Book Burning Goes Digital – Brownstone Institute 5/4/24


In March 2021, the Biden White House initiated a brazenly unconstitutional censorship campaign to prevent Americans from buying politically unfavorable books from Amazon.

The effort, spearheaded by White House censors including Andy Slavitt and Rob Flaherty, began on March 2, 2021, when Slavitt emailed Amazon demanding to speak to an executive about the site’s “high levels of propaganda and misinformation and disinformation.”

Their subsequent discussions remain unknown, but recently released emails from the House Judiciary Committee reveal that the censors achieved their intended result. Within a week, Amazon adopted a shadow ban policy.

Company officials wrote in internal emails, “The impetus for this request is criticism from the Biden administration about sensitive books we’re giving prominent placement to, and should be handled urgently.” They further clarified that the policy was “due to criticism from the Biden people,” presumably meaning Slavitt and Flaherty.

At the time, “vaccine misinformation” was parlance for inconvenient truths. Five months after the Amazon censorship crusade, Twitter banned Alex Berenson at the Government’s behest for noting that the shots do not prevent infection or transmission. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) favorably cited his Twitter ban in a September 2021 letter to Amazon calling for increased censorship of books.

A similar process occurred at Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg wrote in internal emails that the platform decided to ban claims related to the lab-leak theory in February 2021 after “tense conversations with the new Administration.” Facebook executive Nick Clegg similarly wrote that the censorship was due to “pressure from the [Biden] administration and others to do more.” Another internal Facebook email from August 2021 wrote that the company had implemented new “misinformation” policies “stemming from the continued criticism of our approach from the [Biden] administration.”

Not only does the Biden regime’s call for de facto book bans lead to the suppression of true information regarding lockdowns, vaccine injuries, and the lab-leak theory; it was also a clear violation of the First Amendment.

The Supreme Court weighed in on a nearly identical case over sixty years ago.

In 1956, the Rhode Island legislature created a “Rhode Island Commission to Encourage Morality in Youth.” Like “public health” or “inclusivity,” the innocuous language was a Trojan Horse for censorship.

The Commission sent notices to bookshops and book dealers that potentially violated Rhode Island’s obscenity laws. The book dealers challenged the constitutionality of the Commission, and the case made its way to the Supreme Court in Bantam Books v. Sullivan.

The New York Times’ description of the case from 1962 could be transposed to a modern article on the Amazon Files, but The Gray Lady has deemed the news unfit to print and has ignored the revelations entirely.

The challengers argued that the Commission acted “as a censor” while the Government “contended that its purpose was only to educate people,” the Times explained. The Government, desperate to maintain its benevolent facade, insisted its “hope [was] that the dealer would ‘cooperate’ by not selling the branded books and magazines.”

But the Government’s call for “cooperation” was a thinly veiled threat. The Commission did not just notify the booksellers; they also sent copies of the notices to the local police, who “always called dealers within 10 days of the notice to see whether the offending items had been withdrawn,” according to the book dealers.

“This procedure produced the desired effect of frightening off sale of the books deemed objectionable,” a book dealer told The Times. They complied, “not wanting to tangle with the law.”

The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that the Committee’s reports violated the Constitutional rights of the book dealers. Justice William O. Douglas wrote in a concurring opinion: “This is censorship in the raw; and in my view the censor and First Amendment rights are incompatible.”

Here, we again see censorship in the raw; bureaucratic thugs, using the power of the US federal government, call for the suppression of information that they find politically inconvenient. They hide behind the innocuous language of “public health” and “public-private partnerships,” but the Leviathan’s “requests” carry an implicit threat. …

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