Latest GOP senator to cry 'censorship' thinks the government controls Google

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Ron Johnson is the latest Republican to equate tech companies restricting posted content with government censorship of conservative views.

A GOP senator whose misinformation-filled hearing on treatments for COVID-19 was removed from its platform by YouTube penned an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday claiming the removal of the video amounted to "censorship."

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin joins a long list of Republican lawmakers who have attacked private tech companies for enforcing their own rules about what can be posted on their platforms.

In the piece, titled, "YouTube Cancels the U.S. Senate," Johnson wrote that the Google-owned platform had "ratcheted up censorship to a new level by removing two videos from a U.S. Senate committee."

"The censors at YouTube have decided for all of us that the American public shouldn't be able to hear what senators heard," Johnson charged. "They have decided there is only one medical viewpoint allowed, and it is the viewpoint dictated by government agencies. Government-sanctioned censorship of ideas and speech should frighten us all."

The two videos were from a widely-criticized hearing Johnson held in December as chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during which witnesses touted unproven and disproven COVID-19 treatments, including the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, despite objections from Senate Democrats and numerous public health experts.

The American public has had ample opportunity to hear the misinformation, as it streamed on the committee's website and remains viewable there.

YouTube is a private company and is thus not governed by the First Amendment's general prohibition on the government "abridging the freedom of speech." In May, the company implemented its "COVID-19 Medical Misinformation Policy" according to which "content that spreads medical misinformation that contradicts local health authorities' or the World Health Organization's (WHO) medical information about COVID-19" will be removed from the platform. After three violations, the policy notes, "your channel will be terminated."

Johnson is hardly the only congressional Republican to equate tech companies restricting posted content with government censorship of conservative views.

"Far too many conservative voices have been silenced by tech companies, and we must fight to preserve the First Amendment," Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina tweeted on Jan. 1.

On Jan. 4, Rep. Kat Cammack of Florida claimed that Democrats were somehow "harnessing the power of Big Tech to decide what's fact vs. fiction, unleashing their censors as the arbiters of truth. What happened to the First Amendment? Didn't the Democrats use the Constitution for swearing-in yesterday?"

North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn announced on Jan. 12 that he was co-sponsoring legislation "to demand First Amendment protections be applied to big tech platforms!" 

Rep. Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania made the false claim that President Joe Biden had taken down Parler, a social media app popular among followers of Donald Trump, and that the government was trying to take away free speech.

Last week, the New York Post, the nation's fourth-largest newspaper, published an opinion piece written by Sen. John Hawley of Missouri in which he claimed he was being "censored" after Simon & Schuster canceled a book deal with him for his statements and actions that helped incite the attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters on Jan. 6.

"This could not be more Orwellian," he said, vowing to sue the "woke mob" at the company for its "direct assault on the First Amendment."

Rep. Brian Babin of Texas launched what he called a "petition" on Saturday, tweeting, "Big Tech wants to demolish our First Amendment rights and national security" and asking Twitter users to sign it, thereby giving his campaign their contact information: "Sign the petition today if you think big tech is silencing conservatives and let's hold these companies accountable!"

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.