Joe Biden’s Ministry of Truth
His administration’s censorship regime could be the greatest threat to free speech in American history.
Under President Joe Biden, the US government has undertaken ‘the most massive attack against free speech in United States history’. That was the extraordinary conclusion reached by a federal judge last week. The case of Missouri v Biden has exposed the incredible lengths to which the Biden White House and other federal agencies have gone to bully social-media platforms into removing political views they dislike.
On America’s Independence Day, the Fourth of July, US district judge Terry Doughty issued a preliminary injunction, stipulating that the federal government must cease from communicating with social-media companies for the purpose of ‘urging, encouraging, pressuring or inducing’ them to remove or suppress ‘content containing protected free speech’. Essentially, government agencies are now prevented from getting the likes of Facebook, Twitter and other tech giants to censor content on their behalf.
Judge Doughty didn’t mince his words. He said the evidence presented in Missouri v Biden depicted an ‘almost dystopian scenario’. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the US government ‘seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth”’, he wrote. As the ruling notes, the US government worked with the Silicon Valley titans to suppress reports of the lab-leak theory of Covid’s origin, and to gag those who questioned the efficacy of masks, lockdowns and Covid vaccines.
What’s more, this assault on free expression extended far beyond Covid. Doughty’s 155-page ruling describes how the government squashed social-media coverage of many other inconvenient issues. In fact, the groundwork for what the plaintiffs called a ‘systemic and systematic campaign’ of censorship was actually laid by government officials in 2017, four years before Biden took office. Even when Donald Trump was president, officials suppressed stories that might have hurt his Democratic opponents, including the Hunter Biden laptop story and claims about election integrity in 2020, particularly around the security of postal voting.
Then, when Biden assumed office, this censorship took a ‘quantum leap’ forward. Criticism of Biden was suppressed in some cases. The White House even got Twitter to remove a parody account about Finnegan Biden, Hunter Biden’s daughter. ‘Cannot stress the degree to which this needs to be resolved immediately’, said Rob Flaherty, White House director of digital strategy, to Twitter in his complaint about the parody account. Forty-five minutes later, Twitter suspended it.
To support his claim that this represents the ‘most massive’ attack on free speech in history, Judge Doughty outlined a huge complex of government agencies and officials who were on a mission to censor. This included the surgeon general, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services, Dr Anthony Fauci, the FBI, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the State Department, among others. The vast scope of this campaign by some of the most powerful institutions in the US indicates that, when it came to silencing its opponents, the Biden team adopted a ‘whole of government’ approach.
These revelations are not entirely new, of course. We already knew from the Twitter Files, the first of which were released in December last year, that the Biden administration is determined to muzzle social media. As was the case in the wake of the Twitter Files, an array of Democrats and government supporters in the media have now emerged to downplay the revelations in Doughty’s ruling. Many have also tried to defend the Biden administration’s censorship as necessary to counter dangerous ‘disinformation’.
The White House itself is unapologetic, and will appeal the decision. ‘We’re not going to apologise for promoting responsible actions to protect public health, safety and security when confronted by challenges like a deadly pandemic or foreign attacks on our elections’, said a spokeswoman.
The mainstream media have largely taken this statement at face value. ‘The government’s actions at the heart of the case were intended largely as public-health measures’, writes the New York Times. Indeed, the New York Times worries that the ruling will ‘curtail efforts to combat disinformation’. Similarly, two legal academics, Leah Litman and Laurence Tribe, say the court’s order ‘deals a huge blow to vital government efforts to harden US democracy against threats of misinformation’.
Essentially, the Democrats and the media assume that they know which ideas are ‘disinformation’. They assume that it is the government’s job to ‘protect’ people from those ideas. And they assume those ideas will cause real harm if not suppressed. But none of these assumptions holds up.
What the Democrat-favouring media is unwilling to admit is that many of the viewpoints Biden and his federal agencies labelled as ‘misinformation’ or ‘disinformation’ – in order to justify censoring them on social media – were later proven to be true. Think of the criticisms of masks, which the scientific evidence has since vindicated. Think of the reporting around Hunter Biden’s laptop, which was initially dismissed as a Russian disinformation operation, but has since been verified by mainstream outlets. Or think of the lab-leak theory, once dismissed as a racist conspiracy theory, but now considered the most likely origin of the virus by many US government agencies.
Even Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has admitted that the government asked Facebook to suppress true information. In a recent interview, he said the scientific ‘establishment’ asked ‘for a bunch of things to be censored that, in retrospect, ended up being more debatable or true’. Zuckerberg has not, however, offered an apology for giving in to these requests to censor.
The government’s censorship campaign during Covid also went to great lengths to silence credentialed experts who disagreed with the official line. Anthony Fauci and others sought to blacklist epidemiologists Jay Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff – co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), an open letter opposing Covid lockdown policies (these two authors are also plaintiffs in Missouri v Biden). In October 2020, just days after the GBD was published, Francis Collins, then director of the National Institutes of Health, wrote to Fauci, then director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, saying there should be a ‘quick and devastating takedown’ of the GBD. ‘The result was exactly that’, according to Doughty, as Google, Reddit, YouTube and others downgraded or removed references to the GBD.
Time and again, Biden, the Democrats and government officials have proven they cannot be trusted to identify what is actually true or false. ‘Disinformation’ is simply the name they give to political opinions they want to have silenced.
Of course, in a society that respects free speech, ideas shouldn’t need to be proven true in order for them to be aired. Even ‘disinformation’ should be allowed. Debatable or even erroneous claims – like presidential hopeful Robert F Kennedy Jr’s specious anti-vaccine arguments – should not be censored. Just as there should be no ‘hate speech’ exception to free speech, there ought to be no ‘disinformation’ exception, either.
Defenders of the Biden administration have also raised some specific objections to Doughty’s ruling, particularly around the limits of the First Amendment. Since the First Amendment only outlaws state censorship, Biden’s allies claim that it has no relevance here, as social-media companies are private actors. They also say that the government has its own right to speak freely to social-media companies. And they claim that the White House and federal agencies only ever ‘asked’ or ‘recommended’ that certain posts be taken down. Decisions were then taken independently by social-media firms, they say. But, as the ruling shows, the plaintiffs and Doughty himself have demolished those arguments.
It’s true that the First Amendment prevents only government controls on expression. Because social-media companies are private companies, they are exempt. But the court found that the government and social-media companies were so coordinated and closely bound together that their actions effectively constituted state censorship. In other words, the tech companies were forced to act on behalf of the government. And that is a violation of the First Amendment.
The key point that Doughty emphasises in his ruling is that the government pressure on the social-media companies was so intense and relentless that it amounted to coercion. The web of connections between government and Big Tech is extensive. An army of government bureaucrats were hired to monitor websites and flag ‘problematic’ posts. As former Biden press secretary Jen Psaki said, the White House was in ‘regular touch with… social-media platforms’, and officials held twice-weekly meetings with tech companies. The plaintiffs argued that the State Department and CISA colluded with social-media platforms ‘in hundreds of meetings about misinformation’ and systematically flagged ‘huge quantities of First Amendment-protected speech to platforms for censorship’.
In fact, government agents did more than just flag posts and make ‘recommendations’. They aggressively browbeat companies to take down certain posts. Flaherty, Biden’s digital-strategy director, accused YouTube of ‘funnelling’ people into vaccine hesitancy. This, he said, was a concern that was ‘shared at the highest (and I mean the highest) levels of the White House’. In July 2021, Biden himself upped the rhetoric, accusing social-media companies of ‘killing people’.
The White House and other agencies also issued veiled threats of new regulatory liabilities for any disobedient tech firms. White House communications director Kate Bedingfield warned social-media companies that they could be held legally liable for misinformation on their platforms. On other occasions, the Biden administration threatened to take antitrust action against Big Tech firms. It also threatened to remove Section 230, a regulation that prevents tech companies from being sued for user-generated content on their platforms.
More often than not, the social-media companies acceded to the government’s demands. For example, Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, urged social-media companies to ‘take action against misinformation superspreaders’. Flaherty joined Murthy in calling for the ‘Disinformation Dozen’ – a group of people accused of making false claims about vaccines – to be stopped. ‘I want an answer on what happened here and I want it today’, Flaherty told Facebook. The accounts were removed the next month.
The revelations in Missouri v Biden have shed new light on the massive apparatus of censorship that the Biden administration has built. Certainly, the government of the day has the right to express its opinions to social-media companies. But the government has no business hiring huge numbers of people to trawl the internet for problematic posts and to demand their censorship. The White House and federal agencies can say they disagree with certain viewpoints. They can even claim some ideas are false. But they should not be telling tech platforms what they can or cannot host.
The real harm to society has not come from purveyors of ‘disinformation’, but from the Biden administration and the army of state censors. By not allowing discussions of things like mask mandates and lockdowns, and by declaring such discussions to be threats to public health, Biden, the Democrats and government officials have stifled open debate. They have blocked scientific advancement. And they have denied Americans our right to free speech – the most fundamental right we have.
Joe Biden’s Ministry of Truth must be defunded and dismantled.
Sean Collins is a writer based in New York. Visit his blog, The American Situation.
Picture by: Getty.
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