- Thursday, February 15, 2024

For the longest time, when conservatives complained about being censored, muted or blocked on social media, we were met with a chorus of voices telling us that these were private companies that could do what they wanted.

But we always asked in follow-up, “What if it’s the government ordering the censoring in the first place?”

It’s clear that the government has orchestrated the censorship in quite a lot of cases, in direct violation of free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. This ought to concern every American, no matter their political viewpoint.

Although they were cagey about it, Biden administration officials occasionally lifted the veil. Even Jen Psaki, while she was White House press secretary, admitted that the administration brought certain accounts to the attention of social media executives, pressing for suspensions or other online sanctions.

With the release of the Twitter Files — batches of internal communications from inside the social media platform before it was purchased by Elon Musk — the public saw unquestionable evidence that the Biden White House forced social media companies to censor law-abiding U.S. citizens. These victims of government oppression had committed no crimes other than holding opinions that ran contrary to the approved way of thinking and trying to work against efforts at thought control.

Earlier this month, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, released what are being called “the Amazon Files,” which show that Biden aides were hard at work pressuring the enormous internet retailer to suppress books that contain unapproved views on vaccines.

Over this time, many have suggested that the First Amendment is antiquated because of technology, and that the framers of the Constitution could not have foreseen today’s social media. That’s pretty shaky ground on which to base government-sponsored censorship. But even if you accept that, don’t you think they knew about books in the 18th century, when the Constitution was written?

One thing is certain: They knew what an oppressive government looked like, and by all appearances, that’s what we have confronting us today.

And it’s not always the federal government doing the dirty work, and it’s not always in secret.

New York state passed a law that forces websites and platforms to police online speech that could be perceived as being harmful or vilifying to someone based on gender, race, religion, or other identifying characteristics. This “hate speech” law instructs platforms to publish policies describing how they would respond to such speech incidents, mandates that they create a way for people to register complaints, and requires them to respond to the complainers directly.

If it sounds like the state of New York is trying to deputize website operators in the war against free speech, it’s because that’s what they’re doing.

“New York politicians are slapping a speech-police badge on my chest because I run a blog,” said Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor who runs the legal blog “The Volokh Conspiracy” and who sued New York to block the law in 2022.

Also involved in the suit as plaintiffs are the online platforms Locals and Rumble, which are free speech video hosting platforms and clients of my public affairs firm. Lawyers from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression represent the plaintiffs.

“We cannot let activist governments continue to chip away at the freedom of expression, which is one of the most basic of all human rights,” said Rumble CEO Chris Pavlovski.

But that’s what activist governments try to do, and it’s what New York continues to attempt in the reign of Letitia James, the out-of-control state attorney general best known for bringing a ridiculous real estate banking case against former President Donald Trump because she doesn’t like his politics.

A year ago, Rumble, Locals and Mr. Volokh won their case in federal court and got an injunction against enforcement of the law, with Judge Andrew Carter of the Southern District of New York saying that it “is clearly aimed at regulating speech.”

Nevertheless, Ms. James appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which will hear oral arguments on Friday.

This is how desperate some are to crack down on speech with which they disagree. The attorney general of New York was told clearly that the new law limiting speech was unconstitutional, and her immediate response was to appeal to be able to enforce it anyway.

These are serious times for the right to free expression. We now know that our government worked behind the scenes for years to limit what citizens were allowed to say. And now some are so emboldened that they’re doing it out in the open.

• Tim Murtaugh is a Washington Times columnist, founder and principal of Line Drive Public Affairs LLC, and co-host of the “Line Drive Podcast.”

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