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The war against ‘fake news’ is a war on us

Twitter has emailed hundreds of thousands of its users, warning them that they shared “Russian propaganda”.

Media

by Jonathan Cook

Barely a day passes without a new development in the war on social media – that is, the war on us. Today, it is a report that Twitter has emailed hundreds of thousands of its users, warning them that they shared “Russian propaganda”.

As WSWS notes:

Twitter is warning its users that it knows exactly what they are viewing and sharing on social media, implying that if they post something that falls afoul of the US government, they may be subject to investigation or prosecution.

And, we should add, they will almost certainly be subject to online “disappearance” – the virtual form of what authoritarian regimes have always done to dissidents.

WSWS continues:

Last week, representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube testified before the Senate Commerce committee on their efforts to combat “extremist” content.

Monika Bickert, head of Global Policy Management at Facebook, told lawmakers that the social media company has hired 10,000 people for its “security” department to review, block and take down content, and that this number will be doubled over the next year. Google, for its part, plans to bring the number of content moderators it employs to 10,000 this year.

Think about that. These social media giants are prepared to pay tens of thousands of extra salaries to staff whose only job will be to block news and ban people based on the political content of what they write and the stories they choose to share. Those stories are being characterised by self-interested politicians on both ends of the narrow neoliberal bandwith as “fake news” and “Russian propaganda”. Joe McCarthy eat your heart out!

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is throwing his weight behind the campaign to dumb down the internet, has promised to reduce the amount of news available through his platform’s feeds so that we get back to using social media as a means to share films of cute kittens or promote ways to spend more money on consumables. That will make the advertisers much happier.

Last week Zuckerberg clarified that what limited news you do receive from friends and family through your feeds will be filtered to make sure it comes from “authoritative” and “trustworthy” sources. In short, it will come from one of the six US media corporations that control almost everything Americans read and see, and much of what the rest of us do too.

Here is the WSWS again: “In an indication of what this will mean in practice, the stock value of the New York Times shot up by nine percent that day, in the expectation that its postings would displace content from independent media organizations.”

Would we accept this wholesale censoring of the internet if it were being carried out by Donald Trump or the UK’s Theresa May? Or even Rupert Murdoch, for that matter? Of course not. We would call it a blatant suppression of free speech, and be thinking about how to break up these dangerous new-media monopolies.

But when it is “nerdy” Zuckerberg and the faceless billionnaires behind Google and Twitter doing it, the censorship is presented as simple technical adjustments made for the benefit of mankind – tweaking algorithms to separate the “truthful”, all-American wheat from Russian chaff.

And where are the few liberal voices left in the corporate media, those that pretend they care about free speech and pluralism, and claim to be opposed to state and corporate surveillance and witch-hunts?

Where, for example, is the Guardian’s George Monbiot, who recently wrote eloquently about the campaign of no-platforming conducted by the easy hate-figures of the traditional rightwing media? Monbiot and the other free-speech advocates seem totally unfazed by the for-profit inquisitions currently being waged by Facebook, Twitter and Google, inquisitions enthusiastically backed by their own supposedly liberal publications, such as the Guardian and the New York Times.

This is not about the right to spout nonsense, or even “fake news”, on social media, as some dismiss it.

In an ever faster-moving world, these platforms are now an essential component of our ability:

  • to keep ourselves informed using alternative – that is, non-profit-seeking, non-corporate, non-establishment-friendly – sources of news and analysis;
  • to build our critical understanding of the ways propaganda is being disseminated to sanction neoliberal wars of aggression waged in our names at home and abroad under the banner of “humanitarian intervention”;
  • and to mobilise opposition to such wars and to the corporate world whose psychopathic need to extract more wealth from a finite planet is stoking climate breakdown.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Our response needs to match that threat.

UPDATE:

And here is the proof that the political and media campaign against “fake news” on social media – but not the much more significant problem of fake news to be found in the traditional corporate media – is paying off. The Guardian reports:

The Edelman trust barometer, the 18th annual survey, found 64% of 1,050 UK respondents worried that social media companies were not regulated enough, 69% agreed that they did not do enough to prevent bullying and 70% that there was insufficient action to stop illegal or unethical behaviour on networks.

But the survey also found:

there had been a striking 13-point increase in support for traditional media, to 61% – the highest level since 2012.

In other words, many of us are slowly buying into the idea that we should be deprived of the use of the only major platforms we have to challenge a corporate narrative that fuels both endless wars and climate meltdown.

Jonathan Cook is a Nazareth- based journalist and winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism.


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