Sens. Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and five other Republican senators warned that President Joe Biden’s administration is running a covert “government censorship” operation even after the controversial launch and then collapse of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Disinformation Governance Board.
In the letter send to Biden on Monday, the senators wrote that they have “grave concern regarding recent reports of actions taken by your administration to collude with social media platforms to censor Americans’ speech under the guise of ‘misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation.'”
“Your administration has actively pursued an end-run around of the First Amendment in a coordinated effort that has culminated in social media platforms censoring Americans’ speech at the request of the government and through backdoor channels, without regard for Americans’ civil liberties,” the letter stated. “It is not, and should not be, the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), or any government agency, to be the final arbiters of what speech can be deemed true or acceptable.”
The senators highlighted the Biden administration’s Disinformation Governance Board, which was dissolved following bipartisan pressure.
“However, instead of heeding extensive criticism of the board, it appears efforts to censor Americans’ speech have only been driven further underground, where the censorship campaign has continued free from public scrutiny and without transparency,” the letter continued.
The senators warned that “despite the dissolution of the Disinformation Governance Board, the censorship operation actually expanded to other agencies, including at the newly minted ‘Misinformation, Disinformation and Malinformation’ team within the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), whose mission is to ‘counter all types of disinformation, [and] to be responsive to current events.'”
The senators also accused the administration of “systematically and improperly” pressuring social media companies to achieve its censorship goals through moderating content, limiting free speech and controlling what Americans see online.
“In fact, Facebook developed a portal specifically designed to identify and process content that officials of the U.S. government flag as problematic,” the letter noted.
In October, The Intercept reported that the Disinformation Governance Board was only the most visible part of escalating government efforts to monitor and manipulate online discussion, including some mentioned in the senators’ letter. These efforts are especially growing in the Department of Homeland Security as its “war on terror” mandate concludes, according to the Intercept.
The Republican senators’ letter also highlights the Office of Digital Engagement under the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Personnel there are determining whether information being spread about CBP “through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter is accurate,” according to the letter.
Other counter-disinformation teams are working at the Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Science and Technology Directorate, according to the letter. The Intercept’s reporting also indicates those agencies have expanded to encompass handling disinformation.
The senators asked Biden in the letter for detailed transparency into his administration’s work against so-called misinformation.
“When the federal government colludes with social media platforms behind closed doors to censor Americans’ speech, it sets a dangerous precedent that cannot be easily undone,” the senators added. “Without transparency, authoritarians masquerading as elected officials will continue their campaign of pressuring social media platforms to censor content that is not government approved, chilling free speech and causing irreparable damage to democratic institutions in the process.”