The First Amendment prohibits the government from taking direct action to suppress speech and bars the state from passing legislation designed to punish individuals for expressing viewpoints it does not favor. Yet the government has found a way to subvert that pesky document known as the Constitution: outsourcing its censorship efforts. Over the past three years, the state has been paying various entities to crack down on conservative and libertarian thought on social media. These groups employ a variety of methods to diminish right-leaning voices on the internet – and they have enjoyed quite a bit of success so far. Republican lawmakers are calling for answers, but will any be forthcoming?
Government Is Sponsoring Censorship
In a new series titled Disinformation Inc., the Washington Examiner has been blowing the lid off a collaboration between the federal government and an organization called the Global Disinformation Index (GDI), which seeks to target conservative and libertarian news sites by attacking their advertising revenue. Major companies that work with prominent brands to place advertisements on websites have been soliciting guidance from “nonpartisan” groups who claim to be combatting “disinformation” and “misinformation” online to make sure they are not advertising on questionable platforms. “These same ‘disinformation’ monitors are compiling secret website blacklists and feeding them to ad companies, with the aim of defunding and shutting down disfavored speech,” according to the Washington Examiner.
GDI, a British group, is an organization that is “shaping the ad world behind the scenes” by creating a list of news sites that are labeled “risky” and portraying them as purveyors of disinformation. From the report:
“Along with similar organizations, GDI has been raking in cash as funding pours into disinformation tracking. Its charity in San Antonio, Texas, posted $345,000 in revenue in 2020, while its affiliated private foundation saw its roughly $19,600 revenue jump in 2019 to over $569,000 in 2020, according to tax records.”
But private donors are not the only source of GDI’s income. The State Department has been funding the group directly for about five years, forking over at least $330,000 in taxpayer dollars. Even further, the Global Engagement Center and the National Endowment for Democracy, two entities that are backed by the State Department, have given $665,000 to GDI.
GDI defines the term “disinformation” as “push[ing] an intentionally misleading narrative which is adversarial against democratic institutions, scientific consensus or an at-risk group—and which carries a risk of harm.”
Nevertheless, a closer look reveals that the organization, in reality, adheres to the progressive definition of the term: Any viewpoint that contradicts the left. As an example, the Washington Examiner points to the group’s decision to flag one of its articles as “misogynistic” because it discussed a survey whose findings showed that 60% of conservative women are satisfied with their family life, in contrast to only 35% of left-leaning women who said the same.
The sites GDI labeled as “riskiest” and as the “worst” offenders a number of news sites including the American Conservative, RedState, One America News, the Blaze, the Daily Wire, RealClearPolitics, Reason, the New York Post, and, of course, the Washington Examiner.
A savvy reader will know what each of these sites have in common: They are all conservative or libertarian outlets. This means that brands who take GDI’s guidance seriously will not spend their dollars advertising on these platforms.
But what about the sites GDI deems to be credible? These include NPR, Insider, The New York Times, USA Today, Buzzfeed News, HuffPost, and the Wall Street Journal. With the exception of the last outlet, each of these are decidedly left-wing organizations.
Republican Lawmakers Cry Foul
The revelations coming from the Disinformation Inc. series have prompted Republican members of Congress to speak out against what appears to be government-funded censorship. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) demanded an investigation into the federal government’s funding of these entities.
“Free speech is fundamental to preserving our liberty,” Johnson told the Washington Examiner. “If taxpayer dollars are being used to censor voices because they are critical of the administration’s disastrous policies, every American should be concerned. We need to further investigate this potential First Amendment violation.”
“The internet was intended to democratize speech and the State Department has a mandate to stop authoritarian regimes’ attempts to silence it, but we’re now seeing just the opposite as governments and corporations collude to silence certain points of view,” said Sen. Rubio. “Americans deserve a full accounting of how their taxpayer dollars were used, and those responsible for violating the public trust should be held accountable.”
Rep. James Comer (R-KY) indicated that he would “press” the White House for answers. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said the government working with private organizations to push censorship is “one of the most disturbing things we’ve seen in recent years.”
Will Anything Happen?
It is not yet clear what action Republicans in the legislature will take to address the issue. But the problem is not going away anytime soon – and GDI isn’t the only corporation involved.
The Election Integrity Partnership, collaborated with companies like Facebook and Twitter to crack down on supposed “misinformation” related to the 2020 and 2022 elections. Naturally, conservatives and libertarian sources made up the bulk of the 4,800 URLs that it flagged. The Biden administration paid the group millions of dollars for its troubles, according to a report from Just the News.
NewsGuard, an organization that rates various news outlets on their levels of trustworthiness, was paid $750,000 by the Defense Department for its “misinformation footprints” project, which the group describes as “a catalogue of known hoaxes, falsehoods and misinformation narratives that are spreading online.” Predictably, the group focused the lion’s share of its efforts on right-leaning news sites.
The reality that the government is paying organizations to suppress conservative and libertarian viewpoints on social media is problematic at best and tyrannical at worst. The fact that the state is willing to engage in this type of brazen censorship would likely infuriate a large chunk of the populace – if they knew about it. Indeed, it is the fact that most folks aren’t aware of what the government is doing that empowers bad actors.
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