FreeSpeech and Censorship: Thread
grarpamp at gmail.com
Sat Jan 7 20:21:02 PST 2023
"We Don't Do This": Adam Schiff & The Underbelly Of American Censorship
Below is my column in the Hill on the recent disclosure of efforts by
Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Cal.) to pressure Twitter to censor critics,
including a columnist. This effort occurred shortly after Schiff’s
office objected to one of my columns accusing him of pressuring social
media companies to censor those with opposing views. While publicly
denying that he supports censorship, Schiff was secretly pressuring
Twitter to censor an array of critics.
Here is the column:
“We don’t do this.”
That response from Twitter to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is a
singular indictment, coming at the height of Twitter’s censorship
operations. Apparently, there were some things that even Twitter’s
censors refused to do.
One of those things was silencing critics of Schiff and his House committee.
In the latest tranche of “Twitter Files,” journalist Matt Taibbi
revealed that Twitter balked at Schiff’s demand that Twitter suspend
an array of posters or label their content as “misinformation” and
“reduce the visibility” of them. Among those who Schiff secretly tried
to censor was New York Post columnist Paul Sperry.
Sperry drew Schiff’s ire by writing about a conversation allegedly
overheard by one of his sources. Sperry’s article, which appeared in
RealClearInvestigations, cited two sources as overhearing two White
House staffers discussing how to remove newly-elected President Trump
from office. The article raised the possibility of bias on the part of
an alleged key player in launching the first Trump impeachment, CIA
analyst Eric Ciaramella. The sources reportedly said that Ciaramella
was in a conversation with Sean Misko, a holdover from the Obama
administration who later joined Schiff’s staff. The conversation — in
Sperry’s words — showed that “just days after [Trump] was sworn in
they were already trying to get rid of him.”
Rather than simply refute the allegation, Schiff wanted Sperry and
other critics silenced. His office reportedly laid out steps to
cleanse Twitter of their criticism, including an instruction to
“remove any and all content about Mr. Misko and other Committee staff
from its service — to include quotes, retweets, and reactions to that
The date of Schiff’s non-public letter in November 2020 is notable:
Earlier that year, I wrote a column for The Hill criticizing Schiff
for pushing for censorship of misinformation in a letter that he sent
to social media companies. His office promptly objected to the very
suggestion that Schiff supported censorship.
We now know Schiff was actively seeking to censor specific critics on
social media. These likely were viewed as more than “requests” since
Schiff was sending public letters threatening possible legislative
action against these same companies. He wanted his critics silenced on
social media. After all, criticizing his investigations or staff must,
by definition, be misinformation — right?
His office seems to have indicated they knew Twitter was using
shadow-banning or other techniques to suppress certain disfavored
writers. In the letter, his staff asked Twitter to “label and reduce
the visibility of any content.”
Twitter, however, drew the line with Schiff; one of its employees
simply wrote, “no, this isn’t feasible/we don’t do this.”
The “this” referred to in this case was raw political censorship. And
even a company that maintained one of the largest censorship programs
in history could not bring itself to do what Schiff was demanding —
but the demand itself is telling.
Not only does it show how dishonest some politicians have been in
denying censorship while secretly demanding it, it also shows the
insatiable appetite created by censorship. The article in question,
written by Sperry, is a good example. Sperry has denied ever
supporting QAnon conspiracy theories, as Schiff’s office charged. Yet
even if Sperry’s account about Schiff’s staffer was wildly untrue,
that should make it easier to rebut publicly.
The move by Schiff to ban Sperry and others on Twitter — and to remove
content — is highly ironic. Schiff has been criticized repeatedly for
promoting “misinformation” and for relying on unidentified “sources”
for his claims of Trump’s criminality. For example, Schiff pushed the
false claim that the infamous Hunter Biden laptop was Russian
disinformation; he also was criticized for pushing false narratives of
Trump-Russia collusion in the 2016 election.
Nevertheless, I would equally oppose any effort to ban Schiff from
social media, although that is hardly likely given the demonstrated
political bias of past censorship efforts.
As for Sperry, he was later permanently suspended by Twitter, which I
Schiff is unlikely to be deterred by the release of these
communications. He recently sent a letter to Facebook, warning it not
to relax its censorship efforts. His letter, written with Reps. André
Carson (D-Ind.), Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse
(D-R.I.), reminded Facebook that some lawmakers are watching the
company “as part of our ongoing oversight efforts” — and suggested
they may be forced to exercise that oversight into any move by
Facebook to “alter or rollback certain misinformation policies.”
Schiff’s actions embody the slippery slope of censorship. By labeling
his critics as QAnon supporters or purveyors of “misinformation,” he
sought to have allies in social media “disappear” critics like Sperry
— yet he found that even those allies could not stomach his demands.
Given Twitter’s censorship of even satirical sites, it was akin to
being turned down by a Kanye West podcast as being too extreme.
With the disclosure of apparent FBI involvement in Twitter’s
censorship program, the release of the Schiff files is another rare
insight into how government officials attempted to enlist social media
companies for censorship by surrogate or proxy. That is precisely why
many in the media, political and business establishments have
mobilized against Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter who has released
these compromising files.
In a recent tweet, Schiff chastised Musk and demanded more answers
from the Twitter CEO. While insisting that “I don’t support
censorship,” Schiff asked Musk if he would “commit to providing the
public with actual answers and data, not just tweets?” Well, Musk just
did precisely that.
The “actual answer” is that Schiff has long sought to silence his
critics, and Musk has exposed the underbelly of censorship — which is
where we found Adam Schiff.
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