The Select Committee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government held its second hearing Thursday with a focus on the “Twitter Files” that exposed corporate-government collusion in Twitter’s censorship regime. But the three-hour hearing showed the public-private partnership goes far deeper than the major platforms operating out of Silicon Valley.
Lawmakers heard testimony from independent Substack journalists Michael Shellenberger and Matt Taibbi, two of the primary reporters who published the series after Elon Musk took over the platform. The pair shared how the federal government uses private tech companies as conduits to regulate speech.
“We learned Twitter, Facebook, Google, and other companies developed a formal system for taking in moderation requests from every corner of government, from the FBI, the DHS, the HHS, DoD, the Global Engagement Center at State, even the CIA,” Taibbi said in his opening statement. “A focus of this fast-growing network, as Mike noted, is making lists of people whose opinions, beliefs, associations, or sympathies are deemed ‘misinformation,’ ‘disinformation,’ or ‘malinformation.’ That latter term is just a euphemism for ‘true but inconvenient.’”
Taibbi highlighted how the network of online disinformation police has created an entire industry dedicated to suppressing dissident speech by labeling such expression as “misinformation.”
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“For every government agency scanning Twitter,” Taibbi said, “there were perhaps 20 quasi-private entities doing the same, including Stanford’s Election Integrity Project, NewsGuard, the Global Disinformation Index, and others, many taxpayer-funded.”
The Global Disinformation Index (GDI) is a British group that compiles secretive lists of news organizations the index encourages major corporations to boycott. Advertisers looking to advertise their products online contract with such “disinformation” groups for advice on which websites to hire. The index has kept a running list of blacklisted websites that include The Federalist, The American Spectator, Newsmax, The American Conservative, One America News, The Blaze, The Daily Wire, RealClearPolitics, Reason, and the New York Post.
GDI came under the spotlight last month when The Washinton Examiner’s Gabe Kaminsky published a series on the index’s funding by the U.S. State Department.
“The Department of State has funded a deep-pocketed ‘disinformation’ tracking group that is secretly blacklisting and trying to defund conservative media, likely costing the news organizations vital advertising dollars,” Kaminsky reported, adding that GDI has raked in $330,000 in American taxpayers’ dollars.
NewsGuard is another censorship group subsidized by federal tax dollars that aims to discredit websites critical of establishment narratives. While GDI works with advertisers to recommend where to spend their marketing budgets, NewsGuard is a browser extension that rates the credibility of news organizations. The software, which is being deployed in schools nationwide, downgrades conservative websites while offering perfect scores to legacy outlets that botched the Hunter Biden laptop story. In September 2021, NewsGuard was the recipient of a nearly $750,000 contract from the Department of Defense.
The two disinformation groups faced scrutiny Thursday when lawmakers on the weaponization committee probed their influence. And although Big Tech remained the focus of the committee’s second hearing, Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz signaled that the panel would be investigating the disinformation industry beyond the major platforms.
“What is NewsGuard and how are they part of the censorship industrial complex?” asked Gaetz.
“NewsGuard and the Disinformation Index are both U.S. government-funded entities who are working to drive advertiser revenue away from disfavored publications and towards the ones that they favor,” Shellenberger answered.
“What you’re describing now, is literally the directing of revenue to certain media companies over other media companies, designed and implemented with U.S. government funding and support,” Gaetz said, calling the effort “astonishing.”
“If we do not take a look at NewsGuard, we have failed,” Gaetz added.