Millennial History

By Steve Jackson

Taxpayer Funding for Censorship

The State Department is financing a foreign advocacy group that aims to cut off funding to American journalists. That’s one of the blockbuster revelations in”Disinformation Inc.,” a series of reports by Gabe Kaminsky in the Washington Examiner.

    The “ Global Disinformation Index,” or GDI, is a British organization with a pair of US nonprofit affiliates. It receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from the State Department’s Global Engagement Center and the taxpayer-funded National Endowment for Democracy, a misnomer if there ever were one.  

    But GDI is in the business of doing what the First Amendment does not allow our government to do. It black lists news organizations to deny them advertiser’s dollars. Major advertisers like the Microsoft-owned Xandr have used GDI’s “dynamic exclusion list” to decide which websites will or won’t get ads. Clare Melford, GDI’s executive director, says it has had “a significant impact on the advertising revenue” of sites branded as purveyors of disinformation.

    Who is on this self-appointed censor’s proscription list? All 10 of the news organizations GDI classifies as”riskiest” or”worst” are outside of the liberal- left media club.(In a previous blog I talked about the Deep State of the US government exercising enormous social control It seems like the British Deep State as well as China’s and other countries are equally culpable.) They include right-of center outlets like the Daily Wire and The American Conservative alongside the libertarian magazine Reason and the news aggregator RealClearPolitics. The NY Post, whose accurate coverage of Hunter Biden’s laptop in the run up to the 2020 election infuriated liberals and was squelched by Twitter, makes GDI’s “riskiest “ top 10. 

    Yet none of the outlets that misled readers for years about”Russian collusion” involving Trump’s 2016 campaign appears on that list. Disinformation, where organizations like Melford’s are concerned, has to be understood as information that does not conform to a liberal view of the world.

     Government agencies in this country have few powers to suppress journalism and political speech. But the First Amendment becomes moot when censorship is outsourced to foreign actors and a small body of politically motivated (or intimidated) firms that control the infrastructure of mass communications.

     Imagine if phone companies behaved like Facebook, Google or Amazon. They might refuse to connect calls to sources accused of”disinformation,” whether that means a state Republican Party or the newsroom of the NY Post. Because GDI receives government money,  even pure free-market libertarians can recognize the danger it posed to free speech. But GDI would be no less dangerous if it’s funding we’re entirely private.Government’s formal power is coercive but restricted by the Bill of Rights and the vigilance of the voters.

    Unlike the government, the tech companies cannot force anyone to use or pay for their services. But unlike the government, they are free to behave as arbitrarily and partially as they like, without a Bill of Rights to restrain them.   

     Liberals today recognize no wall of separation between the aims of private organizations and the aims of the government. They are different means , subject to different limitations, but the goal is the same: eradication of all wrongthink, nowadays termed”misinformation.”

    And as the GDI example shows, even the separation of means can be overcome. Government agencies can collude with social media companies like Twitter to enforce prohibitions on speech. Or the State Department can bankroll the censorship activities of foreign nationals, who then lobby American companies to adopt their blacklists.

     A free press is still potent, as Kaminsky reporting shows. After his coverage began, Microsoft severed its relationship with GDI.

     The fact that The American Conservative, The Federalist, The Daily Wire, The American Spectator, Newsmax, One America News, The Blaze, Reason, RealClearPolitics and the NY Post made GDI’s “forbidden 10” testifies to their significance, too. But the tech companies have the power to deprive them all of the advertisers and readers they need to survive.

    Freedom of the press is at risk as never before in this environment. Elon Musk brings some intellectual diversity to the ownership of social media. But Twitter remains troubled. And if other tech companies don’t adopt a new respect for readers’ freedom to make up their own minds, they may soon find that the government they collaborate with today becomes the instrument of popular backlash against them tomorrow.



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