by James Bovard
Sometime since January 2021, Biden administration policymakers decided that they were infallible—or a “close enough for government work” level of infallible. They claimed a divine right to suppress the online posts and comments of conservatives and anyone else who had a bad attitude towards federal power. That party ended on July 4 when federal judge Terry Doughty condemned the Biden censorship regime as potentially “the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history.”
Doughty issued a preliminary injunction to ban federal agencies and the White House from browbeating social media companies. The case against Joe Biden was brought by the state attorney generals of Louisiana and Missouri, and joined by several private groups representing censorship victims including Aaron Kheriaty, Martin Kulldorff, Jim Hoft, Jayanta Bhattacharya, and Jill Hines. Doughty declared that his final ruling would likely find First Amendment violations by the White House, Surgeon General, FBI, State Department, and the CDC—all part of the U.S. veering towards “an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth.’”
Doughty delivered 155 pages of stunning, bizarre, and sometimes comical censorship abuses.
Barely two weeks into the Biden presidency, White House Digital Director Rob Flaherty demanded that Twitter “immediately” remove a parody account linked to Biden’s relatives. Twitter leaped to obey, suspending the account within 45 minutes. Twitter officials complained that they were already being “bombarded” by White House censorship requests at that point.
The White House continually denounced Facebook for failing to suppress more posts and videos that could inspire “vaccine hesitancy”—even if the posts were true. Facebook kowtowed to the White House by suppressing posts and comments that do “not contain actionable misinformation.” But the de facto definition of “misinformation” is anything that might deter someone from obeying Biden’s commands. Facebook also sought praise from the White House because it “’labeled and demoted vaccine humor posts whose content could discourage vaccination,” the court decision noted.
Facebook decided the word “liberty” was too hazardous in the Biden era. To placate the White House, Facebook suppressed posts “discussing the choice to vaccinate in terms of personal or civil liberties.” That was on par with Facebook’s 2018 debacle where it blocked reposting the Declaration of Independence for violating its hate speech guidelines.
Flaherty was still unsatisfied and raged at Facebook officials in a July 15, 2021 email: “Are you guys fucking serious?” The following day, President Biden accused social media companies of “killing people” by failing to suppress all criticism of covid vaccines. Team Biden threatened social media companies with antitrust cases or other legal penalties if they did not submit.
In October 2020, three experts wrote the Great Barrington Declaration, “a one-page treatise opposing reliance on lockdowns and advocating for an approach to COVID-19 called ‘focused protection,’” the court decision noted. Top federal officials rushed to attack the authors and vilify their recommendations. NIAID Director Anthony Fauci announced, “anybody who knows anything about epidemiology will tell you that is nonsense and very dangerous.” Fauci’s condemnation spurred social media companies to suppress the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration and many other professors, doctors, and other experts who endorsed the declaration.
The Biden censorship deluge was spurred by one of the greatest bureaucratic bait-and-switches in Washington history. After allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Act (CISA) was created to protect against foreign meddling. Prior to Biden taking office, CISA had a “Countering Foreign Influence Task Force.” But in 2021, that was renamed the “Mis, Dis and Malinformation Team (‘MDM Team’).” But all the targets of federal censorship during the Biden era have been Americans.
Federal censorship tainted the 2020 and 2022 elections, spurring the suppression of millions of social media posts (almost all from conservatives). The FBI swayed social media companies to change their policies to ban posts on “hacked materials” and then went along with the Washington fairy tale that the Hunter Biden laptop was Russian disinformation or hacked—even though the FBI had already confirmed its authenticity.
The Biden administration pressured social media companies “to censor misinformation regarding climate change, gender discussions, abortion, and economic policy,” and the Department of Homeland Security secretly planned to target “inaccurate information” on “racial justice, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the nature of the U.S. support of Ukraine.” During the 2020 election, CISA targeted for suppression assertions such as “mail-in voting is insecure”—despite the long history of absentee ballot fraud. Most of the censorship spurred by federal contractors during the 2020 election cycle targeted posts “related to delegitimizing the election results,” the court decision noted.
CISA is entitling itself to control American’s minds. A CISA advisory committee last year issued a report which “broadened ‘infrastructure’ to include ‘the spread of false and misleading information because it poses a significant risk to critical function, like elections, public health, financial services and emergency responses.’” Thus, any idea that government officials label as “misleading” is a “significant risk” the feds can suppress.
On November 21, 2021, CISA Director Jen Easterly stated, “We live in a world where people talk about alternative facts, post-truth, which I think is really, really dangerous if people get to pick their own facts.” Judge Doughty retorted, “The Free Speech Clause was enacted to prohibit just what Director Easterly is wanting to do: allow the government to pick what is true and what is false.” As former State Department official Mike Benz warned, “DHS is carrying out an official state policy that if public trust is not earned, it must be installed…The U.S. government, in effect, censored the ability to ‘cast doubt’ on the U.S. government.”
It gets worse. Where did CISA find the absolute truths it used to censor American citizens? CISA simply asked government officials and “apparently always assumed the government official was a reliable source,” the court decision noted. Any assertion by officialdom was close enough to a Delphic oracle for CISA to use to “debunk postings” by private citizens.
“Government = truth” is the premise for the Biden censorship regime. In June 2022, Flaherty declared that he “wanted to monitor Facebook’s suppression of COVID-19 misinformation ‘as we start to ramp up [vaccines for children under the age of five].’” The FDA had almost zero safety data on COVID vaccines for infants and toddlers. But President Biden announced the vaccines were safe for those target groups so any assertion to the contrary automatically became false or misleading. A Harvard professor on an FDA advisory panel recommended approving COVID vaccines for children because “we’re never gonna learn how safe the vaccine is until we start giving it.” (Shades of Nancy Pelosi and Obamacare!)
Almost no one outside federal agencies, federal contractors, and social media companies realized how far censorship had stretched. Secrecy was vital to prevent a backlash against the suppression. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy had the audacity to proclaim in July 2021 that the Biden administration was asking technology companies “to operate with greater transparency.” Federal pressure had become so extreme that Facebook warned that “too much censorship might be counterproductive and drive vaccine hesitancy” by “potentially reinforce the notion that there’s a cover-up,” the court decision noted.
Federal agencies are responding to the lawsuit by portraying themselves as the same “pitiful, helpless giants” that President Richard Nixon invoked to describe the U.S. government when he started bombing Cambodia. Judge Doughty wrote that federal agencies “blame the Russians, COVID-19, and capitalism for any suppression of free speech by social-media companies.” But that defense fails the laugh test.
Federal agencies are claiming to be innocent bystanders—as if tens of millions of tweets and other social media posts mysteriously vanished into Area 51. According to this view, “censorship” won’t actually exist until federal marshals arrive and smash the keyboards and padlock the front doors of social media companies. But at that point, all the other media outlets could be too intimidated to report the crackdown.
Under the sweeping injunction that Judge Doughty imposed, a bevy of federal agencies were banned from contacting social media companies to jawbone for “the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.” The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it would appeal the decision, seeking to safeguard its prerogative to blindfold Americans for their own good.
Much of the mainstream media is horrified at the prospect of reduced federal censorship. The New York Times wailed that the ruling “could curtail efforts to fight disinformation.” The Washington Post article on Doughty’s decision fretted, “For more than a decade, the federal government has attempted to work with social media companies to address criminal activity, including child sexual abuse images and terrorism.” The Post did not mention the Biden crusade to banish cynicism from the Internet. Journalist Glenn Greenwald scoffed, “The most surreal fact of U.S. political life is that the leading advocates for unified state/corporate censorship are large media corporations.”
Can Team Biden and federal agencies be stopped from tainting the 2024 elections with another tsunami of censorship? What sort of humor might federal agencies seek to ban if Biden stumbles on the campaign trail like he did at the Air Force Academy? As Senator Eric Schmitt (R-MO), who launched the litigation when he was Missouri’s Attorney General, declared, “We need to continue the fight to take down the Vast Censorship Enterprise.”