A government-only web portal to allow reporting of alleged disinformation to Facebook to be "throttled or suppressed," Homeland Security bureaucrats nudging tech companies to be more "responsive" to their requests to censor information, concern about online posts related to President Biden's withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, and a wish to "avoid the appearance of government propaganda." These revelations and more are coming to light this week, confirming what many conservatives already believed to be true about the Biden administration's use of federal bureaucracy to collude with big tech to silence disfavored voices and inconvenient viewpoints.
Despite the fact that the Biden administration's "Disinformation Governance Board" publicly imploded earlier this year, DHS plans and efforts to police what information is shared by Americans online are still developing and even more wide-ranging than previously known, according to a new investigation published by The Intercept. Those who warned, amid the theatrical demise of the Biden admin's disinfo board, that the titles might be gone but the work would continue, have been proven right.
Based on years-worth of "internal DHS memos, emails, and documents — obtained via leaks and an ongoing lawsuit, as well as public documents" The Intercept's report illustrates "an expansive effort by the agency to influence tech platforms."
"Behind closed doors, and through pressure on private platforms, the U.S. government has used its power to try to shape online discourse," The Intercept reported Monday, confirming what many conservatives already believed to be true after seeing how the Biden administration worked to police online speech about COVID-19 and other topics. The information uncovered shows that internal DHS "discussions have ranged from the scale and scope of government intervention in online discourse to the mechanics of streamlining takedown requests for false or intentionally misleading information."
Some of the conversations uncovered are chilling:
“Platforms have got to get comfortable with gov’t. It’s really interesting how hesitant they remain,” Microsoft executive Matt Masterson, a former DHS official, texted Jen Easterly, a DHS director, in February.
In a March meeting, Laura Dehmlow, an FBI official, warned that the threat of subversive information on social media could undermine support for the U.S. government. Dehmlow, according to notes of the discussion attended by senior executives from Twitter and JPMorgan Chase, stressed that “we need a media infrastructure that is held accountable.”
Instead of reining in their activities to avoid infringing on speech of Americans, DHS is apparently more focused and concerned with making tech companies more comfy acquiescing to federal government requests to shut down speech it doesn't like.
The emails and documents show close collaboration b/w DHS & private sector. Twitter's Vijaya Gadde (fired by @elonmusk last week) met monthly with DHS to discuss censorship plans. Microsoft exec texted DHS: "Platforms have got to get comfortable with gov't" pic.twitter.com/Z19yLM3miB— Lee Fang (@lhfang) October 31, 2022
The investigation also uncovered "a formalized process for government officials to directly flag content on Facebook or Instagram and request that it be throttled or suppressed through a special Facebook portal that requires a government or law enforcement email to use," one that was still live when The Intercept's story went live. Naturally, "DHS and Meta, the parent company of Facebook, did not respond to a request for comment" while the FBI "declined to comment."
Facebook and Twitter created special portals for the government to rapidly request takedowns of content. The portals, along with NGO partners used to censor a wide range of content, including obvious parody accounts and content disagreeing w gov pandemic policy. pic.twitter.com/Jth0WUfXAI— Lee Fang (@lhfang) October 31, 2022
But they don't necessarily need to comment for Americans to know what the Department of Homeland Security's plans are. According to a capstone report on their goals for the coming years, DHS "plans to target 'inaccurate information' on a wide range of topics, including 'the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, racial justice, U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the nature of U.S. support to Ukraine.'"
Big new report on Biden Admin’s efforts to suppress political speech. Disinformation Board was just the beginning. DHS plans to monitor speech on origins of COVID, COVID vaccines, “racial justice, U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan,” and Ukraine https://t.co/IYReQHeUbx— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) October 31, 2022
As The Intercept's report notes, the "inclusion of the 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is particularly noteworthy, given that House Republicans, should they take the majority in the midterms, have vowed to investigate." After all, if everything was so above-board and the booming success that President Biden and his Pentagon and State Department brass have said, it shouldn't have to be a priority area to silence supposedly "inaccurate information." Perhaps it is the Pentagon and Biden admin that should be worried about advancing inaccurate info about their chaotic exit from Afghanistan, given they claimed a botched drone strike that killed an aid worker and several children during the withdrawal as a "righteous strike."
"How disinformation is defined by the government has not been clearly articulated, and the inherently subjective nature of what constitutes disinformation provides a broad opening for DHS officials to make politically motivated determinations about what constitutes dangerous speech," The Intercept adds.
The government apparatus for addressing such issues was created under the Trump administration's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act, which was signed by the former president with the goal of protecting U.S. infrastructure from foreign attacks. But under the Biden administration, the relatively new arm of federal bureaucracy has become more focused on policing speech, including Americans' speech here at home:
Under President Joe Biden, the shifting focus on disinformation has continued. In January 2021, CISA replaced the Countering Foreign Influence Task force with the “Misinformation, Disinformation and Malinformation” team, which was created “to promote more flexibility to focus on general MDM.” By now, the scope of the effort had expanded beyond disinformation produced by foreign governments to include domestic versions. The MDM team, according to one CISA official quoted in the IG report, “counters all types of disinformation, to be responsive to current events.”
The Intercept also noted that "CISA’s goal is to make platforms more responsive to their suggestions," that is, to take the government's word over the merits of allowing free expression, even to allow "relevant agencies" to "prebunk/debunk" information trends. That could mean something similar to what Twitter and Facebook did to The New York Post's story on Hunter Biden's laptop from hell — attempting to preemptively cut off the spread of certain stories or narratives before they can go far and wide based on a government bureaucrat's belief that the speech is "harmful."
As court filings in Attorney General Schmitt's lawsuit have already revealed, "officials leading the push to expand the government’s reach into disinformation also played a quiet role in shaping the decisions of social media giants around the New York Post story."
FBI agent Laura Dehmlow was in communications w Facebook that led to the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020 over the false allegation that it was “disinfo.” This year, she met w/ Twitter/DHS to stress “we need a media infrastructure that is held accountable.” pic.twitter.com/17LqhEyMN0— Lee Fang (@lhfang) October 31, 2022
Those filings explain that "two previously unnamed FBI agents — Elvis Chan, an FBI special agent in the San Francisco field office, and Dehmlow, the section chief of the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force — were involved in high-level communications that allegedly 'led to Facebook’s suppression' of the Post’s reporting."
And it sounds like the government saw that as just a trial run of sorts when it comes to censoring press freedom, even though they got the situation totally and completely wrong:
In June, the same DHS advisory committee of CISA — which includes Twitter['s now-fired] head of legal policy, trust, and safety Vijaya Gadde and University of Washington professor Kate Starbird — drafted a report to the CISA director calling for an expansive role for the agency in shaping the “information ecosystem.” The report called on the agency to closely monitor “social media platforms of all sizes, mainstream media, cable news, hyper partisan media, talk radio and other online resources.” They argued that the agency needed to take steps to halt the “spread of false and misleading information,” with a focus on information that undermines “key democratic institutions, such as the courts, or by other sectors such as the financial system, or public health measures.”
Meanwhile, of course, Democrat calls to shatter norms and undermine institutions like SCOTUS, the Electoral College, or the Senate's legislative filibuster go un-minded by the power hungry bureaucrats.
Seemingly knowing that what they're doing is just as dystopian as the short-lived "Disinformation Governance Board" appeared to be, CISA is continuing to look at ways to improve the "efficacy of interventions" — read: censorship of Americans' speech — and has "recommended the use of third-party information-sharing nonprofits as a 'clearing house for trust information to avoid the appearance of government propaganda.'"
In summarizing what DHS is cooking up, The Intercept concludes that the "agency is attempting to make an end run around the First Amendment by exerting continual pressure on private sector social media firms."
So, these bureaucrats know what they're doing looks like a government propaganda outfit — because it is a government propaganda outfit — but they're trying to obfuscate their activity and intentions from the American people in order to circumvent the United States Constitution.