During the early days of COVID in 2020, a number of social media users sounded the alarm on the fact that they were being throttled, shadow-banned, suspended, and kicked off of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other mainstream platforms because they questioned the accepted narratives on lockdowns, masking, testing, treatment, and the origins of the virus. In short order, other users were censored for views on Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ issues, and the election, most famously the New York Post and its article revealing the content of Hunter Biden’s laptop in the run-up to the 2020 election.
For their part, Big Tech officials acknowledged that the censorship was happening but justified it by noting that they were merely enforcing their user policies and protecting the public from so-called “misinformation” and “disinformation.” The censorship, they implied, was necessary to protect the greater good.
That narrative began to fall apart in 2022 when billionaire Elon Musk purchased Twitter and opened up the company’s emails and internal communications, which ultimately showed that much of the company’s censorship was done at the behest of powerful government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.
Throughout 2023, there has been a wave of additional activity revealing the federal government’s past efforts to censor content on social media, with whistleblower testimony and other newly released documents showing that the government actively engaged in psychological operations intended to discredit, censor, and track Americans for their online speech, as well as to control narratives and spike disfavored viewpoints even if those viewpoints are backed up by evidence.
The sheer volume of information can be overwhelming so in this article we’ll try to break it down and explain the latest of what’s happening regarding government infringement on free speech rights.
On November 28, journalists Matt Taibbi, Michael Shellenberger, and Alex Gutentag reported that a whistleblower has come forward to detail the activities of an “anti-disinformation” group called the Cyber Threat Intelligence League (CTIL). The revelation was backed up by a trove of “explosive” documents showing that the industrial censorship complex was even more serious and illegal than just censoring social media posts.
The CTIL, the documents show, included military and intelligence officials and former officials from both the U.S. and the U.K. working together alongside the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to engage in “psyops” against the American people.
The organization was launched, according to the testimony of a former British intelligence analyst, in the White House in 2017 in order to stop a “repeat of 2016,” namely the election of President Donald Trump and Brexit, the vote undertaken by the British people to leave the European Union.
Internal messages, presentations, training documents, and slideshows indicate that CTIL was a project bringing together many different players in a “public-private” partnership in order to control the flow of information. The members of CTIL claimed they were combatting “misinformation” and “disinformation” while admitting that misinformation could be true, just shared in a context that created a disfavored view. CTIL compared the spread of alleged disinformation to attacks on cybersecurity.
Far from only censoring posts, those involved also created a database that included disfavored content and the names of those sharing it. In a Substack detailing just Part 1 of the CTIL Files, the journalists wrote,
“In the spring of 2020, CTIL began tracking and reporting disfavored content on social media, such as anti-lockdown narratives like ‘all jobs are essential,’ ‘we won’t stay home,’ and ‘open America now.’ CTIL created a law enforcement channel for reporting content as part of these efforts. The organization also did research on individuals posting anti-lockdown hashtags like #freeCA and kept a spreadsheet with details from their Twitter bios. The group also discussed requesting ‘takedowns’ and reporting website domains to registrars.”
The officials also engaged in psyops operations like those U.S. and U.K. intelligence operatives use in foreign countries. Members of the organization were to go on the “offensive” and seek to shape public opinion.
The journalists wrote,
“The ambitions of the 2020 pioneers of the Censorship Industrial Complex went far beyond simply urging Twitter to slap a warning label on Tweets, or to put individuals on blacklists. The AMITT [Adversarial Misinformation and Influence Tactics and Techniques] framework calls for discrediting individuals as a necessary prerequisite of demanding censorship against them. It calls for training influencers to spread messages. And it calls for trying to get banks to cut off financial services to individuals who organize rallies or events.”
An instance of one of their actions was to “pre-bunk” the Hunter Biden laptop story. Shellenberger testified in front of a House subcommittee that the Aspen Institute, who Shellenberger described as a “proxy” for the government, held a workshop that was attended by nearly all major media outlets and social media companies; during the presentation, the organization urged the companies not to cover the Hunter Biden laptop story despite the fact that, at the time, only the FBI supposedly knew of the laptop’s existence. Later, in just one proven example, FBI officials within Twitter got the company to block the sharing of the New York Post story, despite the fact that the tweet did not violate Twitter’s terms of service.
Thanks to the Twitter Files, Americans learned in late 2022 and early 2023 the extent to which federal agencies, including the FBI, were in contact with and coercing Twitter’s content moderators to flag problematic content, delete tweets, and ban users with disfavored views on COVID-19 and other topics.
This past week, Fox Business obtained documents from a source on the House Judiciary Committee showing that the federal government also coerced Google, which owns YouTube, to promote pro-vaccine content and censor anything promoting “vaccine hesitancy” or vaccine “misinformation.” The documents also show that Google and YouTube employees were being pressured by the federal government to remove content that dissented from the favored government narratives on COVID and the vaccine.
Missouri v. Biden is a case that will be heard by the Supreme Court during its 2023/2024 term. The lawsuit was brought by the states of Missouri and Louisiana, along with a web-based news organization, a healthcare advocate, and three medical doctors. Two courts have already blocked numerous agencies from engaging with social media for the purposes of censoring content, but the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the government’s appeal.
The suit claims that the federal government pressured social media companies to censor content particularly related to COVID and elections. Federal judges have agreed with the complaint finding that the federal government did censor Americans. U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty issued an injunction against a long list of federal officials and agencies stopping them from contacting tech companies. He ruled,
“…the evidence produced thus far depicts an almost dystopian scenario. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth.’ The Plaintiffs have presented substantial evidence in support of their claims that they were the victims of a far-reaching and widespread censorship campaign.”
The federal government appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit which also stated the government exercised so much influence over the social media companies, that their decisions to flag, censor, or moderate content had to be viewed as actions of the state. The Fifth Circuit enjoined several agencies from continuing their activities. These included the White House, the Surgeon General, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the FBI. The Fifth Circuit later added the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to the injunction. The court called CISA the “primary facilitator” of the FBI’s interactions with social media. CISA also flagged content and told tech companies whether the information was true or false, telling them to remove the posts.
When the case comes before it, the Supreme Court will hear both sides of the argument and make a ruling based on the merits of the case. Many legal observers consider this to be one of the most important free speech cases to ever come before the Court.
There are other legal cases involving government censorship going forward as well, the most recent being a lawsuit brought yesterday by the state of Texas and two conservative news publications “to halt one of the most egregious government operations to censor the American press in the history of the nation.” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and New Civil Liberties Alliance, which is representing conservative news outlets The Federalist and Daily Wire, allege that the U.S. State Department through its Global Engagement Center “is actively intervening in the news-media market to render disfavored press outlets unprofitable by funding the infrastructure, development, and marketing and promotion of censorship technology and private censorship enterprises to covertly suppress speech of a segment of the American press.”
For approximately seven years, the federal government has been working with Big Tech and other third-parties to blatantly censor and punish the First Amendment rights of Americans. This wasn’t just “the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history,” as Judge Doughty put it in his ruling, but the narratives the government pushed to counter so-called “disinformation” were dangerous lies and have had — and will continue to have — implications for everyday Americans.
We now know that the lockdowns didn’t work and, in fact, contributed to increased rates of depression, suicide, and massive learning losses among young people, among other social pathologies. Recent studies show that masks not only didn’t prevent transmission of the virus but they actually increased the likelihood of contracting the virus. The experimental COVID vaccines weren’t “safe and effective,” as the slogan insisted; even the CDC had to admit that it didn’t stop transmission or infection and it has caused numerous side effects and even deaths, not the least of which was myocarditis in young people. And the list goes on and on.
Worst perhaps is that Americans have grown apathetic to these attacks on their free speech. They have become inured to accept slogans and expert opinions as truth and fact, too often reflexively and uncritically spouting nonsense phrases like “transwomen are women,” “abortion is healthcare,” and “America is systemically racist.”
In many cases, Americans are so afraid of being labeled as a “conspiracy theorist,” “racist,” or a “hater” that they proactively self-censor, refusing to speak what they know to be true and instead repeat lies out of fear and self-preservation. History shows that once people begin to act like this, they are at risk of being drawn into an irrational mob, like those “good” COVID citizens who would violently confront non-mask wearers in stores or frantically call the cops on their neighbor because they had one too many guests over for Thanksgiving.
Political dissident Vaclav Havel once described how this same phenomenon took root in his own country of Czechoslovakia when taken over by communists:
“We fell morally ill because we got used to saying something different from what we thought.”
All of the revelations cited in this article are important, but none more so than the Supreme Court case of Missouri v. Biden. Its ruling will hopefully reaffirm the First Amendment’s protection of Americans’ right to freely express themselves without government interference. But if the justices themselves get taken in by the narrative that the government must necessarily protect the people from the dangers of so-called disinformation, misinformation, hate speech, wrongthink, or even offensive jokes, then our status as a free nation will be over.
Even if the Supreme Court rules rightly, the possibility of losing the right to freely speak and believe is still in grave danger. One need only look to Europe — where people are being investigated, arrested, and tried for “praying in their minds,” reciting Bible verses, speaking biological truth, and complaining about crime — to see what could lie ahead for America.
What’s more, the false narratives and ideologies that have been advanced for the past seven years through these government psyops have taken deep root on college campuses, in K-12 schools, medical societies, legal institutions, and even churches. In many cases, people believe these lies to be genuinely true.
Fortunately, these falsehoods and the moral rot that extends from them can be overcome, but the solution lies in part in the everyday speech and actions of regular Americans. What’s more, it is not only proven to help undo the effects of propaganda but it is also biblical.
What’s the solution? Americans must resolve to “live not by lies,” as Soviet dissident and Christian Alexandr Solzhenitsyn put it. In other words, speak the truth. Speak biblical truth — always, and in love, of course, but without concern for the immediate personal cost of potentially being attacked, cancelled, or smeared. Because it is the truth that will set us free (John 8:32), and it is only the truth that will allow us to remain free.
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