The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, January 09, 2023

Cat's Paw

The Wall Street Journal provides an account of a lengthy email exchange during the height of Covid hysteria and the federal government's response (March, 2021) between Rob Flaherty, the White House’s director of digital media, and Facebook executives. The emails demonstrate "the compan[y] put Covid censorship policies in place in response to relentless, coercive pressure from the White House—not voluntarily."

These emails have come to light "as part of discovery in Missouri v. Biden, a free-speech case brought by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana and four private plaintiffs represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance."

Elon Musk's release of the Twitter files along with the Missouri v. Biden case have given us a harsh look at the sordid nature of Washington's power politics. In this instance, it appears that the Democratic administration in power was hard-pressed to defend its Covid policies, mandates, closures and manipulated data in any real sense. It was much easier to coerce social media companies to shut down alternative (and it turns out, correct) positions and claims via outright banning and shadow banning. Of course, the companies claimed these things weren't happening, but now the truth emerges.

President Biden, press secretary Jen Psaki and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy later publicly vowed to hold the platforms accountable if they didn’t heighten censorship. On July 16, 2021, a reporter asked Mr. Biden his “message to platforms like Facebook.” He replied, “They’re killing people.” Mr. Biden later claimed he meant users, not platforms, were killing people. But the record shows Facebook itself was the target of the White House’s pressure campaign.

Mr. Flaherty also strong-armed Google in April 2021, accusing YouTube (which it owns) of “funneling” people into vaccine hesitancy. He said this concern was “shared at the highest (and I mean the highest) levels of the WH,” and required “more work to be done.” Mr. Flaherty demanded to know what further measures Google would take to remove disfavored content. An executive responded that the company was working to “address your concerns related to Covid-19 misinformation.”

These emails establish a clear pattern: Mr. Flaherty, representing the White House, expresses anger at the companies’ failure to censor Covid-related content to his satisfaction. The companies change their policies to address his demands. As a result, thousands of Americans were silenced for questioning government-approved Covid narratives. Two of the Missouri plaintiffs, Jay Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff, are epidemiologists whom multiple social-media platforms censored at the government’s behest for expressing views that were scientifically well-founded but diverged from the government line—for instance, that children and adults with natural immunity from prior infection don’t need Covid vaccines.
Unfortunately, there's an authoritarian strain the runs through Democratic party governance. At best, it's characterized by coordination with a propaganda media the gladly presents the approved narrative on any subject (including Covid) and refuses to: (1) present opposing views, (2) ask questions about policies enacted within the approved narrative, or (3) investigate outcomes when policies associated with the narrative do great harm. At worst, the authoritarian strain leads to: (1) harsh, near dictatorial mandates that are unsupported by scientific evidence, (2) censorship of those who question and/or oppose these mandates, and (3) criminal or economic (e.g., loss of jobs or credentials) persecution of those who threaten the approved narrative. The Missouri v. Biden case indicates that elements of the worst case authoritarian scenario were in play:

The Flaherty emails [exposed as part of discovery in the Missouri v. Biden case] demonstrate that the federal government unlawfully coerced the companies in an effort to ensure that Americans would be exposed only to state-approved information about Covid-19. As a result of that unconstitutional state action, Americans were given the false impression of a scientific “consensus” on critically important issues around Covid-19. A reckoning for the government’s unlawful, deceptive and dangerous conduct is under way in court.

It appears that the Biden administration was perfectly willing to use social media as it cat's paw to violate the First Amendment. If this continues, we're heading down a path that makes the dark novel 1984 look more and more prescient.