The EU Files: What Elon Musk Is Not Telling You About Twitter Censorship
From the Brownstone Institute
The “Twitter Files” have exposed numerous contacts between US government officials and Twitter and requests for suppression of accounts or content: notably, in the context of alleged Covid-19 “disinformation.” But what they have not revealed is that there was in fact a formal government program explicitly dedicated to “Fighting Covid-19 Disinformation” in which Twitter, as well as all other major social media platforms, were enrolled.
As part of this program, the platforms were submitting monthly (later bi-monthly) reports to the government on their censorship efforts. Below is a picture of an archive of the “Fighting Covid-19 Disinformation” reports.
I did not have to hack into the intranet of the US government to find them. All I had to do was look on the public website of the European Commission. For the government in question is not, after all, the US government, but the European Commission.
The reports are available here. Lest there be any doubt that what is at issue in “Fighting Covid-19 Disinformation” is censorship – but how could there be any doubt? – the Commission website specifies that the reports include information on “demoted and removed content containing false and/or misleading information likely to cause physical harm or impair public health policies” (author’s emphasis).
Indeed, the Twitter reports, in particular, include data not only on removed content, but also on outright account suspensions. It is thanks precisely to the data that Twitter was gathering to satisfy the EU’s expectations that we know that 11,230 accounts were suspended under Twitter’s recently discontinued Covid-19 Misleading Information Policy. The below chart, for instance, is taken from Twitter’s last (March-April 2022) report to the EU. Note that the data is “global,” i.e. Twitter was reporting back to the European Commission on its censorship of content and accounts all over the world, not just in the EU.
To be clear then: It is strictly impossible that Twitter has not had contact with EU officials about censoring Covid-19 dissent, because the EU had a program specifically dedicated to the latter and Twitter was part of it. Furthermore, it is strictly impossible that Twitter is not continuing to have contact with EU officials about censoring online content and speech more generally.
This is because the EU’s “Fighting Covid-19 Disinformation” program was launched within the framework of its more general so-called Code of Practice on Disinformation. Under the Code, Twitter and other online platforms and search engines have assumed commitments to combat – i.e. suppress – what the European Commission deems to be “misinformation” or “disinformation.”
In June of last year, a “strengthened” Code of Practice on Disinformation was adopted, which created formalized reporting requirements for Code signatories like Twitter. Other major signatories of the Code include Google/YouTube, Meta/Facebook, Microsoft – which is notably the owner of LinkedIn – and TikTok.
Furthermore, the strengthened Code also created a “permanent task force” on disinformation, in which all code signatories are required to participate and which is chaired by none other than the European Commission itself. The “task force” also includes representatives of the EU’s foreign service. (For more details, see Section IX of the Code, titled “Permanent Task-Force.”)
And if this were not enough, in September of last year, the EU opened a “digital embassy” in San Francisco, in order precisely to be close to Twitter and other leading American tech companies. For the moment, the embassy reportedly shares office space with the Irish consulate: meaning, per Google maps, that it is around a 10-minute drive from Twitter headquarters.
So, it is strictly impossible that Twitter has not had and is not continuing to have contact – indeed extensive and regular contact – with EU officials about censoring content and accounts that the European Commission deems “mis-” or “disinformation.” But we have heard absolutely nothing about this in the “Twitter Files.”
Why? The answer is: because EU censorship really is government censorship, i.e. censorship that Twitter is required to carry out on pain of sanction. This is the difference between the EU censorship and what Elon Musk himself has denounced as “US government censorship.” The latter has amounted to nudges and requests, but was never obligatory and could never be obligatory, thanks to the First Amendment and the fact that there has never been any enforcement mechanism. Any law creating such an enforcement mechanism would be obviously unconstitutional. Hence, Twitter could always simply say no.
But so long as it wants to remain on the EU market, Twitter cannot say no to the demands of the European Commission. As discussed in my previous article here, the enforcement mechanism that renders the Code of Practice obligatory is the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA). The DSA gives the European Commission power to impose fines of up to 6% percent of global turnover on platforms that it finds to be in violation of the Code: n.b. global turnover, not just turnover on the EU market!
The Commission has not been shy about reminding Twitter and the other tech companies of this threat, thus posting the below tweet last June on the very day that the “strengthened” Code of Practice was announced.
This was before the DSA had even been adopted by the European Parliament! But the DSA has been the sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of Twitter and the other online platforms for the last two years, and it is now law. Once designated a “very large online platform” by the Commission – which is inevitable in its case – Twitter will have 4 months to demonstrate compliance, as the below “DSA Timeline” makes clear.
Moreover, the power to apply financial sanction is not the only extraordinary enforcement power that the DSA gives the Commission. The Commission is also given the power to conduct warrantless inspections of company premises, sealing the premises for the duration of the inspection, and gaining access to whatever “books or records” it pleases. (See Article 69 of the DSA here.) Such inspections, which have been previously used in the context of EU competition law, are quaintly known in the literature as “dawn raids.” (See here, for example.)
This is why Elon Musk and the “Twitter Files” are so verbose about alleged “US government censorship” and so willing to “out” the private communications of US government officials, but have remained suitably mum about EU censorship demands and have not outed the private communications of any EU officials or representatives. Elon Musk is being held hostage by the European Union, and no hostage in his or her right mind is going to do anything to irritate the hostage-takers.
Far from any sign of defiance of the Code and the DSA, what we get from Elon Musk is repeated pledges of fealty: like the below tweet that he posted after meeting with EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton in January. (For an earlier such pledge in the form of a joint video message with Breton, see here.)
And if Musk should ever have any doubts about what he needs to do to satisfy the EU’s requirements, help is always close at hand – indeed a mere 10 minutes aways. For the EU’s “digital ambassador” to Silicon Valley, Gerard de Graaf, is one of the authors of the DSA.
But if Elon Musk is so fearful about crossing the EU, then why has he restored so many Covid-19 dissident accounts? Wasn’t that an act of defiance of the EU and notably of its “Fighting Covid-19 Disinformation” program?
Well, no, it was not.
Firstly, it should be recalled that Musk had originally promised a “general amnesty” of all suspended accounts. As discussed in my earlier article here, this quickly drew a stern and public rebuke from none other than Thierry Breton, and Musk failed to follow through. Instead, in accordance with Breton’s demands, there has been a case-by-case restoration of selected accounts, which has recently slowed down to a trickle.
@OpenVaet, whose own Twitter account remains suspended, has been maintaining a partial inventory of suspended Twitter accounts. As of this writing, only 99 of the 215 accounts in the sample, or roughly 46% percent, have been restored. (See @OpenVaet’s spreadsheet of still banned and restored accounts here.) Assuming the sample is representative, this would mean that over 6,000 accounts in all are still suspended.
And this is to say nothing of the more insidious form of censorship that is “visibility filtering” or “shadow-banning.” Per the motto “Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach,” Elon Musk has never denied that Twitter would continue to engage in the latter. Many of the returning Covid-19 dissidents have noticed a curious lack of engagement, leading them to wonder if their accounts are not in fact still subjected to unannounced special measures.
But, secondly, and more to the point, have another look at the archive of the “Fighting Covid-19 Disinformation” reports shown above. That is the completearchive. The March-April 2022 reports are the final set of reports. Last June, as noted here, the European Commission discontinued the program, folding the reporting on Covid-19 “disinformation” into the more general reporting requirements established under the “strengthened” Code of Practice on Disinformation.
By this time, most of the most onerous Covid-19 measures in the EU, including “vaccine passports,” had already been ended, and most of the remainder have been gradually rolled back since. Elon Musk thus allowed (some) Covid-19 dissent back onto Twitter when, at least in the EU, there was hardly any public policy to dissent from anymore.
But the EU’s censorship regime as such is still very much in place, and censorship has by no means come to end on Twitter. Thus, on the very night of the Brazilian elections on October 30, Twitter was already censoring local reports of electoral fraud. The famous “misleading” warning labels that had once been used to quarantine reports of Covid-19 vaccine harm now made a reappearance, insisting that according to unnamed “experts,” Brazil’s elections were “safe and secure.” (For examples, see my thread here.)
Whether electoral integrity/fraud in countries of interest, the war in Ukraine or the “next pandemic” for which the EU is already reserving mRNA “vaccine” capacity, you may rest assured that the EU will not lack new subjects of “disinformation” requiring censorship and that Elon Musk and Twitter will oblige.
Whether this censorship takes the form of outright suspensions and content removals or content “demotion” and account “visibility filtering” is a secondary matter. The European Commission will be able to work out such details with Twitter and the other platforms.
Indeed, the DSA further requires the platforms to grant the Commission access to their back offices, including, as Thierry Breton triumphantly notes in a blog post here, “the ‘black box’ of algorithms that are at the heart of platforms’ systems.” As noted on the Commission website, the Commission is even setting up a European Centre for Algorithmic Transparency, in order to be able to better fulfill its “supervisory” role in this regard.
Needless to say, such “transparency” does not extend to mere users such as you or me. For us, the algorithmic functioning of the platforms will remain a “black box.” But the Commission will be able to know everything about it and to demand modifications to ensure compliance with the EU’s requirements.
The Fraying of the Liberal International Order
From the Brownstone Institute
International politics is the struggle for the dominant normative architecture of world order based on the interplay of power, economic weight and ideas for imagining, designing and constructing the good international society. For several years now many analysts have commented on the looming demise of the liberal international order established at the end of the Second World War under US leadership.
Over the last several decades, wealth and power have been shifting inexorably from the West to the East and has produced a rebalancing of the world order. As the centre of gravity of world affairs shifted to the Asia-Pacific with China’s dramatic climb up the ladder of great power status, many uncomfortable questions were raised about the capacity and willingness of Western powers to adapt to a Sinocentric order.
For the first time in centuries, it seemed, the global hegemon would not be Western, would not be a free market economy, would not be liberal democratic, and would not be part of the Anglosphere.
More recently, the Asia-Pacific conceptual framework has been reformulated into the Indo-Pacific as the Indian elephant finally joined the dance. Since 2014 and then again especially after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February last year, the question of European security, political and economic architecture has reemerged as a frontline topic of discussion.
The return of the Russia question as a geopolitical priority has also been accompanied by the crumbling of almost all the main pillars of the global arms control complex of treaties, agreements, understandings and practices that had underpinned stability and brought predictability to major power relations in the nuclear age.
The AUKUS security pact linking Australia, the UK, and the US in a new security alliance, with the planned development of AUKUS-class nuclear-powered attack submarines, is both a reflection of changed geopolitical realities and, some argue, itself a threat to the global nonproliferation regime and a stimulus to fresh tensions in relations with China. British Prime Minister (PM) Rishi Sunak said at the announcement of the submarines deal in San Diego on March 13 that the growing security challenges confronting the world—“Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, China’s growing assertiveness, the destabilising behaviour of Iran and North Korea”—“threaten to create a world codefined by danger, disorder and division.”
For his part, President Xi Jinping accused the US of leading Western countries to engage in an “all-around containment, encirclement and suppression of China.”
The Australian government described the AUKUS submarine project as “the single biggest investment in our defence capability in our history” that “represents a transformational moment for our nation.” However, it could yet be sunk by six minefields lurking underwater: China’s countermeasures, the time lag between the alleged imminence of the threat and the acquisition of the capability, the costs, the complexities of operating two different classes of submarines, the technological obsolescence of submarines that rely on undersea concealment, and domestic politics in the US and Australia.
Regional and global governance institutions can never be quarantined from the underlying structure of international geopolitical and economic orders. Nor have they proven themselves to be fully fit for the purpose of managing pressing global challenges and crises like wars, and potentially existential threats from nuclear weapons, climate-related disasters and pandemics.
To no one’s surprise, the rising and revisionist powers wish to redesign the international governance institutions to inject their own interests, governing philosophies, and preferences. They also wish to relocate the control mechanisms from the major Western capitals to some of their own capitals. China’s role in the Iran–Saudi rapprochement might be a harbinger of things to come.
The ”Rest” Look for Their Place in the Emerging New Order
The developments out there in “the real world,” testifying to an inflection point in history, pose profound challenges to institutions to rethink their agenda of research and policy advocacy over the coming decades.
On 22–23 May, the Toda Peace Institute convened a brainstorming retreat at its Tokyo office with more than a dozen high-level international participants. One of the key themes was the changing global power structure and normative architecture and the resulting implications for world order, the Indo-Pacific and the three US regional allies Australia, Japan, and South Korea. The two background factors that dominated the conversation, not surprisingly, were China–US relations and the Ukraine war.
The Ukraine war has shown the sharp limits of Russia as a military power. Both Russia and the US badly underestimated Ukraine’s determination and ability to resist (“I need ammunition, not a ride,” President Volodymyr Zelensky famously said when offered safe evacuation by the Americans early in the war), absorb the initial shock, and then reorganise to launch counter-offensives to regain lost territory. Russia is finished as a military threat in Europe. No Russian leader, including President Vladimir Putin, will think again for a very long time indeed of attacking an allied nation in Europe.
That said, the war has also demonstrated the stark reality of the limits to US global influence in organising a coalition of countries willing to censure and sanction Russia. If anything, the US-led West finds itself more disconnected from the concerns and priorities of the rest of the world than at any other time since 1945. A study published in October from Cambridge University’s Bennett Institute for Public Policy provides details on the extent to which the West has become isolated from opinion in the rest of the world on perceptions of China and Russia. This was broadly replicated in a February 2023 study from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
The global South in particular has been vocal in saying firstly that Europe’s problems are no longer automatically the world’s problems, and secondly that while they condemn Russia’s aggression, they also sympathise quite heavily with the Russian complaint about NATO provocations in expanding to Russia’s borders. In the ECFR report, Timothy Garton-Ash, Ivan Krastev, and Mark Leonard cautioned Western decision-makers to recognise that “in an increasingly divided post-Western world,” emerging powers “will act on their own terms and resist being caught in a battle between America and China.”
US global leadership is hobbled also by rampant domestic dysfunctionality. A bitterly divided and fractured America lacks the necessary common purpose and principle, and the requisite national pride and strategic direction to execute a robust foreign policy. Much of the world is bemused too that a great power could once again present a choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump for president.
The war has solidified NATO unity but also highlighted internal European divisions and European dependence on the US military for its security.
The big strategic victor is China. Russia has become more dependent on it and the two have formed an effective axis to resist US hegemony. China’s meteoric rise continues apace. Having climbed past Germany last year, China has just overtaken Japan as the world’s top car exporter, 1.07 to 0.95 million vehicles. Its diplomatic footprint has also been seen in the honest brokerage of a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia and in promotion of a peace plan for Ukraine.
Even more tellingly, according to data published by the UK-based economic research firm Acorn Macro Consulting in April, the BRICS grouping of emerging market economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) now accounts for a larger share of the world’s economic output in PPP dollars than the G7 group of industrialised countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, USA). Their respective shares of global output have fallen and risen between 1982 and 2022 from 50.4 percent and 10.7 percent, to 30.7 percent and 31.5 percent. No wonder another dozen countries are eager to join the BRICS, prompting Alec Russell to proclaim recently in The Financial Times: “This is the hour of the global south.”
The Ukraine war might also mark India’s long overdue arrival on the global stage as a consequential power. For all the criticisms of fence-sitting levelled at India since the start of the war, this has arguably been the most successful exercise of an independent foreign policy on a major global crisis in decades by India. Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar even neatly turned the fence-sitting criticism on its head by retorting a year ago that “I am sitting on my ground” and feeling quite comfortable there. His dexterity in explaining India’s policy firmly and unapologetically but without stridency and criticism of other countries has drawn widespread praise, even from Chinese netizens.
On his return after the G7 summit in Hiroshima, the South Pacific and Australia, PM Narendra Modi commented on 25 May: “Today, the world wants to know what India is thinking.” In his 100th birthday interview with The Economist, Henry Kissinger said he is “very enthusiastic” about US close relations with India. He paid tribute to its pragmatism, basing foreign policy on non-permanent alliances built around issues rather than tying up the country in big multilateral alliances. He singled out Jaishankar as the current political leader who “is quite close to my views.”
In a complementary interview with The Wall Street Journal, Kissinger also foresees, without necessarily recommending such a course of action, Japan acquiring its own nuclear weapons in 3-5 years.
In a blog published on 18 May, Michael Klare argues that the emerging order is likely to be a G3 world with the US, China, and India as the three major nodes, based on attributes of population, economic weight and military power (with India heading into being a major military force to be reckoned with, even if not quite there yet). He is more optimistic about India than I am but still, it’s an interesting comment on the way the global winds are blowing. Few pressing world problems can be solved today without the active cooperation of all three.
The changed balance of forces between China and the US also affects the three Pacific allies, namely Australia, Japan, and South Korea. If any of them starts with a presumption of permanent hostility with China, then of course it will fall into the security dilemma trap. That assumption will drive all its policies on every issue in contention, and will provoke and deepen the very hostility it is meant to be opposing.
Rather than seeking world domination by overthrowing the present order, says Rohan Mukherjee in Foreign Affairs, China follows a three-pronged strategy. It works with institutions it considers both fair and open (UN Security Council, WTO, G20) and tries to reform others that are partly fair and open (IMF, World Bank), having derived many benefits from both these groups. But it is challenging a third group which, it believes, are closed and unfair: the human rights regime.
In the process, China has come to the conclusion that being a great power like the US means never having to say you’re sorry for hypocrisy in world affairs: entrenching your privileges in a club like the UN Security Council that can be used to regulate the conduct of all others.
Instead of self-fulfilling hostility, former Australian foreign secretary Peter Varghese recommends a China policy of constrainment-cum-engagement. Washington may have set itself the goal of maintaining global primacy and denying Indo-Pacific primacy to China, but this will only provoke a sullen and resentful Beijing into efforts to snatch regional primacy from the US. The challenge is not to thwart but to manage China’s rise—from which many other countries have gained enormous benefits, with China becoming their biggest trading partner—by imagining and constructing a regional balance in which US leadership is crucial to a strategic counterpoint.
In his words, “The US will inevitably be at the centre of such an arrangement, but that does not mean that US primacy must sit at its fulcrum.” Wise words that should be heeded most of all in Washington but will likely be ignored.
My Official Apology to the New York Post
From the Brownstone Institute
There is an art to meaningful apologies. A sweet spot. Wait too long and they become pointless.
Ideally, they should also be accompanied with some kind of atonement as well.
I, along with many New Yorkers, have been waiting for apologies that don’t appear to be coming. But as I’ve been waiting in the interminable void, it’s occurred to me that I might owe some apologies myself. So here goes
Years ago, I used to sneer at anyone who read the NY Post. At the café where I worked, I took quiet pleasure in tossing it in the trash whenever someone left it behind on a crumb-covered seat. Had I ever read it? No. But I knew I wasn’t the type of person to read the NY Post, and I was proud of that fact.
Then, a few years back, things started to look a little different to me. They started to look wrong, like a wool hat in summer, or a mask on a baby’s face. I started to detect lies and impossibilities coming out of the mouths of important people. “Gradually, then suddenly,” as the Hemingway quote goes, I saw things in a different light.
I could almost stomach the politicians lying, but when friends began repeating the lies it became too much to bear. Truth seemed to hover just outside of them, leaving them infuriatingly untouched.
It was a little after this time, my awakening of sorts, that I myself became an outcast.
I hadn’t set out to become an outcast. I’d reached middle age an average upstanding citizen, fairly respectful of authority. I was a mother who made her children take piano lessons for god’s sake!
But one morning, late in the summer of 2021, I woke up to find I no longer had civil rights. And things took a turn. I still marvel at how it all unfolded:
Early 2021, I thought I’d survived the worst of covid. I’d made it through a year of hysteria that I presumed would surely fade, maybe even some bashful apologies would follow, like after a long drunken night gone too far.
By then, the miracle vaccine had finally arrived and any American who wanted it could have it. But it so happened that I didn’t want it. I’d already gotten covid during lockdown, while selling essentials like coffee and toilet paper from the café I now owned, a café limping along on government funds.
An experimental vaccine for a virus I’d already had just wasn’t that appealing to me; why would it be? The decision, quite honestly, made itself. Who knew it would land me in the middle of a nightmare.
I recall the incremental announcements from our mayor at the time, a tall goofy man people likened to Big Bird. The first announcement came on the morning of August 16th, 2021;
My kind was no longer allowed to sit down and eat in cafés, he said, though we were allowed to take something in a paper bag to go.
My kind was no longer allowed to enter cultural buildings, he said; art and history were for the good citizens.
We were no longer allowed the privilege of working, or a college education.
We weren’t allowed to enter our child’s school or to serve the people we served when the vaccine was just a twinkle in Fauci’s eye. And society agreed. The “unvaccinated” deserved it. Damn them.
My anger simmered. It turned to rage. All I asked for was common sense. Every day that New York City hummed, I burned. Didn’t they see us withering with loss of hope and loss in general?
Didn’t they know there were a million of us who said no thanks? A million who didn’t have civil rights. A million who were right, as it turned out, about everything.
It seemed they did not, or if they did, they didn’t care.
And just when I was about to give up on humanity, out of the haze of covid hysteria came some of the clearest voices to be found in, of all places, the NY Post.
But of course!
I should’ve recognized Alexander Hamilton’s handsome face on the ten-dollar bill as a sign, right there next to the scrolled “We the People.” A Founding Father, Hamilton had worked to abolish the slave trade in New York City. I’d forgotten he founded the NY Post too!
While other mainstream news still wilted with ruminations on the invisible threat of long covid, or the latest Fauci whim, the NY Post blazed a trail with its demands for a return to common sense and decency.
There in print it called for an end to all mandates – if baseball players and celebrities didn’t need them why did the working class?
In chorus its editorial board called for a reckoning by way of a covid truth-and-reconciliation commission – Amen!
And long before anyone else, it dared to publish the opinions of some of the bravest academics and scientists of our time, the co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, Dr. Martin Kulldorff and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya.
So, I’m sorry, NY Post. I judged you by your cover. By your red and black barking headlines. But I was wrong. And for anyone else out there who feels they might owe someone an apology, let me tell you it feels good to settle a debt. I highly recommend it.
My Official Apology to the New York Post
Canada saw decline in fresh fruit, vegetable availability in 2022: StatCan
Notre Dame’s fire-ravaged roof rebuilt using medieval techniques
Court of Appeal overturns ruling directing Ottawa to help repatriate men in Syria
International2 days ago
Notre Dame’s fire-ravaged roof rebuilt using medieval techniques
Business2 days ago
Virgin Galactic completes final test flight before launching paying customers to space
Disaster2 days ago
India train crash kills over 280, injures 900 in one of nation’s worst rail disasters
International2 days ago
‘I will not bend’: MP Jenny Kwan says she won’t allow China to erase history
International16 hours ago
Vigilantes in Haiti strike back at gangsters with brutal street justice
Crime2 days ago
Minister ‘shocked’ at reports of Paul Bernardo being moved to medium-security prison
International2 days ago
First-of-its-kind Mars livestream by ESA spacecraft interrupted at times by rain on Earth
Alberta17 hours ago
Saskatchewan landowners fight against illegal drainage washing out land, roads