We have been discussing the growing amount of evidence of government censorship efforts using third party organizations as well as direct agency action. One source of funding for such effort was the State Department and its Global Engagement Center, or GEC. Now, litigation brought by Missouri and Louisiana shows that State Department officials pushed companies to get onboard with blacklisting efforts. Despite such evidence of direct government censorship efforts, Democratic members continue to oppose attempts to expose the full scope of such government programs and grants. Witnesses who testified about the dangers of such censorship efforts were even denounced as “Putin lovers” and apologists for insurrectionists and racists by leading Democrats.
The latest evidence involves the site LinkedIn, an employment-focused social media site. The concern is that the effort to enlist LinkedIn could reflect an effort to target blacklisted individuals. The company’s “connect to opportunity” takes on a more menacing meaning when used as part of a blacklisting system.
I previously wrote that the congressionally created, federally funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) supported blacklisting efforts at the British-based Global Disinformation Index (GDI). The index was widely ridiculed for targeting ten conservative and libertarian sites as the most dangerous sources of disinformation; it sought to persuade advertisers to withdraw support for those sites, while listing their most liberal counterparts as among the most trustworthy.
Shortly after my column posted in The Hill, the NED wrote to me to say that it was discontinuing support for the GDI. Microsoft also was forced into retreat after it was shown to be pushing the GDI’s biased blacklist.
Then we learned of additional funding through the State Department’s GEC.
We also know of backchannel communications with the CDC and other agencies.
Now, there is reported evidence that an official at the State Department sent an email to the networking platform LinkedIn advertising the so-called “disinfo cloud,” a GEC-funded project to identify “disinformation” online. While it is now reportedly shutdown, it was advertised as a “one-stop shop” to “identify and then test tools that counter propaganda and disinformation.”
GEC senior advisor Samaruddin Stewart asked for a meeting in February 2020 and said that he was “building relationships with technology companies” as part of the State Department’s efforts at “countering disinformation.” He later sought to get LinkedIn to use the Disinfo Cloud to “assist with identifying, understanding, and addressing disinformation.”
The push to enlist LinkedIn is chilling. This is a site where millions post their resumes and backgrounds for employment purposes. The effort to get the company to filter such postings through its Disinfo Cloud could result in individual blacklisting with government support. If someone has an account on LinkedIn who was flagged as a purveyor of “disinformation” by the State Department, the suggestion is that the company should take steps to remove or take other action with regard to that person. In other words, LinkedIn could be used as the business end of blacklisting.
In earlier columns, I noted that the Biden administration may have played us for chumps. As we celebrated the demise of the infamous Disinformation Governing Board with its “Disinformation Nanny,” the Biden administration never disclosed a larger censorship program, including the use of up to 80 FBI agents.
We now know that this effort extended far beyond Twitter. However, the Democratic leadership has opposed any investigations for years. They have even refused to accept the email evidence. When I testified on the Twitter Files, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) criticized me for offering “legal opinions” without actually working at Twitter. As I have noted, it is like saying that a witness should not discuss the contents of the Pentagon Papers unless he worked at the Pentagon. It was particularly bizarre because I was asked about the content of the Twitter Files. The content — like the content of the Pentagon Papers — are “facts.” The implication of those facts are opinions.
Members like Wasserman Schultz will likely continue to refuse to acknowledge these new emails. However, the public has repeatedly shown in polls that they want transparency on the censorship efforts.
The outreach to LinkedIn is particularly concerning and the House should explore what the State Department was suggesting that the company should do with those individuals or groups targeted as disinformers. For many, Linkedin is a chance to “connect to opportunity” but, for the government, it could offer a more menacing opportunity to connect blacklists to the blacklisted.
There is much we still do not know about these efforts, including the liaison with LinkedIn. Once again, however, the Democratic opposition to investigating the scope of such censorship efforts is telling and troubling. If these campaigns against disinformation are so noble as suggested by Democratic members, they should not oppose full transparency on all programs and grants. The reality is that these efforts raise serious legal and constitutional questions of what I have called “censorship by surrogate.”
The government has sought to achieve indirectly what it cannot do directly in the blacklisting and censorship efforts. These efforts can create a type of agency relationship with social media companies that triggers constitutional protections. The First Amendment only extends to government actions, but that can encompass the work of agents of the government. Even if such agency relationships are not sufficiently established, the efforts undermine free speech values in our country. In either case, we need a full investigation and full transparency on these programs and grants.