LOS ANGELES (TNS) — Every once in a while, events come together like the last act of a play by Agatha Christie.
Because Rep. Kevin McCarthy had to make specific concessions to a dozen or so Republican House members in order to win enough votes to become speaker, there is now a Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.
Because Twitter settled a complaint from the Federal Trade Commission over user privacy protection by agreeing to a consent order in 2010, and then a second one in May 2022, the federal government had a weapon to use against the company after Elon Musk acquired it.
Because Elon Musk bought Twitter, in late October 2022, no one could stop him from firing employees, changing company policies and inviting journalists to report on all the things Twitter had been doing that caused Musk to describe the company as “a crime scene.”
Because of all these events, we now have a report from the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government that says the FTC abused its consent order to harass Elon Musk’s Twitter. The information demanded by the FTC went far beyond the scope of the consent decree. Outrageously, the agency even asked for the identities of all the journalists who were invited to report on the Twitter Files.
On Thursday, two of those journalists testified before the subcommittee about what they found. To summarize very briefly the testimony of Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger, they found that the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies were having regular meetings with Twitter and other tech platforms to impose various degrees of control over the content, as well as the accounts, permitted on social media.
They also found that U.S. taxpayers have been funding a long list of non-governmental and academic organizations that monitored social media content and sent the tech companies bulk requests for takedowns and account bans.
And they found that this censorship, funded and coordinated by the U.S. government, sought the removal not only of false information, but also of true facts that were considered unhelpful, including truthful reports of COVID-19 vaccine injuries. You can read their report on what they are calling the “Censorship-Industrial Complex” on Twitter, or find their work on Substack.com.
The report from the staff of the Judiciary committee, released on March 7, is titled, “The Weaponization of the Federal Trade Commission: An Agency’s Overreach to Harass Elon Musk’s Twitter.” It reveals that the committee’s oversight uncovered an “unusual response by the FTC to Musk’s acquisition of Twitter last year.” Within the first three months after Musk bought the company, the FTC sent in excess of a dozen letters making “more than 350 specific demands.” The committee report says the letters show “how the FTC has been attempting to harass Twitter and pry into the company’s decisions on matters outside the FTC’s mandate.”
High on the FTC’s list, the committee staff wrote, was a demand for “information relating to journalists’ work protected by the First Amendment, including their work to expose abuses by Big Tech and the federal government.”
A lot of people did not want that information to come out, and they began their campaign to stop Musk just as soon as he made his intentions clear.
In mid-April 2022, shortly after Musk made an offer for Twitter, the billionaire tech executive appeared onstage at the TED2022 conference in Vancouver and spoke about his vision for the company. “We want to have the perception and the reality that speech is as free as possible,” he said.
A week later, a group of left-leaning organizations sent a letter to Twitter’s top advertisers calling on them to drop their advertising if Musk followed through. “The undersigned organizations believe that Twitter should continue to uphold the practices that serve as guideposts for other Big Tech platforms,” they wrote. They wanted all advertising pulled from Twitter if the company didn’t continue to keep certain “public figures and politicians” off the platform.
The letter, full of high-minded bluster about “civic integrity” and “hateful conduct,” declared that Musk’s management risked turning Twitter into “a cesspool of misinformation” that would be “polluting our information ecosystem.”
On Oct. 27, 2022, when Musk completed the acquisition of Twitter, the Open Markets Institute, a group of self-described “journalists, researchers, lawyers, economists and advocates,” released a statement declaring that the deal “poses a number of immediate and direct threats to American democracy, free speech and national security.”
Then on Nov. 17, seven U.S. Senators, all Democrats, sent a letter to the chair of the Federal Trade Commission complaining about what they called Twitter’s “willful disregard for the safety and security of its users,” and calling on the agency to “investigate any breach of Twitter’s consent decree or other violations of our consumer protection laws.” The senators declared that Musk’s “alarming steps” threatened to undermine “the integrity and safety of the platform.”
It almost seems as if all these organizations and powerful lawmakers were terribly afraid of what might be revealed. And with good reason.
In a Twitter Files release Thursday morning that coincided with his testimony, Taibbi reported in detail on what the reporters uncovered, including the story of what he called “the Woodstock of the Censorship-Industrial Complex,” an event held by the Aspen Institute, “which receives millions a year from both the State Department and USAID.” It was a “star-studded confab” held in August 2021 to release its final report on “Information Disorder.”
The report recommended that “agencies like the FTC” be given the power to “mandate disclosure of data” and claimed that about 50% of U.S. adults are OK with “losing some freedom” to protect the country from false information.
But the First Amendment doesn’t depend on the whims of popular opinion, and it doesn’t allow state-sponsored censorship. That’s the final plot twist in the last act of this Agatha Christie play. The murder victim isn’t dead after all.
(Write Susan@SusanShelley.com and follow her on Twitter @Susan_Shelley)