Things got pretty weird, pretty quickly in the wake of Elon Musk’s trial balloon about buying Twitter, a deal that went through Monday, much to the chagrin of the progressive chattering class who were super duper certain the Tesla and SpaceX boy genius was just foolin’ for fun.
Poor NPR, for example, forced to aggregate what Musk might actually do with his new toy (and, to be fair, they pulled from his own public statements), characterizes the sale this way:
“[T]he world’s richest person who has a penchant for theatrics and erratic behavior is about to have the power to reshape discourse on a social network used by more than 200 million people every day.”
They’re not handling it very well.
Hence, the new federally-run truth commission, brought to you courtesy of Homeland Security.
The Biden administration and progressive activists (including former President Obama) sprang into action following Monday’s announcement and — quite literally — began the process of defining disinformation and calling for its regulation to make sure bad speech was addressed and eliminated from the collective safe space.
I know the “1984” references are a little stale but the government creating an actual Ministry of Truth is a little too on the nose for me.
— Jason Howerton (@jason_howerton) April 28, 2022
The cynicism, desperation, and hypocrisy did not go unnoticed.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., ripped the Department of Homeland Security over its creation of a so-called “disinformation board” that he says will be policing free speech instead of the border.
In a letter addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas Thursday, Hawley voiced “deep concern” over the department’s decision to create a new “Disinformation Governance Board.”
“I confess, I at first thought this announcement was satire. Surely, no American administration would ever use the power of government to sit in judgment on the First Amendment speech of its own citizens,” Hawley wrote. “Sadly, I was mistaken. Rather than protecting our border or the American homeland, you have chosen to make policing Americans’ speech your priority. This new board is most certainly unconstitutional and should be dissolved immediately.”
Hawley argued that while Democrats for years have “controlled the public square through Big Tech allies,” Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter “has shown just how tenuous that control is.” The senator said it can be assumed the sole purpose of the disinformation board “will be to marshal the power of the federal government to censor conservative and dissenting speech.”
But the Biden administration, feeble as it is, was just doing the hard job laid out for it by former president Barack Obama; who was just doing the job laid out for him by the Aspen Institute’s disinformation commission.
Obama gave a speech at Stanford University on April 21st outlining the threats of disinformation online and how unfettered speech is a threat to democracy (Musk was already well in the throes of figuring out how to convince Twitter to sell by this point, of course). And the former president painted a very frightening picture, indeed. One that ultimately pointed a finger back at “companies that have come to dominate the internet generally, and social media platforms in particular.”
(Very odd that helping introduce Obama at Stanford was Tiana Epps-Johnson, Stanford alum and Obama Foundation fellow, who is also the founder and executive director of the Center for Tech and Civic Life, an ostensibly nonpartisan nonprofit that took in hundreds of millions in funding from one Mark Zuckerberg to help “fortify” the 2020 election.)
Over the course of an hour-long address, Obama outlined the threat that disinformation online, including deepfake technology powered by AI, poses to democracy as well as ways he thought the problems might be addressed in the United States and abroad.
“This is an opportunity, it’s a chance that we should welcome for governments to take on a big important problem and prove that democracy and innovation can coexist,” Obama said.
Facts are competing with opinions, conspiracy theories, and fiction. “For more and more of us, search and social media platforms aren’t just our window into the internet. They serve as our primary source of news and information,” Obama said. “No one tells us that the window is blurred, subject to unseen distortions, and subtle manipulations.”
The splintering of news sources has also made all of us more prone to what psychologists call “confirmation bias,” Obama said. “Inside our personal information bubbles, our assumptions, our blind spots, our prejudices aren’t challenged, they are reinforced and naturally, we’re more likely to react negatively to those consuming different facts and opinions – all of which deepens existing racial and religious and cultural divides.”
But the problem is not just that our brains can’t keep up with the growing amount of information online, Obama argued. “They’re also the result of very specific choices made by the companies that have come to dominate the internet generally, and social media platforms in particular.”
But Obama didn’t come up with these ideas on his own. Oh no, he had help from a notable think tank called The Aspen Institute, who created a disinformation commission in 2021 and presumably inspired Obama’s “disinformation and democracy” reading list.
As part of his efforts to counter disinformation and threats to democracy in the digital age, President @BarackObama named @AspenDigital’s final Commission on Information Disorder report as the first of his recommended readings. More: https://t.co/ob8ipMhFIZ
— The Aspen Institute (@AspenInstitute) April 22, 2022
Which brings us back to Twitter because Aspen’s commission has a tiny, little problem. Okay, several, kind of big problems.
Commission members include Katie Couric, who recently acknowledged that she edited comments on National Anthem protests out of a 2016 interview with Ruth Bader Ginsburg to preserve the justice’s reputation with liberals. Another commissioner, Rashad Robinson, helped fuel actor Jussie Smollett’s hate crime hoax.
[Yoel] Roth, the head of site integrity at Twitter, blocked access to an Oct. 14, 2020, New York Post article regarding emails from Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop. Roth told the Federal Elections Commission he blocked the story in part because the intelligence community had briefed him that foreign governments might release hacked materials prior to the election. No evidence has emerged that Biden’s laptop was stolen or hacked, and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey has since acknowledged that the company should not have blocked links to the story.
The Aspen Commission report criticizes Twitter and other social media companies for failures to rein in disinformation but does not cite Twitter’s censorship of the Biden article.
And just to make things over-the-top weird, this happened Thursday, too.
Uh oh. pic.twitter.com/LSrFCt8KZg
— Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) April 28, 2022
And yes, the language mimics the Declaration of Independence.
It starts to look like the progressive wing of the Democrat party thought they finally had the social media companies firmly in line. And then Musk kind of upended their apple cart. Or stopped the transmission of their data packet, whichever metaphor works for you.
So expect things to be weird for a little while as the progressives adjust. There might be some tears. But the freakout is probably a sign of good things to come.