Elon Musk has not actually changed the “content moderation” policies at Twitter yet, but President Joe Biden went on a virtual rave on Friday over the prospect of free speech breaking out on a single social media site. As a type of censor-in-chief, Biden has led calls for censorship on social media, which have been largely heeded by companies like Facebook and Twitter. Now Biden is accusing Twitter of “spewing lies all across the world” by seeking to reduce one of the largest censorship systems in history. The President lamented that the influence of the media will be “de minimus.” He is a bit late on that front.
President Biden has previously accused social media companies of “killing people” by refusing to impose robust censorship over a wide range of subjects. Many of those banned or censored were doctors with opposing views on the data and the science related to the pandemic.
Some of those doctors were the co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, which advocated for a more focused Covid response that targeted the most vulnerable population rather than widespread lockdowns and mandates. Many are now questioning the efficacy and cost of the massive lockdown as well as the real value of masks or the rejection of natural immunities as an alternative to vaccination. Yet, these experts and others were attacked for such views just a year ago. Some found themselves censored on social media for challenging claims of Dr. Fauci and others.
The Great Barrington Declaration was not the only viewpoint deemed dangerous. Those who alleged that the virus may have begun in a lab in China were widely denounced and the views barred from being uttered on social media platforms. It was later learned that a number of leading experts raised this theory with Fauci and others early in the pandemic.
We are now seeing increasing evidence of back channels used by government and political figures to maintain a censorship system by surrogate in the social media companies and foreign allies.
The President, however, was in full censor-in-chief mode this week, referring to censors as “editors.” He denounced Musk who “goes out and buys an outfit that spews lies all across the world.” He then claimed “There are no editors anymore. There are no editors anymore.”
The President added “the ability of newspapers to have much impact is de minimis.” That last statement seemed to lament the loss of a close and active ally for the Democrats. Neutrality is anathema if you have largely been able to control political and social exchanges on social media.
What the President said next, however, was particularly telling and chilling:
“How do people know the truth? What do they — how do they make — make a distinction between fact and fiction? There’s so much — so much going on. And we’re in the middle of this.”
Indeed, perish the thought that citizens might be left to pursue the truth on their own without the government or surrogates in the media framing it for them. How could we possibly “know the truth” without our social media overlords?
This view of citizens are gullible dupes needing to be lead to the truth is a recurring theme among Democrats and media allies. It was the theme of a “Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy” conference at the University of Chicago with the leading Democratic leaders and media leaders in Chicago last year, including former President Barack Obama. The conference discussed how the views of the public could be shaped if government and media figures worked together to frame what is true and what is not.
Former President Barack Obama flogged this false line at Stanford in April 2022. He started by declaring himself “pretty close to a First Amendment absolutist.” He then called for the censorship of anything he considered “disinformation,” including “lies, conspiracy theories, junk science, quackery, racist tracts and misogynist screeds.”
President Biden lamented the loss of a Twitter management that was openly antagonistic to traditional free speech values. Soon after he took over, former CEO Parag Agrawal pledged to regulate content and said the company would “focus less on thinking about free speech” because “speech is easy on the Internet. Most people can speak. Where our role is particularly emphasized is who can be heard.”
Like Biden, many are moving to try to deter Musk from allowing greater free speech by getting companies like General Motors to pull advertising revenue. It is part of the reason that some of us would support monthly fees if it meant the support of a true free speech alternative to other companies like Facebook.