The Rise of The Corporate Censors: How America Is Drifting Toward The Chinese Model Of Media

Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the censorship of the Hunter Biden controversy by Facebook and Twitter. The response of the Biden campaign and figures like Rep. Adam Schiff has been to dismiss the story as the likely product of Russian intelligence. Notably however they do not address the underlying emails. As many of us have written, there is ample reason to suspect foreign intelligence and the FBI is reportedly investigating that possibility. However, that does not mean that the emails are not authentic. Hillary Clinton was hacked by Russia but the emails were still real. It is possible to investigate both those responsible for the laptop’s disclosure and what has been disclosed on the laptop. The censorship by these companies however has magnified concerns in the controversy, particularly with the disclosure of close connections between some company officials and the Biden campaign.

Chinese citizens watched President Xi Jinping deliver an important speech this week not far from Hong Kong. Well, not the whole speech: Xi apparently is ill, and every time he went into coughing spasms, China’s state media cut away so that he would be shown only in perfect health.

Xi’s coughs came to mind as Twitter and Facebook prevented Americans from being able to read the New York Post’s explosive allegations of influence-peddling by Hunter Biden through their sites. The articles cited material reportedly recovered from a laptop; it purportedly showed requests for Hunter Biden to use his influence on his father, then-Vice President Joe Biden, as well as embarrassing photos of Hunter Biden.

Many of us have questioned the sketchy details of how the laptop reportedly was left by Hunter Biden with a nearly blind computer repairman and then revealed just weeks before the presidential election. There are ample reasons to question whether this material was the product of a foreign intelligence operation, which the FBI apparently is investigating.

Yet the funny thing about kompromat — a Russian term for compromising information — is that often it is true. Indeed, it is most damaging and most useful when it is true; otherwise, you deny the allegations and expose the lie. Hunter Biden has yet to deny these were his laptop, his emails, his images. If thousands of emails and images were fabricated, then serious crimes were committed. But if the emails and images are genuine, then the Bidens appear to have lied for years as a raw influence-peddling scheme worth millions stretched from China to Ukraine to Russia. Moreover, these countries likely have had the compromising information all along while the Bidens — and the media — were denying reports of illicit activities.

Either way, this was major news.

The response of Twitter and Facebook, however, was to shut it all down. Major media companies also imposed a virtual blackout on the allegations. It didn’t matter that thousands of emails were available for review or that the Bidens did not directly address the material. It was all declared to be fake news.

The tech companies’ actions are an outrageous example of open censorship and bias. It shows how private companies effectively can become state media working for one party. This, of course, was more serious than deleting coughs, but it was based on the same excuse of “protecting” the public from distractions or distortions. Indeed, it was the realization of political and academic calls that have been building for years.

Democratic leaders from Hillary Clinton to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) have long demanded such private censorship from social media companies, despite objections from some of us in the free speech community; Joe Biden himself demanded that those companies remove President Trump’s statements about voting fraud as fake news. Academics have lined up to support calls for censorship, too. Recently, Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith and University of Arizona law professor Andrew Keane Woods called for Chinese-style internet censorship and declared that “in the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong.”

It turns out traditional notions of journalism and a free press are outdated, too, and China again appears to be the model for the future. Recently, Stanford communications Professor Emeritus Ted Glasser publicly denounced the notion of objectivity in journalism as too constraining for reporters seeking “social justice.” In an interview with The Stanford Daily, Glasser insisted that journalism needed to “free itself from this notion of objectivity to develop a sense of social justice.” He said reporters must embrace the role of “activists” and that it is “hard to do that under the constraints of objectivity.” Problem solved.

Such views make Twitter and Facebook’s censorship of the Post not simply justified but commendable — regardless of whether the alleged Biden material proves to be authentic. As Twitter buckled under criticism of its actions, it shifted its rationale from combating fake news to barring hacked or stolen information. (Putting aside that the information allegedly came from a laptop, not hacking, this rule would block the public from reviewing any story based on, say, whistleblowers revealing nonpublic information, from the Pentagon Papers to Watergate. Moreover, Twitter seemingly had no qualms about publishing thousands of stories based on the same type of information about the Trump family or campaign.) Twitter now says it will allow hacked information if not posted by the hacker.

Social media companies have long enjoyed protection, under Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, from liability over what users post or share. The reason is that those companies are viewed as neutral platforms, a means for people to sign up to read the views or thoughts of other people. Under Section 230, a company such as Twitter was treated as merely providing the means, not the content. Yet for Twitter to tag tweets with warnings or block tweets altogether is akin to the telephone company cutting into a line to say it doesn’t like what two callers are discussing.

Facebook and Twitter have now made the case against themselves for stripping social media companies of immunity. That would be a huge loss not only to these companies but to free speech as well. We would lose the greatest single advance in free speech via an unregulated internet.

At the same time, we are seeing a rejection of journalistic objectivity in favor of activism. The New York Times apologized for publishing a column by a conservative U.S. senator on using national guardsmen to quell rioting — yet it later published a column by a Chinese official called “Beijing’s enforcer” who is crushing protests in Hong Kong. The media spent years publishing every wacky theory of alleged Trump-Russia collusion; thousands of articles detailed allegations from the Steele dossier, which has been not only discredited but also shown to be based on material from a known Russian agent.

When the Steele dossier was revealed, many of us agreed on the need to investigate because, even if it was the work of foreign intelligence, the underlying kompromat could be true. Today, in contrast, the media is not only dismissing the need to investigate the Biden emails, but ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos didn’t ask Biden about the allegations during a two-hour town hall event on Thursday.

This leaves us with a Zen-like question: If social media giants prevent the sharing of a scandal and the media refuses to cover it, did a scandal ever occur? After all, an allegation is a scandal only if it is damaging. No coverage, no damage, no scandal. Just deleted coughs lost in the ether of a controlled media and internet.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online @JonathanTurley.

296 thoughts on “The Rise of The Corporate Censors: How America Is Drifting Toward The Chinese Model Of Media”

  1. Thank you, Professor Turley. This was a courageous statement, given the times.

    I’m beginning to suspect the emails are genuine. The Russians (or whoever) would have had to collude with the repair shop owner and the other man who confirmed one of the more damning emails that he was copied on. Hunter also has a convicted business partner who has turned state’s evidence, and if these emails also show up on that third man’s computer, that correspondence would require a superhuman level of planning and hacking to coordinate such a hoax, much of it executed before December of last year. I doubt that’s possible.

    Even if Biden wins, Silicon Valley and Beijing will use this scandal to either blackmail Biden or force him out of office in favor of their toady, Kamala Harris. No reform for the tech giants and no stopping Beijing… and no saving free speech. And the Russians would take full advantage of such turmoil as well. I never bought the idea that the Russians want to keep Trump in office. All they really want is as much chaos and division in American politics as possible.

    I fear for our Republic.

        1. The difference is that they put Rachel Maddow in the position of “debate moderator” as if she is some kind of neutral news journalist which she clearly is not. She is an opinion and entertainment show. But MSNBC has her moderating debates? It’s absurd. That would be like having Hannity and Tucker “moderate” Republican debates. What the so-called left wing “news” organizations get away with is insane, and really a disservice to its viewers.

          1. *What the left wing so-called “news” organizations get away with is insane, and really a disservice to its viewers.

  2. “Facebook and Twitter’s Intervention Highlights Dangerous New Double Standard

    The decision to ban a New York Post expose about Hunter Biden flies in the face of years of “hack and leak” stories”

    Matt Taibbi

    “The optics of a former Democratic Party spokesman suddenly donning a Facebook official’s hat to announce a ban of a story damaging to Democrats couldn’t be worse. Moreover, the Orwellian construct described in papers like the Times suggests that for tech executives, pundits, and Democratic Party officials alike, the lines between fake news and bad news, between actual misinformation and information that is merely politically adverse, have been blurred. It’s no longer clear that some of these people see a meaningful distinction between the two ideas.”

            1. “Everybody Wang Chung tonight
              Everybody have fun tonight
              Everybody Wang Chung tonight
              Everybody have fun”

              #MeToobin

              (just don’t put Toobin on-air as a legal analyst any longer he’s now just a sad joke)

  3. Jonathan Turley continues to assert that the Russians hacked the DNC. The head of Crowdstrike, Shawn Henry, in recently declassified testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, admitted that there was no proof the Russians hacked the DNC, only a high degree of confidence. Hardly evidence that would hold up in a court of law. Not only that, but esteemed whistle blower and former technical director of the NSA William Binney proved, scientifically, that based on the metadata contained in the emails the data was exfiltrated via a down load to a thumb drive or some other high speed device, not via a hack over trans Atlantic cables as asserted by various people. As a lawyer, Turley should know better than to simply assert something as true without solid proof. Please watch the press conference held with William Binney I have included in the link below.

    1. https://techcrunch.com/2019/04/18/mueller-clinton-arizona-hack/

      “The Mueller report contains new information about how the Russian government hacked documents and emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee .

      At one point, the Russians used servers located in the U.S. to carry out the massive data exfiltration effort, the report confirms.

      Much of the information was previously learned from the indictment of Viktor Borisovich Netyksho, the Russian officer in charge of Unit 26165. Netyksho is believed to be still at large in Russia.

      But new details in the 488-page redacted report released by the Justice Department on Thursday offered new insight into how the GRU operatives hacked.

      The operatives working for the Russian intelligence directorate, the GRU, sent dozens of targeted spearphishing emails in just five days to the work and personal accounts of Clinton Campaign employees and volunteers, as a way to break into the campaign’s computer systems.

      The GRU hackers also gained access to the email account of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, of which its contents were later published.

      Using credentials they stole along the way, the hackers broke into the networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee days later. By stealing the login details of a system administrator who had “unrestricted access” to the network, the hackers broke into 29 computers in the ensuing weeks, and more than 30 computers on the DNC.

      The operatives, known collectively as “Fancy Bear,” comprised several units tasked with specific operations. Mueller formally blamed Unit 26165, a division of the GRU specializing in targeting government and political organizations, for taking on the “primary responsibility for hacking the DCCC and DNC, as well as email accounts of individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign,” said the Mueller report.

      The hackers used Mimikatz, a hacking tool used once an intruder is already in a target network, to collect credentials, and two other kinds of malware: X-Agent for taking screenshots and logging keystrokes, and X-Tunnel used to exfiltrate massive amounts of data from the network to servers controlled by the GRU. Mueller’s report found that Unit 26165 used several “middle servers” to act as a buffer between the hacked networks and the GRU’s main operations. Those servers, Mueller said, were hosted in Arizona — likely as a way to obfuscate where the attackers were located but also to avoid suspicion or detection.

      In all, some 70 gigabytes of data were exfiltrated from Clinton’s campaign servers and some 300 gigabytes of data were obtained from the DNC’s network.

      Meanwhile, another GRU hacking unit, Unit 74455, which helped disseminate and publish hacked and stolen documents, pushed the stolen data out through two fictitious personas. DCLeaks was a website that hosted the hacked material, while Guccifer 2.0 was a hacker-like figure who had a social presence and would engage with reporters.

      Under pressure from the U.S. government, the two GRU-backed personas were shut down by the social media companies. Later, tens of thousands of hacked files were funneled to and distributed by WikiLeaks .

      Mueller’s report also found a cause-and-effect between Trump’s remarks in July 2016 and subsequent cyberattacks.

      “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” said then-candidate Trump at a press conference, referring to emails Clinton stored on a personal email server while she headed the State Department. Mueller’s report said “within approximately five hours” of those remarks, GRU officers began targeting for the first time Clinton’s personal office.

      More than a dozen staffers were targeted by Unit 26165, including a senior aide. “It is unclear how the GRU was able to identify these email accounts, which were not public,” said Mueller.

      Mueller said the Trump campaign made efforts to “find the deleted Clinton emails.” Trump is said to have privately asked would-be national security advisor Michael Flynn, since convicted following inquiries by the Special Counsel’s office, to reach out to associates to obtain the emails. One of those associates was Peter Smith, who died by suicide in May 2017, who claimed to be in contact with Russian hackers — claims which Mueller said were not true.

      Does that implicate the Trump campaign in an illegal act? Likely not.

      “Under applicable law, publication of these types of materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy,” according to Elie Honig, a CNN legal analyst. “The special counsel’s report did not find that any person associated with the Trump campaign illegally participated in the dissemination of the materials.”

      1. Please view Bill Binney’s research and interviews.
        In short, he attempt two or three times to download, hack, the DNC from inside the United States, Ohio and Indiana as well as Pennsylvania or Maryland.
        It could not and can’t be done.
        The issue is “speed.”
        Your citing or quoting the FBI would be laughable, if it were not truly sad.
        dennis hanna

  4. Dear Jonathan, The government in China does the censoring. As to censoring here, Trump has gagged scientists at the CDC, FDA and the Weather Service. States run by Republicans have censored scientists by telling them that words that indicate or support or even allude to climate change are prohibited. Trump actively block appearances by Dr. Fauc. Republicans in Congress have gone beyond censoring to actively putting words in people’s mouths when it comes to health care, climate change and other areas of government agency involvement. I’m not crazy about censor ship no matter who does it but I have no problem with refusing to published lies. Even FOX refused to publish the latest Hunter Biden smear job.

    You are not upset by censorship you are upset that the Hunter Biden Smear has been rejected as the pack of manufacture twaddle it is.

      1. Gainesville PD:

        If so pedantic to a towering intellect such as yours, a peon like me has to wonder why do you frequent the blog so much? Maybe you’re like Dr. Lou Leakey and want to observe the culture as you throw mud around?

  5. We went to the Animal Fair!
    The birds and Dems were there!
    The old baboon by the side of the spoon..
    Was coming his red hair!
    The Trump he got drunk.
    And fell on the elephant’s trunk.
    Trumpeter sneezed..
    And fell on his peas..
    And that was the end of the Trump, the Trump, the Frump!

  6. This is CommitToHonestDiscussion. I haven’t been able to post for the last few days, and I assume that Darren has banned me, perhaps for my frequent criticisms of Turley’s columns, though perhaps there’s some tech glitch that’s causing it instead. I bid you all farewell.

        1. You certainly don’t post many smart and substantive comments, Marky. You glory in disparaging people you disagree with.

  7. I am curious at which point these companies effectively become the public square.
    If they are the primary media through which the vast majority of individuals and groups communicate, then they have become the main fora for public discussion, and to allow them to censor at will gives them the power to suppress the speech of individuals and groups, and by doing so to control the dissemination of information.
    This is not a constitutional question, but it may be a legal one, owing to its impact on society. Since I am not a lawyer, I do not know, but it seems to me that if I cannot express myself freely on Twitter or my Facebook page, there is almost nowhere that I can do so since on-line platforms like regularly censor and cancel clips and speech of which their managers disapprove. In effect, my/our right to speak freely in the only meaningful public square available to us has been severely curtailed by companies which exercise a monopolistic control over the content of the web.
    If that is the case, should they not be broken up (like Ma Bell) or closely regulated like a utility? Or are they so big and powerful and that they can do as they please?
    If the latter, where do I go to express and publicize my opinions freely? A soapbox in my neighborhood park? The off-ramp of a freeway? My basement?

  8. One of the real dangers of losing real “paper” newspapers is that it allows an Orwellian censor to obstruct real news, without the news publisher’s permission. Apparently the FBI has already done this Orwellian tactic in certain circumstances, according to paper newspapers. Americans should be strongly opposed to all forms of censorship.

    As a side-note: Amazon and other retailers now sell a popular tee-shirt and magnetic bumper sticker that says “Make Orwell Fiction Again” and the novel “1984” is now increasing in sales.

  9. Facebook’s Zuckerberg should a system similar to Hollywood’s rating system (PG, PG-13, R) but allow FB posters to self-label their own content for violence, nudity, profanity, etc. In other empower parents and FB users to filter what they want to view, instead of allowing Facebook staff to censor. Nanny-state censoring has always been unAmerican, let grown-up viewers and posters decide what they want to see.

  10. Turley: “Twitter and Facebook prevented Americans from being able to read the New York Post’s” article.

    It’s literally impossible for Twitter and Facebook to prevent any Americans from being able to read the New York Post’s article. All anyone has to do is go to the NYP website, which is not controlled by Twitter or Facebook.

    Turley lies once again.

        1. He might have said it differently. As written, it’s confusing, but most people understand JT’s point, in the context of the entire article.

    1. “Turley lies once again.”

      Really? The daily bash of Prof Turley. Turley’s comment suggests that Twitter and Facebook prevented them from reading it on their platforms. That is the way it was written and that is what was understood… by most readers.

      1. You can’t ever read articles on Twitter. All Twitter ever does is redirect people to other platforms that host articles. If Twitter wouldn’t redirect, big deal, just go directly to the Post.

    2. “All anyone has to do is go to the NYP website”

      Spoken like a complete idiot who doesn’t know that the total number of FB and Twitter users dwarfs the readership of the NYPost.

      Or are you just lying again? The ChiCom’s do that a lot.

      1. The total number of Twitter and FB users is irrelevant. The only thing that matters here is the number of people who want to read that one article and whether they can. Anyone who wants to can read it.

        1. “The only thing that matters here is the number of people who want to read that one article”

          Critical thinking is not your strong suit, Anon.

          What matters is the fact that there are millions of people who go to Twitter and FB that never read the NYPost, and therefore they would never even know of the articles existence were it not found on Twitter and FB.

          I realize that as a ChiCom you’re all in when it comes to censorship. But this isn’t China.

          1. Nothing prevents people from discussing it on Twitter or Facebook. All they did is prevent the link, and then Twitter changed its mind.

            Knowledge is not your strong suit Rhodes.

        2. You really are dumber than dirt, lying or both. Person A gets most of their news from FB and/or Twitter. Person B is Person A’s friend and wants to share the news with Person A that the DEMONKRAP POTUS CANDIDATE AND HIS PEDOPHILE SON have blackmailed foreign felons for money traded for business favors, IOW felonious quid pro quo. Person A in this scenario never knows. FB and Twitter PREVENTED Person A from seeing this news.

          There are untold Person As as described. That’s censorship that works. FB and Twitter know it’s illegal and they shall keep doing it till someone with a badge or gun physically stops them.

    1. When old Uncle Joe’s son isn’t taking money from the ChiCom’s he likes to smoke crack in bed until he passes out:

      https://i.dailymail.co.uk/1s/2020/10/15/09/34418592-8842709-In_some_of_the_images_Hunter_Biden_is_seen_with_a_crack_pipe_han-a-1_1602749569849.jpg

      “Documents appear to show Hunter Biden’s signature on $85 receipt for repair of laptops left at Delaware store at center of email scandal – while other paperwork reveals FBI’s contact with owner”

      https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8857893/Documents-Hunter-Bidens-signature-Delaware-computer-repair-shop-receipt.html

      None of this is going to look good on the Biden boys resume’s.

      1. Rhodes:

        You gotta feel for ol’ Corn Pop Bustin’ Joe. When Beau died half his income went away, too. What’s a crime boss to do? Why double down on your addict son, Hunter,of course. Where is Hunter by the way? Have they made him King of Spain yet?

        1. Joe Biden could elaborate. What does he have to say about all this?

          oh wait.

          For being a crack addict and long term brain damage therein, the signatures look identical.

          1. They don’t look identical, and a copy isn’t good for anything. Unless whoever has the original presents it to law enforcement, you’ve got nothing.

            Where is the original? Let that person testify under oath.

  11. Facebook and Twitter are private businesses on the internet which is not lacking in band width. They are in no sense a public utility or a businesses needing a government license to operate on public airwaves. What they allow on their sites is none of Turley’s business. Is Turley too dim to realize this, or just pushing more Trump propaganda – or both.

    If he has true concern for 1st amendment access, why is he silent on the use of our public airwaves – which are limited and which require a license – for partisan political programming without any semblance of fairness. Perhaps he remembers the GOP killing the “Fairness Doctrine” in the Reagan era which has left us with 24/7 right wing radio screamers coast to coast and the purchasing and programming of GOP friendly Sinclair TV stations which now number almost 200..

    1. Facebook and Twitter receive special non-editor protection from the govt. So they are not just a “private business”.

      1. Jim a protection against responsibility for posters content does not mean they are not allowed discretion in what they allow on their site, or this blog could be a porn destination. Section 230 does not give the government the key to internet web sites.

        1. It is my understanding that by censoring, they are being editors, thus, they should be treated like any other news source and lose their lawsuit protection.

    2. “U.S. Justice Department hits Google with biggest antitrust lawsuit in two decades”

      https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tech-antitrust-google/u-s-government-files-antitrust-lawsuit-against-google-idUSKBN2751OC

      “The Microsoft lawsuit was credited with clearing the way for the explosive growth of the internet since the antitrust scrutiny prevented the company from attempting to thwart competitors.

      Tuesday’s federal lawsuit marks a rare moment of agreement between the Trump administration and progressive Democrats. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted on Sept. 10, using the hash tag #BreakUpBigTech, that she wanted “swift, aggressive action.”

  12. Giuliani says he has a copy of the receipt signed with Hunter Biden’s signature. He says he also has a copy of the letter from Hunter Biden’s lawyer requesting to have back his client’s laptop (with a Beau Biden Foundation sticker on it). If the emails were “hacked,” that hack would have required the alteration or insertion of emails, knowing that the laptop’s emails would be discovered by the repair person. Some of Hunter Biden’s email correspondents have confirmed that authenticity of their emails. Neither Hunter Biden nor Joe Biden have denied the authenticity of the emails so far revealed. That’s an extraordinary fact pattern.

    1. Rudy says a lot of things, many of which aren’t true.

      A copy of the receipt is worthless. Only the original would matter, since it’s easy to manipulate copies.

      Let him make public what he has. Let him testify under oath about who gave him the copies and who has the originals. Let that person present the originals.

    2. “. . . a copy of the receipt . . .”

      Which signed receipt is now publicly available. (And que the receipt-conspiracy loons in 3, 2, 1 . . .)

  13. As an addict, I left two cars which were never found by me. I abandoned them for various reasons. One of the cars belonged to my brother, the other I was trying out to buy and it ran out of gas. I just left it there. Cannot remember to this day why I ditched my brother’s car.

    I completely understand what Hunter did.

      1. My brother was as addicted as I was. But, yes, after a lot of yelling, he forgave. I forgave him for breaking my ribs.

  14. Went in dumb. Come out dumb too. Or is it “two”? Hustling round Atlanta in their alligator shoes. They’re keeping the Biden’s down!

  15. My concern and sadness lies in this question: did The FBI have the hard drive during the impeachment hearings? What a travesty if the whole premise of the impeachment- Trump asking for a look into possible Biden/ corruption was in fact accurate—- known by our Federal Law enforcement— and deliberately withheld.

    1. Same here.

      Also telling: henceforth anything being posted at odds with tech’s narrative will be brazenly and without thought labeled as ‘hacked information’, which is about as good as squealing ‘Russia’ (in fact, it’ll likely be the new ‘Russia’ to gen z crazies. Their lack of understanding of just about anything, including basic grammar, is breathtaking). This, and a great deal else, is going to have to be addressed with actual courts and actual laws, and those laws are already on the books. Funny how there’s so much hullabaloo about the courts, eh?

      We could have addressed this a long time ago in the early stages, nobody wanted to. Those online dollars and notoriety were just too sweet.

    2. What if they looked into it and found it wasn’t true and didn’t make that public? Would you consider that a travesty too?

  16. While private companies have a First Amendment right to censor, they do not have the right to manipulate elections.

    This was a huge gift to the Biden campaign and did Americans a terrible disservice; Americans are smart enough to decide for themselves.

    Time for regulation.

    1. Monument. the First Amendment practically ENSHRINES the right of BIG MONEY to do EXACTLY THAT

      big money PRECISELY INTENDS TO USE PRIVATELY OWNED MASS MEDIA TO INFLUENCE ELECTIONS

      hell they make a lot of money on election ads too. it’s almost their main reason for existence

      we need to talk about amendment the first amendment. the cases are hopelessly out of control and cram us peasants down too hard. we are not “equal” to Bezos or Zuck or Dorsey, or the Slutzbergs, that’s a dream

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