“Before it’s too Late”: Democrats Shift From Corporate Censorship to State Censorship

Twitter LogoBelow is my column in USA Today on how the Musk purchase of Twitter has forced politicians and pundits to move from corporate censorship to calls for good old-fashioned state censorship. Indeed, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) has declared Musk’s pledge to restore free speech values on social media as threatening Democracy itself. She has promised that “there are going to be rules” to block such changes. She is not alone. Former President Obama has declared “regulation has to be part of the answer” to disinformation. For her part, Hillary Clinton is looking to Europe to fill the vacuum and called upon her European counterparts to pass a massive censorship law to “bolster global democracy before it’s too late.”

Here is the column:

A brave new nightmare.” Those words from former Labor Secretary Robert Reich described the threat created by Elon Musk’s bid to restore free speech values by buying Twitter.

Yet, despite warnings that censorship is necessary “for democracy to survive,” neither the Tesla CEO and billionaire nor ordinary citizens appear to be sufficiently terrified of free speech. Twitter confirmed Monday that Musk will acquire the company in a deal worth $44 billion. Once the deal is complete, Twitter will become a privately held company.

Progressives, in the meantime, have adopted a dangerous shift in their strategy of calling for corporations to censor speech.

Last week, former President Barack Obama made this shift clear in his much covered speech at Stanford University. Just days after Musk re-enforced his bid for Twitter with the support of many in the free speech community, Obama warned that social media was “tilting us in the wrong direction.” He called for more censorship of disinformation while calling himself “pretty close to a First Amendment absolutist.”

Obama has never been viewed as an ally on free speech by those of us who have been attacked for our “absolutist” views. Moreover, calling for censorship as a free speech absolutist is like claiming to be a vegetarian while calling for mandatory meat consumption.

Obama favors free speech only if it does not include disinformation, including what he considers to be “lies, conspiracy theories, junk science, quackery, racist tracts and misogynist screeds.”

However, it was notable that Obama called himself “pretty close to a First Amendment absolutist,” not a free speech absolutist. The point became clear later in the speech when Obama noted that the First Amendment does not restrict private businesses from censoring speech. The First Amendment is not the full measure or definition of free speech, which many consider a human right.

For years, the First Amendment distinction has been the focus of liberals who discovered a way to circumvent constitutional bans on censorship by using companies like Twitter and Facebook. Now, that successful strategy could be curtailed as shareholders join figures like Musk in objecting to corporations and media acting like a surrogate state media.

Faced with that prospect, Democrats are falling back to their final line of defense – and finally being honest about their past use of corporate surrogates. They are now calling for outright state censorship. Obama declared: “This is an opportunity, it’s a chance that we should welcome for governments to take on a big important problem and prove that democracy and innovation can coexist.”

He is talking about imposing “standards” on companies to force them to censor “lies” and “disinformation.”

As is often the case, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stripped away any niceties or nuance. Clinton called for the European Union to pass the Digital Services Act (DSA), a measure widely denounced by free speech advocates as a massive censorship measure. Clinton warned that governments need to act now because “for too long, tech platforms have amplified disinformation and extremism with no accountability. The EU is poised to do something about it.”

Clinton’s call for censoring disinformation was breathtakingly hypocritical. President Obama was briefed by his CIA Director John Brennan on “alleged approval by Hillary Clinton on July 26, 2016 of a proposal from one of her foreign policy advisors to vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services.” The intelligence suggested it was “a means of distracting the public from her use of a private email server.”

Moreover, her call for censorship came just weeks after special counsel John Durham offered more details about the accusation that her campaign manufactured a false Russian collusion theory. One of Clinton’s former lawyers is under indictment for the effort. Clinton personally tweeted out the disinformation that is the subject of the federal prosecution. And the Federal Election Commission recently fined her campaign for hiding the funding of the Steele dossier.

Given that history, it would be easy to dismiss Clinton’s calls as almost comically self-serving. However, the 27-nation EU just did what she demanded. It gave preliminary approval to the act, which would subject companies to censorship standards at the risk of punitive financial or even criminal measures.

If implemented, it might not matter if Musk seeks to restore free speech values at Twitter. Figures like Clinton are now going to the EU to effectively force companies to continue to censor users.

Faced with liability across Europe, the companies could be forced to base their policies on the lowest common denominator for free speech.

Countries like Germany and France have spent decades criminalizing speech and imposing speech controls on their populations. That is why the premise of the DSA is so menacing.

European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager was ecstatic in declaring that it is “not a slogan anymore, that what is illegal offline should also be seen and dealt with as illegal online. Now it is a real thing. Democracy’s back.”

Sound familiar? Freedom is tyranny, and democracy demands speech controls.

Under the DSA, “users will be empowered to report illegal content online and online platforms will have to act quickly.” This includes speech that is not only viewed as “disinformation” but also “incitement.”

Academics have increasingly echoed the call for such censorship. Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith and University of Arizona law professor Andrew Keane Woods have called for Chinese-style censorship of the internet, stating in The Atlantic 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.”

A glimpse of that future was made clear by Twitter last week, when the company declared that it would ban any ads disagreeing with its view of climate change. Previously, Democratic senators demanded that Twitter expand censorship to include blocking disinformation on climate change as well as an array of other areas.

The push to pass the DSA brings many U.S. politicians full circle but also exposes the true motivation of what is euphemistically called “content moderation.” Democrats turned to corporate allies to impose censorship programs that they could not impose directly under the First Amendment.

Now that Musk’s potential purchase of Twitter could blow apart that unified corporate alliance, they are seeking to use the EU to reimpose censorship obligations. Again, such restrictions would not trigger the First Amendment because they are being imposed by foreign governments.

The result would be a delicious victory for the anti-free speech movement. Musk may buy Twitter only to find himself forced to curtail free speech against the wishes of his customers and his new company.

Jonathan Turley, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter: @JonathanTurley

241 thoughts on ““Before it’s too Late”: Democrats Shift From Corporate Censorship to State Censorship”

  1. How can people like former President Barack Obama make a plea that businesses (and politicians) censor speech that may contain conspiracy theories when it turns out that many of these ideas that were demonized as such turned out to be true?

    By this logic, he would have forced the censorship of the thought that the Earth revolved around the Sun because it didn’t fit with the ideas believed at the time to be true.

  2. Jonathan: It’s hard to make this stuff up! In my previous comment I mentioned that Elon Musk has blocked Public Citizen from his Twitter account. In one response, Samuel Delaney, one of your loyal followers, responded: “Elon Musk isn’t doing a thing to harm the Public Citizen from exercising their 1st Amendment rights…You have the right to speak and I have the right to ignore you. Elon Musk chooses to ignore a progressive advocacy group that claims anyone not on board with bizarre fads are racists, sexists, homophobes, fascist Nazi, blah, blah, blah, blah. If PC were a reasonable, fair-minded outlet, and not a bat shit crazy woke imbeciles, then normal sane people, Elon Musk and me, would want to hear what they say. If you’re a [sic] example of a person who’s influenced by progressive propagandists, then I’m happy to stay away, and Musk was right to block noise”. So much to digest or regurgitate but let’s try.

    First, there is a big difference between “ignore” and block on Twitter. Twitter’s “Help Center” says a “block” is “restricting specific accounts from contacting them, seeing their Tweets, and following them”. To “block” some organization from your account you have to click a specific icon. This requires an overt act. That’s the antithesis of simply ignoring PC. Now if Musk is actually successful in acquiring Twitter what do you think will be his first act? I suspect he will permanently ban PC from Twitter because Musk probably agrees with Mr. Delaney that PC is not led by “normal sane people”. Such a move would not be bringing “free speech” back to Twitter.

    Second, Mr. Delaney thinks “free expression” is a “two-way street”. If that means anything it should mean the free exchange of ideas, even those you don’t agree with. This is the red thread running through all your columns dealing with free expression. But Mr. Delaney has a different idea about “free speech”. He thinks PC is not a “reasonable, fair minded outlet” but consists of “bat shit crazy woke imbeciles” that apparently are not entitled to the same 1st Amendment rights as he and Elon Musk enjoy–well at least not on Twitter. I don’t know where Mr. Delaney gets his concepts of “free speech” but it’s certainly not from your columns.

    1. Lizzie Borden Warren
      Took her axe.
      Gave her country
      50 whacks
      With her saw she had more fun
      Giving her home state 51.
      Easy for socialist Lizzie to be
      Socialist fascist one two three.

  3. It is possible to send messages directly from my browser to yours. Bypassing any servers. Regardless of any regulation, the communication CANNOT BE regulated. Fund me.

  4. I will be 69 years old in a few weeks. In my life the thought never entered my mind that we would be here, where there is a serious attempt by our government to stop American citizens from speaking their minds. Millennials, Gen-Xers, Gen-Yers, and everybody else needs overcome decades of poor schooling and start to READ. Read about communism; read about totalitarianism; read about the World Wars, Russia, the Soviet Union, East Germany, China. More than anything else, read Solzhenitsyn. These arse-holes are using precisely the same tactics here as were used to enslave those peoples. We MUST stop them. We must. For God’s sake, we must.

    1. Gen X remembers communism as much as you Boomers. Don’t lap Gen X in with Millrnials and Zoomers.

    2. To the Totalitarian Left we all say: We will not go quietly into that good night.

      November is an opportunity to speak loudly.

  5. Epstein’s First Law of Democrat Behavior: The Democrats will take whatever position they think will help them gain or maintain power.

  6. The leftist mind and the criminal mind are one in the same. Leftists/criminals want their intended victims deprived of freedom (civil rights) so we can’t defend against their crimes. Like their WWI and WWII, leftist’s WWIII can be won in only one way when they control every government and fake elections.

  7. The Democrats seem really upset at Twitter becoming politically neutral, instead of censoring conservatives. Think about the control they refuse to cede on the public square.

  8. Jonathan: Sorry dude. Neither you nor Elon Musk are free speech “absolutists”. Public Citizen, a progressive advocacy group that has been highly critical of Musk over the years, has been blocked by Musk from his Twitter account. Not a good sign. And Musk’s move comes even before he has completed his purchase of Twitter. Not a word from you on this.

    And what do you have to say about what is going on in Florida? Nothing. GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a number of laws that censor constitutionally protected speech in Florida’s classrooms and workplaces. Teachers and professors are now prohibited from discussing race, the racial history of the country, issues related to gender or the Holocaust. Scores of science and math books have been banned because they secretly contain liberal and left “indoctrination”. Roger Guffey, a former math teacher, has a tongue-in-cheek piece in the Lexington Herald-Leader today spoofing Florida’s banning of dozens of math books. Guffey talks, in part, about “commutative property”, a math concept that states that the numbers on which we operate can be moved or swapped from their position without making any difference to the answer. The property applies to addition and multiplication. Guffey says: “Florida recently rejected dozens of mathematics textbooks…because the books contained objectionable material designed to indoctrinate students with liberal ideologies. Governor Ron DeSantis deserves the medal of honor for standing up to these woke bullies who have pushed their subversive materials on an unsuspecting public”. Guffey then focuses on “commutative property”: “Flagrant anti-American ideology lurks among these properties our impressionable students are forced to learn to pass the class. One of the first properties they learn is the commutative property. Is it just a coincidence that the word ‘commutative’ shares most of letters with communism?” Guffey concludes his piece: “Research has shown that math anxiety is correlated with higher rates of suicide, depression, and mental illness all of which are also related to the LGBTQ crowd….LGBTQ is not even a word. God created male and female, namely Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Outlawing saying ‘gay’ will save lives because [it] will not be confused by false teachings”.

    Guffey uses satire to point out that DeSantis has weaponized math in the service of his right-wing agenda. Banning math and science books and censoring teachers is not only anti-free speech it is a threat to our Democracy. Nazi Germany is an example of how fascism clamps down on free expression. But about what is going on in Florida you have nothing to say. Which just shows you are not the free speech “originalist you claim to be.

    1. Grow up, no one is not being taught I managed to get through college without a racist course in history or any classes in transgenderism or sex for that matter. I do not think any of that should be taught in school, it’s the parents job and not the teachers. My teachers didn’t die because they could not discuss race or sex and you won’t either as I said, grow up.

      1. In some instance it may not be anyone’s job.

        There is no requirement that the vast majority of us receive any education regarding transgender or even homosexuality – beyond that each of us has equal rights.

    2. Dennis McIntyre —- And the associative law! It’s the law that you have to associate! Have to! Worse yet, the dstributive law! Must be socialism!

      /sarc

    3. When a text book is so egregiously erroneous, it deserves to be ignored, which is what Gov. DeSantis is doing. One does not have to burn a fascist piece. The rancid oil of lies that it is made of will eventually ignite by itself.

    4. Jonathan Turley, before it’s too late declare your support for the Republican agenda and stop dancing around. The Democrats are crazy stupid, crazy incompetent, and batshit crazy-crazy. Why’s a reasonable independent thinker like you stalling.

    5. Did you read the math lessons in the text books Florida rejected? What is wrong with your thinking? People don’t want to confuse thousands of children, especially their own, to indulge the affluent weirdos that have nothing better to do but worry about nonsense. And another thing: Elon Musk isn’t doing a thing to harm the Public Citizen from exercising their 1st amendment rights. Freedom of expression, speech is a two-way street: you have the right to speak and I have the right to ignore you. Elon Musk chooses to ignore a progressive advocacy group that claims anyone not on board with bizarre fads are racists, sexists, homophobes, fascist, Nazi, blah, blah, blah, blah. If PC were a reasonable, fair minded outlet, and not batshit crazy woke imbeciles, then normal sane people, Elon Musk and me, would want to hear what they have to say. If you’re a example of a person who’s influenced by progressive propagandists, then I’m happy to stay away, and Musk was right to block the noise.

    6. Wow, Dennis. This is so full of misinformation (actually lies) that I wonder about your sanity, but, of course, you have every right to make it up. Even in Florida.

  9. It was already government censorship – tech companies colluding with government to perform the censorship government is explicitly prevented from doing.

    All should be hung (after fair trials, of course) for violating the First Amendment rights of ALL Americans.

    1. Wealthy, white Leftists, and other grifters are behind these bizarre social engineering schemes. Apparently, the affluent socialists, and affluent socialist wannabes, grew bored destroying the black communities in the Democratic Party controlled inner-cities. Now, they are focused on destroying what’s left. These schemes will certainly create more misery, not less, more disfunction, not less, and other, as yet unknown, social decay.

    1. Anonymous, do you really think that Brian Ulrich is guilty? Are you unaware of the conviction rate of the DOJ primarily through forced “cooperation” agreements or plea bargains? So, the man facing losing everything grasps the false lifeline tossed to him by the US Government and you take it as the whole truth and nothing, but the truth. How do you think you would fare if they ever came after you?

      1. He hasn’t been forced to cooperate. Most of the people who were charged in that indictment have chosen to go to trial instead.

        If they came after me for something I hadn’t done, I’d go to trial.

        1. Some go to trial, and some will plead guilty despite innocence after observing what had been done to others. If they gave Nordean a good deal and he knew what he faced, would Nordean have pled guilty when he knew he was not?

          “conspiracy with Nordean”
          Since ATS is at it again, I propose he answer a question. He objects to others, saying Jan6 people are being denied bail as justice is absent.

          What about Nordean? The evidence against him for anything major like violence is non-existent. He was initially permitted out on house arrest but then put in jail, primarily in solitary confinement.

          ATS explain how Nordean is in jail when you say such occurrences aren’t happening. His father offered over $1 million bail risking his business and assets. Alternatively, you can admit you were lying.

          His underlying crime was supporting Trump. Videos show a man walking from the Washington Monument and through an open door of the Capitol Building where the police stood by. The release of such videos was met with strenuous resistance from the Biden administration.

          To my knowledge, the worst charges against him are non-violent, conspiracy and obstruction, both of which are on tenuous grounds not deserving a jail sentence without bail where most of the time was spent in solitary confinement.

          1. “you say such occurrences aren’t happening”

            You’re a liar.

            You are Meyer the Troll Liar.

            1. Here is an example of why I am not a liar and you are a troll.
              —-
              “I expect the following comments to be deleted.”

              That was from the past. I was pointing out you were hoping to infuriate people by wasting their time when all along you knew that your earlier posting likely would lead their posts and posts following to be deleted.

              That, ATS, is the type of person you are.

              SM

        2. You are obtuse to the danger this government poses to our liberty, prosperity, and freedom – damn you and your stupidity.

          A trial in DC, where the jury is 101% bought and paid for by the Democrats, the party of and for government, tolerates no dissent, entraps American citizens, stages and incites violence to later blame on convenient saps, then uses the force of federal law enforcement to prosecute the powerless. For what? Do you feel safer now? Did the 41 month incarceration of the man dressed-up as a Viking cause you to celebrate. How can you not know this event was manufactured by dirty cops at the FBI, corrupt political lawyers at the DOJ, and the legacy media? Four Americans were killed on that day by law enforcement. No guns were found, no the protesters were invited into the capital building, the crowd was infiltrated with an unknown number of undercover agents, informants, and other members of law enforcement for the express purpose to cause a ruckus.

          The DOJ gets their man, whether innocent or guilty, in DC. Wake up to the new normal where Democrats will cling to power no matter the cost.

          1. “in DC, where the jury is 101% bought and paid for by the Democrats”

            You sound a tad biased.

    2. How can you believe this is a win? What kind of person celebrates the arrest, imprisonment, and the railroading of powerless people at the hands of the Party of Government. Democrats are captured by an undemocratic, illiberal ideology where any dissent is smashed. Not with words – by force of arms. Those people were no threat to anyone or anything. Have you thought at all about what brought hundreds of thousands of people to the capital that day? It makes me wonder if you, and people who share your Leftist ideology, have the ability to think independently, to think for yourselves rather than drink the cool aide served by the cool people in the legacy media. Have you no shame? Any sense of decency? Where’s your humanity, empathy? Don’t you know the DOJ squeezes guilty pleas in 98% of the cases it prosecutes? – The DOJ has unlimited funds, unlimited time, and favorable media coverage, and a monopoly on the use of force. Many of those captured in the DOJ’s J6 operation have been in solitary confinement since January 6, 2021. That’s nearly a year and a half – everybody would plead guilty to anything under such duress. Gross! This government is corrupt, self-serving, draconian, and not working on behalf of the American people – you are not helping the right side.

  10. OT

    Before it’s too late, actual Americans may want to shift their “children of the state” from the communist (liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats, RINOs) teachers unions to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    “A new puberty guide for kids aims to replace anxiety with self-confidence”

    “The text is strewn with colorful diagrams [LGBTQ], fun facts (“Some people call an erection a ‘boner,’ but there’s actually no bone in the penis!”) and stories from a diverse cast of fictional characters navigating puberty.”

    – Pien Huang, NPR

    https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2022/04/23/1094260259/a-new-puberty-guide-for-kids-aims-to-replace-anxiety-with-self-confidence?

    1. Making the abnormal normal; it’s not nice to fool mother nature.

      The Constitution and Bill of Rights stick with normal and leave it at that.
      ________________________________________________________

      “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

      – Dr. Gordon Eadie

  11. So Turley and other political operatives from the right are doing their Chicken Little act warning of the dangers of CRT or that Free Speech itself is being threatened. During Dubya’s term we had what the they called “Free Speech Zones” nothing from the right was said then. Red states are working almost non-stop on removing books from library’s and schools and the only words we hear, is the books THEY want removed. The right seems to have a yuge problem with private companies and their own rules, and yet they are the ones who are combining political and corporate together like a glove. And there’s a word for that kind of cooperation between political and corporate working for the same ends.

    1. FishWings, I find it interesting that you always talk about books being removed from middle school libraries but you never tell us what books are being banned. In consequence I present a book that you think should remain for young people to read. https://theiowastandard.com/shocking-images-from-book-gender-queer-which-is-stocked-in-school-libraries-across-iowa/. I am sure that you could supply a longer list of banned books but you just want to us to see what the books contents are selling. I implore you. Please provide a list so we can research the books you say are banned. I ask that we may honestly asses your accusations by your provision of further evidence. If a your list is not forthcoming we can only discern that you are only saying what they tell you to say.

      1. Fishy, I can’t believe you support this type of book in the school system. If you do, you have some deep psychological problems.

  12. Moronillism: elision of the First Amendment.
    Woke: allusion that the elision will pass unnoticed.
    Bureaucratocracy: evolutionary development of a Democratic Republic (American Movement).
    Democratic Voter: a blind fool!

  13. Dallas [The Financial Cover-Up: Who Shot J.R.]

    Another Raid of Deutsche Bank, Another Dead Whistleblower
    https://wallstreetonparade.com/2022/04/another-raid-of-deutsche-bank-another-dead-whistleblower/

    … And another One bites the dust …

    Do you see a pattern here yet?

    Presidential Terms need Central Banks to finance their Administrations Policies.
    Central Banks need War(s) to Cover-Up Their Debts and Tracks (Human-Liabilities).

    Tell me Lies, Tell me Sweet Little Lies

    1. As stated it would require a Constitutional amendment from the 50 States. Something the socialists never heard existing. They would see it as a Christmas Tree planted in a hog trough

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