Last week, the newly created House Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government heard from former Twitter executives about how government agencies, including the FBI, coerced them into censoring content on the platform.
Those on the Right side of the political aisle are cheering this development as vindication of their claims of shadow-banning and censorship and are optimistic that all will be set right under the helm of this new committee.
But exposing and taking steps to prevent the weaponization of our government agencies against the American people shouldn’t be a partisan issue. The same tactics used to silence conservatives can easily be used to silence voices from the Left when elected offices change party hands.
Every member of Congress who takes the oath of office seriously, should back legislation like the Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act (H.R. 140), which puts guardrails with teeth against government efforts to silence American voices.
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Revelations that our government worked to suppress speech it didn’t like should horrify all Americans – regardless of politics.
Because of the Twitter Files, we’ve learned that agencies we trust like the FBI and the FDA, as well as the White House, blocked discussion of Hunter Biden’s laptop, promoted the Russia collusion hoax and blacklisted a Stanford doctor for warning that COVID lockdowns would harm children. Such actions have serious consequences on individuals and society as a whole.
These examples resulted in distorting the democratic process by blocking information voters need to make informed decisions and putting the health of individuals at risk by preventing them from accessing important information to make informed decisions. They clearly had a material impact on the 2020 election outcome, exacerbated division in the nation, and prolonged the school closures due to COVID.
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We’ll never know the full impact, but we do know this weaponization of government agencies must be stopped here and now so that it never happens again. Our democracy and human health are at stake.
Our elected officials must use this moment to take strong steps to prevent this sort of abuse of power from ever happening again. The internet didn’t exist when our founders wrote the Bill of Rights, but they knew of the threat of government-control of speech. And they tasked Congress with the responsibility to protect Americans from government abuse as the world changed.
These hearings are a start to name and shame the actions of the government but unless action follows, they are in vain. That would be unacceptable.
The Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act offers a helpful starting point to make this type of government coercion illegal. The bill prohibits administration officials – regardless of who lives in the White House – federal bureaucrats, or any other government agency employees from using their authority or influence to pressure social media companies to censor or promote speech.
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But for legislation to be effective it must have teeth. Time and time again government employees shrug off political hits to their agencies and often end up keeping their jobs – or even getting promoted. Effective legislation must hold the employees themselves to account. One poignant way is to hit violators where it really hurts: their pensions and their paychecks.
The Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act does just that. It quite simply makes it illegal for a government employee to engage with a media company – social or any other form – for a political purpose. It applies to all parts of the executive branch: the FBI, DHS, White House, or any other acronym agency. Those who break the law lose their jobs and their pensions.
Another way Congress can show it is serious about putting a stop to this abuse of power is by tapping its "power of the purse." Government agencies get their funding by the will of Congress and if they fail to do what Congress directs or wants, lawmakers must cut off the money. Trust me, that will get their attention real quickly.
Some Democrats don’t want to address the threat of government control of speech. This position is shortsighted, and they would be wise to recognize that their party will not always be in the White House or at the helm of the FBI and will rue the day if they fail to act.
Protecting free speech in this nation shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Our country has experienced a wake-up call: our government has abused its power to silence Americans and control speech. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. Congress: pass legislation to prevent weaponization of government!