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Why the press and the internet must remain uncensored

FROM 1947, Republican Senator Joe McCarthy was able to enthral the US public with the Red Scare, weaponising blacklists and personal attacks for a decade in order to silence critics as he turned his witch-hunt against the US left, stating “the Democratic Party [is] the bedfellow of international communism.”

One month ago, the Democrats have revived McCarthy’s mandate and tactics where this time, instead of a Hollywood elite taking the stand in Washington DC, journalists have taken part in hearings, giving testimony as to how the US government usurped its authority to pressure big tech companies like Twitter into repressing free speech.

Just as McCarthy labelled his opponents and critics Russian sympathisers, so too did journalists Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger come under scrutiny from Democrat senators who decided to derail the overwhelming evidence of the Democratic Party’s involvement in a massive censorship system within the United States.

As Jonathan Turley noted, “The Red Scare is back and it is going blue.”

Following Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter last autumn, the billionaire began allowing access to company documents in order, as he stated in a Twitter Space, “to surface [sic] anything bad Twitter has done in the past.”

The files included records generated under Musk’s ownership, provide unprecedented insight into decision-making within a major social media company and into the influences laid upon a private company by the US government.

For those you of sanely living far away from social media, media headlines since December might have seemed insignificant since often those who refuse social media think this is an ancillary space, completely detached from real life.

This postulate, however, is entirely erroneous, especially since, according to Ofcom, in Britain “social media is overtaking traditional channels for news among teens” and from the ages of 16-44, social media is quickly becoming the most popular platform for accessing news.

Even if you don’t use social media, social media has become a tool for power centres and the managerial elite across the globe. The Twitter files demonstrate how internet freedom of speech is as crucial to maintain as is freedom of expression in the public square.

Since journalists Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss were granted access to Twitter’s internal files last December, there have been two diametrically opposed receptions: on the one hand, a salient upheaval among independent publications and, on the other, an overwhelming silence within legacy media.

From the halls of legacy media were complaints that Musk handpicked the reporters allowed access to internal material. All the writers selected by Musk are those who have gone against the grain on salient issues from Covid-19 mitigation and identity politics and all are known to be hostile to mainstream US media.

Still, much information has been borne from these journalists’ research which have sent shockwaves around independent media.

The Twitter files can be broken down into three general parts: the Hunter Biden laptop story and the censorship of a factual media story; the suspension of Donald Trump, and the deputisation of Twitter by the FBI, Homeland Security and other US government agencies.

Together, these stories reveal not just a social media company willing to do the bidding of the government, but it demonstrates a federal bureaucracy openly hostile to free speech.

Many journalists and scholars have testified in recent weeks as to the repression of free speech through censorship by proxy — whereby US government agencies keep their hands “clean” by not directly censoring free speech.

Instead, what the Twitter files have evidenced is a systemic cleansing of undesirable speech by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in addition to the Global Engagement Centre (GEC) which is based in the State Department and is partnered with the FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security, National Security Agency and Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Taibbi wrote of this broad operation: “The Twitter files show something new: agencies like the FBI and DHS … regularly sending social media content to Twitter through multiple entry points, pre-flagged for moderation.”

The epicentre of the Twitter files is the Hunter Biden laptop story that reveals how Twitter did everything in its power to suppress a story that broke just weeks before the 2020 US presidential election.

The evidence shows that the US government put pressure on Twitter to repress this news story — as a result of which Twitter removed links to the New York Post story, supplemented warnings that these stories — the original and other media reports — might be “unsafe,” and prevented users from sharing these stories either through public feed or direct message.

This last restriction has only previously been reserved for the sharing of child sexual abuse and extreme cases of terrorism.

Then, hours later, in an extraordinary step, Twitter locked the New York Post’s Twitter account as well as the accounts of everyone who shared links to its reporting, including White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

These actions were rationalised with the pretext that these stories violated Twitter’s policy on hacked materials, yet there was no evidence that anything on the laptop was hacked. The laptop had already been authenticated and the story fact-checked.

The evening before the New York Post ran its first story on the laptop, FBI special agent Elvis Chan sent 10 documents to Twitter’s former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth through an exceptional one-way communications channel the FBI had established with the company.

For months, the FBI and other federal intelligence agencies had been preparing Roth to dismiss news reports about Hunter Biden ahead of the 2020 election as “hack-and-leak” operations by state actors.

They did exactly the same thing with Facebook, whose CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted as much to Joe Rogan in his August 2022 podcast.

Michael Shellenberger also reported in the seventh instalment of the Twitter files that the FBI repeatedly asked Roth about foreign influence operations on the platform and was informed there were none of any significance.

Throughout 2020, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies repeatedly primed Yoel Roth to dismiss reports of Hunter Biden’s laptop as a Russian “hack-and-leak” operation.

The FBI also routinely pressured Twitter to hand over data outside the normal search warrant process, a request which Twitter originally resisted, then to which it finally caved.

On September 24 2020, Twitter told the FBI it had removed 345 “largely inactive” accounts “linked to previous coordinated Russian hacking attempts,” adding that they “had little reach & low follower accounts.” In short, there was no evidence of any Russian “hack-and-leak” operation thus far.

In July 2020, Chan arranged for Twitter executives to receive top secret security clearances so that the FBI could share intelligence about possible threats to the forthcoming presidential election.

The following month, Chan sent Roth information about a Russian hacking group called APT28 to which Roth later referred when the Post’s story about Hunter Biden’s laptop broke.

Roth claimed: “It set off every single one of my finely tuned APT28 hack-and-leak campaign alarm bells.”

Even though there was never any evidence that the laptop was hacked, Roth reacted to this story just as the FBI had conditioned him to do.

Twitter used the company’s hacked-materials policy to suppress the story as soon as it appeared, just as the FBI had suggested it would, less than a month before the election.

The Twitter files demonstrate a purging of political views that fly counter to those within the Democratic Party, demonstrating how dozens of FBI and government employees actively sought to censor citizens and many non-Americans for their political views.

However, this is not the whole story since the Republicans are also advancing censorship of a different variety.

Since January 2021, Republicans in 44 states have introduced Bills or taken aggressive measures that would restrict the teaching of critical race theory.

In these same states, Republicans have pushed to limit how teachers should discuss racism, sex education and sexism, according to an Education Week analysis.

Eighteen states have imposed these bans and restrictions either through legislation or other avenues. These banned concepts are called by the Republicans “divisive concepts” and they have their origins in a September 2020 executive order signed by then-president Donald Trump which banned certain types of diversity training in federal agencies.

So, while Republicans are thrilled with the outcome of the Twitter files investigations, they are clamping down on free speech within the classroom — and more recently in the Congressional debates over TikTok, they have joined forces with many Democrats in an attempt to ban the app from the country.

On the upside, three Democrat senators are hitting back against the ban with Rep Jamaal Bowman accusing the Republicans of “creating a Red Scare around China.”

The Democratic Party was once upon a time the greatest defender of free speech, the most stringent critic of corporate power, and the mightiest sceptic of the FBI. Flying in the face of its civil liberties history, the Democratic Party opposes the investigation into the FBI’s involvement in what is now evidenced as a massive corporate-run censorship system.

On the other side of the aisle, the Republicans are creating draconian laws state by state aimed at shutting down certain types of teaching within the education system. Censorship through the private tech sector or the public schools must be resisted.

Source: Julian Vigo for Morning Star

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