On Monday, The Intercept reported on a trove of leaked documents that reveal the extent of collaboration between the US government and Silicon Valley in the attempt to police so-called disinformation. Although the Department of Homeland Security scrapped its controversial plan for a Disinformation Governance Board this year, the Intercept report shows that DHS and affiliated agencies have continued to enlist social-media platforms in flagging and censoring posts that conflict with official narratives—and the platforms have largely obliged.
These revelations should dampen expectations around Twitter’s takeover by self-described “free-speech absolutist” Elon Musk, which has been celebrated by opponents of social-media censorship and lamented by those who believe restrictions on online expression are the only thing protecting us from a fascist coup propelled by fake news.
Both sides likely overestimate the difference Musk’s leadership will make. Speech regulation online isn’t merely a matter of private company policy. Rather, it is the product of behind-the-scenes coordination between Big Tech companies, governments, and intergovernmental organizations. Nowhere has this been clearer than in the years-long, draconian speech crackdowns and aggressive propaganda campaigns deployed in response to Covid, which have been the subject of several recent lawsuits.