There has always existed a particular type of person who think that they know best and seek to instruct the rest of us accordingly. In modern times this reached a new level of absurdity and censorship during the Covid lockdowns. On 31st January 2022, I was banned from Facebook for 24 hours for reposting a news item about unvaccinated citizens not being allowed to buy alcohol at drive through bottle shops, and I added the remark:
How come everyone is so frightened of the unvaccinated. If being vaccinated keeps you safe?”
That was the beginning of a series of rolling strikes on my Facebook account. Of course, Craig Kelly MP was permanently banned from Facebook; banned for publishing information now recognised as fact including that mandating vaccination and masks, and lock downs might not be the best option.
Facebook is where people go for news and information. It could operate as something of a town square: as a marketplace including of ideas. It could complement the ‘Fourth Estate’, a term once used in reference to the mainstream media, suggesting they are as important as the three branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial for the correct functioning of a democracy.
What is most important in a secular society that operates as a democracy is that the institutions that represent these functions take a close interest in evidence. In the case of government, public policy should be based on evidence. Governments correctly rely on scientists to provide this information in peer-reviewed reports, and the ordinary citizen expects journalists to be sceptical of everyone including politicians and scientists.
None of this happens anymore. Not at all. Rather our society is increasingly conformist and corporatist, with legitimacy and authority held by special interest groups with decisions made through constant negotiations between these groups and government. Then there are the rest of us, largely held in contempt by those drafting the legislation and regulations.
And so, there is very little about our society that is free or democratic anymore.
The ‘Twitter Files’ confirm what many have suspected for years –- that governments and much of the mainstream media actively work with social media giants to censor and deplatform those they disagree with. Journalist Matt Taibbi explained something of the problem last Thursday in testimony to the US House of Representatives.
My name is Matt Taibbi. I’ve been a reporter for over 30 years, and a staunch advocate for the First Amendment. Much of my three decades have been spent at Rolling Stone magazine. Over my career, I have had the good forturne to be recognized for the work I love. I’ve won the National Magazine Award, the I.F. Stone Award for independent journalism, and written ten books, including four New York Times bestsellers. I’m now the editor of the online magazine Racket, on the independent platform Substack.
Today, I’m here because of a series of events that began late last year, when I received a note from a source online.
It read: “Are you interested in doing a deep dive into what censorship and manipulation… was going on at Twitter?”
A week later, the first of what became known as the “Twitter Files” reports came out. To say these attracted intense public interest would be an understatement. My computer looked like a slot machine as just the first tweet about the blockage of the Hunter Biden laptop story registered 143 million impressions and 30 million engagements.
But it wasn’t until a week after the first report, after Michael Shellenberger, Bari Weiss, and other researchers joined the search of the “Files,” that we started to grasp the significance of this story.
The original promise of the Internet was that it might democratize the exchange of information globally. A free internet would overwhelm all attempts to control information flow, its very existence a threat to anti-democratic forms of government everywhere.
What we found in the Files was a sweeping effort to reverse that promise and use machine learning and other tools to turn the internet into an instrument of censorship and social control. Unfortunately, our own government appears to be playing a lead role.
We saw the first hints in communications between Twitter executives about tweets before the 2020 election, where we read things like:
‘Hi team, can we get your opinion on this? This was flagged by DHS:
Or: Please see attached report from the FBI for potential misinformation. This would be attached to excel spreadsheet with a long list of names, whose accounts were often suspended shortly after.
Following the trail of communications between Twitter and the federal government across tens of thousands of emails led to a series of revelations. Mr. Chairman, we’ve summarized these and submitted them to the committee in the form of a new Twitter Files thread, which is also being released to the public now, on Twitter at @ShellenbergerMD, and @mtaibbi.
We learned Twitter, Facebook, Google, and other companies developed a formal system for taking in moderation “requests” from every corner of government: the FBI, DHS, HHS, DOD, the Global Engagement Center at State, even the CIA. For every government agency scanning Twitter, there were perhaps 20 quasi-private entities doing the same, including Stanford’s Election Integrity Project, Newsguard, the Global Disinformation Index, and others, many taxpayer-funded.
A focus of this growing network is making lists of people whose opinions, beliefs, associations, or sympathies are deemed to be misinformation, disinformation, or malinformation. The latter term is just a euphemism for “true but inconvenient.”
Plain and simple, the making of such lists is a form of digital McCarthyism.
Ordinary Americans are not just being reported to Twitter for “deamplification” or de-platforming, but to firms like PayPal, digital advertisers like Xandr, and crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe. These companies can and do refuse service to law-abiding people and businesses whose only crime is falling afoul of a faceless, unaccountable, algorithmic judge.
As someone who grew up a traditional ACLU liberal, this sinister mechanism for punishment without due process is horrifying.
Another troubling aspect is the role of the press, which should be the people’s last line of defense in such cases.
But instead of investigating these groups, journalists partnered with them. If Twitter declined to remove an account right away, government agencies and NGOs would call reporters for the New York Times, Washington Post, and other outlets, who in turn would call Twitter demanding to know why action had not been taken.
Wittingly or not, news media became an arm of a state-sponsored thought- policing system.
Some will say, “So what? Why shouldn’t we eliminate disinformation?”
To begin with, you cannot have a state-sponsored system targeting “disinformation” without striking at the essence of the right to free speech. The two ideas are in direct conflict.
Many of the fears driving what Michael calls the “Censorship-Industrial Complex” also inspired the infamous “Alien and Sedition Laws of 1798,” which outlawed “any false, scandalous, and malicious writing against Congress or the president.” Here is something that will sound familiar: supporters of that law were quick to denounce their critics as sympathizers with a hostile foreign power, at the time France. Alexander Hamilton said Thomas Jefferson and his supporters were “more Frenchmen than Americans.”
Jefferson in vehemently opposing these laws said democracy cannot survive in a country where power is given to people “whose suspicions may be the evidence.” He added:
Jefferson was saying something that was true then and still true today. In a free society we don’t mandate truth, we arrive at it through discussion and debate. Any group that claims the “confidence” to decide fact and fiction, even in the name of protecting democracy, is always, itself, the real threat to democracy. This is why “anti-disinformation” just doesn’t work. Any experienced journalist knows experts are often initially wrong, and sometimes they even lie. In fact, when elite opinion is too much in sync, this itself can be a red flag.
We just saw this with the Covid lab-leak theory. Many of the institutions we’re now investigating initially labeled the idea that Covid came from a lab “disinformation” and conspiracy theory. Now apparently even the FBI takes it seriously.
It’s not possible to instantly arrive at truth. It is however becoming technologically possible to instantly define and enforce a political consensus online, which I believe is what we’re looking at.
This is a grave threat to people of all political persuasions.
It would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights: that confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism…
Frank Vardanega says
Corruption of the ideals of the fourth estate is the real villain here.
Kris Pickering says
Unlike most of the kids today, I can remember when ‘social media’ was a simple way to chat real time with friends and relatives. It has now become the most insidious and divisive form of censorship. Algorithmics have been reinvented as an all-powerful weapon against free speech. Many decades ago, democratic governments were FOR the people. They respected and worked hard for their citizens. That was in our utopian past. Now we survive in a dystopian world where ‘governments’ of all persuasions demand total control over their people and they discovered long ago that social media was the most cost-efficient tool available. Social media is controlled by despots who are more dangerous than all the acronymic secret police humans have had to endure. They are no different from the KGB, FBI, CIA, ASIO, MOSSAD, Hitler’s SS, or any of the thousands of other citizen manipulating organisations. As a human race, we should have developed far beyond the despotic controllers. We have not. Social media has become the biggest danger to human freedom and democracy.
Unable to share on LinkedIn.
Something to do with “causing physical harm”.
Don Gaddes says
Questions from ‘The State of Denmark’;
Why weren’t anti-virals used for Covid initially? They are now ‘recommended’.
How come La Nina suddenly ‘ended’ last Friday?
Why isn’t there a Universal Variable Rate GST on ALL transactions – and NO OTHER TAXES,(including Income Tax)?
Michael Burston says
The same caution should applied to the description “populist “ widely bandied about on the MSM. When you think about it, “populist” is a pejorative term elites use for Democracy
Jennifer Marohasy says
Just filing this here:
The Lancet in May 2021 published a paper from Israeli officials and Pfizer employees that claimed the company’s vaccine was 95 percent effective against COVID-19 infection in Israel from Jan. 24, 2021, to April 3, 2021.
The study analyzed surveillance data drawn from government-funded insurance providers. Pfizer and Israel entered into multiple agreements early in the pandemic that saw the country primarily use the company’s vaccine and share data with the firm.
The study showed that two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine were “highly effective” across all age groups 16 and older in preventing symptomatic COVID-19, asymptomatic COVID-19, and COVID-19-related hospitalization, severe disease, and death, researchers said in the study, which was peer-reviewed before publication.
“These findings suggest that COVID-19 vaccination can help to control the pandemic,” they said.
The study was funded by the Israeli Ministry of Health and Pfizer.
The effectiveness estimates were exaggerated, Fenton and Martin Neil, a professor of computer science and statistics at Queen Mary of London, wrote in a rapid response to the paper.
That stemmed in part from adjusting for how unvaccinated people were routinely tested for COVID-19 while vaccinated people were not, the professors said.
“There is also failure to properly adjust for the different testing protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated people,” they wrote.
The Lancet told the professors that they were waiting to hear from the paper’s authors before publishing the rebuttal.
No further correspondence was sent until January 2023.
Josefine Gibson, a senior editor at The Lancet, wrote in a Jan. 8, 2023, email that she saw the submitted rebuttal had not been published.
“We had invited Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis and co-authors of the published article to consider your letter, but I am sorry that we never received a formal reply from them and therefore have not been able to pursue an exchange,” Gibson wrote. Alroy-Preis is a top Isreali Ministry of Health official.
“But I am even more sorry that I didn’t communicate a decision with you in a timely manner. I will now close your submission, but I thank you for supporting post-publication debate in The Lancet,” Gibson added.
Fenton released the email online, triggering a flood of criticism of the decision not to publish the rebuttal. He and Neil also noted that Alroy-Preis had declared no conflicts of interest, despite Israeli health officials entering into the collaboration that outlined a close partnership.
“The world relied heavily on a major Israeli study in the Lancet which confirmed Pfizer vaccine efficiency, but the lead author failed to declare her conflict of interest in which she signed a contract not to release information detrimental to Pfizer’s product without their permission,” Fenton and Neil wrote in a blog post.
The criticism triggered another message from Gibson, who said The Lancet was “looking into next steps” regarding the rebuttal.
After Fenton highlighted what had happened to Richard Horton, The Lancet’s editor-in-chief, Gibson told him that she wanted to apologize “for the substandard experience you’ve had with the Lancet.”
“Having discussed this unfortunate situation with my Editor in Chief, Richard Horton, I would like to offer publication of your original letter. Alternatively, we could publish a new letter that reflects more a current experience with the Pfizer vaccine. We defer to your best judgement of what would best serve the medical community,” she said. “We very much hope you’ll accept this offer.”
Fenton and Neil penned an updated rebuttal, which concluded that the Pfizer–Israel study should be retracted due to reasons including the undeclared conflict from Alroy-Preis and the failure to adjust for different testing protocols. They also raised concerns about adverse reactions to the vaccine, which they said are now known to be “substantial.”
Gibson rejected the updated rebuttal.
“Given existing evidence about the effectiveness and safety of the Pfizer vaccine, it is factually incorrect–indeed, it is misinformation–to say that reported adverse reactions are ‘substantial,’” she wrote.
The Lancet also does not consider Alroy-Preis’s job at the Israeli Ministry of Health to be an undeclared conflict of interest, Gibson said.
What a sad story above about the Lancet episode. Gibson (Lancet) sat on the Fenton/Neil rebuttal for over 2 years, waiting for the Covid panic point to slowly dissolve (removing the political heat from the situation), then ran crabwalking crocodile tears about Lancet’s non-response to the Fenton/Neil critique. She offered to publish another. updated critique from them but she did this in bad faith; once more, their submitted critique was labelled with that nauseating “disinformation” lie.
Publications of world-regarded excellence, such as The Lancet, have been infiltrated at editorial level by pompous lefties, motivated mostly by vanity, using the perceived virtue of the publication as a camouflage for their propaganda. The Lancet is not alone in this regard.
I would like to know the details of how such people actually slide into senior editorial posts. Who votes for them ? Who appoints them ? How does this happen ?
Yes, 20 years ago I had hopes for the internet as finally the medium for honest information flows, free of the yaketty contempt shown by the MSM (who themselves are also motivated mostly by vanity). Now look where the net is.
Power *will* be abused. No ifs, no buts.
We have had effectively had a coup in the US. It is actually much worse than Matt’s commets indicate.
Thank you for commenting on this heartbreaking development.
Richard Bennett says
The only way to stop this censorship is to kick out any candidate who supports this censorship at the next available election, be it local or national.
Karl J Penna says
many thanks for the thought provoking message, I think how we were locked down during covid and I think governments were surprise at how easily this happened. this has given people in power the thought that they can do this again and people will accept .
not being able to have free speech is a total denial of our basic rights . i myself have been taken off social media for a 24 hour period for giving an opinion and was told it was not in a socially accepted note
Karl Penna, Mapleton