Congress crosses ‘Constitutional line’: Presses Silicon Valley to increase censorship

by WorldTribune Staff, February 21, 2021

Democrats in Congress have summoned the CEO’s of Google, Facebook, and Twitter to a March 25 hearing on Capitol Hill where the Democrats will not press the tech overlords on why they are censoring conservative news and viewpoints, but instead will demand they do more of it, independent reporter Glenn Greenwald noted.

“House Democrats have made no secret of their ultimate goal with this hearing: to exert control over the content on these online platforms,” Greenwald noted in a Feb. 20 analysis.

“In their zeal for control over online speech,” Greenwald noted, the Democrats “are getting closer and closer to the constitutional line, if they have not already crossed it.”

In calling on Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Facebooks’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Democrats say that “industry self-regulation has failed,” and therefore “we must begin the work of changing incentives driving social media companies to allow and even promote misinformation and disinformation.”

In other words, Greenwald noted, “they intend to use state power to influence and coerce these companies to change which content they do and do not allow to be published.”

Greenwald continued: “The key point raised by these last threats from House Democrats is an often-overlooked one: while the First Amendment does not apply to voluntary choices made by a private company about what speech to allow or prohibit, it does bar the U.S. Government from coercing or threatening such companies to censor. In other words, Congress violates the First Amendment when it attempts to require private companies to impose viewpoint-based speech restrictions which the government itself would be constitutionally barred from imposing.”

Ben Wizner, who heads up the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told Greenwald that it is well-established that the First Amendment governs attempts by Congress to pressure private companies to censor: “For the same reasons that the Constitution prohibits the government from dictating what information we can see and read (outside narrow limits), it also prohibits the government from using its immense authority to coerce private actors into censoring on its behalf.”

In a January Wall Street Journal op-ed, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Yale Law School’s constitutional scholar Jed Rubenfeld warned that Congress is rapidly approaching this constitutional boundary if it has not already transgressed it. “Using a combination of statutory inducements and regulatory threats,” the duo wrote, “Congress has co-opted Silicon Valley to do through the back door what government cannot directly accomplish under the Constitution.”

Greenwald cited a 2018 case in which the ACLU successfully defended the National Rifle Association (NRA) in suing Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York State on the ground that attempts of state officials to coerce private companies to cease doing business with the NRA using implicit threats — driven by Cuomo’s contempt for the NRA’s political views — amounted to a violation of the First Amendment.

In explaining its rationale for defending the NRA, the ACLU described how easily these same state powers could be abused by a Republican governor against liberal activist groups — for instance, by threatening banks to cease providing services to Planned Parenthood or LGBT advocacy groups.

Reuters explained the key lesson from the 2018 in its headline: “In NRA v. N.Y., a timely reminder that officials can’t use their power to squelch speech”.

“Little effort is required to see that Democrats, now in control of the Congress and the White House, are engaged in a scheme of speech control virtually indistinguishable from those long held unconstitutional by decades of First Amendment jurisprudence,” Greenwald wrote. “That Democrats are seeking to use their control of state power to coerce and intimidate private tech companies to censor — and indeed have already succeeded in doing so — is hardly subject to reasonable debate. They are saying explicitly that this is what they are doing.”

The last time CEOs of social media platforms were summoned to testify before Congress, in November 2019, Massachusetts Democrat Sen. Ed Markey explicitly told them that what Democrats want is more censorship — more removal of content which Democrats believe constitutes “disinformation” and “hate speech.”

Markey, Greenwald noted, “did not even bother to hide his demands.”

Markey said: “The issue is not that the companies before us today are taking too many posts down; the issue is that they are leaving too many dangerous posts up.”

Meanwhile, YouTube last week removed a video from a public hearing in the Ohio legislature because it didn’t fit the platform’s narratives on covid and the 2020 election, a report said.

In the viewo, Thomas Renz, an attorney with the Ohio Stands Up! group, spoke to the Ohio House State and Local Government Committee in support of House Bill 90, which would implement legislative oversight of orders given by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

“Renz said over the course of around 36 minutes that he opposed the harsh orders imposed by DeWine, a Republican, and health officials amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” The Epoch Times reported.

Renz noted that officials initially believed the fatality rate from the disease, which is caused by the coronavirus, was much higher than the flu, but it’s now close to the influenza’s rate.

Ohio Stands Up! said in a statement that Renz had “publicly disclosed some critical evidence Ohio Stands Up! is using as part of its federal lawsuits against the Ohio Governor and against the CDC and HHS, and he publicly asked some very important questions; questions that no other attorney, elected official or mainstream media outlet in the country has had the courage to ask.”

“YouTube, which is owned by Google, censored Mr. Renz’s testimony, by removing it from their platform and attempting to justify their actions by writing, ‘Our team has reviewed your content, and, unfortunately, we think it violates our medical misinformation policy,’” the group added.

Ohio Stands Up! is involved in several lawsuits, including one against DeWine and another against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

In a recently amended complaint against HHS, Renz and other lawyers alleged federal officials intentionally misled the public on facts surrounding COVID-19, and asked the court to force officials to change how they report deaths among those with the virus.

“Google has ramped up censorship in recent months, increasing the number of takedowns linked to claims about the disease and alleged election fraud,” The Epoch Times noted, adding that “Google previously removed testimony given by a lawyer for former President Donald Trump during a U.S. congressional hearing.”

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