The Internet and its social media channels have provided the most significant advancements for free speech in hundreds of years, probably since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. But as with any burgeoning freedom, there are forces trying to place limits on it. Some acts of censorship are wrong but not extraordinarily alarming, while others are decidedly disturbing and point to an insidious trend where the federal government is involved.
Queen Elizabeth II died a week ago, setting off a torrent of posts online, many full of praise and admiration for the 70-year British monarch, but also many loaded with venom and hatred. As the political left does, they held the Queen responsible for any and all sins of the British Empire over the centuries.
One post that got the attention of the censors at Twitter came from Uju Anya, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who has expressed outrage over the United Kingdom’s colonial history, including a war in Nigeria that claimed the lives of members of her family.
“I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying,” Ms. Anya tweeted. “May her pain be excruciating.”
Twitter locked her account and deleted the tweet, reportedly because it violated their policy against abusive behavior.
In my mind, the tweet was callous, offensive, and distasteful. It should also never have been deleted.
As objectionable as Ms. Anya’s language may be, she should have the right to express it.
Now, as often happens when social media censorship is at issue, someone will point out that Twitter is a private company and can set whatever rules it wants for conduct on its platform. And that’s entirely true.
But what about when the federal government is the instigator of the censorship?
I’ve written about this before, but the “private company” argument falls apart when the Biden White House is calling the shots on which social media posts get pulled down and which users are sanctioned.
A federal lawsuit filed in May 2022 by Missouri and Louisiana against President Joe Biden and other administration officials lays out how the White House is colluding with social media giants to target specific users for censoring or banishment. A batch of damning – and chilling – documents exposed by the lawsuit paint a very clear picture of a federal government demanding and getting a clampdown on free speech.
In 2021, after Mr. Biden accused Facebook of “killing people” because it didn’t do enough to suppress what he considered “misinformation” about COVID-19, a senior executive at the company sent an email to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
“I know our teams met today to better understand the scope of what the White House expects from us on misinformation going forward,” the executive wrote.
As Reason Magazine has correctly determined, this is true “censorship by proxy,” as Facebook is expressly acceding to the government’s demand. Mr. Biden is stifling free speech using the social media company as the muzzle.
But Facebook was not alone. Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube are named as having communicated with dozens of White House and government officials in what amounts to “a vast ‘Censorship Enterprise’ across a multitude of federal agencies,” according to the plaintiffs.
As emails show, the social media platforms positively groveled before the Biden administration, taking their cues and breathlessly reporting back that they had obeyed their orders thoroughly.
“As promised, I’m sending our latest report,” wrote the same Facebook official to the Department of Health and Human Services, before giving an extremely detailed listing of the censorship actions they had taken. “I also want to highlight a few policy updates we announced yesterday regarding repeat misinformation.”
The Facebook email to the government concluded, “We’re eager to find additional ways to partner with you.”
In April 2021, Twitter scheduled a briefing with the White House to go over their accomplishments in censoring tweets, a discussion that would include “ways the White House (and our COVID-19 experts) can partner in product work,” according to an internal administration email from Deputy Assistant to the President Rob Flaherty.
Instagram gleefully responded to a White House request to delete an Anthony Fauci parody, emailing back, “Yep, on it!”
And emails revealed that Twitter officials discussed the White House’s insistence on the banning of a user they deemed problematic, a request that was ultimately granted.
In these symbiotic relationships, where does Silicon Valley end and the government of the United States begin?
If Mr. Biden were taking these actions on his own to squelch speech, it would be brazenly and obviously unconstitutional. Farming out the dirty work to a private firm doesn’t make it any better.
And that’s a whole lot worse than just a few mean words about the Queen.
• Tim Murtaugh is a Washington Times columnist and the founder and principal of Line Drive Public Affairs, a communication consulting firm.