The “Twitter Files” released by new CEO Elon Musk have set the internet ablaze. They cast new light on the sketchy coordination between Twitter and Democratic political operatives that ultimately resulted in the platform’s bizarre decision to censor a huge New York Post story about the Biden family right before the 2020 election. But there’s one, so far largely overlooked, bright spot that emerged from this story: We apparently still have one Democrat in Congress who’s fighting for free speech.
The Twitter Files revealed that congressman Ro Khanna, a progressive California Democrat, wrote to Twitter during the censorship scandal and warned the company that what it was doing violated the spirit of the First Amendment (which doesn’t legally bind Twitter) and free speech principles.
“This seems a violation of First Amendment principles,” Khanna wrote in an email to Twitter executives that was published by journalist Matt Taibbi. “I say this as a total Biden partisan and convinced he didn’t do anything wrong. But the story has now become more about censorship than relatively innocuous emails and it’s become a bigger deal than it would have been. In the heat of a presidential campaign, restricting dissemination of newspaper articles (even if NY Post is far right) seems like it will invite more backlash than it will do good.”
According to Taibbi, who reported the first batch of the Twitter Files, Khanna was the only Democrat who contacted Twitter to push back on its big censorship decision.
30. In one humorous exchange on day 1, Democratic congressman Ro Khanna reaches out to Gadde to gently suggest she hop on the phone to talk about the “backlash re speech.” Khanna was the only Democratic official I could find in the files who expressed concern. pic.twitter.com/TSSYOs5vfy
— Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi) December 3, 2022
For this, the California congressman, as progressive as he may otherwise be, deserves tremendous credit. Not only is he absolutely right on the merits — the New York Post story has since been confirmed, and a major newspaper ought never to be censored from sharing its reporting — but Khanna took this stand even though it cut against his party’s interests and even though free speech is increasingly out of favor among Democrats. And he did it when no one was looking, never expecting his efforts to be publicly acknowledged or celebrated. All of that is truly commendable.
Free speech should be a bipartisan issue. In fact, it must be. Because if only one side of the political aisle believes in free speech, it’s not long for this world. It’ll end up swept into the usual partisan warfare and be slowly eroded over time. And before you know it, we’ll have normalized the kind of censorship that regularly occurs even in other “free” Western nations, such as the United Kingdom, that do not have a robust culture of free speech.
If we want to avoid that fate, we need leaders on both sides to stand up for free expression. Not just when it’s popular. And not just for their own side. Kudos to Ro Khanna for doing just that.