The Censorship Era Started When Democrats Lost in 2016

Written by Hudson Crozier

The scoop: Former President Barack Obama helped launch an operation to stop online “misinformation” and “disinformation” in response to Democrat election losses in 2016. The next presidential election famously featured the government partnering with tech platforms to censor COVID-19 claims.

The background: The British intelligence community began working with U.S. officials on the project after Donald Trump won the presidency and the Brexit referendum passed. Before Trump’s inauguration, the Obama White House gave a British analyst instructions to prevent a “repeat of 2016,” according to a whistleblower once involved in the effort.

Why it matters: This helped lay the groundwork for the large-scale censorship happening today. It was a political operation from the beginning, carried out by officials and private actors who wouldn’t accept the 2016 elections — and their response went beyond censorship, documents show.

Sore losers: The group attributed the election results to a bad “information landscape” and sought to punish social media users. They brainstormed about aggressive tactics such as getting banks to freeze the assets of protesters and political organizers.

  • Naming names: In 2020, they went public as the Cyber Threat Intelligence League (CTIL), flagging anti-lockdown posts for removal and tracking specific accounts.

  • First Amendment loophole: The CTIL admitted that it used private entities to censor speech because the government lacks “legal authority” to do it directly.

Zoom out: The Supreme Court will soon decide whether the U.S. government’s censorship-by-proxy is constitutional. Journalists who spoke to the whistleblower are handing the new documents to Congress for investigation.

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