President Joe Biden’s administration repeatedly insists it is not violating the First Amendment in its attempts to control Americans’ speech using Big Tech. The regime’s recent targeting of Elon Musk and Twitter via weaponization of the Federal Trade Commission, however, suggests otherwise. Why else would it punish the social media company as soon as its incoming CEO pledged to roll back censorship on his app?
In light of a federal judge’s recent ruling that barred the Biden administration from colluding with Big Tech companies to censor Americans’ speech, the suspiciously-timed attack on Twitter as Musk tries to rebrand it as a “free speech” platform is highly suspect.
FTC Bullies Target Musk Twitter
As my colleague Margot Cleveland noted on Monday, the FTC and Twitter had operated for roughly a decade under a consent order they established in 2011 as part of a settlement over a violation of the Federal Trade Commission Act by Twitter. That status quo quickly turned into the FTC “tracking recent developments at Twitter with deep concern” and granting itself “new tools to ensure compliance” in a new consent order shortly after Musk, who committed himself to advancing free speech, acquired the platform in 2022.
“The agency immediately issued two demand letters to Twitter seeking information about workforce reductions and the launch of Twitter Blue,” Cleveland wrote. “Those demand letters came before Twitter was even required under the 2022 consent decree to have its new programs in place. Since then, Twitter’s attorneys note, the FTC has pummeled Twitter’s corporate owner, X Corp., with ‘burdensome demand letters’ — more than 17 separate demand letters, with some 200 individual demands for information and documents, translates into a new demand letter every two weeks.”
The FTC’s sudden panic about Twitter’s decade-old noncompliance directly coincided with the meltdowns from corporate media, Democrats, and Twitter employees who expressed concern they would no longer be able to control online speech. Congressional Democrats, specifically, proudly cheered the FTC on. As recently as this week, leftist senators such as Elizabeth Warren are begging the bureaucracy to target Musk in his new role at Twitter.
A March 2023 report from the House Committee on the Judiciary and the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government found that “the timing, scope, and frequency of the FTC’s demands to Twitter suggest a partisan motivation to its action.”
Twitter’s new lawyers agreed in a June 2023 letter outlining how testimony from accounting firm Ernst & Young partner David Roque “demonstrates that the FTC has resorted to bullying tactics, intimidation, and threats to potential witnesses.”
“The FTC has no business demanding to know with which journalists a private company is communicating. The FTC has no need for all of Twitter’s communications related to its CEO. And yet, on the basis of an existing consent decree about user privacy, the FTC made these demands —and more—of Twitter. These demands should be exposed for what they are: pure and absolute attempts to harass, intimidate, and target an American business,” the report concludes.
The FTC under Lina Khan, who penned a law review paper calling for widening regulation beyond antitrust to disinformation, clearly rejects FTC Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter’s 2020 declaration that “we are not the political speech police.”
“Who decides what is disinformation, what isn’t?” Republican Rep. Jim Jordan asked Khan during a hearing in mid-July, referring to her law review paper which asserted that platforms like Twitter “disserve their users and the general public” by “facilitating the spread of disinformation and the harassment of certain categories of speakers.”
Khan refused to directly answer Jordan’s question and instead claimed the FTC is “focused on fraud and deception.”
“You didn’t say fraud or deception, you said disinformation,” Jordan noted. “My concern is again, and it is probably the third time I have talked about this, but the sustained attack on Twitter when the ownership there changed and the platform was committed to not taking down speech, not taking down posts, allowing the sharing of information, and not censoring.”
“And we just had a major decision last week from a court in Louisiana, a federal court in Louisiana, where they said the government was in fact pressuring Big Tech companies to censor and Big Tech companies [were] willing to go along with it,” Jordan continued. “Now we have a change there and you are going after the one company that has changed how they are doing things.”
Government Colluded with Big Tech to Censor Speech
In the July 4 ruling Jordan mentioned, a federal judge alleged that the Biden administration “blatantly ignored the First Amendment’s right to free speech” to lead “the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history.” Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana found that, at the bidding of the Biden administration, “millions of protected free speech postings by American citizens” were suppressed by Big Tech.
The president and his bureaucrat buddies, however, vehemently denied these claims. An unnamed White House official told CNN that the federal government merely “promoted responsible actions to protect public health, safety, and security when confronted by challenges like a deadly pandemic and foreign attacks on our elections.” The administration even petitioned the court for a stay.
“The Defendants allege that they face irreparable harm with each day the injunction remains in effect, because the injunction’s broad scope and ambiguous terms may be read to prevent the Defendants from engaging in a vast range of lawful and responsible conduct, including speaking on matters of public concern, and working with social-media companies on initiatives to prevent grave harm to the American people and the Country’s various democratic processes,” Doughty wrote in his subsequent 13-page ruling rejecting the administration’s request. “However, the Preliminary Injunction only prohibits what the Defendants have no right to do—urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech on social-media platforms.”
Biden, Doughty concluded, “failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits.”
Predictably, the regime’s allies in the corporate media rushed to explain why Doughty’s original ruling was wrong and why “it’s not inherently a violation of the First Amendment for the government to direct critical speech at private actors.”
“Judge ruling on Missouri v. Biden isn’t a First Amendment win,” MSNBC insisted.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit later placed a temporary hold on Doughty’s order, allowing the Biden administration to resume colluding with Big Tech censors — but ultimately did not rule on the merits of the allegations that the regime violated the First Amendment.
The collusion between Biden’s White House, bureaucrats, and Big Tech censors alone is enough to make Americans skeptical that their right to free speech and free expression is safe. Biden’s use of a government agency to punish a censor-gone-rogue like Musk’s Twitter removes all remaining doubt that the First Amendment is under attack by the current administration.