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EDITORIAL: When government hops in bed with social media platforms

There was a time, not too long ago, that media organizations and civil liberties groups would have been aghast at a major technology company colluding with the government to suppress certain viewpoints. But the Twitter controversy highlights how far progressive institutions have drifted from their commitment to free speech.

Elon Musk’s drop of the Twitter files has received scant attention from left-leaning news outlets despite confirming that the company worked with government officials — in the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies — to “moderate” content. Not surprisingly, most of that content was of a conservative variety.

The most high-profile example of Twitter’s misguided “gate-keeping” was its all-out effort to suppress as “misinformation” a New York Post account published weeks before the 2020 election detailing the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop. The paper’s report later proved to be accurate. Yet the company’s censorship efforts had willing cheerleaders in the government, something that may have influenced its actions.

It’s said that Twitter is a private company and that its executives therefore have the right to make internal policy on content regulation. This is true. But when government officials are helping to make decisions about censoring the accounts of disfavored users or those with controversial viewpoints, there are constitutional questions in play.

“Because the government has the power to make life difficult for social media companies through castigation, regulation, litigation and legislation,” Jacob Sullum of Reason magazine wrote, “its ‘requests’ always carry an implicit threat.”

On Wednesday, former Twitter chief Jack Dorsey acknowledged the company erred by over-managing the marketplace of ideas. “This burdened the company with too much power,” he told The Wall Street Journal, “and opened us to significant outside pressure.”

It’s true that both Democrats and Republicans have made noise about cracking down on Big Tech over content objections. But if Mr. Musk’s document release shows anything, it’s that the hard left has an inordinately large voice at these companies in determining what is and isn’t acceptable — and, increasingly, any disagreement with leftist orthodoxy is seen by progressive ideologues as “hate speech,” “misinformation” or “lies.”

Suppressing the speech of respected medical professionals who questioned heavy-handed COVID tactics had nothing to do with protecting rubes from dangerous “misinformation” and everything to do with promoting a mindless progressive conformity. Twitter has every right to operate in such a manner, of course. But the relationship between private tech companies and government actors raises troubling questions about state censorship and should disturb those across the political spectrum.

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