Censorship in the Group Quota Regime

Editor’s Note: What we call the “group quota regime” is an emerging totalitarianism. Like all such regimes, the group quota regime must maintain a narrative and silence those who challenge it. For this purpose, the woke radicals have developed, over the course of two elections and the COVID-19 pandemic, a vast, opaque, and intricate narrative-control apparatus — what some have referred to as the censorship-industrial complex (CIC). The CIC is a complex web of federal agencies, legacy media, Big Tech companies, and NGOs that operate in concert to form and enforce the regime narrative. Ben Weingarten, editor at large of RealClearInvestigations, explains in revealing detail where the CIC stands today and, importantly, how it might rear its head in the upcoming election.

If the woke regime felt that its reign was under threat, and believed itself justified (if not morally obligated) to defend itself, what wouldn’t it do to retain power?

It might seek to break, bankrupt, and jail its political opponents and those who would dare defend them via lawfare; obstruct justice for political “made men;” and delegitimize and destroy any institution that would dare stand in its way. That effort is already afoot.

Another line of attack might be to weaponize every public and private power center against those who would back its political opponents — demoralizing if not terrorizing the electorate into submission, or dividing it so it can more easily be conquered. That effort too has been humming along.

Still another line of attack might be to wage information warfare against the public in a bid to prevent it from fully understanding the nature and extent of, let alone discussing, the ruling regime’s depredations. It would do so not only by propagandizing via de facto regime media but by crippling alternative sources and prohibiting citizens from freely sharing news and views anathema to the ruling regime.

That happened in 2020 with the rise of a public-private censorship apparatus that has engaged in perhaps “the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history,” as one federal judge deemed it. Some evidence suggests collusive efforts between the intelligence community, corporate, and social media companies to discredit and deep-six the Hunter Biden laptop story weeks from Election Day alone might have swung the race in President Joe Biden’s favor.

Given the stakes in 2024, and with our ruling regime exhausting every possible option to win yet finding Donald Trump leading in many polls, shouldn’t we expect the regime to execute a still more pervasive and pernicious censorship effort this time around?

To understand where the information war might go, it is useful to consider where it has been — and recognize how significant its impact is even at this very moment.

The censorship apparatus has its roots in part in the Trump-Russia collusion hoax and the canard that Russian social media trolls swung the 2016 election for Trump. Federal authorities and like-minded non-governmental institutions not only used these false narratives to cast Trump and his supporters as traitors, and to generate a moral panic over “mis-, dis-, and mal-information” and its proliferation on social media, but to justify their efforts to police that social media — including Americans’ speech on it — on national security grounds.

They did so by leveraging purported foreign threats to create the weapons that would ultimately be turned on domestic Wrongthinkers. Between 2017 and 2018 the State Department, FBI, and Department of Homeland Security all established offices putatively aimed at combating purported foreign interference, including in U.S. elections.

These include:

  • The State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC), tasked with leading federal efforts to “counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United States national security interests;”
  • The FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force (FITF), created to “identify and counteract malign foreign influence operations targeting the United States,” with an emphasis on voting and elections; 
  • The Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Foreign Influence Task Force, composed of sub-agency the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency’s (CISA) Election Security Initiative division, and Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) staff. Its purpose, according to a DHS Inspector General’s office report, was to focus on “election infrastructure disinformation.”

The Censorship-Industrial Complex Today

A constellation of sometimes state-funded non-governmental counter-disinformation organizations grew alongside this mushrooming federal effort. We have learned much about how that apparatus exerted itself in the 2020 election — only to widen massively under the Biden administration through its exploitation of the Capitol Riot and the COVID-19 pandemic — through what the plaintiffs have unearthed in the landmark free speech case of Murthy v. Missouri, formerly Missouri v. Biden.

Murthy — over which the aforementioned federal judge presides, and about which the Supreme Court heard oral arguments this week — has put the censorship-industrial complex (CIC) on trial. 

The case has exposed a sprawling and subversive speech suppression cartel linking wide swathes of the federal government to like-minded cutouts, including putatively non-governmental “anti-disinformation” organizations and academic institutions, that have worked assiduously to identify and frame dissent from Ruling Class orthodoxy first on election integrity and then on COVID-19 policies as dangerous; surveil the digital public square for such dissent; and compel and coordinate with legacy and social media companies to chill and silence such dissent en masse.

Plaintiffs in the case alleged, and provided substantial evidence indicating the government and its partners worked to suppress “conservative-leaning free speech” via the social media platforms, per the district court in which the case originated, encompassing:

(1) suppressing the Hunter Biden laptop story prior to the 2020 Presidential election; (2) suppressing speech about the lab-leak theory of COVID-19’s origin; (3) suppressing speech about the efficiency of masks and COVID-19 lockdowns; (4) suppressing speech about the efficiency of COVID-19 vaccines; (5) suppressing speech about election integrity in the 2020 presidential election; (6) suppressing speech about the security of voting by mail; (7) suppressing parody content about Defendants; (8) suppressing negative posts about the economy; and (9) suppressing negative posts about President Biden.

Cutouts like the Election Integrity Partnership, as I reported for RealClearInvestigations, coordinated and created in conjunction with CISA, consistent with various government agencies, called on the platforms to change their terms of service to purge, for example, content aimed at “delegitimizing elections”  —  which many such platforms did. These cutouts surveilled hundreds of millions of potentially offending posts, and identified a subset of those posts to the platforms, a substantial percentage of which they censored.

Among the posts targeted by the government’s partners for suppression at the social media platforms:

  • A Nov. 8, 2020 tweet from Federalist Editor-in-Chief Mollie Hemingway of an article titled “America Won’t Trust Elections Until The Voter Fraud Is Investigated;”
  • Posts containing New York Post and Fox News articles indicating cast ballots found in New York City under the names of dead people;
  • A post from the Texas Public Policy Foundation linking to a report regarding weaknesses in and recommendations on mail-in voting.

The Election Integrity Partnership would morph into the Virality Project as the pandemic unfolded, targeting dissenters from public health establishment COVID-ian orthodoxy like 2020 election skeptic  —  in tandem with a Biden administration demanding such censorship.

Stated simply, the case showed the feds working directly and through partners with social media companies to get them to take down, algorithmically suppress, and/or discredit with corrective pop-up notes speech or speakers they disapproved of at the level of millions of posts. This often included core political speech  —  speech germane to real-time policy debates regarding election laws and public health policies.

The Biden administration would codify this effort via its first-of-its-kind National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism. The strategy elevates combatting Wrongthink on a raft of issues to the level of a homeland security imperative. 

It suggests that “anti-government or anti-authority extremists” pose a dire threat to the homeland and summons a whole-of-society effort to combat such extremism, including through “accelerating work to contend with an information environment that challenges healthy democratic discourse” and, working to “counter the influence and impact of dangerous conspiracy theories” that it claims lead to terrorist violence. 

To confront “long-term contributors to domestic terrorism,” the administration calls for “enhancing faith in government and addressing the extreme polarization, fueled by a crisis of disinformation and misinformation often channeled through social media platforms.”

The truth is that our elites built the CIC to monopolize the narrative to perpetuate said power, leveraging every tool imaginable to abridge adverse content under guise of protecting our “cognitive infrastructure” — with CISA serving as the “nerve center” of these efforts. 

After the 2020 election it would rebrand its purported Countering Foreign Influence Task Force as its MDM team, targeting “all types of disinformation, to be responsive to current events” according to the DHS inspector general’s office  —  demonstrating a vastly expanded and domestic-focused mandate under scrutiny it has since tried to hide. 

When the public got wind of, and expressed outrage over, the since-stunted Disinformation Governance Board at DHS, few realized that one was, in effect, already under operation.

As I testified last year, a document obtained in connection with congressional inquiries into that board:

myriad “DHS components are already engaged in countering disinformation,” alongside “excellent work being done by interagency partners, the private sector, and academia—particularly concerning identifying and analyzing disinformation,” which “DHS should leverage.” A subsequent memorandum would indicate that the DGB would “support and coordinate…MDM work with other departments and agencies, the private sector, and non-government actors.” The purpose of creating the DGB, in other words, was not so much to establish a “Ministry of Truth,” but, as plaintiffs in Missouri v. Biden [now known as Murthy v. Missouri] aptly describe it, “to impose a bureaucratic structure on the enormous censorship activities already occurring involving dozens of federal officials and many federal agencies”  —  that is, to oversee many such ministries.

Murthy asks whether the feds’ efforts to coerce and cajole social media platforms into purging themselves of Wrongthink on Hunter Biden’s laptop, mail-in balloting, COVID-19 vaccine efficacy and much else violate the First Amendment.

The Louisiana district court that originally heard the case found and a Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel affirmed that the efforts, emanating from the Biden White House, FBI, CDC and other agencies to control the digital public square through constant chiding, cajoling, and coercion  —  at the point of a government gun  —  likely constituted a massive assault on the First Amendment.

The feds, the courts argued, had effectively turned the likes of Facebook and X/Twitter into its deputized speech police  —  state actors whose “content moderation” decisions violated constitutional restrictions on abridging speech.

Pivotal as the case is and has been to exposing the nefarious nature and extreme extent of the CIC, and tantalizing though the prospect might be that the Supremes will rule unconstitutional the federal government’s efforts, sobriety is in order.

Our highest court could hamper the ability of Biden White House officials and unelected bureaucrats to direct the censorship-industrial complex by prohibiting them from deputizing the likes of Facebook, YouTube, and X/Twitter as government speech police. But make no mistake, the complex will persist.

When the Supreme Court took up the case last year, it effectively unfroze a prohibition on government-led speech policing by staying an injunction barring the Biden White House and federal agencies such as the FBI and CDC from coercing or “significantly encourag[ing]” the social media platforms to quell protected speech.

But as a practical matter, as Justice Samuel Alito warned in a dissent, by removing the stay the Court seemed to abide an egregious assault on our rights during the pendency of the case.

“The injunction applies only when the Government crosses the line and begins to coerce or control others’ exercise of their free-speech rights,” Justice Alito wrote. “Does the Government think that the First Amendment allows Executive Branch officials to engage in such conduct? Does it have plans for this to occur between now and the time when this case is decided?”

“Government censorship of private speech is antithetical to our democratic form of government, and therefore today’s decision is highly disturbing,” he concluded. 

Perhaps even more sobriety is in order given what transpired in oral arguments, which I had the privilege of witnessing. There, a majority of the Court appeared to have been deferential towards, if not sympathetic to, the pro-censorship position set forth by federal authorities. 

Even if federal authorities were to cease all communications direct or indirect with social media platforms during the pendency of the case — that is, in the middle of the election — and even if the plaintiffs prevail and the feds are both subjected and stringently adhere to a permanent injunction on such activity prospectively, including through the remainder of the campaign, the CIC will remain intact.

As Philip Hamburger, whose New Civil Liberties Alliance’s pioneering First Amendment jurisprudence helped the plaintiffs in Murthy successfully make their case in the lower courts, recently cautioned:

…the current censorship has had half a decade to become deeply entrenched. In that time, government pressure, coordination, funding, and personnel have created a…whole regime of interlocking academic, nonprofit, and other private entities that by now act on their own to coordinate [social media censorship]. So, notwithstanding the constitutional bar against government censorship, the government has already successfully launched this ship into private waters. A judicial remedy may therefore already be too late. … The government may have successfully subjected the Republic to censorship for the indefinite future.

The largely digital public square is being manipulated and distorted by the efforts of the censorship regime and its adjacents at this very moment. Consider:

  • Big tech companies, led by Google, to a large extent control the war of ideas in the digital space. Google has a monopoly on search and dominates in news curation. In both areas, it is entirely skewed against conservatives.
  • The quality and quantity of non-leftist media have been artificially diminished thanks to the work of supposedly neutral raters of media reliability like NewsGuard and the Global Disinformation Index. These outfits have gotten many dissenting outlets blacklisted by ad placement companies, thereby drying up critical revenue streams and threatening their businesses.
  • Social media companies’ troublesome terms of service remain on the books, threatening to flag, throttle, demonetize, remove, suspend, or otherwise suppress protected political speech and/or speakers, particularly around election processes and outcomes. If those restrictions are not enough to prevent election Wrongthink, perhaps more extreme penalties are serving as deterrents: Memester Douglass Mackey faces jail time, via a trial held in a hostile venue in which he should have never found himself, for a satirical 2016 tweet instructing Hillary Clinton supporters to text in their vote.
  • Relatedly, both traditional media companies and independent YouTubers operate under the threat of lawfare should they broach taboo subjects, causing them to self-censor.
  • Add in the lack of transparency around how “content moderation” measures are operating across myriad platforms at this very moment, and simply put, it is incalculable how much speech is currently being suppressed, on what topics, and what its impact might be on the American mind and our votes.

What Happens Now

Now consider some recent developments.

First, as the House Judiciary Committee’s Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government reported in February, for years the U.S. government has been funding the development of artificial intelligence tools with the express purpose of combating “mis-, dis-, and mal-information.” Those tools could enable censorship at a scale likely many times that of the more ad hoc, hybrid algorithmic/human censorship effort of 2020 — and with the plausible deniability of the censorship being conducted by purportedly neutral AI. One could conceive of such AI even targeting “pre-thoughtcrime,” preventing offending speech from being posted in the first place, or working behind the scenes to prevent expected viral content from achieving widespread circulation. If you like what Google Gemini AI did for American history, you will love what it can do for your speech.

On a related note, The Federalist recently reported that NewsGuard is deploying AI-based censorship tools impacting platforms and search engines like Bing in which its ratings are incorporated, to “automatically prevent American citizens from seeing information online that challenges government and corporate media claims about elections ahead of the 2024 voting season.”

Second, numerous U.S. officials are signaling their concerns about foreign interference — particularly, again, from Russia — in the 2024 election, including through the use of generative AI on social media. Recently at the Munich Security Conference, 20 signatories ranging from Adobe and Amazon to Google, Meta, TikTok, and X signed an accord on combating the “deceptive use of AI in 2024 elections.” The companies pledged to work with “a diverse set of global civil society organizations, academics, and other relevant subject matter experts” — which should be read as “censorship-industrial complex members” — to “protect elections and the electoral process” this cycle. One can envision both of these threats being hyped up to justify vastly more heavy-handed censorship by social media platforms — as a matter of national security — in 2024. In fact, election officials are already running related “tabletop exercises”  —  perhaps not unlike the infamous exercise the Aspen Institute ran weeks prior to the 2020 election simulating a scenario eerily similar to what transpired when the New York Post ran the Hunter Biden laptop story.

Third, and relatedly, the European Union introduced its Digital Service Act, subjecting major social media platforms to regulations targeting “harmful” content including “disinformation” that could be used as a backdoor way to force the regulation of American domestic speech relating to U.S. elections.

Fourth, we now see states such as Pennsylvania pledging themselves to work with the likes of CISA to target “dangerous misinformation” in connection with the upcoming election. Other states too are rolling out strategies to combat “election-related disinformation.” This is consistent with a strategy CIC leaders have openly advocated. If the federal government is at all constrained, it would make sense that states would pick up the baton in coordinating the CIC from the government side.

Fifth, the Biden re-election campaign has indicated it will aggressively seek to “work the refs,” pressuring the social media companies to suppress purported “mis-, dis-, and mal-information.”  One of the leaders of this effort will be Rob Flaherty, the former Biden White House director of digital strategy, whose menacing and expletive-laden emails to social media companies, demanding they police content the administration disapproved of around COVID-19, feature prominently in the Murthy case.

Many prominent foes of the censorship-industrial complex whom I have spoken to recently concurred that — notwithstanding a couple of notable instances in which its constituents indicated they might be gearing down in 2024 — its efforts are likely to be more systematic, sophisticated, and perhaps sub rosa, given the microscope under which the CIC has been placed due to Murthy, the release of the Twitter Files, and House Republicans’ oversight efforts.

The motives and means for imposing a vastly more powerful and pervasive censorship regime are only growing. 

Any of a number of catalyzing events, be it a real or false flag foreign influence campaign, civil unrest, domestic terrorist attack, threatened violence against political officials, or beyond could be used to justify the social media companies’ targeting, directly or by proxy, of entire narratives on a whole slew of patently political issues from immigration to Ukraine war funding, associated user bases, or even the nuking of entire platforms.

Already, we see the censorship-industrial complex laying the rhetorical groundwork for a mass suppression campaign.

If you believe in securing the borders, you can be linked to “Great Replacement Theory,” which the woke regime will argue has a nexus to race-based domestic terror.

If you have questions about the goals of the Ukraine war, America’s ability to attain them, how great our commitment ought to be, that puts you in league with Putin. It makes you a traitor advancing the propaganda of a foreign adversary, undermining national security and “our democracy.” 

Certainly if you express concerns over mass mail-in voting, drop boxes, ballot harvesting practices, etc., those can be — and have already been — used as grounds to cast Americans as national security threats.

Opposing the group quota regime, or challenging radical gender ideology, or demanding greater parental control over public schools can all be disingenuously linked to threats of harm against institutions.

Former homeland security officials cast former President Donald Trump as a terroristic strongman, an inciter of violence par excellence. He has already been booted from social media platforms. In 2024, can we not expect the censorship-industrial complex not only to limit the sharing of any Trump clips, but to target all found to have circulated them?

Any such suppression will be geared towards a monopoly narrative that the woke regime is virtuous, righteous, and just, while MAGA and all other dissenters are evil, authoritarian, and terroristic.

One need not think hard to conceive of a hypothetical that could lead the likes of Apple and Google to remove X from their app stores — for example, under the guise of a terms of service violation through the proliferation of “malign foreign generative AI,” or dangerous “insurrectionist rhetoric.” Apple allegedly contemplated X’s removal already. That alone would cause a massive impact down the stretch of the election. Precedent can be seen in Amazon’s refusal to host, and Apple and Google’s refusal to carry Parler in its store in the wake of the Capitol riot.

National security officials tell us that 2024 will constitute the most “secure” election in U.S. history. Amid all the talk of “saving democracy,” and all the evidence of what such measures look like in reality, one could hardly be faulted for asking how much more security our republic can withstand.

Benjamin Weingarten is Editor at Large at RealClearInvestigations, a Senior Contributor to The Federalist, columnist at Newsweek and The Epoch Times, and a Fellow of the Claremont Institute. He is author of American Ingrate: Ilhan Omar and the Progressive-Islamist Takeover of the Democratic Party (Bombardier, 2020).