When government “politely asks” businesses to do its dirty work for them, whether the businesses do so gleefully or reluctantly, isn’t that kinda sorta the very definition of fascism?
The Department of Homeland Security is quietly broadening its efforts to curb speech it considers dangerous, an investigation by The Intercept has found. Years of internal DHS memos, emails, and documents — obtained via leaks and an ongoing lawsuit, as well as public documents — illustrate an expansive effort by the agency to influence tech platforms.
The work, much of which remains unknown to the American public, came into clearer view earlier this year when DHS announced a new “Disinformation Governance Board”: a panel designed to police misinformation (false information spread unintentionally), disinformation (false information spread intentionally), and malinformation (factual information shared, typically out of context, with harmful intent) that allegedly threatens U.S. interests. While the board was widely ridiculed, immediately scaled back, and then shut down within a few months, other initiatives are underway as DHS pivots to monitoring social media now that its original mandate — the war on terror — has been wound down.
Behind closed doors, and through pressure on private platforms, the U.S. government has used its power to try to shape online discourse. According to meeting minutes and other records appended to a lawsuit filed by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican who is also running for Senate, 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.
This next sentence ought to send shivers down the spine of anyone who loves freedom:
“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.
It's Halloween, so you know you want to be scared. Go read the whole thing.
Update, 11/2/22: Even the ACLU, which has lost its way in recent years, is right on this one:
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) went back to its roots Monday, condemning the government for working with Big Tech to censor certain topics and calling it a betrayal of constitutional rights.
"The First Amendment bars the government from deciding for us what is true or false, online or anywhere. Our government can’t use private pressure to get around our constitutional rights," the ACLU tweeted from its official account.