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(WATCH) Censorship Investigation

It’s election year. This is the fifth presidential election campaign since Twitter and Facebook were created. And with each election cycle, efforts to manipulate the election through social media have become more heavy-handed. It’s no longer just about putting out a message. It’s about stopping certain voices from being heard and certain facts from getting told. The First Amendment limits the government’s role in monitoring and censoring American speech. But a Congressional committee has found evidence of the government and its partners veering far beyond Constitutional guardrails, with help from a growing censorship-industrial complex.

The following is a transcript of a report from “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson.” Watch the video by clicking the link at the end of the page.

After Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, government-driven efforts to police free speech on the internet reached new heights.

Rep. Jim Jordan / R-Ohio: This was an elaborate project where big government, these very various agencies in the federal government, working with Big Tech and, of course, Big Academia, were all involved in this effort to censor American speech.

Congressman Jim Jordan heads up a House committee investigating weaponization of the federal government.

The committee has obtained documents that shed new light on what Jordan says is an elaborate government censorship operation — one that could be ongoing today. The documents were turned over by Stanford University under threat of subpoena. They allegedly show the government partnering with academics and social media companies to censor, silence, and controversialize certain voices.

Jordan: It was political figures, it was journalists, it was people with, you know, big reach online. So that was the effort, but they initially said there was nothing there.

Sharyl: So you might be referring to the Election Integrity Partnership. EIP.

Jordan: Yep.

Sharyl: If I gather correctly, they’re basically a middleman that was created by and used by the government in this massive effort to kind of surveil and censor.

Jordan: Yeah.

The Election Integrity Partnership was spun up at Stanford University 100 days before the 2020 election. It promotes itself as a nonpartisan coalition. Subpoenaed records show it was much more. It was created “at the request” of the Department of Homeland Security under President Trump.

But the Election Integrity Partnership wasn’t on Trump’s side. Its efforts ultimately undermined his re-election efforts.

Documents show that high-ranking officials inside federal agencies helped build “an operation with nearly 100 people that worked with over a dozen partners to flag thousands of posts and narratives.”

Once Joe Biden was elected, the Election Integrity Partnership quickly pivoted to protecting Biden and suppressing questions about the 2020 election. It publicized the Jan. 6 pro-Trump rally and Capitol riots as an “insurrection.” And it worked to censor information about COVID and vaccine risks.

Jordan: Think how many things the government told us — if they’re supposed to be the arbiter of truth, think how many things they told us relative to COVID that were false. I mean, there’s tons. They told us that it wasn’t our tax money used in the lab in Wuhan, China. Yes, it was. They told us it wasn’t gain of function. Sure looks like it was. They told us it didn’t come from a lab. Sure looks like it did. They told us the vaccinated couldn’t get it. They told us the vaccinated couldn’t transmit it. They told us masks work. I mean, and I’m probably forgetting, but there’s six lies right there. And yet they’re the ones who are gonna decide?

Sharyl: Besides COVID, what were the other types of information that looked like the government was interested in censoring?

Jordan: It was almost all election-related and COVID-related. So, January 23, 2021, it’s like 36 hours into the new administration, there’s an email from the White House to Twitter saying, “Take down this tweet ASAP.” And the tweet is from, interestingly enough, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. — now running for president as an independent.

Kennedy’s 2021 tweet was about the death of baseball legend Hank Aaron of “natural causes” two weeks after getting a COVID vaccine. Kennedy wrote, “Aaron’s tragic death is part of a wave of suspicious deaths among elderly, closely following administration of COVID vaccines.”

Jordan: So he’s stating fact. And the White House says, “You’ve got to take that tweet down.” And this term is so scary; it’s misinformation, disinformation — malinformation. Malinformation is defined as, “True, but we don’t like the context. We don’t like the message it’s conveying.” Well, Holy Cow, if that is not a direct assault on the First Amendment, your free speech rights, I don’t know what is. But the White House was engaged in that literally 36 hours into this administration.

Collaborators in the government-driven project to shape information included the Atlantic Council. That group is funded by the state department, defense department, other federal agencies, foreign governments, Mideast and U.S. oil interests, financial giants, Google and Twitter, and foundations for billionaire activists George Soros, Craig Newmark of Craigslist, and a Ukrainian oligarch.

Records provided to Congress reveal details on how the collaboration worked. Federal agencies and special interests submitted internet posts they didn’t like to the Election Integrity Partnership.

Jordan: Certain tweets that were put up, they were looking to take those down, limit their visibility, limit their reach, and they had this software system, this jira system they used, where you could, almost like a clearing house, like a switchboard, where you could see, and they could see what was going in, they could then find, are there any other similar tweets or posts. And it was this elaborate system to censor American speech.

The Election Integrity Partnership then reported the flagged material to its Big Tech contacts with specific recommendations on how to censor it.

Anupam Chander is a professor at Georgetown University who’s taught internet law for two decades.

Sharyl: Is there a role in America for the government to play as an official body that moderates supposed disinformation? Because it’s not hard to observe that under every administration they’ve put out what could, you know, easily be characterized as disinformation. So who are they to determine what others can say and think?

Anupam Chander: So I think that’s right. I think that governments should not be telling us what information we should be allowed to hear, what information others should be allowed to convey to us. The government can have its views and put those out in the world. I think that’s okay. But I don’t think the government should be telling the private sector newspapers or internet platforms, large or small, what they can or can’t say.

According to the Congressional committee, flagged material included true information, jokes, and political opinions.

Among the censored: President Trump; the news satire website The Babylon Bee; Republicans Thom Tillis, Mike Huckabee, Tom Massie, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Harmeet Dhillon; and conservative-leaning news outlets, reporters, and commentators.

Stanford declined comment for this story. The White House referred us to the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. A spokesman there told us the agency “does not and has never censored any speech” and “did not found, fund, or have any role in the management of the [Election Integrity Partnership].” The agency also says it mitigates “the risk of disinformation by sharing accurate information and by amplifying the trusted voices of election officials across the nation.” “We remain committed to building resilience to foreign influence operations and disinformation so the American people don’t face the brunt of these threats on their own.”

In a lawsuit filed by Missouri, lower courts agreed the Biden administration likely violated First Amendment free speech protections. Judges barred certain federal officials from continuing to press for censorship on social media while the case heads to trial. But the Supreme Court lifted the temporary restrictions.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the controversy with a decision expected in June.

Jordan: We’ll see what the Supreme Court says. I feel good about our chances of getting a good decision from the court, upholding, you know, First Amendment liberties.

In the meantime, experts say there’s nothing to stop the Biden administration from continuing to lobby for takedowns of material by political opponents in this presidential election year.

Sharyl (on-camera): By the way, government agencies initially justified their censorship efforts by saying they have to look out for foreigners attempting to undermine American elections. But it’s worth noting that after all the talk of Russia in the 2016 election, a study by the New York University Center for Social Media and Politics and other analyses concluded Russia misinformation had “no measurable impact.”

Watch video here.

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