Censorship in the Digital Age

By Jason Hirthler

Source: CounterPunch

The grand experiment with western democracy, badly listing thanks to broadsides from profiteering oligarchs, may finally run ashore on the rocks of thought crime. In the uneven Steven Spielberg project Minority Report, starring excitable scientologist Tom Cruise, Cruise plays a futuristic policeman who investigates pre-crimes and stops them before they happen. The police owe their ability to see the criminal plots developing to characters called pre-cognitives, or pre-cogs, kind of autistic prophets who see the future and lie sleeping in sterile pools of water inside the police department. Of course, it turns out that precogs can pre-visualize different futures, a hastily hidden flaw that threatens to jeopardize the profits of the pre-crime project. Here is the crux of the story: thought control is driven by a profit motive at bottom. As it turns out, just like real life.

Now, the British government has decided to prosecute pre-crime but has done away with the clunky plot device of the pre-cogs, opting rather to rely on a hazy sense of higher probability to justify surveilling, nabbing, convicting, and imprisoning British citizens. The crime? Looking at radical content on the Internet. What is considered radical will naturally be defined by the state police who will doubtless be personally incentivized by pre-crime quotas, and institutionally shaped to criminalize trains of thought that threaten to destabilize a criminal status quo. You know, the unregulated monopoly capitalist regime that cuts wages, costs, and all other forms of overhead with psychopathic glee. Even a Grenfell Towers disaster is regarded more as a question of how to remove the story from public consciousness than rectify its wrongs.

The Triple Evils

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously, or infamously, depending on whether you are a penthouse mandarin or garden-variety prole, linked the triple evils of poverty, racism, and militarism. These evils are as yet unaddressed in our society, as we are daily shown on the media mouthpieces of imperial capitalism. Wars must be waged. Victims of social injustice must be incarcerated. Society itself must be made poor to ensure higher profits.

Yet there is another set of evils that are primarily used to mask the original trifecta outlined by King. In fact, the connection between propaganda, surveillance, and censorship is clear and inseparable. Take as your initial premise that imperial capitalists want to control the world. Not an unjustified claim. As an imperial capitalist, you are part of a privileged minority whose objective is to further exploit the disenfranchised whose only recourse is the resources you are pillaging. War, be it with bombs or sanctions or special forces or proxies, is immensely profitable to the capitalists. Arms makers make money. Chemical companies make money. Energy companies make money. Media companies make money. Presidents not only make money, they also make history. But the workers, the poor, and the downtrodden pay the price. That’s why they won’t be happy to hear of your plans. Therefore, they must be lied to, lied to so convincingly and comprehensively that they accept, without a second thought, the plans you have laid out before them.

This convincing requires three decisive actions: propaganda, surveillance, and censorship. The first is the official lie you craft to convince them to believe you. The second is the dragnet of digital observation by which you assess whether or not they do believe you. The third is the coercive methods by which you punish those that don’t believe you (justified by the imperial tale you first wove).

The official interpretation of reality is already in place: western civilization is beset on all sides by maniacs that want to take away our freedoms. The surveillance is already in place through programs like the Five Eyes alliance and ECHELON, PRISM, Boundless Informant, FISA, Stellar Wind, and many others. What remains is to tighten the noose of censorship around the neck of our open western societies.

Idiots Abroad

To that end, British Home Secretary Amber Rudd recently announced that citizens that view too much extremist material online could face up to 15 years in jail. Rudd related,

“I want to make sure those who view despicable terrorist content online, including jihadi websites, far-right propaganda and bomb-making instructions, face the full force of the law.”

This flaxen cipher of totalitarian control opened by tabulating some 67,000 tweets by ISIS, along with 44,000 links to ISIS propaganda, had been generated in the last year. Already, Section 58 of the Terrorist Act 2000 criminalized the possession of information that might be useful to a terrorist. But this is not enough for 10 Downing Street. Rudd is taking that law of possession and expanding it into a law of perception. It is now enough to simply watch extremist content. You needn’t download it, distribute it, or otherwise act on it. You need only see it more than once. At that point, by Rudd’s surely flawlessly calculated probabilities, you have become an existential threat to the state, or rather, to national security. You are more likely to commit acts of terror than those who have not seen the extremist content. Pre-crime without the pre-cogs.

But Rudd’s was another step in a long line of encroachments peddled by fascist-minded western governments. Theresa May, the reviled Thatcherite epigone, wants to play a paternal role in preventing citizens from even having the chance to view extremist content. The Tory manifesto tells us, “Some people say that it is not for government to regulate when it comes to technology and the internet. We disagree.” Britain plans, quite proudly it seems, to become the “global leader” in the regulation of the Internet. Just before these announcements were made, Britain had passed the Investigatory Powers Act, which lets the government sweep up user browsing histories. So the surveillance data authorities would use to implement Rudd’s plan is already there. Want to read that eloquent jeremiad against the Tories? Sorry, that was just labeled hate speech. Want to visit your favorite leftist forum? Apologies, mate, but that was deemed a “safe space” for extremist speech and shut down. Want to watch some attractive young people copulate? No problem. Just submit a request to your local minister outlining your precise reasons for wanting access to such nominally proscribed content. Otherwise, forget it.

The Germans aren’t far behind. The so-called Network Enforcement Act is said to create a framework for managing Internet activity, particularly in social media. The act is part of the country’s fake fight against fake news and hate speech, or rather its quite real fight against progressive, leftist, or communist thought and expression. This law demands, on pain of a fifty million euro penalty, that companies with two million or more web visitors must, on receipt of complaint, remove “unlawful content” from their sites. Facebook has opened a new data center in Germany to deal with removal requests, sure to be flooding in from the Bundestag. As the World Socialist Web Sitemakes clear, if your fake news promotes war (Iraq 2003), mischaracterizes coup d’états (Ukraine 2014), or spreads anti-immigrant hysteria (Cologne 2015), then you’ve got nothing to fear. Of course, it falls to the government itself to decide what is and what isn’t extremist content, no doubt a comforting thought for myriad Der Spiegel loyalists. And, of course, the erstwhile European Commission, destroyer of Greece and perpetrator of other ills, has published guidelines to help member states remove “illegal” content. Even the Russians have joined in, promoting legislation designed to curtail digital freedoms.

Stateside Schlemiels

None of this would be news to Barack Obama, whose own legacy of crumpled writs of habeas corpus, worthless privacy platitudes, and high-altitude wetwork, sits like a canker on the body politic. On his way out the door, through the turnstile of public weal into private gain, he provided the deep state with millions of dollars when he added the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act to the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which consecrates black budgets, cost overruns, price gouging, and all other manner of insecurity practiced by the Pentagon and its parasitic defense contractor community. The CDPA, if that’s how it will eventually be known, will effectively pay people to generate officially sanctioned narratives. The U.S. government is fighting fact by calling it propaganda and then producing its own propaganda and calling it fact.

Thanks in part to pressure from Congressional Senate Intelligence Committee that, and the indefatigable efforts of Democrats Adam Schiff and Mark Warner, major brands have been hopping on the clanging tumbrel of Russiagate, as it wheels unsteadily through the digital space, collecting the corpses of freethinkers. Facebook is now blocking “fake news” from its ads. YouTube has begun to fetter content producers with a more restrictive ad network and murky review policies. Google has tweaked its algorithm to keep “fake news” from surfacing high in Search Engine Results Pages, or SERPS. What precisely constitutes fake news is evidently up to the Zuckerbergs and Schmidts of the world. For Google, it has decidedly meant suppressing progressive and left-wing content, as plummeting traffic numbers have indicated. Of course, it won’t mean suppressing the fake news produced by the CIA or Mi5 or the standard state-fluffing smorgasbord of lies, deceits and hit jobs offered up by the so-called mainstream media.

The always sharp Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report writes that the FBI has created a fresh construct to deal with African-American unrest, called, “Black Identity Extremism,” already truncated into another mind-murdering acronym, BIE. (As though an acronym adds just the note of tenability required to pass off a fatuity on a mal-educated populace.) Foreign Policy, in an otherwise surprisingly liberal-minded story, suggests the construct risks reviving the racism the agency has worked so hard to overcome. Ford drily notes the overlooked matter of J. Edgar Hoover targeting blacks since the 1920s, not to mention COINTELPRO and attacks on the Black Panthers. Regardless, in the eyes of the FBI, blacks angry about police abuses, persistent economic inequalities, and the New Jim Crow, are little more than “identity extremists,” a danger to national security, notably the security of the white plutocracy which it serves.

(Fore) Closing Thoughts

Remember that much of this apparatus of thought control has been applied beneath the banner of the fake Russia hacking story. That story, created by the Clinton camp to distract from the DNC email revelations provided by WikiLeaks, at first blamed Russia for hacking into “our democracy”, then suggested Donald Trump had colluded with Russia to swing the election, and then emphasized that Russia had launched an “influence campaign” designed to swing the election, with the focus subtly shifting from hacking to collusion to influence. At each turn, the evidence proves paltry, the claims absurd, and the virtue signaling nauseating. The bar is being progressively lowered until it meets a threshold of credibility by which the Senate Intel Committee can prosecute Donald Trump or justify some sort of punitive measures against Russia.

The story is so transparently false, from the technical detail to the geopolitical motive, that it is only sustained by the permanent—or deep state—elements of the foreign policy community that need a means by which to control and direct the Trump administration. Russia collusion served as an ideal pretext to force Trump away from campaign-trail odes to conciliation and toward a continuation of the hostile foreign policies glibly enabled and advanced by Barack Obama. The comedy of it all is that Facebook found ‘incriminating’ ads that amounted to less than one percent of the Facebook total ad buys. Congress would like to ban RT, which has ratings that are 0.3 percent of Judge Judy’s. And the infamous hack has been shown to be a leak. What are we left with? A grandiose deceit based on a need to sustain a brutal ideology of oppression, austerity, and war.

But this is how the imperialists do it. They organize globally to oppress locally. That’s why they’ve been rightly rebranded as ‘the globalists’. The workers always trail behind, left to cope with recently discovered alliances of institutional powers collaborating to fence in the prospects for economic equality, social justice, and the fair distribution of a nation’s wealth. We find ourselves beneath the a pregnant cloud of metastasizing repression, conceived and constructed beneath our own gaze. In his recent novel Purity, one of author Jonathan Franzen’s characters, a famous East German exile and whistleblower extraordinaire (a more charismatic Assange), finds himself a global celebrity, the subject of countless interviews wherein,

“…he’d taken to dropping the word totalitarian. Younger interviewers, to whom the word meant total surveillance, total mind control, gray armies in parade with medium-range missiles, had understood him to be saying something unfair about the Internet. In fact, he simply meant a system that was impossible to opt out of.”

Whether it is too late for a world of working class people and the ubiquitous poor to opt out of the globalized imperium dreamed up by our post-war planners, is hard to say. But if you think there’s still time, be extremely careful, since the pre-crime police are nearly omnipresent, and they might overhear you quoting Marx or see you scrawling ideas about redistribution on the walls of some abandoned underpass. Just imagine some future advertisement for the pre-crime program, a glistening LCD ad floating between skyscrapers, a smiling family at play, a nation secure, and an omniscient narrator softly reminding you, “Don’t forget—it’s the thought that counts.”

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This entry was posted in Authoritarianism, censorship, civil liberties, conditioning, culture, Dystopia, freedom of speech, internet freedom, Labor, Law, Militarization, news, police state, propaganda, Psy-ops, Social Control, society, Sociology, State Crime, surveillance state, war, war on terror and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Censorship in the Digital Age

  1. I’m not sure what grand experiment in democracy he’s referring to. The US has always been controlled by elite business interests.

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