‘Taxpayer-funded censorship campaign’ assailed by Missouri Senator Eric Schmitt at congressional hearing

(The Center Square) – The Biden administration’s collusion with social media companies and others to censor speech related to COVID-19, election integrity and other issues “was far more pervasive and destructive” than initially thought, a key witness and sitting U.S. senator testified at a congressional hearing Thursday.

Republicans on the subcommittee called it “the largest speech censorship operation in recent history.”

“Their censorship has extended to critical topics like how best to respond to COVID-19 and even to elections themselves,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who leads the relevant subcommittee.

Two states filed suit against the Biden administration over the issue last year in Louisiana and Missouri v. Biden et al. Missouri’s former attorney general and current U.S. Sen. Eric Schmitt testified at the hearing regarding that lawsuit and the information they’ve found.

“Discovery obtained by Missouri and Louisiana demonstrated that the Biden administration’s coordination with social media companies and collusion with non-governmental organizations to censor speech was far more pervasive and destructive than ever known,” Schmitt said.

A major catalyst for the congressional interest in censorship claims has been billionaire Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and subsequent release of a series of “Twitter Files,” document dumps from the social media company’s records showing a strong relationship between the federal government and Twitter to censor viewpoints, mostly on the conservative side of the political spectrum.

Matt Taibbi, the journalist who initially was given the Twitter files to break online, testified before Congress recently. Jordan raised what has become a major controversy and criticized as federal intimidation: While Taibbi was testifying, IRS agents showed up at his home.

Jordan called it an “unlikely coincidence.”

“It certainly appears to be just the latest example of the weaponization of the federal government against the American people, and it shows the need for this subcommittee and its work to proceed no matter how robust the opposition,” he said.

The ongoing effort has been called a “taxpayer-funded censorship campaign” by critics who argue it could violate the First Amendment.

Matthew Seligman, a Constitutional Law Center fellow at Stanford Law School, testified at the hearing and pushed back on the claim that the First Amendment was violated. He argued that the decision was ultimately up to the companies themselves and that “there was no threatened adverse governmental action attached to those suggestions.”

The House Oversight Committee also has launched an investigation into the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which worked with the big tech companies and the Democratic National Committee to have posts censored.

“CISA is framing any dissenting opinion disseminated online as a cyber threat to critical infrastructure,” the Oversight Committee said in a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “CISA leverages partnerships with left-leaning private organizations – who have received millions of dollars in federal money – to identify and then take action against political speech unfavorable to the Administration, especially around its handling of COVID-19 policy.”

But the censorship was not restricted to one agency. The FBI reportedly warned social media companies just before the 2020 presidential election that the Hunter Biden laptop story would soon break but that it was disinformation. The laptop has since been verified and many details of the story are continuing to be validated.

As The Center Square previously reported, The White House has downplayed its own role in encouraging tech companies’ censorship, but former Press Secretary Jen Psaki admitted the White House had a hand in regulating information.

“We are in regular touch with the social media platforms and those engagements typically happen through members of our senior staff and also members of our COVID-19 team, given as Dr. Murthy conveyed, this is a big issue of misinformation specifically on the pandemic,” Psaki said at a press briefing in July 2021, referring to the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Vivk Murthy.

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