(Just the News) Two hundred and thirty-one years ago this month, America’s founders enshrined free speech as the first protection in the ratified Bill of Rights with a declaration that the government could not infringe expression. A series of blockbuster revelations at the end of 2022 show just how imperiled those protections have become in the era of Big Tech.

From Elon Musk’s “Twitter files” to an FBI agent’s candid testimony, Americans have gotten a glimpse into a once-hidden enterprise where federal agencies pressured social media platforms – directly and through proxies – to censor content under their terms of service. The goal, it appears, was to preserve the ruling elite’s favored narratives on everything from the pandemic to election integrity.

The exposés have undercut claims that the FBI only targeted foreign disinformation, making clear that everyday opinions of Americans were also in the crosshairs. They also have raised alarm across the political spectrum about the future of free speech in the world’s most famous constitutional republic.

“We’ve entered into this period of American history where the range of permissible thought and speech has so narrowed that if you depart from it at all you are, you’re labeled, you are censored, and you are silenced,” retired Democrat Sen. Robert Torricelli told Just the News earlier this month. “It’s incredibly dangerous.”

“And the odd thing about it is the very institutions which have been the safeguard of American free thought and speech — American universities, think tanks, the media — are the worst offenders,” he added.

The FBI is defending itself by saying it did not order social media firms to censor content, and instead just suggested posts that the bureau believed violated the platform’s services. It called those who question the bureau’s censorship activities conspiracy theorists.

“The men and women of the FBI work every day to protect the American public. It is unfortunate that conspiracy theorists and others are feeding the American public misinformation with the sole purpose of attempting to discredit the agency,” it said.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said he was troubled by the bureau’s dismissive response, calling for a new Church Committee like the one empaneled by Congress in the 1970s to investigate the bureau’s misdeeds a half century ago,

“After Watergate, there was bipartisan support for reforming the FBI and intelligence agencies. Today, that cacophony of voices has been replaced by crickets, as much of the media imposes another effective blackout on coverage of the Twitter Files,” Turley wrote in an op-ed in The Hill newspaper. “This media silence suggests that the FBI found the ‘sweet spot’ on censorship, supporting the views of the political and media establishment.”