We previously discussed the unrelenting drumbeat of censorship on the Internet from Democratic leaders, including President-elect Joe Biden. This growing campaign against free speech is continuing to grow despite the hearing yesterday when Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey that the company wrongly blocked the New York Post story on Hunter Biden’s influence peddling before the election. There was no acknowledgement from the many academics or politicians who supported the action by Twitter. Instead, Democratic senators called for more such censorship.
Dorsey’s statement was apologetic but still incomplete and evasive. He stated “We made a quick interpretation using no other evidence that the materials in the article were obtained through hacking, and according to our policy, we blocked them from being spread. Upon further consideration, we admitted this action was wrong and corrected it within 24 hours.”
There was no suggestion of hacking since the source of the information was identified as coming from an abandoned computer of Hunter Biden. Neither Biden nor his father’s campaign has ever denied that the laptop and the emails were his. Moreover, Twitter blocked the New York Post for two weeks, not 24 hours. The New York Post refused to take down the story and it took two weeks for Twitter to lift the block. As a result, it blocked the newspaper during the critical run up to the election.
However, it was not Dorsey’s statement but the response of Democratic senators that was so unnerving. Various senators demanded more such censorship. As I have stated before as someone from a staunchly Democratic family in Chicago, I never imagined that the party would embrace censorship as a rallying cry. Yet, attacking free speech has become a common theme on the left.
This is precisely how the crackdown on free speech in Europe began. Once politicians convinced the public to surrender this right to fight hateful views, countries like France, Germany and England plunged into greater and greater criminalization and regulation of speech. In a particularly worrisome move, Biden selected one of the most anti-free speech figures in the United States to head his transition team on media agency offices.
The fear of our going down the same road as Europe was magnified in yesterday’s hearing as senators pressed the companies for many censorship. One of the most chilling moments came from Delaware Senator Chris Coons who demonstrated the very essence of the “slippery slope” danger.
Dorsey: Well, misleading information, as you are aware, is a large problem. It’s hard to define it completely and cohesively. We wanted to scope our approach to start to focus on the highest severity of harm. We focused on three areas, manipulated media, which you mentioned, civic integrity around the election, specifically in public health, specifically around COVID. We wanted to make sure that our resources that we have the greatest impact on where we believe the greatest severity of harm is going to be. Our policies are living documents. They will evolve. We will add to them, but we thought it important that we focus our energies and prioritize the work as much as we could.
Coons: Well, Mr. Dorsey, I’ll close with this. I cannot think of a greater harm than climate change, which is transforming literally our planet and causing harm to our entire world. I think we’re experiencing significant harm as we speak. I recognize the pandemic and misinformation about COVID-19, manipulated media also cause harm, but I’d urge you to reconsider that because helping to disseminate climate denialism, in my view, further facilitates and accelerates one of the greatest existential threats to our world. So thank you to both of our witnesses.
Notably, Dorsey starts with the same argument made by free speech advocates: “Well, misleading information, as you are aware, is a large problem. It’s hard to define it completely and cohesively.” However, instead of then raising concerns over censoring views and comments on the basis for such an amorphous category, Coons pressed to expanding the categories of censored material to prevent people from sharing any views that he considers “climate denialism”
There is, of course, a wide array of views that different people or different groups would declare “harmful.” Indeed, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal seemed to take the opposite meaning from Twitter admitting that it was wrong to censor the Biden story. Blumenthal said that he was “concerned that both of your companies are, in fact, backsliding or retrenching, that you are failing to take action against dangerous disinformation.” Accordingly, he demand an answer to this question:
“Will you commit to the same kind of robust content modification playbook in this coming election, including fact checking, labeling, reducing the spread of misinformation, and other steps, even for politicians in the runoff elections ahead?”
“Robust content modification” has a certain Orwellian feel to it. It is not content modification. It is censorship. If the Democratic party is going crackdown on free speech, it should admit to being the party of censorship and join those who have insisted “China is right.” At least there would be an element of honesty in this growing campaign against free speech in the United States.