“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” — Ben Franklin 

“Anything can happen if you let it.” — Mary Poppins 

I see how it is now. 

People love free speech, all right. But only when that speech is pleasing to their own ears. Everything else must be modified. Removed. Labeled as hateful and flung into the memory hole where it belongs. 

Too many Orwell references? You can hardly blame me. Joe Biden’s new Disinformation Governance Board is straight outta “1984.” It’s Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, where dubious government officials will decide what is truth and what is “disinformation.”

If you trust your government to make those decisions — if you’re one of those defending the creation of this new board because “something’s got to be done” — I don’t know what to say. May your chains rest lightly upon you.

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Do you not sense the slippery nature of the slope we stand upon? 

“There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power,” said James Madison, “than by violent and sudden usurpations.” 

Not everybody gets that. The idea that maybe “just a little bit of censorship” might be OK is catching on, and if you didn’t realize that before, the uproar over the Twitter sale should have opened your eyes. 

Let’s be clear: I’m not a fan of Elon Musk and I’m definitely not one who believes this billionaire technocrat is going to single-handedly save us from the doom of censorship. 

But Musk’s megalomaniacal move to buy Twitter did accomplish one significant thing: It showed the world just how passionate some folks are about the suppression of free speech. 

How many millions went into a full panic because they might lose the right to shut people up whenever they want to? 

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“I value free speech,” these people say, “but…” 

Politicians, academics and a grotesque number of journalists have been gasping and screeching and clutching at their pearls over this Musk business. The return of the free exchange of ideas on social media, to hear them tell it, will surely spell chaos. 

It’s hard to blame them when both the establishment and big media have been pushing these ideas for so long. 

The Atlantic published an article a few weeks ago announcing that when it comes to combating free speech, China has the right of it. 

“Significant monitoring and speech control are inevitable components of a mature and flourishing internet,” according to this article, written by a pair of college professors, “and governments must play a large role in these practices to ensure that the internet is compatible with a society’s norms and values.” 

Does that not make the hair on your head stand straight up? Here we have a pair of professors, tasked with shaping young minds, outright declaring that government ought to control our speech. For our own good, don’t you know. 

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A Time Magazine writer referred to freedom of speech as essentially a white man’s obsession, as though the desire for freedom to speak is confined to any one race. 

Biden tapped, for this dystopian new government board, a woman who has spent the bulk of her career deriding “First Amendment zealots” like myself. 

When Nina Jankowicz speaks of “free speech absolutists,” she speaks of them with disdain. 

“I shudder to think about if free speech absolutists were taking over more platforms,” she wrote, all atremble at the thought of Musk restoring a system of freely exchanged ideas on Twitter. 

Now she’s the head of a Homeland Security board whose mission, when you peel away all the feel-good rhetoric, will be to silence those with whom the government does not agree. 

Not scared yet? Consider the dark history of censorship.  

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At the height of communist power in the former Soviet Union, Stalin and his cronies had their Cheka, their KGB, their NKDV to keep the population in line by limiting what the people could read, what they could hear and what they could say. 

Joseph Goebbels and his fellow Nazis had their Propagandaministerium to keep the German people oblivious and silent. The Nazis turned censorship and propaganda into an art form, and they began with just small encroachments. 

Mao Zedong had such an agency for censorship, as well. Even as tens of millions were dying under his regime, the people of China couldn’t talk about it. Couldn’t discuss possible solutions or just rant to their neighbors. The People’s Republic of China STILL embraces censorship, and they crack down especially hard on speech over the internet. 

Are these the paths we want to follow? We Americans, who once valued our freedom of speech so highly, we put it at the very top of our Bill of Rights? 

And here, the more naive and stubborn will sniff dismissively. None of this matters, they say, because all of this only pertains to speech on the internet. But that argument — that First Amendment rights don’t extend beyond government control — is as facile as they come. 

For one thing, the U.S. government, with the creation of this board, has now inserted itself straight into the censorship fray and it has done so unabashedly. If government isn’t directly in bed with platforms like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, they’re definitely in the same room. 

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“The First Amendment was never the exclusive definition of free speech,” writes Jonathan Turley, a law professor, constitutional scholar and liberal columnist. “Free speech is viewed by many of us as a human right; the First Amendment only deals with one source for limiting it. Free speech can be undermined by private corporations as well as government agencies. This threat is even greater when politicians openly use corporations to achieve indirectly what they cannot achieve directly.” 

And if you STILL like the idea of this new government arm aiding in the crackdown of public discourse — if you’re on the left and just giddy about the thought of silencing those nasty conservatives, pause to think. What happens when the GOP is in power again? They’ll still have that board in place. Who gets censored then? 

But never make the mistake of thinking of this as a partisan issue. The issue here is one of people in power trying to suppress the speech of those of us who aren’t. This is about shutting people down if you don’t like what they have to say. 

Already I feel as though I’ve written too many words. It just SHOULDN’T take this much argument at all to explain why Biden’s disinformation board is a very, VERY bad idea. We don’t need Daddy Government moderating our conversations, on the internet or anywhere else. It is not the place of the government to decide what is and what is not misinformation. We do that for ourselves and always have. 

“This board, as a matter of constitutional principle, cannot and should not exist,” says conservative pundit Matt Christiansen, a fellow free speech zealot. “The government does not decide and enforce what is truth. The free battle of ideas does that. An erosion of that principle is an erosion of our country itself.” 

And who among us doesn’t feel that erosion coming already? Soaring fuel prices, food shortages like you read about, war moves by global superpowers . . . The world seems to be falling apart around us and, more than ever, we need to be able to talk freely about the bleak situation in which we find ourselves. 

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Even if you’re a dedicated Joe Biden fan and you like everything else he’s done, you should nonetheless recoil in disgust at the notion of government bureaucracy deciding what information we are to have access to. 

Call it “content modification” or any pretty thing you please, but don’t doubt that the creation of this board is a bad deal and an ominous sign of things to come. 

The answer to bad speech is more speech. I believe that with all of my heart. We are people, you and I, who can decide for ourselves what statements and assertions we value or don’t value in the marketplace of competing ideas. 

We don’t need Nina Jankowicz, the self-proclaimed “Mary Poppins of Disinformation,” or anyone else to decide for us. 

Don’t like what some bonehead wrote on Facebook? Do some research, prove him wrong and then take a victory lap.  

It’s your right and you should take pains to hang on to it. 

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