FreeSpeech and Censorship: Thread

grarpamp grarpamp at
Sun Jul 4 02:29:54 PDT 2021

US censorship is increasingly official

While corporate media like to highlight the many press freedom
shortcomings of hostile foreign nations, the censorship worries start
much closer to home.
By Alan MacLeod
July 3, 2021

The Biden administration made headlines last week as it moved to shut
down the websites of 33 foreign media outlets, including ones based in
Iran, Bahrain, Yemen and Palestine. Officials justified the decision
by claiming the organizations were agents of “disinformation.”

The most notable of these is probably English-language Iranian state
broadcaster Press TV. Visitors to are now met with the
seal of the Department of Justice and the FBI, and a message notifying
them that the domain “has been seized by the United States
government.” (The site has since migrated to an Iranian-based domain,

This is far from the first time Press TV has been targeted. Eighteen
months ago, Google deleted the Iranian channel’s YouTube account;
earlier this year, Facebook did the same, banning its page, which had
over 4 million followers. In 2019, the US also arrested American Press
TV presenter Marzieh Hashemi, holding her without charge for over a
week. Hashemi, a Muslim, said her headscarf was forcibly removed, and
she was offered only pork to eat.

Western outlets covering the new seizures did not frame them as an
attack on the First Amendment (Washington Post, 6/23/21; CNN, 6/23/21;
Fox News, 6/23/21), many preferring instead to discuss the
shortcomings of the Iranian media landscape. Slate (6/24/21), for
example, reminded readers that Iran “blocks foreign social media
sites, censors critical foreign outlets and jails reporters.” While
this may be perfectly true, Slate suggested it was possible for the
Biden administration to make a “clear distinction” between when Iran
does it and when the US carries out similar actions; “disinformation
and election interference are serious problems,” it helpfully noted.
Nosediving press freedom

Decrying the state of press freedoms in official enemy states is a
favorite pastime of corporate media (, 11/1/06, 5/20/19,
10/20/19). It is a point of pride in the US that freedom of speech is
written into the Constitution. Increasingly, however, if we want to
find direct government censorship of speech, we don’t have to travel
NYT: Trump Targets Anti-Semitism and Israeli Boycotts on College
CampusesDonald Trump’s claim that his anti-BDS order “targets
antisemitism” was presented as fact in the New York Times headline
(12/10/19); the perspective of “critics” that it was “an attack on
free speech” was treated as an allegation in the subhead.

Under President Donald Trump’s leadership, freedom of the press
nosedived. Reporters working for foreign outlets like RT America were
forced to register as “foreign agents,” under a 1938 law passed to
counter Nazi propaganda. The channel was subsequently taken off the
air in Washington, DC.

Meanwhile, critics or opponents of US foreign policy have been
constantly penalized and often pulled off major social media platforms
(, 4/16/19). The Trump administration also attempted to force
the sale of Chinese-owned social media app TikTok to an American
company, and to halt Huawei’s spread as 5G network provider of choice
to the globe.

Internally, Trump demanded the NFL fire star quarterback Colin
Kaepernick for peacefully protesting during the national anthem. He
also directly interfered in the university curriculum; his Department
of Education ordered the universities of Duke and North Carolina at
Chapel Hill to rewrite their Middle Eastern Studies programs, as they
were overly “positive” towards Islam and did not promote US national
security goals.

Trump also issued an order all but outlawing the Boycott Divestment
and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Since the Civil Rights
era, boycotts have been understood to be protected speech under the
First Amendment. Nevertheless, since 2015, 35 US states have approved
laws penalizing BDS. Effectively, anyone wanting to take public money
in any form must sign a pledge to never boycott the state of Israel.

Last year, journalist Abby Martin (herself a target of social media
censorship) was blocked from giving a lecture at Georgia Southern
University because she refused to sign those First Amendment rights
away. Public school staff have been fired for the same thing.

Perhaps most worryingly, Trump’s base is on board with tearing up the
First Amendment. A 2018 poll found that 43% of Republicans agreed that
“the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged
in bad behavior.”
State censorship by states
News 5 Cleveland: Proposed law making cell phone video of cops a crime
moves forward by Ohio legislatorsA proposed Ohio law could outlaw
videos like the one that led to Derek Chauvin’s conviction for
murdering George Floyd (News 5 Cleveland, 6/24/21).

Even after Trump’s defeat, the GOP is still pushing through
regulations limiting speech across America. A new Ohio law making
filming police illegal is currently rapidly advancing (News 5
Cleveland, 6/24/21). Critics note that the bill would outlaw recording
crimes like the murder of George Floyd.

Meanwhile, laws banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory—a
paradigm that examines structural racism in US institutions—have been
passed or are being considered in at least 21 states (US News,
6/23/21). This has been egged on by the conservative press, who have
turned the school of thought into an ideological fixation, mentioning
it nearly 1,300 times in the past three and a half months (Media
Matters, 6/15/21).

These bans on Critical Race Theory are mirrored by new “Don’t Say Gay”
laws, which forbid the teaching of LGBT history in K-12 schools, or
give parents the opportunity to pull children from classes mentioning
key historical events like the Stonewall Riots. A swath of red states
have either passed or are currently considering such legislation (New
Republic, 6/28/21).

In another worrying move for free speech advocates, Florida Gov. Ron
DeSantis has just signed a bill requiring both university students and
their professors to register their ideological views with the state
(Salon, 6/23/21), supposedly in a bid to promote “intellectual
diversity” on campus. Staff fear the results will be used to purge or
deny employment to those deemed insufficiently conservative.

DeSantis is also currently overseeing a huge rewrite of the state’s
school curriculum, in an effort to ensure that children are
definitively instructed that “communism is evil,” in his own words
(WBNS, 6/22/21). Children will be provided with “first-person accounts
of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies who can compare
those philosophies with those of the United States.” DeSantis presents
the move as providing children with facts rather than “trying to
indoctrinate them with ideology.”
Long before Trump
NATO's bombing of RTSThe offices of Radio TV Serbia after being
deliberately targeted by US bombers.

The attempts to muzzle the press did not start with Trump, however.
President Obama oversaw a war on whistleblowers like Edward Snowden,
and ensured that Julian Assange has spent the best part of a decade in
hiding or in prison. Assange’s most notable journalistic action was to
release the Iraq War Logs and the Collateral Murder video, which
showed US pilots massacring civilians—including two Reuters
journalists—in cold blood.

Outright attacking media outlets is a common tactic for the US
military. During the Kosovo War, the US deliberately targeted the
buildings of Serbian state broadcaster RTS, killing 16 people
(, 8/2/00). Four years later, it conducted airstrikes on the
offices of Abu Dhabi TV and Al Jazeera in Baghdad at the same time as
American tanks shelled the Hotel Palestine. On the incident, Reporters
Without Borders, stated: “We can only conclude that the US Army
deliberately and without warning targeted journalists” (,
4/10/03). This was far from the only military attack on Al Jazeera
during the invasion. The Bush administration even had the network’s
journalist Sami al-Hajj kidnapped, holding him inside the notorious
Guantánamo Bay prison camp for six years without charge.

Although many still like to hold up the United States as a bastion of
free speech uninhibited by government censorship, in this new era, the
idea is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. While corporate
media like to highlight the many press freedom shortcomings of hostile
foreign nations, the censorship worries start much closer to home.

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