Ever since the shock of the 2016 election, there has been an explosion of handwringing in Washington about the danger of information silos. This moral panic took on a newly aggressive character in the age of fake news and Covid — and has expanded to target Fox News, social media and even newsletter businesses like Substack as culprits in a world segregated by news sources.
The old guard gatekeepers who occupy long-in-the-tooth media institutions, growing ever thinner as advertising dwindles, are united with the octogenarian politicians who still consume the thin gruel they pass off as ideas. Their enemy: those dangerous citizens who have too much freedom to speak and be heard. Add in a mix of law enforcement agencies who believe their power is limitless, tech industry giants beholden to government and a corrupt group of well-funded NGOs and non-profits bent on weaponizing the threat of “misinformation” to silence those who express wrongthink… and you get the story of the Twitter Files.
Yesterday’s hearing in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government showed that talking about the Twitter Files and the stories they contain turns out to be a terrorist act, blowing up the information silo on Capitol Hill. If you wanted an indication of just how out of touch members of Congress are, you could do little better than just watch this hearing in its entirety. The Democrats and even some Republicans seemed woefully ill-prepared and unaware of the actions of some of our most powerful government institutions, who shoved their arms up the ass of Silicon Valley and worked them like a puppet. This is, if you believe in free speech, a problem.
“So-called journalists” Michael Shellenberger and Matt Taibbi were tasked with explaining things to the addlepated members, who turned in more than one inane “series of tubes” moment in the course of the morning, despite the ability of the witnesses to explain a complex reality very clearly. As Taibbi outlines in his opening statement:
We learned Twitter, Facebook, Google, and other companies developed a formal system for taking in moderation “requests” from every corner of government: the FBI, DHS, HHS, DoD, the Global Engagement Center at State, even the CIA. For every government agency scanning Twitter, there were perhaps twenty quasi-private entities doing the same, including Stanford’s Election Integrity Project, Newsguard, the Global Disinformation Index and others, many taxpayer-funded.
A focus of this fast-growing network is making lists of people whose opinions, beliefs, associations or sympathies are deemed “misinformation,” “disinformation” or “malinformation.” The latter term is just a euphemism for “true but inconvenient.”
Undeniably, the making of such lists is a form of digital McCarthyism.
Ordinary Americans are not just being reported to Twitter for “deamplification” or de-platforming, but to firms like PayPal, digital advertisers like Xandr and crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe. These companies can and do refuse service to law-abiding people and businesses whose only crime is falling afoul of a distant, faceless, unaccountable, algorithmic judge.
As someone who grew up a traditional ACLU liberal, this mechanism for punishment without due process is horrifying.
You can read Shellenberger’s opening statement here.
It was an interaction between him and Democratic representative Sylvia Garcia of Texas that provided the most laugh-inducing exchange of the day, where she queried about the relationship between the witnesses and Bari Weiss: “So you’re in this as a threesome?”
In response to Shellenberger’s deadpan, Weiss’s wife, Nellie Bowles, took to Twitter to follow up:
Aside from the lulz, the hearing was marked for the animosity directed at Shellenberger and Taibbi by several of the Democratic members. Neither man is a Republican or a conservative by any stretch, but their position on the political spectrum was not a shield from personal vindictiveness toward people who have been reporting out a series of inconvenient truths for the corporatist left.
In another era, the stories both men along with other journalists have been telling would raise huge concerns on both sides of the aisle. Here you have government using big business to silence citizens, penalize them and in some cases harm their livelihoods, exacting significant extra-legal punishments for having the audacity to express opinions — political, scientific, medical and more — that conflict with the government’s preferred narrative. If the administration of George W. Bush had engaged in such widespread behavior, using the excuse of the global war on terror — the left would be up in arms. But today’s left looks to these mega-corporations as a tool to shut up people they dislike, crush the ability of contrarians to communicate and drive conservatives and independents out of the public square.
What the corporate left cannot do legally through government, they will do through intimidation, cajoling and targeting — and all the while, charge the people for the privilege of their own censorship. On Capitol Hill, the traditional ACLU liberal Taibbi claims to be is dead. Once upon a time, the baby boomers took pride in challenging the powerful — but when they got the power, they found they loved it too much to ever let it go.