House Republicans to probe Biden administration pressure on Twitter. As one of their first orders of business in the new Congress, House Republicans plan to probe the pressure the Biden administration put on social media companies to suppress certain sorts of content. The inquiry will come as part of a new Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.
The subcommittee “will demand copies of White House emails, memos and other communications with Big Tech companies,” reports Axios.
A series of recently released internal documents—some as part of a lawsuit filed by Missouri and Louisiana and some as part of documents that new Twitter CEO Elon Musk has been sharing with journalists—showcase requests by the federal government to control the flow of content and information on Facebook and Twitter. During both the Biden and Trump administrations, federal officials were in close contact with these Big Tech companies. They warned of potential misinformation around elections and COVID-19 and frequently flagged specific content they considered dangerous or suspect.
To be clear, there’s nothing strictly wrong with such warnings and requests. So long as officials aren’t demanding content be taken down, or threatening adverse action if it is not, then these officials do not run afoul of the First Amendment.
But things get a bit sticky when you look at what might be considered implied threats here. At the same time as government officials were asking Twitter and its ilk to suppress certain sorts of content, Big Tech companies were being harangued from just about every angle the government could muster. They faced executive orders and comments related to taking them down a peg. They faced a flurry of bills that aimed to regulate them more intensely. Lawmakers bashed them in the media constantly, while demanding their leaders repeatedly answer antagonistic questions in public hearings and turn over all sorts of documents to congressional panels. Meanwhile, state attorneys general and the federal government filed numerous lawsuits against Big Tech companies.
When you consider all of the anti-tech action from myriad branches and levels of government, it throws into question the idea that federal officials could ever be just asking for cooperation with their censorship schemes.
The new subcommittee, chaired by House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R–Ohio), “will look for government pressure that could have resulted in censorship or harassment of conservatives — or squelching of debate on polarizing policies, including the CDC on COVID,” Axios says.
To the extent that the new subcommittee plans to investigate whether the government acted inappropriately here, good.
“This oversight is an infinitely better use of Congress’ time than past anti-Big Tech efforts,” said Jessica Melugin, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Technology and Innovation. “The only real threat all along has been the use of government coercion to pressure these companies to make politically-motivated decisions they might not otherwise have made.”
But to the extent that their probe winds up being yet another opportunity to excoriate tech companies, House Republicans will be exacerbating the very conditions that have created the current mess we’re in. The more federal lawmakers, agencies, law enforcement, and administration officials demand answers about exactly why and how these companies make internal decisions, the more they demonize them in public and in the press, and the more they bully these companies to conform with their (competing) visions of good content stewardship, the less likely it is that these companies will feel empowered to resist “friendly requests” from the federal government.
The House of Representatives yesterday approved the new Republican rules package and voted to rescind new IRS funding that was part of the Inflation Reduction Act. Alas, the latter has no chance of passing the Democrat-controlled Senate.
Of course, the Congressional Budget Office does not paint a rosy picture of what would happen if the funding is rescinded:
First CBO score of the new Congress is here.
Says that the GOP IRS funding bill would reduce spending by $71.5B and reduce revenue by $185.8B.
Net deficit increase of $114B. https://t.co/nrV9u44MEz
— Richard Rubin (@RichardRubinDC) January 9, 2023
But the idea that more IRS funding (and staff) means a huge revenue windfall relies on some questionable assumptions and a very optimistic view of how the increased funding will work. It assumes that all the new IRS staff would be super efficient at discovering and effectively bringing tax cheats to heel, for one thing. It also assumes that increased scrutiny of taxpayers and enforcement against them wouldn’t lead folks to adopt new strategies to shield money from the IRS.
Family planning fights are brewing in Texas. One of the biggest of these battles concerns birth control for teens, following a December ruling from U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk saying that federally funded family planning clinics couldn’t prescribe minors birth control without parental consent. Democrats in the statehouse have now filed a bill to counter this ruling—though it will face a tough time passing in the GOP-controlled legislature. Meanwhile, new Republican proposals include “penalizing companies that help their Texas employees seek abortions elsewhere” and more spending “on services for pregnant and parenting Texans, including expanding Medicaid coverage for mothers,” the Associated Press reports.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may now allow abortion drugs to be sold at retail pharmacies, but it’s still putting unnecessary restrictions on them, suggest several op-ed writers at The Hill. “Unlike most other drugs, including many that are riskier, the agency will not allow any pharmacy to dispense mifepristone (the first drug taken during a medication abortion). Only a limited pool of pharmacies can do so: those that take affirmative steps to become ‘certified,'” write University of Pittsburgh law professor Greer Donley, Temple University law school dean Rachel Rebouché, and Drexel University law school professor David S. Cohen.
This certification process requires, among other things, that a pharmacy agrees to detailed record keeping, reporting and medication tracking efforts and to designate a representative to ensure compliance.
Though the requirements could have been more onerous, they are nonetheless administrative burdens not required for most other drugs, and certainly not for drugs with mifepristone’s efficacy and safety record. This extra step will take time and resources, meaning many pharmacies will simply not get past these roadblocks.
• Does President Joe Biden face his own classified documents scandal? About 10 classified documents were found in a locked closet in the president’s former office at a D.C. think tank. The Obama-era documents were discovered just before the 2022 midterms and turned over to the National Archives, the White House said in an announcement yesterday.
• Mastodon is struggling to keep all its new users interested:
Mastodon is struggling to keep users engaged
The number of active users on Mastodon has dropped more than 30% and is continuing a slow decline
There were about 1.8 million active users in the 1st week of January, down from over 2.5m in early December https://t.co/sRGlIojmfC pic.twitter.com/PiPDJn9fZI
— Matt Navarra (@MattNavarra) January 9, 2023
• Rents are finally falling again across the country.
• The latest COVID-19 variant to start spreading widely has been dubbed “Kraken.” The new mutation is more likely to cause coldlike symptoms than more severe, flu-like symptoms.
• Magic mushrooms for eating disorders?
• Andrew Sullivan on what “the return of the evil gays” in entertainment says about the state of gay acceptance and rights. Despite some “reactionary moods” on both the left and right, “I remain pretty secure that the center is going to hold,” he writes. “And that’s the key context for the return of the trope of the evil gays — not as some terrible throwback, but as something we can now enjoy, laugh and talk about — and even celebrate — because we have effectively moved past the core political and legal struggle.”
• Yet another study suggests Russian meddling on social media did little to sway voters during the 2016 election.