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Jonathan Turley

Sulzberger: Disinformation in the 'Most Existential Problem' Facing the Planet Today

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There has been much coverage over the resurfacing of former CNN host Brian Stelter as the host for a panel at the World Economic Forum on alleged disinformation and “hate speech.” Stelter previously called for censorship under a “harm reduction model” and led a panel at a conference where Democrats discussed how to shape the news. He was confronted over his own dissemination for false stories targeting Republicans on CNN. Yet, I was most struck by a statement from New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger who described “disinformation” as the “most existential” problem the world is facing today. Sulzberger insisted that disinformation is the reason why there is a loss of “trust” today. He ignores his own history in eroding that trust in the media through flagrantly biased decisions at the New York Times.

Former NYT editor Jill Abramson also slammed the participation of Sulzberger and the New York Times at Davos, denouncing it as a “corrupt circle-jerk” between media and business. She said that “the coverage was a sweetener to flatter the CEOs by seeing their names in the NYT.”

The panel was titled, “Clear & Present Danger of Disinformation” included panelists: New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, Vice-President of the European Commission Vera Jourová, CEO of Internews Jeanne Bourgault, and Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass. The entire conference was notable in its omission of free speech advocates while inviting long advocates for censorship like Stelter.
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'Congressional Trolls': Democratic Leaders Pushed Refuted Russian Troll Claims

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The latest release of Twitter Files from Matt Taibbi shows that Democratic leaders like Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) were aware that they were pushing a likely false story of “Russian bots” to discredit a report on FBI abuses. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are also mentioned by Twitter as part of what staff called “congressional trolls” who did not seem to care if the allegations were true and only wanted Twitter to say they were true.
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'We Don’t Do This': Adam Schiff and the Underbelly of American Censorship

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“We don’t do this.” That response from Twitter to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is a singular indictment, coming at the height of Twitter’s censorship operations. Apparently, there were some things that even Twitter’s censors refused to do.

One of those things was silencing critics of Schiff and his House committee.

In the latest tranche of “Twitter Files,” journalist Matt Taibbi revealed that Twitter balked at Schiff’s demand that Twitter suspend an array of posters or label their content as “misinformation” and “reduce the visibility” of them. Among those who Schiff secretly tried to censor was New York Post columnist Paul Sperry.

Sperry drew Schiff’s ire by writing about a conversation allegedly overheard by one of his sources. Sperry’s article, which appeared in RealClearInvestigations, cited two sources as overhearing two White House staffers discussing how to remove newly-elected President Trump from office. The article raised the possibility of bias on the part of an alleged key player in launching the first Trump impeachment, CIA analyst Eric Ciaramella. The sources reportedly said that Ciaramella was in a conversation with Sean Misko, a holdover from the Obama administration who later joined Schiff’s staff. The conversation — in Sperry’s words — showed that “just days after [Trump] was sworn in they were already trying to get rid of him.”
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MIT Adopts Free Speech Resolution: 'We Cannot Prohibit Speech as Offensive or Injurious.'

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We recently discussed schools joining the University of Chicago free speech alliance. Now, the faculty of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have adopted a resolution defending freedom of speech and expression, including speech deemed “offensive or injurious.” It is a triumph for free speech. However, while 98 faculty voted for the resolution, 52 professors voted against the free speech principles.
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When the FBI Attacks Critics as “Conspiracy Theorists,” It’s Time to Reform the Bureau

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“Conspiracy theorists … feeding the American public misinformation” is a familiar attack line for anyone raising free-speech concerns over the FBI’s role in social media censorship. What is different is that this attack came from the country’s largest law enforcement agency, the FBI — and, since the FBI has made combatting “disinformation” a major focus of its work, the labeling of its critics is particularly menacing.

Fifty years ago, the Watergate scandal provoked a series of events that transformed not only the presidency but federal agencies like the FBI. Americans demanded answers about the involvement of the FBI and other federal agencies in domestic politics. Ultimately, Congress not only investigated the FBI but later impanelled the Church Committee to investigate a host of other abuses by intelligence agencies.

A quick review of recent disclosures and controversies shows ample need for a new Church Committee:

The Russian investigations

The FBI previously was at the center of controversies over documented political bias. Without repeating the long history from the Russian influence scandal, FBI officials like Peter Strzok were fired after emails showed open bias against presidential candidate Donald Trump. The FBI ignored warnings that the so-called Steele dossier, largely funded by the Clinton campaign, was likely used by Russian intelligence to spread disinformation. It continued its investigation despite early refutations of key allegations or discrediting of sources.
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'Conspiracy Theorists…Attempting to Discredit the Agency': The FBI Attacks Critics Objecting to its Role in Twitter’s Censorship System

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It is not clear what is more chilling: the menacing role played by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Twitter’s censorship program or its mendacious response to the disclosure of that role. This week saw another FBI “nothing-to-see-here” statement to the release of files detailing how it actively sought to suppress the Hunter Biden story before the 2020 election, gave millions to Twitter, and targeted even satire or tiny posts that did not conform with its guidelines.

The releases document what some of us have long alleged: a system of censorship by surrogate or proxy. The FBI has largely shrugged and said that there is nothing concerning about over 80 agents working on the censoring of posters, including many American citizens.

In the latest statement, the FBI stated it did not command Twitter to take any specific action when flagging accounts to be censored:

“We are providing it so that they can take whatever action they deem appropriate under their terms of service to protect their platform and protect their customers, but we never direct or ask them to take action.”

The files shows a previously undisclosed back channel of contacts where the FBI nudged Twitter to censor posters and Twitter proceeded to do so. Many are like the Nov. 10th email saying “Hello Twitter contacts, FBI San Francisco is notifying you of the below accounts which may potentially constitute violations of Twitter’s Terms of Service for any action or inaction deemed appropriate within Twitter policy.”
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Censor or Else: Democratic Members Warn Facebook Not to 'Backslide' on Censorship

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With the restoration of free speech protections on Twitter, panic has grown on the left that its control over social media could come to an end. Now, some of the greatest advocates of censorship in Congress are specifically warning Facebook not to follow Twitter in restoring free speech to its platform.

In a chilling letter from Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), André Carson (D-Ind.), Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Facebook was given a not-so-subtle threat that reducing its infamous censorship system will invite congressional action. The letter to Meta’s president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, is written on congressional stationery “as part of our ongoing oversight efforts.”

With House Republicans pledging to investigate social media censorship when they take control in January, these four Democratic members are trying to force Facebook to “recommit” to censoring opposing views and to make election censorship policies permanent. Otherwise, they suggest, they may be forced to exercise oversight into any move by Facebook to “alter or rollback certain misinformation policies.”

In addition to demanding that Facebook preserve its bans on figures like former president Donald Trump, they want Facebook to expand its censorship overall because “unlike other major social media platforms, Meta’s policies do not prohibit posts that make unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud.”
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EU Threatens Musk With Sanctions Over Suspending Media…After Ignoring Media Bans Under Old Twitter

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Despite my support for Elon Musk’s continuing efforts to reduce censorship and restore free speech protections on Twitter, I have been critical of some of his moves from his use of polls on restoring certain posters to the suspensions of media figures this week. However, this morning, I was struck by the European Union (EU) rushing into the controversy to threaten, again, sanctions against Musk. The EU is apparently aghast that Twitter could suspend media even temporarily after ignoring the bans on conservative media for years under the old management.
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Oklahoma, Texas, and Other Schools Join UChicago Alliance on Free Speech

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I have previously written of my pride as an alumnus of The University of Chicago in how the school has led the fight for free speech in higher education. It is also ranked as the number one free speech school in the country. The “Chicago statement” has become the rallying point for schools resisting the anti-free speech movement sweeping over our university and college campuses. Now both the University of Oklahoma and entire University of Texas system have joined almost 100 schools in signing on to the statement. It remains a minority of schools but the ranks are growing (though often due more to boards than votes of the faculty). Unfortunately, George Washington University (which has been ranked low on free speech rights) has not agreed to this basic statement of free speech protection.

UChicago shocked many in 2016 when it sent a letter to incoming students that promised an unfettered and uncensored education without the protection from disturbing or offensive ideas. While most schools are actively curtailing free speech, its letter warned the students that they will not be protected against ideas or given “safe spaces.”

The origins of the letter is found in a policy produced at the University of Chicago in 2014-2015. The Chicago Statement’s key provision declares that a university’s "fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed."
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