Testimony before Congress shows 1984 is here, and Obama started it

Matt Taibbi and Michael Shellenberger, two honest men who worked on the Twitter Files, exposing how the government collaborated with Twitter to affect the 2020 election, testified before the House today. What they said should terrify you. Beginning in January 2017, under then-president Obama’s direction, the government instituted a social media manipulation system intended to game the 2020 election through censorship and controlled information (which, to my mind, amounts to misinformation). It was unconstitutional, but it worked. And now, using the vehicle of the corrupt criminal action against Trump, the government is bypassing manipulating information and is planning to target ordinary Americans.

I’ll keep this post simple. First, here is the opening statement from Michael Shellenberger. I’ve appended a transcript of his testimony to the end of this post.

Second, here are highlights from Matt Taibbi’s and Michael Shellenberger’s testimony. The tweet itself includes some transcribed material:

Third, now that you know how the government, acting under Obama’s instructions, manipulated social media to destroy Donald Trump’s presidency and game the 2020 election, you need to know that, in 2024, the Deep State will have upped its game. This time around, the Deep Staters aren’t just doing a global campaign to control the flow of information on social media. Instead, using discovery in the federal criminal litigation against Donald Trump, Jack Smith has gathered information for their use that’s specifically about you.

The Last Refuge (aka, for us oldsters, The Conservative Treehouse) writes that Jack Smith’s request for a list of all Twitter users who followed Trump’s account or liked and/or retweeted his tweets is much more sinister than it sounds. It’s bad enough that, with its persecution…er, prosecution of Trump, the government is hunting down the names of anyone who likes Trump or his ideas. But buried within Jack Smith’s warrant demand, which the court granted, Smith asked for “all associated logs and metadata.” Sundance explains,

That’s billions of billions of datapoints on millions of American citizens, their locations, their devices, their ip addresses and ultimately their real identities and connected activity as attributed to -and connected with- their connected social media accounts.  Essentially, turning Donald J Trump into the center of a surveillance virus.

People then say how could the Jack Smith special counsel possibly comb through all of those users and all of that connected metadata.  The answer is Artificial Intelligence; but the serious concern comes when you combine the metadata, AI organization and the previous announcements from DHS.

Technically, writes Sundance, the DHS has promised not to use Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) “to improperly profile, target, or to discriminate against any individual…or to use AI technology to enable improper systemic, indiscriminate, or large-scale monitoring, surveillance, or tracking of individuals.”

Impropriety, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. With the metadata and AI, DHS will say that it’s entirely proper—probably “to save our democracy”—to profile, target, and discriminate against Trump supporters or those who agree with his ideas without even supporting him specifically and to engage in systemic, indiscriminate and large-scale monitoring, surveillance, or tracking of those same people.

Sundance, as always, has lots of details, but here’s the important thing to remember. In every legal action, whether civil or criminal, there is the primary goal of nailing the defendants. However, in this modern information age, the other goal, always, is data mining. And we are being mined.

It’s 1984, and the Democrats hold Big Brother’s cards.

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Opening statement from Michael Shellenberger (emphasis mine)

Nine months ago, I testified and provided evidence to the subcommittee about the existence of a censorship industrial complex, a network of government agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Government Contractors, and Big Tech media platforms that conspired to censor ordinary Americans and elected officials alike for holding disfavored views.

I regret to inform the Subcommittee today that the scope, power, and law-breaking of the censorship industrial complex are even worse than we had realized back in March. Two days ago, my colleagues and I published the first batch of internal files from the Cyber Threat Intelligence League [“CTIL”], which show US and UK military contractors working in 2019 and 2020 to both censor and turn sophisticated psychological operations and disinformation tactics developed abroad against the American people.

Many insist that all that we identified in the Twitter files, the Facebook files, and the CTI files were legal activities by social media platforms to take down content that violated the terms of service. Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and other big tech companies are privately owned, people point out, and free to censor content, and government officials are free to point out wrong information, they argue.

But the First Amendment prohibits the government from abridging freedom of speech. The Supreme Court has ruled that the government may not induce, encourage, or promote private persons to accomplish what it is constitutionally forbidden to accomplish. And there’s now a large body of evidence proving that the government did precisely that.

What’s more, the whistleblower who delivered the CTIL files to us says that its leader, a “former British intelligence analyst,” was” in the room at the Obama White House” in 2017 when she received the instructions to create a counter-disinformation project to “stop a repeat of 2016.”

The US Department of Homeland Security, Cybersecurity and Information Security Agency, CISA, has been the center of gravity for much of the censorship, with the National Science Foundation financing the development of censorship and disinformation tools and other federal government agencies playing a supportive role. Emails from CISA’s NGO and social media partners show that CISA created the Election Integrity Partnership, EIP, in 2020, which involved the Stanford Internet Observatory and other U.S. government contractors.

EIP and its successor, the Virality Project, urged Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms to censor social media posts by ordinary citizens and elected officials alike. EIP reported that they had a 75% response rate from the platforms and that 35% of the URLs that they reported were either removed, labeled, or throttled or soft-blocked.

In 2020, the Department of Homeland Security, CISA, violated the First Amendment and interfered in the election, while in 2021, SISA and the White House violated the First Amendment and undermined America’s response to the COVID pandemic by demanding that Facebook and Twitter censor content that Facebook said...that Facebook itself said was “often true,” including about vaccine side effects.

All of this is profoundly un-American. One’s commitment to free speech means nothing if it does not extend to your political enemies. In his essential new book, Liar in a Crowded Theater, Jeff Kosseff, a law professor at the United States Naval Academy, shows that the widespread view that the government can censor false speech and or speech that “causes harm” is mostly wrong.

The Supreme Court has allowed very few constraints on speech. For example, the test of incitement to violence remains its immediacy.

I encourage Congress to defund and dismantle the government organizations involved in censorship. That includes phasing out all funding for the National Science Foundation’s track F, Trust and Authenticity and communication systems, and its secure and trustworthy cyberspace track. I would also encourage Congress to abolish CISA in DHS.

Short of taking those steps, I would encourage significant guardrails and oversight to prevent successorship from happening again. In particular, it’s very easy to see the line in CISA. They say they’re covering physical security, cyber-security, but they added a third one, cognitive security, which is basically attempting to control the information environment and how people think about the world, including the stories that they tell.

Finally, I would encourage Congress to consider making Section 230 liability protections contingent upon social media platforms, known in the law as interactive computer services, to allow adult users to moderate our own legal content through filters that we choose and whose algorithms are transparent to all of us.

I would encourage Congress to prohibit government officials from asking the platforms to remove content, which the Supreme Court may or may not rule on constitutional next year when it decides on the Missouri v. Biden case. Should the Court somehow decide that the government requests for censorship are constitutional, then I would urge Congress to require such requests be reported publicly, instantaneously, so that such censorship demands occur in plain sight.

Thank you very much for hearing my testimony.

Image: Michael Shellenberger. X screen grab.

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