Here is a disturbing story. It demonstrates intrigue, corruption and disdain for American principles at the highest level.
Perhaps the saddest thing about this story is that you probably won’t be surprised. Especially if you’ve been paying attention for the past few years.
The story is this: Twitter and other social media platforms have been cozy with the Department of Homeland Security to squelch what DHS calls “misinformation,” “disinformation” and “malinformation,” or “MDM,” according to an investigative report published Monday by The Intercept.
But you knew that.
And maybe Elon Musk did in his purchase of Twitter last week.
Job one for Musk was to not only fire CEO Parag Agrawal but also Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s top lawyer and the individual responsible for booting former President Donald Trump off the platform and for censoring the Hunter Biden laptop story in the run-up to the 2020 election.
You probably remember a few months ago when DHS rolled out what it called its Disinformation Governance Board, designed to go after “MDM” on social media. A firestorm of bad publicity meant the Biden administration had to quickly yank it offstage.
But the concept is still around and Gadde has been part of it.
Gadde is a member of an advisory committee of the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). In June, the committee put out a report that essentially outlined a need to get around the First Amendment to stop “MDM” since it “poses a significant risk to critical functions like elections, public health, financial services and emergency response.”
Also, The Intercept reported on DHS documents saying the agency is going after “MDM” on “the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, racial justice, U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the nature of U.S. support to Ukraine.”
In other words, DHS wants to push the Biden administration’s line on many of the controversies Americans might be discussing on social media, and attack or suppress other views that oppose it.
And Twitter has been right there in the middle of it.
Lee Fang, one of the authors of The Intercept article, tweeted that Gadde had met monthly with DHS to discuss censorship and, along with Facebook, Twitter “created special portals for the government to rapidly request takedowns of content.”
In March, top officials of Twitter and JPMorgan Chase met with Laura Dehmlow, section chief of the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force. Dehmlow said subversive information on the internet could undercut support for the U.S. government, according to notes of the meeting reported by The Intercept.
In a statement for The Intercept report, a Twitter representative said the company does not “coordinate with other entities when making content moderation decisions,” following, rather, its own rules in such situations.
Still, Twitter joined other tech companies in monthly meetings with the FBI, CISA and other government agencies to determine how to handle misinformation leading up to the 2020 elections, according to NBC News.
In 2018, DHS began notifying social media companies of what it described as voting disinformation appearing on their platforms. The following year, DHS developed the Foreign Influence and Interference Branch which morphed in 2020 to track communication regarding COVID-19, The Intercept said.
Varied U.S. intelligence agencies moderated social media surrounding the 2020 election and leading up to the November voting there were regular emails among officials of Twitter, DHS and the Center for Internet Security regarding takedown procedures for social media postings.
And while the Disinformation Governance Board was scrapped, DHS in August published a document titled “DHS Needs a Unified Strategy to Counter Disinformation Campaigns.”
In it, DHS intones “such campaigns may aim to erode public trust in our government and the Nation’s critical infrastructure sectors, negatively affect public discourse, or even sway elections.”
Sway elections? You think? Hasn’t that been a major aim of Silicon Valley?
Of course, DHS does not address a key foundational principle which allows for pesky ideas that the Department of Homeland Security considers “MDM.”
It’s contained in the document that proclaims, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The Founders, ever conscious of man’s corruption, knew what’s now called “MDM” would be protected by the First Amendment, but, as in other parts of the Bill of Rights, they also knew liberty was more important than government convenience.
Twitter, as The Intercept report shows, clearly has been involved in the federal government’s attempts to outsource censorship and suppression of dissent.
Musk, Twitter’s new owner, has publicly declared himself to be a “free speech absolutist.”
Clearly, something has to give.
There’s no telling where the company will go now that Musk is in charge, but he was right about one of his first major personnel moves.
Booting censorship collaborators like Gadde is an excellent start.