Two hundred fifty thousand: That is how many Twitter accounts were subjected to censorship review by government officials who were cajoling and coercing Twitter into silencing the views of thousands of Americans, in a brazen and blatant violation of the First Amendment.
It is a stunning number — and it entails only one government agency’s efforts on only one policy front: COVID-19 and supposedly fake accounts favorable to the Chinese government. I learned this on Saturday morning in my on-air interview with Rita Cosby, who anchored Newsmax’s “Saturday Report.”
Elon Musk himself tweeted the 250,000 figure here, quoting from a document image displayed in a tweet from independent journalist Matt Taibbi, who has led the #TwitterFiles exposé. Without Musk’s buying Twitter and forcing this startling reveal, we never would have known any of it — he is an American hero.
Now the question is: What should we do about it? If the Trump administration had engineered the muzzling of thousands of Democrats on social media, their allies in antifa, Black Lives Matter and liberal NGOs might be taking to the streets and torching government buildings.
A reckoning is required, pursuable on two fronts. Up first: congressional investigations led by the new Republican majority in the House, now that Kevin McCarthy has endured 15 votes to finally eke out a win as speaker.
Up next: class-action litigation that should be filed against the government by public-interest or private lawyers in defense of the First Amendment. Yale University law professor Jeb Rudenberg explains how in his op ed in The Wall Street Journal, available to subscribers here.
It may be a tossup whether either thing will happen. Republicans, too, took part in pressuring Twitter to silence accounts they disliked.
Also, Rudenberg, a First Amendment lawyer, notes that “few” public-interest lawyers “still believe in the First Amendment.” To me, the American Civil Liberties Union exemplifies this sad decline.
Yet something must be done. The quarter-million accounts scrutinized by the U.S. government were part of an intrusive effort by one agency, the State Department’s intelligence arm, the Government Engagement Center, in May 2020, during the Trump presidency.
Twitter executives balked at the GEC request — one of the few instances when they resisted any government agency at all. This is because Twitter staff viewed the GEC as being “political,” meaning “too Trumpy,” as I wrote here.
We now have seen 12 chapters and counting of the #TwitterFiles exposé, which the media have been ignoring, underplaying, and undermining for more than a month now. First, we learned that a team of 80 FBI agents was in touch frequently with Twitter in the weeks before the election for “all sorts of reasons,” as I detailed on Newsmax.com a few weeks ago.
It was a set-up: the FBI had possession of the Hunter Biden laptop for a year, and it was pre-emptively prodding Twitter executives into shutting down the New York Post’s account to stop it from circulating a scoop on the laptop’s incriminating contents.
Now, it is clear the government takeover of Twitter was pernicious and pervasive. It began in earnest after the 2016 election, and it picked up momentum into 2020 as the presidential election approached and continued under President Biden.
The FBI became the “bellybutton” into the platform, as one FBI agent put it, for dozens of other agencies (more details at “What’s Bugging Me,” here. Dozens of other government agencies tapped in: the CIA, Director of National Intelligence, and National Security Agency; the departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security and Treasury; the Foreign Influence Task Force; and the Democratic National Committee, Democrat and Republican members of Congress, dozens of police departments and state elections officers and various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs.)
The topics that these various outfits sought to silence, suppress or manipulate ranged from the New York Post’s promotion of the Hunter Biden laptop, and the permanent banning of President Trump on Twitter, to the 2020 elections, the Jan. 6 insurrection, the government response to COVID-19 and more.
And once Twitter failed to Just Say No, why would government stop there? Facebook has almost a quarter of a billion users in the U.S., six times as many users as Twitter. The intelligence community was in “constant contact” with “every major tech firm,” Taibbi reports.
Are we outraged enough, yet? I don’t think so.