Fauci is accused of quickly scuttling such discussion and critics point to his own alleged approval of gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab. Fauci and other leading experts now admit that the lab theory is a real possibility, even if they do not agree that it is the best explanation. Social media companies like Facebook declared that the previously banned “conspiracy theory” would now be allowed to be discussed. Yet, some in the media continued to push the media to avoid discussing it. The New York Times science writer Apoorva Mandavilli declared the theory “racist” even as Fauci and others were saying that it is now considered a possible explanation.
Indeed, many of the views that the media attacked as conspiracy theories or debunked are now again being seriously considered. That includes claims of adverse responses to the vaccines, natural immunity protection, and the psychological costs from masking or isolation, particularly among children. None of these views are inviolate or beyond question — any more than the official accounts were at the time. Rather, they were systemically “disappeared” from social media – pushed to the far extremes of public and academic discourse.
The First Amendment is designed to prevent the government from censoring speech. While the new lawsuit will face legal challenges, it has already forced previously unknown government-corporate coordination into the public view.
While the CDC now admits that it made serious mistakes during the pandemic, it allegedly worked with companies to ban opposing views. Those who sought to raise these questions found their accounts suspended. There is every reason for the CDC to combat what it considers false information through its own postings and outreach programs. However, the involvement in censoring dissenting views is deeply troubling.
That brings us back to the “tricky” part. The request for the meeting was made on March 18, 2021. That week, Dorsey and other CEOs were to appear at a House hearing to discuss “misinformation” on social media and their “content modification” policies. I had just testified on private censorship in circumventing the First Amendment as a type of censorship by surrogate. Dorsey and the other CEOs were asked about my warning of a “little brother problem, a problem which private entities do for the government which it cannot legally do for itself.” Dorsey insisted that there was no such censorship office or effort.
The new lawsuit sheds new light on that testimony. It now appears that the CDC was actively feeding disapproved viewpoints to these companies, including a list of tweets that the CDC regarded as misinformation. In one email, Twitter senior manager for public policy Todd O’Boyle asked Crawford to help identify tweets to be censored and emphasized that the company was “looking forward to setting up regular chats.”
Facebook also received lists of “offensive” posts to be “dealt with.” Facebook trained government officials in using its “CrowdTangle” system used by “health departments [to] flag potential vaccine misinformation” to allow the company to review and possibly remove it. It added that “this is similar to how governments and fact-checkers use CrowdTangle ahead of elections….”
That was another eye-raising reference since these companies were criticized for killing the Hunter Biden laptop story before the election. The story was blocked as presumed “Russian disinformation,” a move that Dorsey admitted in the March hearing was a mistake. Now, a year later, story is accepted not just as legitimate but potentially a serious threat for the Biden Administration.
Whatever the outcome of the litigation, the filing raises, again, whether our concept of state censorship and a state media are outmoded. The last few years have seen a striking uniformity in the barring of certain political and policy viewpoints, including dissenting medical or scientific views that could potentially protect lives. That occurred without any central ministry of information or coercive state laws. It was done by mutual agreement and shared values between the government and these companies.
What was not known were the moving parts in what has been arguably the most successful censorship system in our history. To some extent, no direction was needed beyond the periodic announcements of figures like Fauci or the CDC, which were treated as gospel and not to be challenged. Even when Fauci was criticized for reversing himself on key issues like the wearing of masks or their efficacy, it did not change the concerted effort to suppress opposing views.
The “tricky” part for the public is how to deal with the circumvention of the First Amendment in a system of censorship by surrogates. Outsourcing the suppression of opposing views threatens the same core values in our government. Just as the CDC overstepped its bounds in mandatory moratoriums on evictions, it should not be allowed to exercise control over free speech, directly or indirectly. It’s mandate to ensure “a Healthy World–Through Prevention” should not apply to unhealthy thoughts.