Two unanticipated events in 2016 completely shocked our ruling class: the election of Trump in the U.S. and the Brexit vote in the U.K. Our elites did not respond by examining the disconnect between their core assumptions and the will of the people. Instead they decided that, sure, democracy is all fine and well, but naturally, democracy must be protected from these unruly people.
After all, the people often don’t know what’s good for them. So those who know better must acquire the capacity to monitor and control the will of the people if we are to ‘defend democracy’. The means for doing this in the digital age, our ruling class divined, is by monitoring populations’ behaviors and shaping their thinking by controlling the flow of information online. The idea of censorship once again became chic.
Birth of the Censorship Leviathan
In the wake of Trump and Brexit, the Anglosphere Surveillance State, birthed following 9/11, gave birth in turn to its natural offspring, the Censorship Leviathan. There are 434 federal agencies in the Federal Register — most of which the average American cannot name. A little-known agency in our vast administrative state, called CISA — the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency — was erected in the waning days of the Obama administration in 2016. The following year CISA turned its attention from cyberattacks and foreign threats against our critical infrastructure to threats — whether foreign or domestic — against what Director Jen Easterly called our “cognitive infrastructure”. For the uninitiated, our cognitive infrastructure consists of the thoughts inside your head. These, naturally, need to be protected from bad ideas, defined as ideas the Government or its unelected officials do not like.
CISA quickly became a clearinghouse for what Michael Shellenberger has dubbed the Censorship Industrial Complex: an interlocking network of federal agencies and quasi-private (i.e., mostly Government-funded) nonprofits, including some housed at universities like Stanford and the University of Washington, which do the Government’s bidding. Starting in 2017, this censorship industry — and it is an industry, complete with training programs and career opportunities for college grads — worked around the clock to flag posts or accounts the Government wanted removed. Government officials then forwarded these accounts to social media companies, pressuring the companies by wielding the big stick of Government power if they refused to comply.
The Censorship Leviathan grew massively during Covid. Along with my colleagues Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford and Martin Kulldorff of Harvard, I found myself caught in the gears of the Government’s censorship machinery for, well, threatening your cognitive infrastructure — specifically by challenging the Government’s preferred pandemic policies like lockdowns, school closures, universal masking and vaccine mandates. The three of us joined a federal lawsuit, Missouri v. Biden, filed by the state Attorney-Generals from Missouri and Louisiana; we were later joined by two other private plaintiffs, health freedom advocate Jill Hines and journalist Jim Hoft.