New federal memos raise concern over social media censorship and free speech online

New federal memos raise concern over social media censorship and free speech online

Newly disclosed documents reveal federal officials believe they have the authority to police speech online.

On September 22, Fox News broke the news that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security privately argued the agency has the authority to censor “misinformation” — in direct contradiction to the agency’s public remarks and despite DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas disbanding the agency’s Disinformation Governance Board last year:

In heavily redacted memos obtained by Americans for Prosperity Foundation and reviewed exclusively by Fox New Digital, the agency appeared to circulate ahead of the launch of the disinformation board justification that DHS has regulatory or statutory authority in the “the MDM Space” — short for “misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation.”

But because DHS withheld all the substance in these memos that AFPF requested via FOIA and then by a lawsuit, the group says DHS is effectively relying on secret authorities for its work in the “MDM Space.”

Although the documents have been heavily redacted, they nonetheless reveal that the agency believed it had the power to regulate speech online.

In the front-page article, AFPF Director of Investigations Kevin Schmidt said:

If DHS believes it has the authority to police people’s online speech, it should be open with the public about what those authorities are. The idea that any agency with such vast political power believes it has the authority to determine what ideas count as good or true upsets the delicate balance of power established by our founding fathers …

Our Constitution was designed to protect people’s liberties from overreaching authorities. But the documents we’ve uncovered suggest that DHS believes it has overreaching authorities to regulate speech under the guise of countering misinformation even without a Disinformation Governance Board.

The documents were obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and subsequent lawsuit. Newsmax managing editor Brian Trusdell published links to the full disclosure in a following report. This is yet another example of the ways transparency tools can play a key role in holding government to account and why the work to protect free speech is needed now more than ever.

Read the full article at Fox News.

Read more from Americans for Prosperity’s Casey Mattox on the Disinformation Governance Board and misinformation:

  • Is there a better way for government to deal with misinformation online? July 27, 2021
  • Has the government created a new weapon against free speech? May 11, 2022
  • A quick roundup of recent free speech stories in the news – including the “pause” of the Disinformation Governance Board. May 25, 2022

See what others are saying:

  • RedState: “Exposed: Homeland Security’s Behind-the-Scenes Censorship Operations on Social Media” September 22, 2023
  • HotAir: “New FOIA docs: DHS claimed authority to regulate public discussions of COVID, ‘racial justice,’ Ukraine, and ‘irregular immigration’” September 22, 2023

Document Productions 

  • December 9, 2022 Production