet’s ability to operate in a crowded media environment. It’s essentially canceling the network from cable. Six Republican attorneys general last week issued a letter asking DirecTV to reverse its decision to cancel OAN.
The move also signals a sharp escalation of the weaponizing private market power to silence political dissidents. Silicon Valley has already engaged in rampant censorship, complete with a routine purge of those who don’t propagate the party lines.
Former President Donald Trump, who was banned from Twitter and Facebook at the end of his presidency while the Kremlin remains active on both, condemned the corporate censorship on Monday after calling for a boycott of DirectTV last month if the company owned by AT&T follows through on its decision.
“Time Warner, the owner of Fake News CNN, has just announced that they will be terminating a very popular and wonderful news network (OAN),” Trump said in a statement. “Between heavily indebted Time Warner, and Radical Left comcast, which runs Xfinity, there is a virtual monopoly on news, thereby making what you hear from the LameStream Media largely FAKE, hence the name FAKE NEWS!”
Trump may have confused Time Warner and DirecTV. While DirecTV made its plans clear, no reporting as of this writing suggests Time Warner is planning to follow suit. Neither Time Warner nor representatives for OAN responded to The Federalist’s inquiries.
Corporate collusion to strip a network off the airwaves, beginning with DirecTV’s crusade against OAN, would set a dangerous precedent. The left’s strategy to ban its way to a monopoly on discourse includes opposition silencing and self-righteous fact-checking. Never mind strict standards of censoring disinformation would have kicked every leftist news network off air years ago from endless amplification of the Russian collusion hoax alone.
Today it’s OAN. Tomorrow it could be Newsmax, and eventually Fox News, a more likely predicament if the network didn’t make satellite distributors so much money.
But what’s behind DirecTV’s decision to target OAN? As of now, its rival conservative networks remain untouched.
The move ostensibly comes from sealed findings in the corporate powerhouse’s “internal review” of its relationship with OAN. A spokesperson told NPR in January rising programming costs was driving the decision. The review is likely a smokescreen for executives dissatisfied with the network’s narratives, especially its reporting on the 2020 election.
Three days after Election Day in 2020, AT&T, the majority owner of DirecTV, announced that William Kennard, an alum of both the Clinton and Obama administrations, would chair AT&T’s board of directors. Kennard is also listed as an executive board member of the global equity firm Staple Street Capital. In 2018, Staple Street Capital acquired Dominion Voting Systems, the electoral tabulation company that came under fire after the 2020 election.
Fox News and Newsmax retracted their networks’ reporting on Dominion Voting Systems in the aftermath of the 2020 contest. OAN has not.
Is DirecTV’s move to cancel OAN a business decision for the satellite provider? Or is it a political decision? Regardless, the cancellation of entire news networks by satellite providers is a new level of private censorship against non-leftist views.
The lockdowns mark the start of a ride we can’t get off.
Two years ago this week, the United States shut down. Churches, schools and businesses went dark. Weddings, funerals, and birthdays went silent. City streets stood empty, with an eeriness closer resembling occupied Paris than the bustling hubs they’d been just days before.
Two years later, as the last of the mask mandates for school children falter and crack, it’s tempting to believe our nightmare is finally over. Just as the disease is going to haunt us a long while, however, so too will the effects of how we tried to fight it.
Americans’ relationships with our politicians, bureaucrats, schools, media, police, and churches are fundamentally altered. Indeed, the entire West’s relationships with these major segments of society are forever remade. As we look out on the wreckage of two years of Covid policies, as well as our spiking fuel prices, rocketing inflation, a contested election, a Chinese Olympics, and a land war in Europe, it’s increasingly clear that, far from standing at the end of a dark era, our civilization teeters unsteadily at the very beginning of one.
It’s hard to notice at first. The modern West has become so accustomed to a slow, steady decline — the kind Merle Haggard sang about, and Ronald Reagan ran against — that complaining about it has become cliché; like the angry old man waving his cane.
More than that, it’s very tempting to view the past two years as separate from our other major problems. But just as Black Tuesday began an era marked by the Depression, the Dust Bowl, the New Deal, the Second World War, and a fundamental reshaping of the American life, so too will the Lockdowns mark the start of a ride we can’t get off.
Even in states that have long since shrugged off the bureaucrats’ Covid demands, trust is broken. The people had believed in March 2020 that if they did their parts, all would soon be well. As President Calvin Coolidge famously said, “The chief ideal of the American people is idealism… [and] the chief business of the American people is business.”
Neither Americans’ idealism nor our industry were rewarded, however. From March 2020 on, ours was rule not by people, but by bureaucratic diktat.
Our politicians betrayed us: flying abroad, getting haircuts, going maskless, holding parties, and dining out while also closing schools, forbidding gatherings, banning amenities, and demonizing all who resisted — or even questioned — their orders.
Our corporate media betrayed us: propping up liars and fools, tearing down all who spoke against their champions, and spreading fear and hatred of dissent as far and wide as their words would carry.
Our teachers betrayed us: using Covid to gain a grab bag of vacation time, control over parents, wage hikes, and other unrelated perks, all while punishing school children with years of masks, separation — and the educational and developmental retardation those rules cost.
Even our much-vaunted hospital workers betrayed us: keeping dying husbands from their dying wives, grown children from their elderly parents, brothers from their sisters, and babies from their mothers — all to ensure “Covid safety.”
As hard as it seems, much of this might be good. Not that our politicians, media, teachers, and health care are broken — as the most important essay of 2021 laid bare — but that Americans now recognize just how broken they all are.
Other betrayals, however, are fresher. While corruption among our most powerful religious leaders is older than the Bible itself, when our government declared religion a disposable pastime, many of our religious leaders publicly obeyed. When they bowed before the bureaucrats, a trust was broken, and America was left with one more central civil institution weakened when we needed it strengthened.
The family — the political unit as old as the body politic itself — also suffered greatly. While American political fights have frayed blood relations since Benjamin Franklin fought his loyalist son, the past two years have seen so marked an increase in familial destruction that few of us are left untouched.
This past Christmas, for example, people across the country told their relatives they would not be welcome if they hadn’t taken the vaccine. You probably know more people this hurt than you realize; many of them, sad and embarrassed, hid it, claiming they simply couldn’t make the trip this year.
Then there are the grandparents across the country who have never seen their grandchildren. In the past month alone, I’ve met two different couples seeing theirs for the first time ever — provided they quarantined for two weeks first, and then took a test.
The kind of fear and intolerance it takes to bar your mother from your children extends to broader society, too. Cops, hospital workers, and many others have lost their jobs over refusals to take the shot, while corporate media and its viewers loudly cheered for even harsher penalties. Confronting and reporting on businesses and people who break Covid restrictions is actively encouraged by both government and media.
Our inability to dissent from the latest Covid decree penetrates our society so deeply, liberal comedy show “Saturday Night Live” is now openly mocking how closely American liberals have had to monitor even their private conversations with friends.
We’re now so comfortable with the concept of censoring “disinformation,” it’s extended well beyond Covid. These days, it’s not surprising to see the hosts of a daytime TV show for women casually call for the investigation (and possible imprisonment) of journalists and politicians who express opposition to something they support — in this case, an American war in Ukraine.
This sort of thing has become actually monotonous: Censorship, investigation, and even arrest are offered daily as solutions to problems as mundane as political or medical disagreements. Has the phrase “We’re all in this together” ever rung so hollow?
As in past eras of marked trouble, struggle, and decline, not all our problems are plainly linked; but they coalesce in their effects.
We find ourselves more divided than we’ve been in 150 years, and so less able to handle what comes our way. Many of our civil institutions — long sick — now seem terminally ill. Distrust and enmity run high, and why shouldn’t they?
The result of these divisions: As we plunge into the next series of crises — rapid inflation, destabilized fuel prices, the real prospect of world war in Europe — we have fewer tools to handle them, less willingness to try, and more suspicion of our fellow Americans than any time in over a century.
Taking it all in, we know that we’re weaker than when we began 2020. Taking it all in, we know that far from returning to normalcy, we’re entering a period of deadly turmoil, with enemies foreign and domestic intent on taking advantage of our divisions, our distrust, and our dangerously unsteady economic situation.
We’ve been challenged before, even in modern times. The Sept. 11 attacks rocked us like we hadn’t seen since Pearl Harbor, yet we soldiered on. What’s finally missing, however, is that general feeling of confidence.
We no longer share an understanding that no matter the monsters we’d face — and we face many, here and abroad — that everything would be OK; that the American Way will go on.
“Overriding everything else,” Walter Lord wrote in his 1955 book on the sinking of the HMS Titanic, “the [disaster] also marked the end of a general feeling of confidence.”
“Until then men felt they had found the answer to a steady, orderly, civilized life. For 100 years the Western world had been at peace. For 100 years technology had steadily improved. For 100 years the benefits of peace and industry seemed to be filtering satisfactorily through society.”
“In retrospect,” he continued, “there may seem less grounds for confidence, but at the time most articulate people felt life was all right. The Titanic woke them up. Never again would they be quite so sure of themselves.”
Within two years of the sinking, the First World War began. By its end, its hubris, violence, and indifference to personal suffering destroyed a generation — and cut our civilization so deeply, the damage inflicted is still seen written on our world today.
The men who, in relative peacetime, placed supreme confidence in their steel ship against the great blue sea might only chuckle at the hubris of their successors, who had supreme confidence they could master a disease they didn’t know.
We in the West, though, can be confident of one thing only: These past two years have cut us deeply, and will haunt us for many more to come.
What’s not yet written is whether we overcome. That will be up to us, and God.
Pray for America.
‘Simply put we deserve better than woke monopolists and their liberal lapdogs deciding what we can discuss.’
Some things never change. The corrupt media peddles false narratives, Big Tech censors conservatives for “disinformation,” and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley absolutely takes them to town for it.
That’s what happened during a floor speech on Thursday when the Iowa lawmaker tore into tech companies and the corporate media for colluding to censor conservative viewpoints, especially those that threaten Democrat narratives such as the Russia collusion hoax. Grassley was personally irked after Facebook flagged one of his posts linking to a Fox News article as “false information.”
It was an article about new allegations against the Hillary Clinton campaign and its associates that were brought to light in Special Counsel John Durham’s Feb. 11 federal court filing. It cited Durham’s filing directly, as well as a former chief congressional investigator who became acutely knowledgeable about the situation while working on the Trump-Russia probe for the House Intelligence Committee under California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes.
“Why does Facebook and one of its third-party fact-checker partners get to make the decision that this news article is considered false information?” Grassley asked. “That decision should be made by the American people who should be able to view that content and decide for themselves. It shouldn’t be decided by our Big Tech overlords who seem to only find fault with content that is conservative or goes against the liberal narrative.”
Though useful idiots will retort that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the like don’t single out conservatives for censorship, the evidence suggests otherwise. Just this week, Twitter allowed the private information of people who had donated to the Canadian Freedom Convoy to spread on its site after a leftist hacked GiveSendGo and doxxed them. Yet Twitter cited its hacked materials policy as the justification for censoring the bombshell Hunter Biden laptop story right before the 2020 election, despite no evidence of hacking.
As Grassley mentioned, these are also the same tech and media companies that amplified the Steele dossier and broader fake Russia collusion narrative for years, and that are now “doing the bidding for the Clinton camp.”
“Why are they so afraid of reporting that exposes the Russia collusion hoax?” Grassley asked the question to which we already know the answer. It’s the massive hoax they staked their reputations and careers on and which has since unraveled piece by piece.
“This wouldn’t be an issue today if more journalists did their job of being the police of our society and reported on all investigations not just ones that appeal to a certain political party,” Grassley said. “What kind of message does this censorship send to a reporter who does take on the new allegations against the Clinton campaign and its associates and its labeled disinformation?”
It’s time to rethink Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Grassley prescribed, referring to the provision that grants tech monopolies immunity regarding its users’ content. Big Tech has weaponized the provision, however, using it in its ideological purges of what it calls “misinformation” and “dangerous” content.
“It has become increasingly clear that these dominant platforms controlling discussion and dialogue are more beholden to cancel culture and not to the fundamental free speech principles that this country was founded upon,” Grassley said. “…Simply put we deserve better than woke monopolists and their liberal lapdogs deciding what we can discuss.”
Facebook admitted that its so-called “fact-checking” program is actually cranking out opinions used to censor certain viewpoints.
In its latest legal battle with TV journalist John Stossel over a post about the origins of the deadly 2020 California forest fires, Facebook, now rebranded and referred to as “Meta,” claims that its “fact-checking” program should not be the target of a defamation suit because its attempts to regulate content are done by third-party organizations who are entitled to their “opinion.”
Stossel’s original complaint questioned whether “Facebook and its vendors defame a user who posts factually accurate content, when they publicly announce that the content failed a ‘fact-check’ and is ‘partly false,’ and by attributing to the user a false claim that he never made?” Facebook, however, claimed that the counter article authored by Climate Feedback is not necessarily the tech giant’s responsibility.
Facebook went on to complain that Stossel’s problem isn’t with the Silicon Valley giants’ “labels” on his content but with the obscure organizations that Facebook employs to do its “fact-checking” dirty work.
“The labels themselves are neither false nor defamatory; to the contrary, they constitute protected opinion,” Facebook admitted. “And even if Stossel could attribute Climate Feedback’s separate webpages to Meta, the challenged statements on those pages are likewise neither false nor defamatory. Any of these failures would doom Stossel’s complaint, but the combination makes any amendment futile.
It’s no secret that Facebook uses its “fact-checking” program to curb information that it wants to be censored, and this November lawsuit gives more insight into the Big Tech company’s methods and twisted rationale.
“The independence of the fact checkers is a deliberate feature of Meta’s fact-checking program, designed to ensure that Meta does not become the arbiter of truth on its platforms,” the lawsuit stated before admitting that “Meta identifies potential misinformation for fact-checkers to review and rate. … [I]t leaves the ultimate determination whether information is false or misleading to the fact-checkers. And though Meta has designed its platforms so that fact-checker ratings appear next to content that the fact-checkers have reviewed and rated, it does not contribute to the substance of those ratings.”
A federal appellate court’s decision to rehear a case in which a controversial provision of 1996’s Communications Decency Act protecting Big Tech firms from civil suits because they are “distributors of content” rather than “publishers” is giving people hope the recent wave of Internet censorship may soon end.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second said July 16 it would rehear the arguments “en banc” following a ruling by a three-judge panel that upheld a lower court’s decision in Dorman v Vimeo, in which it was argued the tech platform was insulated from liability after it terminated the video streaming feed of a group posting videos of individuals saying they’d abandoned homosexuality to pursue a Christian way of living.
Vimeo, the Epoch Times reported, argued successfully its terms of service agreement prohibited the streaming of materials promoting “conversion therapy,” a controversial technique legislators in several blue states are currently trying to ban, especially for children under the age of 18. Others including the plaintiff argue however that the tech firm’s action is censorship and is damaging in both the legal and common sense of the word.
Robert Tyler, general counsel for the Advocates for Faith & Freedom said the decision to have the appeal reargued in front of the entire court puts the immunity provision of Section 230 “in the crosshairs of judicial review.”
“Section 230 was not intended to give Big Tech the right to exclude persons from their platform just because the customer is black, Muslim, white, Christian, homosexual, or formerly homosexual. That is plain invidious discrimination,” Tyler said.
The case is important because the digital age has moved the public square from inside the local community to well out into cyberspace. Facebook and Twitter are now the host of the national conversation, fueled by information people gather by using search engines like Google. This is a new reality, leaving more than a few conservatives fearful their opinions and publications and websites are being censored by the “woke” individuals inside the Big tech companies that make decisions about search engine rankings and what can be seen.
The appellate court’s latest action suggests Section 230, which many of its critics believe is the legal justification for online censorship, may not long survive. It is rare for an entire appellate court to rehear a case just to reaffirm a three-judge panel’s decision. Even if it doesn’t, however, those who follow tech platforms and the laws that govern them say there is no guarantee the censoring of individual messages, the de-platforming of people like former President Donald J. Trump, or the termination of services would come to an end if this one part of the CDA is ruled unconstitutional.
Without Section 230 protection – or something like it – platforms and Internet service companies might someday be held responsible for what appears on screens and servers in much the same way the publishers of newspapers are responsible for what appears in print. Not that it would get anyone very far. The bar for proving damages in cases where libel or defamation are alleged was high even before the United States Supreme Court sent it into the stratosphere in its 1964’s Times v Sullivan decision.
Now, the standard of proof in such cases is so rigorous it is rarely met and, even if it is, the requirements involved in proving damage are so onerous as to hardly be a deterrent to sloppy reporting, deliberate maligning, and censorship.
Trump’s recently announced class-action suit against Big Tech CEOs over his de-platforming may be another matter. He contends his first amendment rights were violated following the disruption inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by these companies acting as agents of the federal government. If he can prove that to be the case, it invokes constitutional scrutiny and potentially tilts the outcome in Trump’s favor.
Ultimately, the court will probably rule in a way that protects the most speech for the most people. The first amendment is an American absolute, not necessarily applicable in all cases – the government can’t imprison me over what I tell my children – but we generally believe as a country that even private institutions should give the amendment due deference. If Big Tech can be shown to have failed in this regard, the consequences could be interesting.
Big Tech is not fighting fair in its push back against former President Donald J. Trump’s campaign to prevent it from censoring conservative opinions and opinion leaders, the American Conservative Union said, citing the recent suspension of its network on YouTube, an internet platform used for video sharing as a prime example of its misconduct.
The ACU, which is the primary sponsor of the Conservative Political Action Conference called the recent removal by YouTube of a recent episode of its “America UnCanceled” posted on its CPAC NOW page censorship.
“YouTube censored CPAC because we stood with former President Donald Trump on his lawsuit against Big Tech,” ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp said in a release, calling the action “another example of Big Tech censoring content with which they disagree in order to promote the political positions they favor.”
The episode in question included coverage of the former president’s attempt to mount a class action suit against tech platforms including Google, YouTube’s parent company. The ACU is a party to the suit, which is being brought on the former president’s behalf by the America First Policy Institute, a group he formed shortly after he left office.
Trump spoke Sunday in Dallas, Texas to the most recent CPAC gathering. That speech also could not be seen on the CPAC NOW YouTube page due to a one-week ban on posting the platform imposed on the organization when it removed the program, the ACU said.
When imposing the ban, the ACU said YouTube cited “medical misinformation” related to COVID-19 conveyed by the program as the reason for it but did not state specifically what the so-called misinformation was. In a statement, the group said it believed Trump’s reference to the possible therapeutic value of hydroxychloroquine as documented in what the ACU described as “sound medical research conducted by the Smith Center for Infectious Diseases & Urban Health and Saint Barnabas Medical Center” may have prompted the internet platform to take the action it did.
The use of hydroxychloroquine to prevent or treat the novel coronavirus, which Trump often promoted while president, is controversial in many political, editorial, and medical circles.
“It is clear that YouTube censored CPAC because we stood with former President Donald Trump on his lawsuit against Big Tech,” said ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp. “This is yet another example of Big Tech censoring content with which they disagree in order to promote the political positions they favor.”
In his remarks to the Dallas confab, Trump called the way Big Tech handles free speech issues, particularly expressions of opinion that conflict with the values of the founders of the major tech platforms “unlawful,” “unconstitutional” and “completely un-American.”
Trump used the speech to continue as well his crusade for an audit of the 2020 presidential election results which, he maintains, was tainted by fraudulent ballots. “The truth was covered up, and it had a giant impact on the election,” he said. “This must never happen to another party’s presidential candidate again. We are the laughingstock of the world.”
By resisting censorship from the government, corporations, or cancel mobs, we reaffirm the value of the freedoms won and cherished in centuries past.
As I wrote in a preceding essay, the First Amendment was written to limit the government’s power. In the 18th century, only the state was conceived as possibly wielding the power to keep free people from speaking their minds. Thus, if maintaining a free people requires free speech, it followed that the government must be kept from controlling speech. For a long time, no more was necessary, but that would change.
As the United States grew in population and prosperity, there was very little agitation against business. There did not need to be. Most businesses were small affairs, owned by one man or one family, employing a handful of workers. Relations between labor and management were dealt with between individuals.
n 1854, Abraham Lincoln summarized this small-scale economy, speaking of a system in which a man “may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for him! That is the true system.”
Yet as corporations grew in size and power, that “true system” changed. Instead of one apprentice negotiating with an owner, a company that employed thousands would tell workers what they would get: take it or leave it.
In response, workers began to join together in trade unions, leveling the playing field, although diminishing their own independence. The balance between workers and management was restored, but the growing power of corporations still overpowered that of individual consumers.
Antitrust and utility laws were the response, but none of this much affected the realm of free speech. There was no news monopoly — newspapers were more plentiful than today — and restrictions on the new technology of radio came from the government, not the station owners. The biggest threat to the practice of free speech remained the state.
Although the two streams of jurisprudence here — anti-monopoly and free speech — did not much overlap in the early twentieth century, some of the same great thinkers were doing work in both. Foremost among these was Louis Brandeis, who joined the Supreme Court in 1916.
Brandeis was a progressive who saw Big Government and Big Business as equally threatening to the average American. Although he focused more on the growth of corporate power in his days as a private lawyer, Brandeis saw the danger in the government becoming too powerful. His solution was to resist consolidation in both regards — keep businesses small and local, and the government could stay small, too.
In regards to free speech, Brandeis also led the resistance to censorship, although often unsuccessfully. While American citizens were the freest in the world in their right to speak and publish, limits remained.
The so-called “Red Scare” that followed communist revolutions in Europe led governments to clamp down on people’s right to advocate socialist ideas in America. In Whitney v. California in 1924, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to one such law. Brandeis was in the minority, but Whitney soon became one of the rare cases more famous for the dissent than for the opinion of the court. Brandeis wrote:
Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.
Brandeis’s words remain one of the great summaries of the custom and law of free speech in America and follows the line of thinking started by Milton and Locke. In 1969, the Supreme Court adopted Brandeis’s ideas and overturned Whitney.
Since then, the government’s attempts to restrict free speech have mostly been rebuffed. Some efforts, like the censorship at issue in the 2010 case of Citizens United v. FEC, nearly succeeded, but most failed and failed quickly. The struggle for free speech in law trends toward greater liberty.
Today, however, something novel is happening in America: private actors have become a greater threat to free speech than the government is. Part of that comes from a laudable achievement — we have tamed free speech’s historical foe, the state. But part also comes from the rise of new means of communication that not only displace the old but are uniquely susceptible to monopolization in a way the old media were not.
That means that for the first time, corporate power might be a greater threat to our rights — especially our right to free speech — than the power wielded by the state. This accounts in part for the recent resurgence in antitrust advocacy.
Not long ago, there was considerable diversity not only in the sources of news and entertainment but also in the distribution of such things. Not only have the sources of news been subject to consolidation, but they have become separated from the methods by which they reach us. This vertical dis-integration might be seen as an antitrust success, except that the distribution methods are even more consolidated than the news sources.
The “distribution sources” in question are the social media giants of Facebook and Twitter, along with less powerful players in the field like Reddit and LinkedIn. Instagram and WhatsApp are also cited as delivery methods for news, but it does little good to mention them since they are both owned by Facebook. Consolidation across Silicon Valley has narrowed the real players in Big Tech to about half a dozen: Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft among them.
As far as free speech is concerned, some of these players are more dangerous than others, but the interaction among them is also a problem. Six big technological competitors might look like a healthy industry, but it is an illusion. While they clash at times, these Big Six have divided up the tech world much as the 19th-century colonial powers divided up the globe. Spheres of influence are mutually respected and the political aims of each align with the others.
First, the social media giants established monopolies in their respective fields. As companies grow in power, they exert control over their marketplaces. They evaded detection in doing so because their monopolies are different from those of the past.
What they monopolize is not a commercial product like Standard Oil’s monopoly on kerosene. Their monopoly is on access to a thing they created and that, outside of their network, cannot exist. As I wrote in the Washington Examiner last year:
There is no place to tweet except Twitter; there is no way to create Facebook posts outside Facebook. If Facebook or Twitter delete your posts or restrict your account, that network is closed to you, and each is a network that increasingly dominates the exchange of ideas. Even beyond the market for news and commentary, access to social media for businesses (especially Facebook) can be a make-or-break proposition.
The monopoly is on each social media company’s network, and the danger is in our increasing reliance on those networks to convey ideas. By 2019, a majority of Americans said they often or sometimes got their news over social media, and the number increases every year.
Unlike old-fashioned monopolies, social media companies use their power not only to exclude competitors but also to exclude customers with whom they disagree. AT&T wanted to control all telephony, but at least they only wanted your money. Facebook and Twitter also want to limit what you say, the equivalent of a telephone operator breaking in to shut down phone calls that their bosses find distasteful.
The Department of Justice shattered AT&T’s monopoly in the 1980s, breaking the company into several “Baby Bells.” The result was cheaper, better telephone service for everyone.
But that precise solution will not work for social media. No one is concerned about the price of a service that is given away for free, and the quality of the apps was never the problem. This network, and equal access to it, is the issue. Destroying that network would make service worse, not better. Moreover, it misses the point.
The intersection of monopoly power with free speech is something new. Even beyond the threat of exclusion from a social media company’s network, the collusion among the networks further stifles free expression. Consider the treatment of a rival social network.
In reaction to Twitter shutting down accounts with whose content it disagreed, two entrepreneurs launched an alternative site, Gab, in 2016. It went public in 2017 and seemed to offer the traditional alternative for dissatisfaction with a business: taking your business elsewhere. If the dispute with Twitter had been a traditional one, such as price or quality, that would have solved the problem.
But the nature of Twitter’s monopoly worked against Gab. Twitter users who had not been banned were reluctant to leave the network, because as unhappy as they were with it, it still offered the best forum for reaching a mass audience. Some maintained accounts at both sites, but only the banned — those who had no other option — were active users at Gab. Google decided it was a hate forum and removed it from their Play Store. Apple had never allowed it in the first place.
Gab was then restricted only to people extremely motivated to seek it out, and it became a deeply unpleasant echo chamber. When it emerged that the perpetrator of the 2018 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue was an active Gab user, the site was forever known as the home of murderous extremists. The providers that hosted them terminated their arrangements, forcing it further underground. The same process played out with Parler in 2020, and it will play out again for the next would-be Twitter competitor.
Mainstream opinion is unbothered. Few had heard of Gab or Parler, which they could not find in their phone’s app stores, and many who were aware of it associated it with Nazis. Shutting them down was good riddance to bad rubbish.
Those few who raised free speech concerns were told to read the law, as though that is all there is to our ancient liberty. Recent episodes of tech censorship have involved a larger combination of tech companies and taken in a larger swath of users — including a former American president.
The drive to stifle speech is not limited to social media. Other tech monopolies have flexed their muscles. Amazon, which controls a majority of book sales in the United States, has started deciding which kinds of books it will allow. Anything that explores sexual orientation or gender dysphoria as mental illnesses is now forbidden. Tweets and Facebook posts on the subject are also likely to be censored if they voice the “wrong” opinions.
If free speech is necessary to enable individuals to discover virtue and choose their leaders, then monopoly censorship is just as harmful as government censorship. Even beyond the specific harm of stifling free expression, it does harm to the idea of free speech itself.
Legalistic denials from Big Tech supporters — “it’s not censorship if it’s not the government!” — miss the point. By allowing continued monopolies over segments of the public square and acquiescing in a restriction of free thought there, we erode the principle of free speech while piously upholding the laws that do nothing against this new threat.
As long as people believe in free speech, it will endure. According to a 2020 poll by Pew, a majority of Americans see the social media threat for what it is: censorship. That is good news. People are not distracted by the distinction of government and non-government; they see a powerful force trying to muzzle them and do not like it. The people understand that this right belongs to them and will resist anyone who tries to take it away.
The bad news is that such sentiments are declining. Americans, especially the young, increasingly are intolerant of speech that they hate. Instead of the liberty and courage that Brandeis extolled, they seek to decide public questions with private force. Milton and Locke would recognize the methods from their own times, although the actors and questions debated have changed.
That same 2020 Pew poll showed a majority of Democrats endorsing social media companies’ labeling of “inaccurate” tweets and posts. Polling by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that same year finds that significant percentages of college students support suppressing unpopular speech through heckler’s veto (27 percent) or blocking entry to an event (11 percent). Only 4 percent of those surveyed claimed that it was acceptable to use violence to suppress offensive speech, but that is still too many.
We all have reason to doubt the accuracy of polling after the failures of the last few years, but there can be no doubt that the principle of free expression is under renewed threat. Looking at that threat requires reacquainting ourselves with the history of free speech and monopolies. Our forefathers fought censorship and fought monopolistic abuses, but political battles are rarely won for all time. These two are back, joined up in novel fashion, but no different than what came before.
The lessons of Milton, Locke, Bastiat, Lincoln, and Brandeis must guide a new generation to protect our ancient freedoms. If we fail, those freedoms will fade from memory and their protection in law will fade with them. We may vote for legislators, but few of us will ever directly influence the words of a law.
In the custom that underpins the law, though, we all have a role to play. By resisting censorship from the government, corporations, or cancel mobs, we remind the world of the value of the freedoms won and cherished in centuries past, and further reinforce them for the challenges to yet come.
A new Democratic-sponsored Colorado Senate bill is raising eyebrows with the proposed establishment of a state-run ministry of truth to regulate online speech.
The bill, titled “Digital Communications Regulation,” seeks the creation of a digital communications division under the state department of regulatory agencies to regulate online content available in the state. The division will be run by a new commission to serve as government-blessed arbiters of truth.
Under the legislation, proposed by Democratic state Sen. Kerry Donovan, the new commission is tasked with the authority to investigate and hold hearings on claims filed with the division that accuse a particular platform of engaging in what the government declares unlawful conduct. Such conduct under the proposal ranges from promoting “hate speech” to “disinformation,” “fake news,” and “conspiracy theories,” or content the commission determines is meant to “undermine election integrity.” The idea for a similar proposal at the federal level was floated by New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in January.
The bill puts government force behind an already-implemented progressive purge pursued by Silicon Valley tech giants wielding unprecedented power over the digital public square, with many of the same rules already in place. Such rules, however, which have become more stringently enforced to justify censorship of conservatives and reporting unfavorable to progressive interests, have been applied with remarkable inconsistency.
“We all know from experience at other places where such rules are in place, they’re not applied equally,” Joshua Sharf, a senior fellow in fiscal policy at the Denver libertarian think tank Independence Institute, told The Federalist. “They’re actually impossible to apply equally.”
The contrast between the four-year conspiracy alleging President Donald Trump was a Russian agent and the online suppression of blockbuster revelations published by the New York Post last fall, which implicated then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in his son’s potentially criminal overseas business ventures, illustrates how rules governing online content are arbitrarily enforced for political purposes. There is no shortage of examples highlighting Silicon Valley’s double-standards.
“Realistically, we all know what the intent here is,” Sharf, who runs his own online blog, warned. “The intent here is to limit what Sen. Donovan considers conservative speech.”
Donovan did not respond to The Federalist’s request for an interview.
Under the senator’s legislation, communications-oriented online businesses, including social media platforms and media-sharing platforms with services offered to Colorado residents, would be forced to register with the new government ministry of truth. Failure to do so would classify as a class-two misdemeanor with up to a $5,000 fine each day until they comply.
Republican Colorado Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, who sits on the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee where the bill was introduced, railed against the proposal as unconstitutional and shared no faith that the independent commission appointed by the governor would dictate online content fairly.
“I have no confidence whatsoever that if the commission was formed it would be somewhat politically diverse,” Sonnenberg told The Federalist. “It’s almost like a giant commission just like Facebook to determine what posts are accurate and what are not.”
Republicans in the state’s upper chamber have already pledged their opposition, though Democrats control both houses of the Colorado legislature.
“Nobody wants an unelected commission of wannabe authoritarians deciding what is and is not ‘fake news’ and what we can and cannot read on the internet,” Colorado Senate Republican spokesman Sage Naumann told The Federalist. “We’re hopeful this bill never makes it to the floor.”
Sonnenberg said he saw no momentum for that happening, even as Democrats hold the majority.
“Anybody with a reasonable mind would look at this bill and go, ‘This doesn’t make sense.’ This indeed is a violation of our First Amendment, a blatant violation,” Sonnenberg told The Federalist. “If this is a party-line vote and it gets out of committee, we have bigger problems in our country.”