Governments are using media organizations as proxies in an effort to control the information citizens can get from the Internet, says former MI5 officer Annie Machon. The fake war against fake news is predicated on a big lie, she added.
RT has been blocked from posting content to its Facebook page during the live broadcast of Barack Obama’s final news conference over an alleged copyright infringement.
The suspension was triggered by one of the social network’s algorithms, which is alerted according to what’s being submitted.
RT has a contract with the Associated Press and streamed a news feed. The agency has confirmed RT had the right to retransmit the video, so the problem must lie with Facebook.
The head of Russia’s telecoms watchdog is warning of “active response measures” if RT’s work is restricted by the American media or the social networks.
Facebook has not replied to inquiries, and the restrictions on posting remain.
RT: The news outlet was mentioned as triggering a Facebook alert and says it’s not them. So just how sensitive has Facebook’s media clampdown tool become?
Annie Machon: I think this is the first blow in Facebook’s self-proclaimed war against so-called fake news. Both Facebook and Google in the wake of the shadowy PropOrNot list of 200 news organizations around the world that are supposedly peddling fake news, but actually just offering an alternative to the corporate US media, and RT was included in that. Facebook and Google in the aftermath said that they would start to censor all these outlets. I think that is what we are seeing with Facebook now is that they are using the excuse of copyright to censor legitimate news channel and stop them from covering a world event that the rest of the world is going to watch without any problem on other channels.
RT: At the World Economic Forum in Davos the Facebook representative said that their organization is dedicated, as they put it, to tackling so-called fake news and the whole phenomenon that we’ve heard of lately. Do you think this is part of that?
AM: I think it is part of that. And it is not just Facebook and Google who said they are going to take on the so-called fake news. It is also the European Union who issued a diktat last November saying that they were going to set up a body to counter fake news. We see countries like France and Germany already peddling this idea that there is going to be hacking and counter-democratic activity in the run up to their elections this year. So, they are using this. But I think it is interesting to see that the copyright has been used as a pretext for this censorship. I’ve been saying for years that the media organizations are being used by the governments as proxy organizations in terms of trying to control the information we can ingest over the internet and the information we can actually access over the internet.
RT: The suspension is imposed ahead of Trump’s inauguration and won’t be lifted until the day after it. What do you make of that? Is it a coincidence?
AM: Absolutely not. It is a first blow in the so-called battle – fake battle against fake news. And let’s just remind ourselves how this so-called concept of fake started. Somehow information was leaked from the DNC last year and the people who received that information, WikiLeaks said very clearly it was not a hack, it was actually a leak. And yet the corporate media in America has said again, “No, this was Russia hacking the DNC.” And then somehow it became Russia hacking the American elections, Russia hacking voting computers, Russia hacking the energy grid in America. None of this has been proven. Some of it has been actively proven to be false. But when Obama expelled the 35 Russian diplomats from America back to Russia before Christmas, that sort of solidified as fact that the Russians had done something wrong. There is no proof whatsoever. So this fake war against fake news is predicated on a big lie.
I think there are strings have been pulled in the background, shall we say. Particularly, in America. And the big media and internet corporations in America have been proven year after year to be very much in bed with the US state and with the US secret state. We know this of course because of the revelations of Edward Snowden. You know, all the big social media giants signed up to allow access to their databases by the secret agencies in America, starting with Microsoft back in 2006. We know that they are complicit; we know that they have been compromised. So, who can tell where this is going to go. There is a sort of all-out fight between the president-elect anyways and his so-called intelligence agencies.
RT: The original source mentioned as alerting Facebook denies it raised a copyright flag. AP confirmed RT had the rights for transmission. Facebook is the only entity yet to answer. Why isn’t it being more pro-active to remedy this considering this being a pretty big media news?
Chris Bambery, political analyst: It is pretty big media news, and I am really puzzled. Donald Trump is about to become President, and he is painted by much of the world’s media and spy agencies as being President Putin’s chum. And yet there is this continuing escalation of the Cold War with Russia, even hours before Trump is elected. Facebook is a giant American transnational. It is not known for its own transparency over these things. It does lead one to suspect that there are sections of our US elite who really do not like Donald Trump and want to create difficulties between the incoming presidency and Russia.
RT: RT’s troubles with Facebook come a day after the online news alert service Dataminr refused to renew our contract with them. That stems back to the CIA also being denied access and saying the same should apply to RT claiming we’re tied to Russian intelligence. Is that the real reason, do you think?
CB: On that basis, if you are being blocked because you receive state funding, the BBC World service is funded by the British Foreign Office, so why would that not be blocked? And I am sure Radio Free Europe and various other outlets have received funding from the American state. So, if that is to be criteria than a lot of leading news agencies would be off social media, and off air. This is going to feed into the conspiracy theories because it is so bizarre and strange.
Well, the biggest fake news story I’ve seen was the so-called dossier about Donald Trump, and they didn’t seem to be blocking that, which was all over Facebook. Again, I find it rather strange.
The latest mantra of CIA-linked media since the “Pizzagate” leaks of data alleging that Hillary Clinton Campaign Manager John Podesta and other highly influential political persons in Washington were connected to an unusual pizza place near the White House run by a 41-year old James Achilles Alefantis called Comet Ping Pong, is the need to crack down (i.e. censorship) on what is being called “Fake News.” The latest step in this internet censorship drive is a decision by the murky social media organization called Facebook to hire special organizations to determine if Facebook messages are pushing Fake News or not. Now it comes out that the “fact check” private organizations used by Facebook are tied to the CIA and CIA-related NGO’s including George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.
In the last weeks of the US Presidential campaign, Wikileaks released a huge number of emails linked to Clinton Campaign Manager, John Podesta. The contents of thousands of emails revealed detailed exchanges between Podesta and the oddly-influential Comet Ping Pong pizza place owner, Alefantis, as well as the Clinton campaign, which held fundraisers at Comet Ping Pong.
The Pizzagate scandal exploded in the final weeks of the US campaign as teams of private researchers documented and posted Facebook, Instagram and other data suggesting that Alefantis and Comet Ping Pong were at the heart of a pedophilia ring that implicated some of the most prominent politicians in Washington and beyond.
The New York Times and Washington Post moved swiftly to assert that the Pizzagate revelations were Fake News, quoting “anonymous sources” who supposedly said the CIA “believed” Russia was behind hackers who exposed emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta. Former NSA senior intelligence expert William Binney claimed the Podesta and Clinton campaign data were leaked, not hacked. The NSA, he pointed out, would immediately identify a hack, especially a foreign hack, and they have remained silent.
The uncovering and release to Wikileaks of the Podesta emails were immediately blamed on Russian intelligence by the CIA, and now by the US President, with not a shred of proof, and despite the fact that NSA. Wikipedia, whose content is often manipulated by US intelligence agencies, rapidly posted a page with the curious title, “Pizzagate (Conspiracy Theory).”
To make certain the neutral interested reader gets the message, the first line reads, “Pizzagate is a debunked conspiracy theory which emerged during the 2016 United States presidential election cycle, alleging that John Podesta’s emails, which were leaked by WikiLeaks, contain coded messages referring to human trafficking, and connecting a number of pizzerias in Washington, D.C. and members of the Democratic Party to a child-sex ring.”
‘Fake News’ Mantra Begins
My purpose in mentioning Pizzagate details is not to demonstrate the authenticity of the Pizzagate allegations. That others are doing with far more resources. Rather, it is to point out the time synchronicity of the explosive Pizzagate email releases by Julian Assange’s Wikileaks web blog, with the launch of a massive mainstream media and political campaign against what is now being called “Fake News.”
The cited New York Times article that Wikipedia cites as “debunking” the Pizzagate allegations states, “None of it was true. While Mr. Alefantis has some prominent Democratic friends in Washington and was a supporter of Mrs. Clinton, he has never met her, does not sell or abuse children, and is not being investigated by law enforcement for any of these claims. He and his 40 employees had unwittingly become real people caught in the middle of a storm of fake news.” The article contains not one concrete proof that the allegations are false, merely quoting Alefantis as the poor victim of malicious Fake News.
That New York Times story was accompanied by a series of articles such as “How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study.” Another headline reads, “Obama, With Angela Merkel in Berlin, Assails Spread of Fake News.” Then on November 19, strong Clinton supporter, Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg is quoted in a prominent article titled, “Facebook Considering Ways to Combat Fake News, Mark Zuckerberg Says.”
Facebook uses CIA Censors
Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of the world-leading social media site, Facebook.com, the world’s 5th wealthiest man at an estimated $50 billion, has now established a network of “Third Party Fact Checkers” whose job is to red flag any Facebook message of the estimated one billion people using the site, with a prominent warning that reads, “Disputed by Third-Party Fact Checkers.”
Facebook has announced that it is taking its censorship ques from something called The International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). This IFCN, a new creation, has drafted a code of five principles for news websites to accept, and Facebook will work with “third-party fact checking organizations” that are signatories to that code of principles.
If we search under the name International Fact-Checking Network, we find ourselves at the homepage of something called the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.
OK. If we look a bit deeper we find that the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network in turn, as its website states, gets money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, the National Endowment for Democracy, the Omidyar Network, the Open Society Foundations of George Soros.
Oh my, oh my! Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation who partners with Soros in numerous nasty projects such as convincing African countries to accept Genetically Modified or GMO seeds? Google, whose origins date back to funding by the CIA and NSA as what intelligence researcher Nafeez Ahmed describes as a “plethora of private sector start-ups co-opted by US intelligence to retain ‘information superiority‘ “?
The Omidyar Foundation is the foundation of eBay founder and multi billionaire, Pierre Omidyar, which finances among other projects the online digital publication, The Intercept, launched in 2014 by Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill.
And the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the US Government-financed “private” NGO behind every Color Revolution CIA regime change from the Ukraine Color Revolutions to the Arab Spring? The NED was a CIA project created in the 1980’s during the Reagan Administration as part of privatizing US intelligence dirty operations, to do, as Allen Weinstein, who drafted the Congressional legislation to establish the NED, noted in a candid 1991 Washington Post interview, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”
And if we dig even deeper we find, lo and behold, the name George Soros, convicted hedge fund insider trader, tax-exempt philanthropist and giga-billionaire who seems to fund not only Hillary Clinton and virtually every CIA and US State Department Color Revolution from Russia to China to Iran through his network of Open Society Foundations including the 1990’s Jeffrey Sachs Shock Therapy plunder of Russia and most of former Communist East Europe.
Another one of the media working with Zuckerberg’s Facebook censorship of Fake News is the Washington Post, today owned by Amazon billionaire founder Jeff Bezos. Bezos is a major media business partner of…. The US Central Intelligence Agency, a fact he omitted to inform about after taking over ownership of the most important newspaper in Washington.
Bezos’ Washington Post recently published a bizarre list of 200 websites it claimed generated Fake News. It refused to identify who gave them the list. Veteran Washington investigative reporter, Wayne Madsen, exposed the source of the McCarthy-style taboo list of so-called Fake News. It was a “website called PropOrNot.com that has links to the CIA and George Soros.”
It’s not merely the Pizzagate revelations that have triggered such a massive attack on independent Internet websites. It seems that back in January 2014 at the Davos World Economic Forum control of information on the Internet was a top item of discussion. At the time, Madsen noted, “With the impending demise of World Wide Web ‘net neutrality,’ which has afforded equal access for website operators to the Internet, the one percent of billionaire investors are busy positioning themselves to take over total control of news reporting on the Internet.”
It’s not even the foxes who are guarding the Internet Henhouse. It’s the werewolves of CIA and US Government censorship. Whether the explosive Pizzagate Podesta revelations merely triggered a dramatic acceleration in the timetable for the CIA’s planned “Fake News” operation as the successor to their 1980’s “Conspiracy Theory” linguistic discrediting operation, it’s clear this is no unbiased, objective, transparent public service to protect the Internet public from harmful content.
And, besides, who are they to tell me or you what you are allowed to read, digest and form your independent ideas about? This is a 21st Century reincarnation of the Spanish Inquisition, one by the real fake newsmakers–Washington Post, AP, ABCNews, Snopes.com, FactCheck.org, the CIA and friends. I would say it’s an alarming development of cyber warfare, not by Russia, but by those CIA-run networks that are fomenting Fake News to demonize any and everyone who opposes Washington intelligence propaganda.
News that Google, Microsoft, and Facebook will collaborate to censor their definition of terrorism on their collective networks signals Orwellian times to come. New EU legislation, hints at McCarthyism in America and Europe, and the proven collusion in between Silicon Valley and governments should signal a counter-revolution. Here’s a look at why.
A couple of years ago my colleagues and I helped uncovered a Ukraine “kill list” supported by NATO, the British Embassy in Ukraine, and by neo-Nazis bent on condemning pro-Russians in the Ukraine civil war. The so-called “Peacekeeper” movement was traced to NATO servers in 2015. Since that time we have all witnessed a dizzying barrage of lies, propaganda, and a controlled message of unprecedented scale. WikiLeaks revelations from the Clinton and Podesta files showed the world the depth of collusion, graft, and draconian measures on behalf of the elites in control of western society. Google and the others as tools of the security machine cannot be controverted. And now the same people who tried to buy the presidency of the United States, who fueled the Arab Spring, ISIL, the refugee crisis, the economic crisis, and endless war, they’re out to close the gates on a billion free people. Twitter’s blog post from yesterday gives us the underpublicized announcement.
“Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube are coming together to help curb the spread of terrorist content online. There is no place for content that promotes terrorism on our hosted consumer services. When alerted, we take swift action against this kind of content in accordance with our respective policies.”
For those users of these networks who are not so aware, this disguised censoring apparatus probably seems as harmless and positively idealistic as Google’s “Do no evil” dogma from bygone years. Disguised as an anti-terror collaboration, this latest Orwellian move by the establishment is nothing of the kind. WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange explains the extraordinary role of Google, Google Ideas, and other contravening evidence here, on the WikiLeaks site. For those who may remain unconvinced, Assange laid out how Google’s Eric Schmidt and Google Ideas Director Jared Cohen, helped plan for just such collaborations as we see today:
“Democratic states that have built coalitions of their militaries have the capacity to do the same with their connection technologies. . . . They offer a new way to exercise the duty to protect citizens around the world.”
Normally I would lay out all the evidence and analysis on these points here, but there is no necessity for this now. All the reader needs to understand is the underlying warning, some main characters in this power play, and the immediacy with which we should address this situation. Now I shall enumerate.
US President Barack Obama and German Chanellor Angela Merkel’s last meeting in Berlin opened several dark corridors. Advising President-elect Donald Trump to “adhere” was one provocative note, the forthcoming “Fake News” business another. But the most telling rhetoric came in the form of Obama revealing the ultimate misinformation and strategy. This segment tells us Merkel and Obama were in war mode with Russia all along:
“We work very closely together on the issue of annexation of Crimea and Russia’s attempt to actually conquer Ukraine. And actually they did so — conquered part of the territory. We tried to come to a peaceful settlement here on this.” (WH)
Some days after the Berlin meetup, the European Parliament passed two controversial pieces of legislation. First, the MEPs in Strassbourg paved the way for creating an EU Army. Second, the same parliamentarians voted in a so-called collective anti-propaganda legislation that would essentially allow these same leaders to track down and silence anyone with a view outside their definitions of normal. The fast forwarded strategy to control news and messaging is in fever pitch now, as Germany’s chancellor and America’s president warning of “Fake News”, and CNN along with other owned media repeat the propaganda. CBS Interactive chimed in to bolster the mainstream’s sagging credibility, and to foster the social media corporation cooperation we see today.
The danger is clear. The players are known. Ignorance of the facts will end in dire repressions of freedom and heightened crisis. I contribute to a dozen or more of the independent media sites already targeted. Sputnik, RT, NEO, Global Research, and some others feature my analysis or reports, and I am not nearly alone. Those of us with some prowess on Facebook and the other social media networks will also become targets, I have no doubt. For my part, I am not so concerned. I helped in a meaningful way to evangelize and to develop much of the social and tech landscape you see. I am horrified for the greater implications of these moves though. Facebook’s stockholders, Microsoft’s, Twitter’s, should weigh carefully the audience here. I want to end this report on a meaningful note. So here is my best plea for you to understand the lie before you.
Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and YouTube are pretending, and here is the perfect evidence. While these social corporations contend the coming moves against “extremism” are based in altruism and correctness, the truth is revealed in their past actions. The best example I can give is the case of one Nedā Āghā-Soltān. Some will recall the outrage over a YouTube video showing a young Iranian woman dying in front of the camera. Shot by a sniper, the beautiful young philosophy student bled to death before our eyes. The video depicted death in its horrific finality, injustice in its banal cruelty, and more importantly the indecency the Internet has come to represent. For my part the nightmarish and soul darkening vision of life draining from this woman troubled my sleep. Make no mistake, I have seen death many times before, but never catalogued so intrusively. In the end, despite a fairly vast outcry to remove the video, Google refused. The political aspects of Neda’s death took over, the viral nature of the death on Twitter and YouTube was actually promoted, for many robbing her of her last moments was a sin. Now few raise a voice at even the most horrific scenes, and this was by design.
We are desensitized to nearly everything now. Few even know what to believe, so most believe whatever is shown them, at least on some passive level. The life draining from a young student, a man holding his child, the baby’s skull blown apart – it’s just one more dead child – heaped onto a mountain of dead children in far off places. Gaza running red with blood, the Donbass children riddled with shrapnel, dethroned leaders hung, make believe villains with bayonets stabbed into their rectums in Libya, laughing hyena presidential candidates bragging about murdering – and right now the Silicon Valley stock market is going to protect us? No, my friends, the gatekeepers are shutting down democracy, or at least trying to. When the purpose serves them, the next step will finally stun the world into recognition. I only hope we can stop them before.
Facebook may entrust a third party with verifying content to stop so-called ‘fake news’ from spreading, its head said in a post. The social network, which is many people’s primary source of news, has recently been criticized for spreading misinformation.
Outgoing US President Barack Obama launched the war on ‘fake news’ last week, complaining that it may have had an adverse effect on the presidential election. He claimed that social media hosts “much active misinformation” that “looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television.”
There is speculation that fake news about presidential candidates may have played a considerable role in swaying the minds of voters who ultimately elected Republican Donald Trump. Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg initially dismissed the notion as “pretty crazy,” but this week Facebook and Google both said they would change their ad policies to prevent fake news websites from using their systems.
In a Friday post, Zuckerberg gave an update on how his network is planning to fight misinformation.
“Historically, we have relied on our community to help us understand what is fake and what is not,” he said, explaining that the reporting mechanism already in place on the site fights fake news along with clickbait, spam, and scams.
This may be not enough to combat inaccurate news content, however, so Facebook is considering engaging “trusted third parties” to filter out fake news.
Another possible approach would be to have Facebook police itself, which would mean installing “better technical systems to detect what people will flag as false before they do it themselves,” the FB head said.
Links to news stories classified by the network as untruthful would be flagged as fake for people trying to share or read them, according to Zuckerberg.
False stories circulating on Facebook during America’s presidential election campaign included one claiming that anchor Megyn Kelly had been fired from Fox News, another alleging an FBI agent involved in the Clinton investigation had been murdered, and even an announcement that the Pope had endorsed Trump.
In a surreal and stunning example of 21st century propaganda and censorship, Google has cobbled together a coalition it is calling “First Draft” to tackle what it calls “misinformation online.”
First Draft’s “founding partners” include News Corporation’s (parent company of Fox News) Storyful and NATO think tank Atlantic Council’s Bellingcat blog, headed by formally unemployed social worker Eliot Higgins who now fashions himself as a weapons expert and geopolitical analyst despite no formal training, practical real-world experience or track record of honest, unbiased reporting. In fact, between News Corporation and Bellingcat alone, Google’s First Draft appears to be itself a paragon of, and nexus for “misinformation online.”
Google’s Glaring Conflicts of Interest
Google too, having for years now worked closely with the US State Department, faces its own conflicts of interest in “social newsgathering and verification.” In fact, Google has admittedly been involved in engineering intentional deceptions aimed specifically to skew public perception, including doctoring its maps and Google Earth in real-time amid conflicts in favor of US-backed militant groups and through the development of applications designed to psychologically target the Syrian government into capitulating before US-backed militant groups.
The UK Independent in its article, “Google planned to help Syrian rebels bring down Assad regime, leaked Hillary Clinton emails claim,” would report that:
An interactive tool created by Google was designed to encourage Syrian rebels and help bring down the Assad regime, Hillary Clinton’s leaked emails have reportedly revealed.
By tracking and mapping defections within the Syrian leadership, it was reportedly designed to encourage more people to defect and ‘give confidence’ to the rebel opposition.
The article would continue:
The email detailing Google’s defection tracker purportedly came from Jared Cohen, a Clinton advisor until 2010 and now-President of Jigsaw, formerly known as Google Ideas, the company’s New York-based policy think tank.
In a July 2012 email to members of Clinton’s team, which the WikiLeaks release alleges was later forwarded to the Secretary of State herself, Cohen reportedly said: “My team is planning to launch a tool on Sunday that will publicly track and map the defections in Syria and which parts of the government they are coming from.”
Cohen would conclude:
“Our logic behind this is that while many people are tracking the atrocities, nobody is visually representing and mapping the defections, which we believe are important in encouraging more to defect and giving confidence to the opposition.”
Can Google then be relied upon to sort out “misinformation online” if it itself is directly involved in manipulating public perception to achieve US foreign policy objectives? To impartial observers, the answer is clearly “no.”
First Draft would publish on its website a post titled, “Social networks unite with global newsrooms to take action against misinformation online,” adding further details behind the alleged rationale of the coalition. It would state:
Today, news breaks online. Today, the first images to emerge from a breaking news event have been captured by an eyewitness. Today, injustices that may never have been reported become global news stories because a bystander reached for their smartphone. Today, malicious hoaxes and fake news reports are published in increasingly convincing and sophisticated ways.
We live in a time when trust and truth are issues that all newsrooms, and increasingly the social platforms themselves, are facing. In July, the Guardian’s Editor-in-Chief Katharine Viner wrote about the ways technology is disrupting the truth, explaining “in the news feed on your phone, all stories look the same – whether they come from a credible source or not.” Filtering out false information can be hard. Even if news organisations only share fact-checked and verified stories, everyone is a publisher and a potential source.
The members that constitute the First Draft coalition, however, have enjoyed an uncontested monopoly for decades in determining just what the “truth” actually is, as well as a monopoly over propagating things the global public now know for a fact were “untruths.” Again, we see another case of the proverbial fox guarding the hen house.
The Liars Who Lied About WMDs in Iraq Will Protect Us from Liars Online?
Indeed, many of the organizations that constitute First Draft’s coalition played a pivotal role in perhaps the most destructive and costly lie of the 21st century (to date), that involving alleged “weapons of mass destruction” or “WMDs” in Iraq, serving as the pretext for the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
According to some estimates, up to a million perished in the initial invasion and subsequent occupation. More conservative estimates are still in the hundreds of thousands.
Undoubtedly, the invasion, justified by lies propagated across the entirety of US and European media, helped trigger a predictable chain of catastrophes that have left the Middle East to this day in conflict and ruination. These same US and European media organizations, the same ones now signing their names to First Draft, also helped justify the continued presence of US troops in Iraq for years after the invasion, up to and including today.
And the same names signed on to First Draft are also the same names who helped sell the disastrous intervention in Libya and who are now attempting to sell yet another direct Western military intervention in Syria.
And it is perhaps the lack of success these same names are having in selling this most recent potential intervention in Syria that has precipitated First Draft’s creation in the first place.
There is a burgeoning alternative media composed of individual independent journalists, analysts and commentators both biased and impartial, both professional and amateur, competing directly with and overcoming the West’s longstanding monopoly over international public perception. There is also the emergence of professional and competitive national media organizations across the developing world who are taking increasingly large shares of both the West’s media monopoly and its monopoly over the public’s trust.
It is clear that First Draft has no intention of protecting the truth as none among its membership have done so until now individually, but rather in collectively protecting what the special interests behind these organizations want the global public to believe is the truth. First Draft is a desperate measure taken by Western special interests to reassert the West’s dominance over global public perception by leveraging the widely used social media platforms it controls, including Facebook and Twitter, as well as IT giant Google and its large range of services and applications.
In the end, all that First Draft is likely to accomplish is convincing the developing world of the necessity of creating domestic alternatives to Facebook, Google and Twitter, as well as to continue expanding their own domestic media organizations to better represent their respective national interests upon the global stage and to dilute the dangerous and destructive media monopoly the West has enjoyed and abused for decades.
Until the members of First Draft can cite a lie told by their competitors that is as destructive and as costly as their own lies preceding and underpinning the invasion and occupation of Iraq or the more recent destruction of Libya, their efforts appear more as a means of further deflecting away from the truth, not defending it.
Manipulation of public perception has risen to a new level with the emergence of powerful social media. Facebook, Twitter and Google are multibillion dollar corporate giants hugely influencing public understanding. Social media campaigns include paid ‘boosting’ of Facebook posts, paid promotion of Tweets, and biased results from search engines. Marketing and advertising companies use social media to promote their clients. U.S. foreign policy managers hire these companies to influence public perception to support U.S. foreign policy goals. For example, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made sure that Twitter was primed for street protests in Iran following the 2009 election. She insured that Twitter was ready to spread and manage news of protests following the election and strange killing of a young woman. (p 423, Hard Choices hardback).
The results of media manipulation can be seen in the widespread misunderstanding of the conflict in Syria. One element of propaganda around Syria is the demonization of the Syrian government and leadership. Influenced by the mainstream and much alternative media, most in the West do not know that Bashar al Assad is popular with most Syrians. There were three contestants in the Syrian presidential election of June 2014. Turnout was 73% of the registered voters, with 88% voting for Assad. In Beirut, the streets were clogged with tens of thousands of Syrian refugees marching through the city to vote at the Syrian Embassy. Hundreds of Syrian citizens from the USA and other western countries flew to Syria to vote because Syrian Embassies in Washington and other western capitals were shut down. While John Kerry was condemning the Syrian election as a “farce” before it had even happened, a marketing company known as The Syria Campaign waged a campaign to block knowledge of the Syrian election. Along with demonizing President Assad, they launched a campaign which led to Facebook censoring information about the Syrian election.
The Syria Campaign was created by a larger company named “Purpose”. According to their own website they “incubated” The Syria Campaign.
The major achievement of The Syria Campaign has been the branding and promotion of the “White Helmets”. The “White Helmets”, also known as “Syria Civil Defense”, began with a British military contractor, James LeMesurier, giving some rescue training to Syrians in Turkey. Funding was provided by the US and UK. They appropriated the name from a real Syria Civil Defense.
The “White Helmets” are marketed in the West as civilian volunteers doing rescue work. On 22 September 2016 it was announced that the Right Livelihood Award, the so called “Alternative Nobel Prize”, is being given to the US/UK created White Helmets “for their outstanding bravery, compassion and humanitarian engagement in rescuing civilians from the destruction of the Syrian civil war.”
The Right Livelihood organizers may come to regret their selection of the White Helmets because the group is not who they claim to be. In fact, the White Helmets are largely a propaganda tool promoting western intervention against Syria. Unlike a legitimate rescue organization such as the Red Cross or Red Crescent, the “White Helmets” only work in areas controlled by the armed opposition. As shown in this video, the White Helmets pick up the bodies of individuals executed by the terrorists, they claim to be unarmed but are not, and they falsely claim to be neutral. Many of the videos from AlQaeda/terrorist dominated areas of Syria have the “White Helmets” logo because the White Helmets work in alliance with them. This primarily is a media marketing tool to raise public support for continuing the support to the armed opposition as well as the demonization of the Syrian government.
The Rights Livelihood press release says the White Helmets “remain outspoken in calling for an end to hostilities in the country.” That is false. The White Helmets actively call for US/NATO intervention through a “No Fly Zone” which would begin with attacks and destruction of anti-aircraft positions. Taking over the skies above another country is an act of war as confirmed by US General Dempsey. The White Helmets have never criticized or called for the end of funding to extremist organizations including Nusra/AlQaeda. On the contrary, White Helmets is generally embedded with this organization which is defined as “terrorist” by even the USA. That is likely why the head of the White Helmets, Raed Saleh, was denied entry to the USA.
The foreign and marketing company origins of the White Helmets was exposed over one and a half years ago. Since then, Vanessa Beeley has revealed the organization in more depth in articles such as “Who Are the White Helmets?” and “War by Way of Deception“.
Despite these exposes, understanding of the White Helmets is limited. Many liberal and progressive people have uncritically accepted the propaganda and misinformation around Syria. Much of the progressive media has effectively blocked or censored critical examinations amid a flood of propaganda about “barrel bombs” dropped by the ‘brutal dictator” and his “regime”.
In the last week, Netflix started showing a 40 minute documentary movie about the “White Helmets”. It is actually a promotion video. A substantial portion of it takes place in Turkey where we see trainees in hotel rooms making impassioned phone calls to inquire about their family in Syria. The “family values” theme is evident throughout. It’s a good marketing angle, especially effective with females. The political message of the video is also clear: after a bombing attack “It’s the Russians …. they say they are fighting ISIS but they are targeting civilians”. The movie includes video previously promoted by the White Helmets such as the “Miracle Baby” rescue. It’s debatable whether this incident is real or staged. The video includes self promoting proclamations such as “You are real heroes”. While no doubt there are some real rescues in the midst of war, many of the videos purporting to show the heroes at work have an unrealistic and contrived look to them as revealed here.
“Alternative media” in the West has sadly echoed mainstream media regarding the Syria conflict. The result is that many progressive individuals and groups are confused or worse. For example, the activist group CodePink recently issued a media release promoting the Netflix White Helmets propaganda video.
The White Helmets video is produced by Grain Media and Violet Films/Ultra-Violet Consulting. The latter advertises itself as a marketing corporation specializing in social media management, grant writing, crowd building and campaign implementation. The only question is who paid them to produce this video.
There is growing resistance to this manipulation and deception. In response to a petition to give the Nobel Peace Prize to the White Helmets, there is a counter petition at Change.org. The Right Livelihood Awards have just been announced and there will soon be a petition demanding retraction of the award to the White Helmets.
The story of the White Helmets is principally a “feel good” hoax to manipulate public perception about the conflict in Syria and continue the drive for “regime change”. That’s why big money was paid to “Purpose” to “incubate” The Syria Campaign to brand and promote the White Helmets using Facebook, Twitter, etc. That’s why big money was paid to create a self-promotional documentary. The judges at Rights Livelihood were probably influenced by the documentary since critical examination of facts around Syria is so rare. It’s a sad commentary on the media. As Stephen Kinzer recently said,
“Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press.”
Rick Sterling is a retired aerospace engineer who now does research/writing on international issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Executives from Google and Facebook have faced enormous political pressure from forces as diverse as Pres. Obama himself to the Israel Lobby, to rid their sites of Islamist content. Over the years, videos portraying ISIS beheadings have outraged the public (though not on YouTube or Facebook, which immediately removes them). Now it appears that the Israel Lobby and their right-wing allies are demanding further action restricting access for videos they deem offensive.
The companies are discussing various methods to automate the removal of the videos, which would supposedly wipe the sites clean of Islamist extremism in a more thorough, speedy fashion. Currently, they use an algorithm which help police videos which violate copyright. If someone uploads a video whose content has already been flagged, an algorithm prevents it being uploaded again by another user. They plan to use a similar process to flag offensive videos by detecting whether they’ve been previously censored.
However, there is a fly in the ointment regarding this process. The companies have invited into this discussion a neocon NGO which is a product of the Israel Lobby. The group, Counter-Extremism Network (CEN), hired a computer scientist from Dartmouth College who claims to have developed software with which it can successfully police these sites for offending content. Microsoft has, somewhat alarmingly, agreed to fund and provide research support to develop the professor’s system for its websites.
The companies have rightly displayed some skepticism about the group’s “generous” offer. CEN is a neocon organization founded by a pro-Israel apparachik from the Bush administration, Mark Wallace. Wallace is a veteran GOP consultant, turned capitalist entrepreneur and anti-Iran warrior. He also founded a sister-organization, United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI-Rightweb profile and my own profile of it), which targeted (often falsely) American companies it claimed were doing business with Iran and violating the sanctions regime.
The nadir of UANI’s vitriolic anti-Iran campaign was its targeting of international shipping magnate, Victor Restis. In these cases, Wallace and his cronies would approach a corporate target and demand a large donation in return for ceasing the embarrassing publicity UANI directed at the victims. Most preferred to pay up. Unlike the other corporate targets, Restis fought back and sued UANI for libel. The suit proceeded in federal court until the Justice Department intervened, claiming that moving forward would jeopardize U.S. national security. The judge then dismissed the case, refusing to permit Restis to clear his name.
Journalists speculated that UANI was using information supplied to it by foreign intelligence sources, specifically the Mossad or other Israeli outlets. The Justice Department intervention was reported to be a favor offered by the Obama administration to the Israeli government, so as not to reveal its covert intervention in American politics. The favor wasn’t repaid when Netanyahu became the foremost opponent of the Iran nuclear deal opposed also by UANI.
Now that the agreement is a done deal, Wallace appears to have moved on. Instead of Iran being the bogeyman, now it is ISIS. With the recent outcry over Islamist attacks in Paris, San Bernardino and Ft. Hood, Islamism has become the target of choice for the Israel Lobby and allies like Wallace.
The group’s name is a misnomer. It doesn’t fight against “extremism.” It fights against Islam. There are countless violent extremists in the world who aren’t Muslim. But CEN has no interest in them. I’m attaching a screenshot of its list of targets. Only four non-Muslim groups: the Ku Klux Klan, Golden Dawn, Jobbik, and a German neo-Nazi party. As opposed to 25 Muslim terror organizations.
To give you a sense of how ridiculous these designations are: the Muslim Brotherhood is a group which participated in a democratic election and won the Egyptian presidency. Only to have the democratic government violently overthrown in a military coup. If anyone is a terrorist, it is the putchist al-Sisi, who overthrew Mohammed Morsi. The “Nusra Front” is also on the list. This bona fide Islamist extremist group is Israel’s current ally in the war against the Assad regime.
Among prominent groups missing from this list are violent Israeli settler groups like Hilltop Youth and Jewish Underground, which have murdered many Palestinian civilians.
I’m also surprised the BDS movement isn’t on the list. No doubt that’s an oversight that will be corrected.
Joining Wallace in founding CEN was ex-Sen. Joe Lieberman. On its board are other Israel Lobby veterans, Dennis Ross and Irwin Cotler. CEN’s name is a misnomer. It is not anti-extremist, it is anti-Muslim.
It’s important to note a parallel campaign by the Israeli government to pressure these social media platforms to censor content it deems hate speech, by which it means critical of Israel and the Occupation. There can be no doubt that although CEN hasn’t formally joined with this initiative, the two are bound up with each other tighter than Siamese twins.
Which raises the critical point: who decides what is “extremist?” Clearly, a beheading is extremist. An imam’s sermon calling for the extermination of non-Muslims qualifies. Overtly advocating violence qualifies. But what about a Hamas video that advocates resistance against Israel’s illegal Occupation which has killed tens of thousands over the past 50 years? Or a Hamas video which depicts the devastation of Gaza in the aftermath of the 2014 war? Does a Hezbollah video depicting the destruction of wide swaths of southern Lebanon after the 2006 Israeli invasion quality as “extremist?” In other words, is all content published by these groups censored by virtue of their designation as terrorists? Is that really what we wish the internet to become? A restricted space policed by ideologically-suspect algorithms?
I would strongly urge these technology companies to develop their own solutions to this problem and not rely on far-right Islamophobic ideologues for methods to censor the internet.
The web’s biggest content providers have started using automation to remove “extremist propaganda” videos from their sites.
YouTube (owned by Google) and Facebook are among the sites deploying systems to block or rapidly take down Islamic State videos and other similar material, sources said, though no company would confirm the action.
The technology employed was originally developed to remove copyright-protected content on video sites. It looks for “hashes,” unique digital fingerprints that Internet companies automatically assign to specific videos, allowing all content with matching fingerprints to be removed rapidly. Someone finds an offensive video, tags it, and then searches find other copies across the Internet.
Newly posted videos would be checked against a database of banned content to identify unauthorized information.
The system was kicked off in late April, amid pressure from an Obama White House concerned about online radicalization. Internet companies held a conference call to discuss options, including use of a content-blocking system put forward by the private Counter Extremism Project, a nonprofit controlled in part by George W. Bush Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend.
Get it yet?
Government and private industry will decide what content you (as well as journalists and academics) may see on the Internet. What is and is not allowable will be decided by a closed process, and will be automated. A database will be drawn upon for decision making.
Databases and tagging can be hacked/manipulated, perhaps by governmental intelligence organizations, maybe some bad guys, hell, even by advertisers to control what is available to you online.
Since content removed equals content prohibited, you’ll never know what you can’t see. The obvious slippery slope is in decisions about what is “extremist” and what is legitimate free, political speech that, while offensive, has a right to be heard and a place in the market of ideas.
So how about blocking all videos of police violence during say a Ferguson/Baltimore scenario, so as not to “inflame” a situation?
And even if Government A plays nicely, Government B may not, and dictatorships and oligarchies will have a new tool for repression. In the same way Western companies are forced now by China, for example, to adjust content, they will likely be forced to add things to the no-fly database of ideas. Corporations will be in a position to censor things on behalf of governments.
Via the Edward Snowden documents, we already know that many tech companies cooperate directly with the NSA and others, either voluntarily, or under pressure from secret national security practices and laws. It is not a matter of “it can happen here,” but one of “it is already happening here.”
But, some will say, Google, et al, are private companies. They can do what they want with their businesses, and you don’t have to use them.
Certain private businesses, such as power companies and transportation providers, have become clearly so much a part of society that they indeed can’t just do what they want. They become public utilities, and there is no doubt that organizations like Google are squarely in the category.
Lastly, for those who prefer dictionary things, do check up on the definition of true fascism: a collusion between government and industry.
Media is doling out in bite-sized bits what we already knew: we are being tracked and traced, recorded and stored.
The Guardian recently told us that – shock – Google is storing lots of information about us; meanwhile, the wildly different Independent gently awakens us to the fact that Facebook is doing something almost identical. Both articles contain instructions on how to appear to thwart these intrusions.
Oh well, click, click, yawn. Safe again.
An Orwellian present
Most people who read my column will have read Orwell’s 1984. And most who haven’t will have seen the film (the one with John Hurt, I hope). If you haven’t done either, go and do one of them right now.
Orwell’s famous dystopian vision describes a world in which the State knows everything about you. He had entitled his book The Last Man – meaning by that: The last true man left on earth. It was changed – perhaps fortuitously – by the publisher.
The book fed a slew of references into the culture, seemingly understood even by those who had never read it: Big Brother, Doublespeak, Sex Crime, Winston Smith.
The world Winston inhabits is physically viler and more obviously brutal that ours – at least if you live outside the perimeters of the wars the US is waging directly or indirectly. Its architecture and ambiance are, likewise, orders of magnitude darker and more depressing than ours – parts of inner cities excepted.
Orwell’s Doublespeak is more directly relevant to our experience today. With things now routinely called by something other than their proper names – men ‘identifying’ as women, women ‘identifying’ as men, men ‘identifying’ as dogs, and forty-six-year-old fathers ‘identifying’ as six-year-old girls – our world is littered with an increasing number of obvious truths which must be resolutely ignored on the grounds of political necessity.
Doublespeak has hamstrung academia – rendering whole swathes of it inoperative, and much of the rest of it either irrelevant, farcical or pernicious.
In our day-to-day exchanges it has resulted in smile-fronted loneliness and lurking suspicion as necessary features of a life wherein those of us who comment openly upon the Spandex-coated bars of our prison are treated as pariahs and lepers.
As in Orwell’s world, our language is undergoing a thinning process and morphing into a ghettoized Newspeak and Twitteresque literary shorthand. Our grandparents knew what it was to speak and write well because they acknowledged an objective standard. Those who attained it were regarded as exemplars, and those who had not could see what remained to be done. Now, as in so much else, mediocrity and approximation are defended as acceptable standards; simply noticing one’s own shortcomings is elitist – and, therefore, contemptible – while commenting on another’s is an outright sin.
The result is a common language attenuated to the point where being correctly understood is increasingly difficult, and the scope for being wrongfully construed almost unlimited.
But here the overlap in terms of content between our world and Orwell’s thins out in favor of a stark – and for some disarming – stylistic dissonance.
Orwell’s world is bleak. It is dark. The walls are covered – at best – by poorly applied institutional paint and creeping mold. The lights hang by a rat-eaten wire and flicker erratically, serving only – to plunder Milton – to discover sights of woe, regions of sorrow, doleful shades. Orwell’s “boot stamping on a human face – forever” is congruent in Hollywood terms with the scenery.
But our world is not like that. At least, not yet. Much of it is shiny and manicured – and not only for the technocrats and Inner Party members, but also for the drones of the Outer Party like Winston Smith.
Today, Smith does not wear dungarees and inhabit cold, dark corners creeping with vermin. He wears clothes which look something like what he sees on TV. He makes his car repayments. True, what he buys has the obsolescence of Orwell’s world, but that is due to a design philosophy geared to keep the drones shopping, rather than a simple inability to produce at all.
These seeming contradictions are difficult to process. A system which tortures you and stamps on your face might still be identified by the proles in their current state of conditioning as an enemy. But boot-stamping is not our experience – again, at least not yet.
The Big Brother of our experience has a public relations department and a team of designers with bed-head haircuts working on more palatable and fabulous ways to sell you servitude. Our prison does not simply consist of bars. It consists of hi-tech, ergonomically designed, ambient-adjustable bars. And it is policed by people who want you to call them by their first name; who are trained to seem to agree with you; who sit patiently when you talk, and then tell you to have a nice day.
If this seems unconnected with your current worldview, consider that some of the highest-profile puppets we vote for recently attended the opening of the Gotthard Tunnel, Switzerland – without batting an eyelid.
Our online experience broadly resembles our offline experience.
Sure, if you are deep in the bowels of Badnet – downloading a program you just discovered you really need but don’t want to pay for from a site featuring languages you don’t understand and from which windows with images of scantily dressed females jump out erratically at you – then you expect nasties. It feels dodgy and dangerous – and it is.
But Facebook and Google don’t feel like that. They are shiny, convenient heavens generated by serried ranks of earnest, enthusiastic angels in love with what they do. They love you, too. They don’t love you individually, but they love you mathematically; they love you when enough of you say the same thing to them for it to be incrementally advantageous to do something about your prayers. The world they produce feels professional and safe, something like a cross between a business park, a shopping mall where everything is free, and a children’s nursery.
This does not feel like a place where boots stamp on faces forever.
A common misconception about this ergonomic, customer-service Big Brother decked out in primary colors is that he couldn’t possibly watch everyone at the time.
But it doesn’t work like that. Mostly, he doesn’t care what you are doing on a day-to-day basis.
When databases were created in the 1970s, storing stuff was very expensive. That’s why they used the relational data model: it could cram more stuff into less space.
Now storing stuff costs nothing. I bought a 16 GB USB memory stick for the price of two cups of coffee last week. So they are not watching you. They are storing what you do.
Firstly, in case they need it. As morals, mores and norms are re-engineered and hemorrhage and coalesce in new configurations and are downloaded as normative updates by a population unable to concentrate or remember, everyone eventually will be a criminal – at least retrospectively. There is no future-proofing compliance with this new system of control. No matter how quickly you take the upgrades in Newthink, proof of your Oldthink will be accessible and visible to those who care to use it against you.
Secondly, they are building profiles. They want to know who the troublemakers are.
Those at the helm couldn’t care less what you think currently. If you are intelligent and happen to have spent your time online researching rather than looking at compilations of top goal-scoring moments, pornography, or highly pixelated editions of the Simpsons’ back catalog, that is likely to have rendered you a social outcast sheltering under the bridge of your own Cassandra complex yelling at random passing cars. So they don’t care about you – at least, not yet.
What they are on the lookout for in the current phase is a rogue idea. They are afraid that some bright individual will find the solar plexus of the psychological control grid and start jumping up and down on it. And they are also making sure existing powerful entities don’t go off the reservation of what is agreed by the guiding think tanks and conclaves of the mighty.
What to do?
We incline toward fight or flight. Many feel their security lies in keeping their heads down, by conforming. While I understand the feeling, my opinion is that no amount of conformity will be enough to placate what is coming. This system does not simply want conformity – although it does require it – it will not rest until it has your homage. For myself, my mind is made up: I will not bow to the new idol.
Armchair heroism is easy, it is true. But I know one thing: Room 101 will hold much less terror for me if I ever have to enter it, if I know then that I stood up now and spoke out while I could, leveraging what intelligence God saw fit to give me.
And that is something no boot can stamp out of existence.
Sam Gerrans is an English writer, translator, support counselor and activist. He also has professional backgrounds in media, strategic communications and technology. He is driven by commitment to ultimate meaning, and focused on authentic approaches to revelation and realpolitik.
A new agreement between the European Commission and four major U.S. companies—Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Microsoft—went into effect yesterday. The agreement will require companies to “review the majority of valid notifications for removal of hate speech in less than 24 hours and remove or disable access to such content,” as well as “educate and raise awareness” with their users about the companies’ guidelines.
The deal was made under the Commission’s “EU Internet Forum,” launched last year as a means to counter what EDRi calls “vaguely-defined ‘terrorist activity and hate speech online.’” While some members of civil society were able to participate in discussions, they were excluded from the negotiations that led to the agreement, says EDRi.
The agreement has been met with opposition by a number of groups, including EDRi (of which we’re a member), Access Now, and Index on Censorship, all of which have expressed concerns that the deal with stifle freedom of expression. The decision has also sparked debate on social media, with a wide variety of individuals and groups opposing the decision under the hashtag #IStandWithHateSpeech.
But you don’t have to stand with hate speech to stand against this decision. There are several reasons to oppose this Orwellian agreement. First, while Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allows states to limit freedom of expression under select circumstances, such limitations are intended to be the exception, and are permitted only to protect the following:
The rights or reputations of others,
public health, or
These limits must also meet a three-part test as defined by the ICCPR: be defined by law; have legitimate aim; and be truly necessary. While some of the speech that concerns the Commission may very well qualify as illegal under some countries’ laws, the method by which they’ve sought to limit it will surely have a chilling effect on free speech.
In addition, as EDRi points out, despite a lengthy negotiation between companies and the Commission, “hate speech” remains vaguely-defined. Companies have been tasked with taking the lead on determining what constitutes hate speech, with potentially disastrous results.
In fact, social media companies have an abysmal track record when it comes to regulating any kind of speech. As Onlinecensorship.org’s research shows, speech that is permitted by companies’ terms of service is often removed, with users given few paths to recourse. Users report experiencing bans from Facebook for 24 hours to up to 30 days if the company determines they’ve violated the Community Standards—which, in many cases, the user has not. Requiring companies to review complaints within 24 hours will almost surely result in the removal of speech that would be legal in Europe.
By taking decision-making outside of the democratic system and into backrooms, and granting corporations even greater control, the European Commission is ensuring a chill on online speech.
During the 2011 Arab Spring, it was clear to those who bothered to look, that the US State Department and the various arms of soft power attached to it were directly responsible for what was otherwise initially passed off as a spontaneous, region-wide uprising.
Eventually, what was dismissed as “conspiracy theory” regarding the US-backed nature of the uprising, was finally admitted to by the New York Times in an April 2011 article titled, “U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings,” which admitted that:
A number of the groups and individuals directly involved in the revolts and reforms sweeping the region, including the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and grass-roots activists like Entsar Qadhi, a youth leader in Yemen, received training and financing from groups like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights organization based in Washington, according to interviews in recent weeks and American diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks.
The New York Times would go on to admit direct ties between the above-mentioned organizations and both the US Congress and the US State Department.
The article would also admit:
Some Egyptian youth leaders attended a 2008 technology meeting in New York, where they were taught to use social networking and mobile technologies to promote democracy. Among those sponsoring the meeting were Facebook, Google, MTV, Columbia Law School and the State Department.
The 2008 meeting wasn’t the only one. And, as it would turn out, Facebook and Google’s role in preparing the ground for the Arab Spring, quite literally years before the “spontaneous” protests erupted, was much more complicated than merely being sponsors of a single event in New York.
Hillary Clinton was serving as US Secretary of State both during and in the lead up to the Arab Spring. She even attended via teleconference one of these “technology meetings” briefly mentioned by the New York Times.
Also attending the meetings were actually staff from the US State Department and various staff from both Google and Facebook. Also in attendance were members of the US media. In other words, the event was not only sponsored by the US government and these two tech-giants, it was organized and conducted by them as well. Their event program (PDF) makes this abundantly clear.
The purpose was clearly to create a unified network combining the US State Department’s direction, the tech-giant’s technical capabilities, and influence of the US media together to overwhelm the information space when finally the time came for the Arab Spring to unfold. And overwhelm it did. The governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya fell, with violence and even war breaking out in the latter three, while Syria to this day remains engulfed in violence that began in the wake of the 2011 operation.
More recently, e-mails leaked from then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reveal further details on just how close the tech-giants work with the government. Some could even say they are an extension of the government.
A CBS article titled, “Clinton Emails Show State Department’s Close Relationship With Google,” reveled that:
The latest release of emails sent to and from Hillary Clinton’s private email server reveals a close relationship between Google and the State Department.
A 2012 email recently uploaded onto Wikileaks’ searchable archive came from Google Ideas director Jared Cohen, who formerly worked as an advisor to Secretary Clinton, indicates that Google wanted to help bolster support for those who defected from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military.
It also showed that before launching a “defection tracker” Cohen wanted the State Department to weigh in on the idea and potentially provide feedback.
Not only does the leak expose what appears to be a revolving door between the tech-giant and the US State Department, but it exposes the fact that regardless of who is working where, Google was working in tandem with the State Department. Cohen was actually listed in the above cited event program as Policy Planning Staff of the Office of the Secretary of State meaning that before moving to Google he was working with Google to undermine various foreign governments, and continued to do so after he moved from government to the private sector.
Just Warming Up
Google and Facebook are still very much engaged in information warfare for the US government and the special interests that it serves. Likewise, the US State Department is still very much in the business of subverting foreign nations by recruiting, training, equipping and directing collaborators from targeted nations.
Facebook, for example, has expressed plans to get everyone on the planet on the Internet. The seemingly humanitarian mission is in all actuality an attempt to get the world on Facebook, which through its algorithms and ability to censor, ban and delete accounts at will, would virtually control what the world saw and didn’t see.
More forward-thinking states like Russia and China have noted this reality of the 21st century battlefield and have responded by creating their own domestic versions of Google and Facebook. An arms race of sorts has begun between these competing services both in terms of reach and capabilities for everything from artificial intelligence deep learning algorithms to the ability to control and influence the flow of information over and within borders.
Tech-centric US-funded nongovernmental organizations have begun to spring up alongside their traditional US-funded collaborators in nations around the world, specializing in doing many of the sort of workshops initially conducted by the US State Department, Google and Facebook before the Arab Spring. For nations either not aware of this or incapable of responding to this threat, it could be comparable to a new weapon of war taking to the battlefield one has no defense to or anything which which to strike back with.
This threat will only increase, with the “information war” becoming more and more literal as advances are made in information technology. The US is openly using information technology to augment its hegmonic ambitions around the world, with e-mail leaks confirming what many have already suspected all along. What is more worrisome is the collaborations and technologies being used now that are not being disclosed or “leaked.”
For nations around the world, raising literacy in terms of information technology and the threat it poses can help inoculate their populations from the overwhelming nature of foreign-backed operations like the Arab Spring. By creating and cultivating a domestic information technology sector and recruiting talent before the US does, creating competitive services like Russia’s VK and China’s Baidu not only serves as a means of improving and diversifying one’s economy, but can also serve as an important pillar of national security in the 21st century.
The media-as-public-relations-machine was in full swing last week, abuzz over Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan’s public letter to their daughter that contained a $45 billion pledge to establish the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
The mainstream media produced an avalanche of praise. “Mark Zuckerberg Philanthropy Pledge Sets New Giving Standard,” announced Bloomberg Business, who declared that Zuckerberg and Chan were “setting a new philanthropic benchmark by committing their massive fortune to charitable causes while still in their early thirties.” From the Wall Street Journal came more praise: “Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan to Give 99% of Facebook Shares to Charity.”
But when BuzzFeed revealed the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative was not a nonprofit, but a for-profit Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), which has no obligation to actually engage in charitable activity, the tenor of some of the commentary became more negative. Was the donation to a Delaware-based LLC nothing more than a way to duck California taxes?
The truth is that both nonprofit and for-profit charities can and do serve as tax shelters for the obscenely wealthy. Non-profits themselves have few restrictions around them, and only require that 5 percent of a foundation’s assets each year be spent towards its stated charitable goals, including expenses and lobbying.
Still, in the last few years we’ve seen the growth of ventures like Google.org, the charitable but largely for-profit division of Google created in 2006 with $900 million worth of Google stock. Freed from the even the limited guidelines to which nonprofits are held, some of the projects Google.org has poured money into have happened to also generate mountainous profits for Google.
For example, the One Laptop Per Child initiative’s stated mission to get $100 computers into the hands of “each and every one” of the world’s poorest children also captures lucrative data from millions of new computer users in almost entirely untapped markets.
Similar to Google.org, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative chose a form that would allow them to invest in profit-making initiatives, including ones that could bring new profits to Facebook. Chan and Zuckerberg’s pledge to give everyone on earth access to the Internet, like the One Laptop Per Child initiative, will both provide real services for a great many people while simultaneously creating millions of new potential Facebook users (although they do perhaps overstate with the claim, “If our generation connects them, we can lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty”).
At the same time, Chan Zuckerberg can take advantage of their status as a tax-qualified charity to save huge sums of money. As Forbes observed:
This generosity is also incredibly tax efficient . . . Donating appreciated stock is a much better tax move than selling it and donating the sales proceeds. After all, by donating the stock, the gain he would have experienced on selling it is never taxed . . . since [Chan Zuckerberg] is a tax-qualified charity, if it sells the stock it pays no tax regardless of how big the gain. And since Mr Zuckerberg will get credit on his tax return for the market value of what he donates, he can use that to shelter billions of other income.
Of course, sizable donations to charity frequently receive glowing press coverage which is also quite valuable. The transformation of Bill Gates’s reputation — Zuckerberg’s childhood hero — after creating the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is instructive.
Throughout the 1990s Microsoft’s hyperaggressive business practices resulted in a 2000 Justice Department verdict that Microsoft was a monopoly. Several billion dollars in fines from myriad US and European regulatory bodies followed and Bill Gates was widely painted as a bully in the popular press.
The PR turnaround afforded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation might be the most effective — and expensive — in history. Today Bill Gates is treated by the media as an important thinker in the fight against disease and the debates around education reform. He is regarded as a humanitarian with something to say about making the world a better place, a regard that stands in contrast to his actual commitments.
Since the early days of Microsoft, Gates has ardently supported patent law and its enforcement, which puts medicines out of reach for most, particularly in the Global South. He has also thrown millions at a host of education initiatives that are so anti-teacher that the American Federation of Teachers recently announced they would no longer take money from the Gates Foundation.
Zuckerberg has already attempted to use a big donation to improve his reputation and that of Facebook, which has repeatedly been caught capturing private information with the intention to monetize it. His $100 million donation to charter schools in Newark was timed just weeks after the release of the Zuckerberg biopic The Social Network, and right before the release of charter school booster documentary Waiting for Superman. Time will tell what this latest attempt at reputation management does for Zuckerberg’s public standing.
Everyone has ideas about how the world should be different and those with vast fortunes have an inordinate amount of power to realize those visions. Sometimes the vision is for a cause like fighting malaria or providing homeless shelters. Other times it’s more self-interested, like when Bill and Melinda Gates put Windows computers in high schools, keeping Macs out and training a generation to use Windows machines.
More importantly, the concentration of so much power and reach in the hands of billionaire philanthropists presents real problems for democracy. Every dollar a billionaire realizes in “tax savings” is a dollar starved from the public coffers. The tens of billions Zuckerberg would pay in taxes could go a very long way to, say, enhancing the $69 billion budget allocated for public education this year.
While the US government is certainly not a bastion of democracy, there are at least formal mechanisms that put tax-based, public funding in the realm of democratic decision-making. There are public budget proposals, hearings, and votes, and elections through which we can attempt to hold politicians accountable for their actions. We’ll most likely only have a vague idea what is happening with the money controlled by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; their LLC status will allow them to avoid making many tax documents public.
These sorts of charitable enterprises give even more control to capitalists — who already have outsized influence in our society — putting them in positions to make decisions that increasingly shape public life for all of us. People like Zuckerberg and Gates are unelected and unaccountable to anyone and face few, if any, repercussions for the negative consequences of their social experiments.
Zuckerberg’s education initiative exemplifies this outsized and damaging role. Despite his limited personal experience with public school — he attended the elite Phillips Exeter Academy and then Harvard — Zuckerberg has begun to commit serious sums of money to reforming public education. His signature donation was $100 million to replace Newark’s public schools with charters. Working with former Newark mayor Corey Booker and Republican Governor Chris Christie, the goal was to completely transform Newark’s schools in five years, and turn them into a model for restructuring other districts across the country.
In order to achieve reforms quickly, they had to bypass the process of public engagement. Free from the constraints of government deliberation, the plans of the nonprofit foundation were not made public until after key decisions had been made. Newark residents first learned about the program the afternoon Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg announced it on Oprah.
Once the foundation was established, seats on its board were awarded to those who contributed more than $5 million. “A local philanthropist offered $1 million,” reported Diane Ravitch, “but he was turned away because the amount was too small.”
The Newark experiment was a resounding failure and did little more than line the pockets of consultants. Test scores didn’t rise considerably, teachers resisted merit pay, and the woman hired to run the district refuses to attend School Board Advisory meetings because they are still too hostile. The debacle still follows Zuckerberg. Last week, many of the most glowing reports of his $45 billion donation had to mention his previous philanthropic endeavor.
Zuckerberg has continued to make investments in education since Newark, claiming he’s learned from the experience and wants to improve. Still, he’s just one relatively new player in the education reform movement.
The Gates Foundation has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to restructure the US public school system, with $200 million going to Common Core — a curriculum initiative opposed by educators and parents across the country. Eli Broad Foundation has also spent lavishly — including a nearly $500 million plan to put half of Los Angeles students into 260 new charter schools. The Walton Foundation has spent over $1 billion supporting charters and vouchers.
The war on public education by the ultra wealthy — using tax-sheltered dollars which otherwise might have gone to improve public education — reveals a deep hostility to democracy.
We should demand better: Instead of waiting to see how his charity will impact our lives, Zuckerberg’s wealth should be put under democratic control, so we can collectively decide how it can be used to improve society.