Upon publication of Darwin’s “Origin of the Species” the Archbishop of Canterbury is reported to have said “Dear Lord please let it not be true, or at least not be widely known”. Today Progressives and their sympathizers have said essentially the same thing with respect to the Twitter files.
In a year full of big stories—Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, soaring inflation, the collapse of FTX, the conviction of Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes, the overturning of Roe v. Wade—the revelations contained in the Twitter files may seem at first blush like weak tea. But they are not. The revelations go to the heart of the American experiment in self-government which depends on an independent press and freedom of expression.
The Twitter files—internal Twitter documents that Elon Musk provided to some admittedly sympathetic journalists—have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that Twitter was actively engaged in censoring content that did not follow the woke party line. Not only that, Twitter (and Facebook for that matter) worked hand in glove with the FBI, the Biden campaign, and later the White House to suppress stories that ran counter to the preferred narrative of liberal Pooh-Bahs.
Consider for instance, the Hunter Biden laptop story. Hunter Biden left a laptop containing all kinds of unflattering information, possibly including evidence of criminal activity by Hunter and the entire Biden family, with a repair shop. The NY Post got hold of it and wrote about it in late October.
Twitter’s response (quickly followed by Google and Facebook) was to shut down the NY Post account in order to prevent the story from being disseminated further. Then 51 members of what naifs call “the intelligence community” wrote a vaguely worded letter implying, without a shred of evidence, that the information was actually Russian disinformation. Signers of that letter included James Clapper and John Brennan, both of whom had previously admitted to lying under oath in Congressional testimony.
Unfortunately, the laptop story is not an isolated incident. It is of a piece.
For instance, critics of the extended COVID-19 lockdowns, which produced such disastrous results in education and mental health, suffered a similar fate. Those critics include the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration: Sunetra Gupta (Professor of Theoretical Epidemiology, Oxford), Jay Bhattacharya (Professor of Medicine, Stanford) and Martin Kulldorf (biostatistician and Professor of Medicine, Harvard). They were subjected to shadow banning and suppression by Twitter.
The essence of their argument was that it was virtually impossible to stop the spread of the infection and that a risk-reward analysis indicated that policy ought to be targeted at protecting the most vulnerable. In retrospect, their analysis proved to be largely correct. But that didn’t (and hasn’t) stopped the smears. Nor has it produced much by way of a belated acknowledgement by the people who sought to silence them.
If this were merely a story about a journalistic error it would be one thing. But it is not. The real story is about how the media-government complex cooperated to stifle debate and discussion. Debate and discussion are supposed to be what science and a free press are all about. And, to put it mildly, government has no business putting its thumb on the scale.
An attempt to control the mechanisms of information dissemination combined with government interference turns journalists into stenographers. That is the model that dominates the “news” in China, Russia, Iran and other authoritarian regimes. It is not how a free marketplace of ideas is supposed to function.
Perhaps in 2023 liberals of a certain age will remember that back in their college days they favored free expression instead of cheering for conformity and group think the way they do now. That’s my New Year’s wish.