‘Chilling’: Liberal Journalists Taken Aback by Government Censorship of Social Media
On Thursday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government held a hearing on the “Twitter Files,” a collection of thousands of internal Twitter document, parts of which have recently been released. As noted by two independent journalists and lawmakers, the hearing confirmed what many conservatives have suspected for years — that the federal government and elements of the mainstream media actively worked with social media giants to censor and deplatform content.
Thursday’s hearing featured two award-winning veteran journalists Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger, who were labeled as “so-called journalists” at the outset by Ranking Member Stacey Plaskett (D-U.S. Virgin Islands). Taibbi and Shellenberger were both given access to the “Twitter Files” by sources at the company.
Taibbi, who spent much of his 30-year journalistic career at the left-wing Rolling Stone magazine, described himself as a “traditional ACLU liberal.” In his opening statement, Taibbi emphasized that what he found in the trove of internal Twitter documents should concern both liberals and conservatives.
“I would note that the evidence of a Twitter/government relationship includes lists of tens of thousands of names on both the Left and Right. People affected include Trump supporters but also left-leaning sites like Consortium and Truthout, the leftist South American channel Telesur, [and] the Yellow Vest Movement. That is a key point of the Twitter Files, that it’s neither a Left nor Right issue.”
Taibbi went on to summarize the magnitude of what he found.
“Following the trail of communications between Twitter and the federal government across tens of thousands of emails led to a series of revelations. … We learned Twitter, Facebook, Google, and other companies developed a formal system for taking in moderation requests from every corner of government, from the FBI, the DHS, the HHS, DOD, the Global Engagement Center at State, even the CIA. For every government agency scanning Twitter, there were perhaps 20 quasi-private entities doing the same thing, including Stanford’s Election Integrity Partnership, NewsGuard, the Global Disinformation Index, and many others — many taxpayer funded.”
Taibbi further explained how this collusion led to businesses and individuals being deplatformed.
“A focus of this fast-growing network … [was] making lists of people whose opinions, beliefs, associations, or sympathies are deemed ‘misinformation,’ ‘disinformation,’ or ‘malinformation’ (that last term is just a euphemism for true but inconvenient). Undeniably, the making of such lists is a form of digital McCarthyism. Ordinary Americans are not just being reported to Twitter for deamplification or deplatforming, but to firms like PayPal, digital advertisers like Xandr, and crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe. These companies can and do refuse service to law-abiding people and businesses whose only crime is falling afoul of a distant, faceless, unaccountable, algorithmic judge. As someone who grew up a traditional ACLU liberal, this mechanism for punishment and deprivation without due process is horrifying.”
The independent journalist also strongly criticized his own industry for their participation.
“Another troubling aspect is the role of the press, which should be the people’s last line of defense in such cases. But instead of investigating these groups, journalists partnered with them. If Twitter declined to remove an account right away, government agencies and NGOs would call reporters from The New York Times, Washington Post, and other outlets who in turn would call Twitter, demanding to know why action had not yet been taken. Effectively, news media became an arm of a state-sponsored thought policing system.”
Taibbi was frank in describing what he saw as the dire ramifications of the Twitter Files.
“It’s just not possible to instantly arrive at truth. It is, however, becoming technologically possible to instantly define and enforce a political consensus online, which I believe is what we’re looking at. This is a grave threat to people of all political persuasions. The First Amendment and an American population accustomed to the right to speak is the best defense left against the censorship industrial complex. … If there’s anything that the Twitter Files show, it’s that we’re in danger of losing this most precious right without which all democratic rights are impossible.”
Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who served as chairman of the hearing, noted that both Taibbi and Shellenberger, who have a combined 50 years of experience in journalism, said that “in all your time in the journalism field, this issue [is] most important. … Now we all know why you guys said at the outset, this is the most ‘chilling’ story [of your careers].”
The extent of the government corruption is likely so extensive, Congressman Mike Johnson (R-La.) said on Thursday’s “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins,” that the Republican-led House won’t have time to dig into everything.
“It’s not just the DOJ or the FBI,” he underscored. “It’s the FTC. It’s the alphabet soup of so many agencies. It’s such a target rich environment for us to investigate on the weaponization committee. … We don’t have enough time and resources to do it all, but we’re trying to pick the most egregious examples to show the American people exactly what is happening. This is frightening. This is not hyperbole. This goes to the core of who we are as Americans. We have to protect free speech.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.