- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2023

House Republicans on Thursday introduced legislation to prohibit federal officials from pressuring Big Tech to censor speech amid a flood of recent revelations pointing to the Biden administration and federal bureaucrats working with online platforms to curtail free speech.

The measure, led by the Republican Chairs on the House Oversight, Judiciary, and Energy and Commerce Committees, would prohibit federal officials and political appointees from “using their official authority, influence or resources … to promote the censorship of lawful speech” and would apply penalties established under the Hatch Act, a law that restricts federal employees from becoming involved in certain political activities, to those pushing for censorship.

“The collusion between bureaucrats and Big Tech has gone on for far too long,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio. “Government agencies shouldn’t censor the free speech of Americans. The Protecting Speech from Government Interference Act is an important first step toward transparency and accountability for Biden’s bureaucrats and Big Tech.”

Republicans have seized on Twitter owner Elon Musk’s steady drip of internal documents known as the Twitter Files that show the platform had a left-wing bias censoring viewpoints.

The Twitter Files expose the censorship of conservative messages and the decision to permanently ban then-President Trump from the platform in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, protest at the U.S. Capitol in addition to the suppression of information about Hunter Biden’s laptop.

Other installments have revealed the extent to which federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies worked with the platform to moderate speech, including back-channel communications to flag posts and ban users.

The Twitter Files also expose Democratic lawmakers pressuring Twitter to censor posts and ban users.

Earlier this month, internal documents revealed that Rep. Adam Schiff’s House Intelligence Committee staff lobbied Twitter to ban Real Clear Investigations reporter Paul Sperry from the platform after an aide accused Mr. Sperry of promoting false conspiracy theories and harassing committee staff.

Other installments of the Twitter Files disclose the close coordination between social media companies and federal officials to moderate content.

“The Biden Administration has eroded Americans’ First Amendment rights by bullying social media companies to censor certain views and news on their platforms. From COVID-19 to the Biden family’s suspicious business schemes, Biden administration officials are quick to label inconvenient facts as disinformation and then pressure social media companies to suppress content on their platforms,” said House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer of Kentucky.

Last month, Mr. Comer and Mr. Jordan demanded Big Tech companies hand over information related to efforts by government agencies to moderate content on their platforms.

House Republicans also have paved the way for a new subcommittee led by Mr. Jordan of Ohio focusing on the weaponization of the federal government in response to First Amendment concerns raised, in part, by the flood of internal Twitter documents.

Mr. Comer said he is hopeful Thursday’s bill will quickly advance to the House floor for a vote “so that we can hold the Biden administration accountable for attacking Americans’ constitutional rights.”

“It’s time for this behavior to end,” said House Energy and Commerce Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state. “I am pleased to join my colleagues, Reps. Comer and Jordan, once again on this important legislation to protect Americans’ first amendment rights.” 

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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