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How DHS Seized Power Over Online Speech

FFO In The News

Mike Benz

Founder and Executive Director of Foundation for Freedom Online

FFO has been in the news recently after bringing a government censorship scandal to the attention of the general public and influential civic and media thought leaders.

Our two reports in late August (here and here) kicked off a budding firestorm detailing, for the first time publicly, the precise mechanism through which the US government coordinates social media censorship with private sector partners. That story, to date, has focused on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS):

“DHS chiefly spearheads censorship through its partnerships with tech companies, civil society groups and media institutions, synchronizing a “whole-of-society” counter-disinformation networked response to collectively target the same narratives, the same slogans, the same symbols, the same influential movement voices, and the same highly engaged “repeat spreaders” who comprise the narrative’s online support network.” [Report]

One aspect of FFO’s reporting – a cartoon produced by DHS that encourages children and young adults to report their family members to Facebook for disinformation – was covered in a three-minute segment on the highest-rated program in cable news history, Tucker Carlson Tonight:

The show had 3.4 million live viewers that night, elevating awareness of FFO’s watchdog reports to audiences around the country.

After the Fox News segment, Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters highlighted the on-air exchange about the DHS government censorship scandal to his popular Twitter account, as well as on Facebook and Gettr:

We are also proud to report that Townhall published an opinion editorial by FFO Executive Director Mike Benz that further shed light on the government censorship scandal.

We at FFO are free speech watchdogs dedicated to the mission of restoring the promise of the free and open Internet. Through educational reports, legal assistance, and public policy analysis concerning developing threats to digital liberties, we seek to provide nonpartisan insights and assistance to all people taking a stand for freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and the free exchange of ideas online.

In late August, FFO launched a watchdog series specifically focused on the DHS’s role in coordinating public-private censorship blurs. This essentially mirrors the Defense Department tactic developed first during the Gulf War to use “private military contractors”, rather than the US government itself, to minimize the perception of direct government involvement:

“But perhaps the main reason DHS’s Ministry Of Truth has evaded public attention for so long is that it acts like a coordinator of a censorship network, rather an implementer of specific censorship acts. By this method, the role of highly visible private sector actors flagging posts on one side and carrying censoring flagged posts on the other — all seemingly on their own — is salient, while the coordinating role of the US government is obscured.

This is similar to the CIA and Pentagon technique of using private military contractors like Blackwater to “outsource” wars overseas (the dirty work, in particular). But DHS is using this method, in broad daylight, to “outsource” social media censorship at home. And somehow, all of this has evaded Congressional inquiry.” [FFO]

Shortly after publication, FFO’s findings in the first two parts of our ongoing DHS domestic censorship series were elevated to a wider audience by an excellent summary published by Roger Kimball in the Epoch Times:

“An invaluable new watchdog group called The Foundation for Freedom Online has begun documenting efforts by the DHS to surveil and censor online speech in order to make it conform with narratives promulgated by the state.”

The Foundation for Freedom Online has produced invaluable material on a major threat to American freedom.

There is more to come.

But what we have already reported shows that the “DHS’s new role, essentially, combines the foreign powers over speech and censorship granted to the CIA with the domestic reach of the FBI.”

Think about that.

For the first time in our history we have the U.S. government to deploy a sort of “domestic CIA” authorized to surveil and censor the “lawful speech of US citizens, stopping them from talking freely about their own elections or criticizing their own democratic institutions.”

It’s time to turn Orwell into fiction again.

Following Roger Kimball’s Epoch Times write-up, FFO’s domestic censorship reports were covered by a wide array of local Sinclair affiliates including ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, and Fox News. Local news coverage included a video embed compilation directly from FFO’s Rumble video archive as well:

Local news summaries of recent FFO awareness reports.

All of this unwanted attention on the scandal of Internet censorship apparently touched a nerve with the self-appointed “Reality Czar” set over at the Washington Post. We will cover WaPo’s rather embarrassing 1,200 word attempted “fact check” to FFO’s finding in a separate update.

Much more to come on our DHS domestic censorship “deep dive” series soon. Stay tuned.