U.S. Rep. Hageman said she finds the breadth and scope of federal government censorship in social media “stunning” and believes the activity extends from Congress to the office of the President of the United States.
“We continue our work and as we seek to hold this administration and these corrupt government hacks accountable for their blatant violation of the First Amendment to the United States constitution,” the Wyoming Republican said during a Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government meeting Thursday.
The committee spent the better part of Thursday morning in a heated and emotionally explosive meeting examining whether President Joe Biden’s administration influenced the way social media companies managed information about the COVID-19 pandemic.
Republican members of the subcommittee claim that at least 20 members of the White House “coerced” and “colluded” with technology companies to engage in censorship and that other nonprofit organizations worked as intermediaries.
John Sauer, deputy attorney general for Louisiana, testified with Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Missouri, that in 2022, their states filed a lawsuit against the federal government and the Biden Administration for communicating with social media companies to censor speech regarding COVID-19 during the pandemic.
Many social media companies like Facebook and Twitter censored posts they believed to be false and contributed to the spread of misinformation pertaining to the virus and vaccines.
Hageman called the testimony “incredible” and further credited Sauer and his colleagues for “exposing” the “surveillance industrial complex, the censorship industrial complex, the corruption industrial complex.”
“Take your pick,” she said.
Sauer said federal censorship on social media is only increasing, and is doing so at an unprecedented level.
“Federal executive officials are expanding the topics on which they seek censorship,” he said. “It’s expanding to more and more agencies, and it’s expanding to any social media platform they can reach to.”
Shortly after Biden took office, members of his administration and others in the federal government requested major social media companies take down “borderline” and false content about the COVID-19 virus, coronavirus vaccines, and the results of the 2020 election.
A few Republicans on the committee said these requests amounted to demands because of the authority of the sources and because one representative asked the misinformation to be taken down “ASAP.”
“It is an egregious violation, it is viewpoint discrimination,” Sauer said.
Matthew Seligman, a professor at Stanford University’s Constitutional Law Center, defended what he said were efforts by the federal government to combat misinformation online, referencing conspiracy theories he believed led to the Jan. 6, 2021 attack.
Seligman was a witness called in by Democrats on the subcommittee and said the censorship was limited to “baseless conspiracy theories” and that social media companies must be “uncorrupted by information.”
Democrats on the subcommittee said the government can’t sit by idly as misinformation is presented on social media, citing the lives at risk when there is a lack of awareness for the COVID-19 virus.
“If 100 million people see a false claim about voter fraud or election interference on a social media website, some number of those 100 million people may become outraged to a degree that they’re willing to commit acts of violence, and that’s exactly what we saw in the aftermath of the 2020 election,” Seligman said. “These false narratives, these false statements of fact, about the integrity of the election were propagated.
“Hundreds of millions of people saw them and some small number are willing to commit acts of violence.”
Sauer argued that censorship never makes Americans healthier or safer, nor does it help run as a democracy, automatically violating the First Amendment in all circumstances. When asked about a recent law passed banning certain books in school libraries in Florida, Sauer deflected the question.
“What could be more anti-democratic than federal censorship dictating what normal Americans can say on social media?” he asked.
The committee dissolved into chaos at one point when chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, dismissed Schmitt and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry as witnesses without allowing for cross-examination from Democrats on the subcommittee.
The Democrats reacted with outrage and the subcommittee fell into a shouting match.
Hageman could be briefly seen laughing in the video as the chaos transpired.