US congressional hearings on “extremist content” prepare assault on free speech

Three months ago, the World Socialist Web Site published its first exposé documenting Google’s blacklisting of the WSWS and other left-wing websites. It warned that Google’s actions were part of a sweeping campaign, coordinated with the US government, media and intelligence agencies, to censor the Internet.

The period since this initial exposure has seen this campaign develop with extraordinary speed, as the Democratic Party, working with major media outlets, uses unsubstantiated allegations of Russian “hacking” of the 2016 election to mount a drive to criminalize political opposition within the United States. What is involved is nothing less than the greatest attack on the First Amendment since the Second World War.

This campaign will reach a new milestone with the testimony by officials from Facebook, Twitter and Google before the Senate Judiciary Committee today and the House and Senate intelligence committees tomorrow on their plans to counter “extremist content and Russian disinformation online.”

Over the past three months, the top Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence committees, Mark Warner and Adam Schiff, in conjunction with the US intelligence agencies and the media, have concocted an absurd narrative that some $100,000 in Russian social media advertisements, mostly placed after November, helped swing the election in favor of Donald Trump.

Having forced the technology companies to compile lists of “Russia-linked” accounts, the lawmakers will now turn their focus on their real target: What they call “organic content,” or, to put it more plainly, political speech on the Internet.

According to the Hill, Warner and Schiff will press the social media companies to admit “that Russia created ‘organic content’…to divide and influence Americans.”

“Probably more important is, what was the content they were pushing out that was nonadvertising,” Schiff told the Hill this week. “I think that will probably dwarf what we’ve seen in the paid advertising,”

In prepared testimony obtained by news outlets Monday evening, Facebook expanded its list of “Russia-linked” online activity to include such “organic content,” declaring that tens of thousands of “inflammatory” posts by “fake” accounts connected to Russia reached 126 million US Facebook users.

This “divisive content” no doubt included reposts of articles by left-wing and oppositional news outlets, putting them firmly in the crosshairs of congressional investigators. As a New York Times report put it earlier this month, content “recorded, posted or written by Americans…ended up becoming grist for a network of Facebook pages linked to a shadowy Russian company that has carried out propaganda campaigns for the Kremlin.”

In another extraordinary development, on Friday, Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Twitter’s CEO demanding that the company hand over personally identifying information related to “organic content” posted by Twitter users. The letter specifically requests all “organic content posted by Russia-connected users and targeted to any part of the United States, regardless of whether the individual or entity violated any Twitter policy.” Its definition of “Russia-connected users” is extremely broad, including any “person or entity that may be connected in some way to Russia.”

The letter demands that for all “organic content described above, Twitter provide all subscriber information,” and “IP address information.” This means that the company is being asked to hand over full names, phone numbers, email addresses and IP addresses, which can be used to determine physical location.

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