Category Archives: Social media

Fascist Kabuki

There is no question that most television is a waste of time. The people connected with it realize how bad programming is and go ahead with their shows as cynically as possible. Producers are turning out programs that literally make me sick. TV seems to re-infect itself each year, using the same approach to shows and making them worse each season.
— Richard Boone, Hanford Sentinel, 1960

…the intelligence empire’s efforts to manufacture the truth and mold public opinion are more vast and varied than ever before. One of its foremost assets? Hollywood.
— Nicholas Schou, The Atlantic, July 2016

Like Saddam’s WMD in 2002, the threat posed by the tightening credit of 2008 was made to seem infinite for being undefined, but this time the terrible menace just below the horizon was global, and the fabric of reality itself, now daily called “capitalism” in the world media heretofore shy of this term, was threatened with extinction: without any real reportage, newscasts disseminated narratemes from Hollywood disaster films presaging total obliteration of the familiar. Strife was promised in terrifying and titillating epic visions – of a period of riotous turbulence, of systems crashing and structures imploding, of reigning isms lying in ruin and our species’ hubris chastised, of hedonistic society abruptly repentant in the wake of cataclysm, of wastelands of Darwininan struggle, all lying just around an epochal bend – but first, with special vividness, of perilously inadequate economic plumbing, suggesting that if the “toxic assets” “clogging the system” were not cleared without delay, at any moment the world would be submerged in deep financial shit.
— Alphonse van Worden, The Protocols of the Learned Lacanian of Ljublitzia, June 2016

There is a huge amount of material on CIA involvement in Hollywood. This is not new, but it seems to have been compartmentalized by most Americans and shuttled off into the dark corners of their consciousness. Most people largely don’t want to know. And the reasons for this are complex. But before digging into that, it’s not only the CIA that shapes entertainment, it’s nearly all institutions of government and almost all corporations and media itself. Giant media conglomerates are in a sense hardly distinguishable from the CIA and Pentagon and State Department. Which is rather close to the classic definition of fascism.

The esteemed former University of Southern California law professor Erwin Chemerinsky agrees. In Operation­Hollywood, Chemerinsky asserts that “the Supreme Court has said that above all, the First Amendment means that the government cannot participate in viewpoint discrimination.” It “cannot favor some speech due to its viewpoint and disfavor another because of its viewpoint.” Moreover, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his 1995 decision Rosenberger ­v.­The ­University ­of­ Virginia that the government must abstain from “regulating speech when the specific motivating ideology or the opinion or perspective of the speaker is the rationale for the restriction.
— Tricia Jenkins, The CIA in Hollywood, March 2016

And yet this is what happens constantly.

…they have become very good at persuading the public that a good movie is the one that opened strongest last weekend, even if the critics hated it. The media helps them do it, by reporting on box office figures without discussing the ways that those figures are manipulated. The media are part of the gravy train anyway, because of the ad campaign revenue.”
— Paul Brynes, Sydney Herald, 2014

Now, again, the cooperation of the CIA and Pentagon is well known. Two films that won Oscars for best picture (Argo and Hurt Locker) were essentially pure CIA and Pentagon propaganda. And this to not even get into stuff like Zero Dark Thirty. But what is more pernicious is how, in turn, all public narratives have taken on the quality of a Hollywood movie. And today this is evident in the way the Covid lockdowns are being depicted. Watch the opening episodes of any of the Dick Wolf TV franchises this new season: Chicago Med, FBI: Most Wanted, etc., and you see blatant unquestioning support for the government narrative (FBI agent advises daughter to not leave the house without her mask). This exactly meets the definition of propaganda. Dissenting views are completely absent. In Chicago Med the pandemic is depicted as if it were bubonic plague. Public discourse on the pandemic reflects TV’s treatment.

In fact, dissent is usually portrayed as dangerous and unpatriotic. The looming question is, then, why do so many people attack dissenters when they know (because the information has been around and available for thirty years) the government (and Hollywood) lie…they lie all the time. In fact, they ONLY lie.

Now, recent polls suggest that half of Americans reject the idea of more lockdowns. That’s a lot of people. Yet very few of those people speak up, or post opinions on social media. And this is an interesting phenomenon. There is an enormous fear of being called ‘conspiracy theorist’ or ‘anti vaxxer’ or ‘Covid truther’ etc. There is a tacit assault on the truth itself embedded in this stigmatizing. A pathologization of the search for truth. And this seems something that has arisen out of the culture of social media.

One understands that if the law says wear a mask or be fined, then people will wear the mask. But there is no law (yet) in expressing a dissenting opinion. And this lynch mob mentality has, predictably, attracted the most virulent xenophobic and racist memes and opinions possible. Of course, major social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are perilously close to outright censorship now. One is labeled dangerous if one questions the narrative on the pandemic. Simply pointing out that the fatality rate is extremely low despite all the lurid headlines is cause for censorship on Facebook. Stating facts has become, quite literally, dangerous.

But there is another layer involved in the shaping of opinion. And perhaps it is better to describe this as the shaping of consciousness itself. And this is because it’s really not just opinion, it’s something both more expansive and much deeper. One aspect is the now glaring infantilizing of the public. Here is n interesting side bar.

And one aspect of this childishness is the aforementioned compartmentalization. Many of these people attacking dissenters well know the government lies. Ask them about WMDs or Yellow Cake in Niger, or mobile chemical weapons labs, or even the guns to Contras and US trained death squads in Central America. They know they were lied to. And yet they desperately cling to official narrative regards Covid.

Deception can be coercive. When it succeeds, it can give power to the deceiver.
— Sissela Bok, Lying; Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, September 1999

The public has little interest in the Pentagon Papers, in John Podesta’s leaked emails, or in why Gary Webb was murdered. The official narratives regarding the break-up of Yugoslavia, or the coup in Honduras, or the killing of Gaddafi — the official narratives to any of these have been debunked years ago, and yet the lies persist and continue to shape opinion. When the U.S. helped with the fascist coup in Bolivia, the story was on the front page of most news outlets. When the socialist party was re-elected the story was seen, literally, nowhere. Most people think the coup was a popular victory for the people of Bolivia. Same with Hugo Chavez and the narrative in Venezuela. (see the debunking of liberal icon John Oliver here.)

Now, two things to note here. One is that much of the pandemic suspension of rights was possible because of the Patriot Act. And, two, the rabid anti-communism that runs through U.S. history and U.S. educational institutions has left a residue that clings with particular tenacity to the white liberal class. The most ardent virtue signalling is found among the affluent liberals of urban America. And these are people with great visibility and are also the target demographic for advertisers.

The clumsily-titled Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act, or USAPA) introduced a plethora of legislative changes which significantly increased the surveillance and investigative powers of law enforcement agencies in the United States. The Act did not, however, provide for the system of checks and balances that traditionally safeguards civil liberties in the face of such legislation. Legislative proposals in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were introduced less than a week after the attacks. { } One of the most striking features of the USA PATRIOT Act is the lack of debate surrounding its introduction.
— Epic.Org, Electronic Information Privacy Center, May 2015

There isn’t even the spirit any more that was in Vietnam, of skepticism, and the sense that the patriotic thing to do is to tell the American people the truth and to try to be impartial and not to be the cat’s paw of the government. But when I say this on TV the reaction is overwhelming; there is tremendous hostility to the free press in this country.
— John MacArthur, Harpers, Censorship and the War on Terrorism

The government has simply abandoned the idea of referendum, or really, it was never considered (which Neil Clark wrote about here.)

The same hostility to free speech is found regards actual democracy. Now, this is not a majority opinion, I don’t think, but like the lockdown polls my guess would be about half. So who makes up this half of the U.S. that is hostile to stuff like free speech or democratic procedures? Again, my guess is the educated white liberal class. These are the people who exhibited an outsize hatred of Trump to the extent that anything he said was going to be opposed and this includes the pandemic. These are the people who beatified Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Who refuse any criticism of Obama, and who love FBI directors if they were against the Donald. Why? I have no real answers except that in the age of screen culture the waves of opinion form quickly and migrate often and rarely can be rationally explained. Something in cyber culture (more acute due to the lockdowns) encourages simplistic narratives of good and evil. And in times of acute precarity there seems a default setting of ‘trust’ regarding state institutions. This also all falls under infantilism.

There are psychological aspects to this beyond just the inherent influence of screen culture. And this is a subject that does not lend itself to simplistic discourse.

We see that the object is being treated in the same way as our own ego, so that when we are in love a considerable amount of narcissistic libido overflows on the object. It is even obvious, in many forms of love choice, that the object serves as a substitute for some unattained ego ideal of our own. We love it on account of the perfections which we have striven to reach for our own ego, and which we should now like to procure in this roundabout way as a means of satisfying our narcissism.
— Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, 1921

Because there is no single Fuhrer figure in contemporary America, this libidinal attachment is diffused over a variety of figures. Why, for example, is Dr. Fauci so respected? Nothing in his dodgy career history explains this. Why are the countless dissenting doctors and respected researchers ignored? The only answer I have is that visibility on the screens of mass media amounts to a kind of Fuhrer stature. Like Max Headroom Fuhrers. There is an inherent authority in the close up, (Godard may have said that) and that is what TV and its extension to laptop and tablet screens achieves. The public is in thrall to figures of authority, even if entirely artificial. Or, rather, they are in thrall to ‘their’ screen images. The ones they identify with and feel they own. Politics is expressed much as shopping is expressed. The identification in the political sphere (and with history) is identical to how this public identifies with Hollywood’s protagonists.

Just as people do not believe deep down in their hearts that Jews are the devil, they do not fully believe in the leader. They do not really identify with him but act on this identification, represent their own enthusiasm, and thus participate in the leader’s performance. It is through this representation that they find a balance between their instinctual urges continually mobilized and the historical stage of enlightenment which they have attained and which can not be arbitrarily revoked. It is probably the distrust of the fiction of his own ‘group psychology’ that makes the fascist masses so merciless and unshakable.
— Theodor Adorno, Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda, 1951

This is an important observation of Adorno. The bad faith that resonates throughout the U.S. public discourse is an engine for resentment and rage. And everything has come to feel like a fiction. There is also a strange merging of several tributaries of social movements. One is the Green New Deal (and just read Cory Morningstar on this) and another is the Covid-19 pandemic, and the lockdowns, and then the Klaus Schwab (and Bill Gates and friends) so called Great Reset.

These are the privatised corporate movements that are passed off (on screens) as social reform. Now, the same can be said of Black Lives Matter but to a far less degree because that movement is far less unified. And Defunding the Police even more so, and this because much of that is driven by the formerly incarcerated. But the principle remains.

The Covid phenomenon, however, stands apart as the most drastic and grotesque manufacturing of crisis perhaps ever. Maybe in human history, actually. There is no crisis. The flu has similar numbers for fatalities and for infection. And now much state policy is attached to positive test results for a test nobody (even the manufacturers) really trusts. So who is driving this hysteria? Almost nobody can argue the lockdowns will cause more death, and more suffering. Already there are acute spikes in suicide, and drug overdose, as well as domestic abuse and depression and homelessness. The answer to who constitutes the engine behind this hysteria is likely the same people, by and large, who are driving the above mentioned attempts to rescue Capitalism. Or rather, to control the demolition of capitalism and the transition into a new feudalism.

World systems theorists like Wallerstein and Amin had been since the destruction of the USSR chronicling an unprecedented ruling class offensive to push forward a transformation out of an obsolescent form of competitive capitalism to the next shape of class rule; popular dissident economists and social theorists like Robin Blackburn, Michael Hudson, Naomi Klein, and Robert Brenner had simultaneously been tracking the increasing precariousness of the financialized post-Bretton Woods arrangements. Indeed Klein had recently published an enormous bestseller The Shock Doctrine which, for all its many flaws, provided a neologism for ruling class praxis that vividly conveyed its premeditated malice, violence and cunning, and which was well suited to advance conversations across social strata and diverse communities about the events unfolding in 2008.
— Alponse van Worden (Ibid.)

Van Worden’s critique is actually about Slavoj Zizek, and it is worth noting the malevolent influence of ersatz Marxists like Zizek (and Jacobin magazine and Bhaskar Sunkara, and these days even Counterpunch, sadly, and Chris Hedges, and many crypto LaRouchites, etc.) who are all now actively aligned with U.S. Imperialist interests. And all of whom have embraced a faux green ‘woke’ subject position that is merely more mystification and obscuring of genuine class analysis. For the real barometer for genuine opposition has become the ‘drama of the mask’. Where only recently it was the thermometer, the 1 degree or 2 degrees or whatever, that anchored most climate discourse, today there is the mask. There is ‘herd immunity’ (called mass murder by the folks at Counterpunch). There is the same guilt tripping, the same virtue signalling, and the same bad faith. And the bad faith is palpable, for when expressing ‘concern’ for victims of the pandemic, one can hear the echoes of the same concern many expressed for the victims of child abuse during the recovered memories trials, or of late, too, the overpopulation proponents — like Prince William and Bill Gates. They do not care about victims, they care about saving themselves — but that can only reach their conscious mind by first saving capitalism.

The current bad faith can also be linked to the collapse of the U.S.S.R. The emotional and psychic vacuum, even if largely unconscious for many, left by the fall of Soviet communism, was (and is) enormous. And out of this vacuum came the front edges of the new woke fascism.

Today, social conditions have produced uncritical acceptance of authority among large parts of the population. Among others, even those one might expect to criticise the status quo, we see only despair. The upsurge in interest in deterministic utopian or pessimistic thinking, influenced by the rapid technological change speaks volumes about the powerlessness felt even by those least susceptible to fascist propaganda.
— Max L. Feldman, Seductive Fascist Style, Verso blog, September 2019

And the style coordinates for concern invariably enclose rank sentimentalism. For as James Baldwin noted sentimentality is The Mask of Cruelty. This public bathos has multiplied across all areas of discussion, and it points back to just how harmful the erosion of education has been, and maybe in particular the loss of arts education. For the American public today is both tone deaf and stunningly deficient in aesthetic understanding. They have gone from bad taste to no taste.

Not that long ago, Hollywood was still capable of making meaningful movies.

Based on what little reliable information has been published about the CIA and Hollywood, the agency’s covert manipulation of the entertainment industry appears to have markedly decreased during the next two decades. In the 1970s, following the Watergate scandal and shocking congressional revelations about the CIA, a Hollywood backlash against the spy agency even took shape. A series of anti-authority thrillers, including classic conspiracy films like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View (both released in 1974) and Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor (1975), depicted the national security state as a malevolent force, with Condor, starring Robert Redford as a CIA whistle-blower, taking specific aim at the agency as an institution capable of killing anyone who gets in its way, even its own agents.
— Nicholas Schou,  Spooked, 2016

The shift began in the late 70s. And it escalated profoundly in the 90s under Bill Clinton. For the Clintons saw the importance of Hollywood. A huge number of former Clinton interns are now Hollywood producers. (interesting aside, Clinton screened the 1998 Ed Zwick film The Siege in the White House — a story of terrorists attacking NYC leading to martial law).

Today, however, there are fewer people actually going to the cinema. People watch at home, on laptops and stream from a myriad of platforms. This is the Netflix era. Something else has changed, too. Hollywood has actually stopped being a source of entertainment. I mean it “is” still that, but it is more a sort of religious domain and something like a companion. This is an atomized and lonely society. Electronic devices are left on in many homes 24/7. It is the background white noise of daily life. There are TVs in most restaurants now. There are TVs in doctor’s offices and in all manner of waiting rooms. I saw wide screen monitors at the unemployment office. I saw them at the DMV. Life is chronicled on screens, and I suspect Jonathan Beller is right that our unconscious is now a film strip.

The new woke fascism is, however, much like all fascist movements. I sense too much is made of the technological revolution (sic). Even critics of the fourth industrial revolution are besotted by AI and the fantasies of mass surveillance and facial recognition and the like. The truth is, of course, it doesn’t really have to work, people only have to believe it does. But technology is now a form of mystification. The woke fascism is, like earlier forms, attached to ideas of not just obedience, but duty to obey. And in this sense Americans have always been prime targets for fascism. They see life as a struggle and a conquest. Today the duty to the state is camouflaged to a degree, the state has as a stand-in varieties of environmental constructs (Gaia, etc). The overpopulation eugenicists constantly reiterate their love of nature, of the “planet”. But this is a planet for ‘them’, not for you. And the fascist system is always, to a large extent, petit-bourgeois. So, into this Hollywood has increasingly created stories of technological heroism, and of duty to the authority of those who create and operate that technology. And to valorize the white middle class (Spielberg is the avatar for suburban heroic) As I have written before, Terminator 2 was the story of androids as better parents than humans.

What I am trying to point out is that the CIA is trying to circulate whitewashed images of itself through popular media. Further, it is trying to weave those images into the fabric of society in such a way that viewers see them as a “natural” reflection of the Agency, rather than one that is partially constructed and manipulated by the government.
— Tricia Jenkins (Ibid.)

And it is Trump who is, maybe, the ultimate expression of this decline into ‘no taste’. Trump can’t be understood. He speaks in gibberish. Biden is only very slightly better in terms of speaking English. His clear early stage dementia is maybe the perfect sound track for the Covid experiment. And yet, the petit-bourgeoisie applaud him (and Kamala Harris) as if an exorcism has been completed and the Virgin Spring is born.

And lest anyone have doubts about the underlying agenda(s) of the Covid lockdowns, and in particular Bill Gates… read Jacob Levich.

Here are just a few of Gates’ suggestions..(found in his op ed in the NY Times, and one in the New England Journal of Medicine) which I take from the Levich article…

Work closely with Western military forces, specifically NATO, in operations targeting the developing world. (Planning “should include military alliances such as NATO”; “in a severe epidemic, the military forces of many or all middle- and high-income countries might have to work together.”)

Suspend constitutional guarantees in sovereign nations affected by epidemics. (“Because democratic countries try to avoid abridging individuals’ rights to travel and free assembly, they might be too slow to restrict activities that help spread disease.”)

Create worldwide surveillance networks, presumably free of privacy protections, that would make information about people in developing countries instantly available to the imperial core.  (“Access to satellite photography and cell-phone data” would permit tracking “the movement of populations and individuals in the affected region.”)

The drama of the mask is one of transitioning into full tilt fascism. And instead of black shirts, we have black (and blue and rainbow) masks. But there are already police in most European countries, and in the U.S. (in places) enforcing lockdown restrictions and punishing those who literally and figuratively refuse the mask. Businesses are aligned with their new duty to the state. To the system. Those businesses that are still open, that is.

Homelessness is reaching proportions never even dreamed of even by dystopian Sci Fi writers. And with this is coming a new criminalizing of poverty. The poor were always resented in America, but now those who do the resenting are feeling emboldened by a new religious fervor. And the empire of screens is there to validate that fervor. A patriotic fervor for some, a new woke ‘concern’ for others. Put on the mask because you CARE about people. And nothing is too severe for those who refuse. There is an overwhelming self righteousness in American society today. The next stage will be mandatory vaccination. And with that we will have arrived at an existence of pure symbolism, disconnected from reality. It is fascist Kabuki, a political drama of stylized symbolic gestures and mime, all performed behind a mask.

The post Fascist Kabuki first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Nazi Satan Death Cults” and other Mass Distractions

Recently, Dissident Voice contributor, the never-compromising class- and labor-blogger, Michael K. Smith, took on a dragon of the  progressive left whose slaying really seems long overdue. Writing in his typically potent style, Smith hammered out the following:

How many times do we need to request a meaningless ‘denunciation’ of white supremacy? We, on what passes for a left, are supposed to be critics of corporate media, so why the dog-like obedience to its idiotic framing on this non-issue?…

Let us have no more Southern Poverty Law Center-style ‘studies’ of how right-wing fascists are poised to take over the country, which they’ve been robotically repeating since the 1970s.

Non-stories about ‘hate-group terror’ do indeed fill the corporate media—and, yes, a few real ones too. This has been so since the 1980s when sheared, pale youth spewing semi-literate vitriol filled day-time TV on a weekly basis — where did Geraldo/Oprah/Sally Jesse find these people, I always asked myself.

History Channel-Nazis and Hollywood skinheads do indeed horrify and fascinate, and they always will. That’s a good, ingrained impulse, surely. But it’s also why people like Morris Dees and his Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) have been able to scare literally hundreds of millions of dollars from rich, northeastern liberals over the last fifty years. As a result, Dees and his group have been called ‘everything that’s wrong with liberalism today.’

A Canadian version of Smith’s piece would have mentioned our own SPLC: the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. Just days before Smith’s piece, the self-described ‘monitor of Canadian hate’ provided the corporate media some of the most “idiotic framing on this non-issue” I’ve ever seen framed. See the slab of a quote below which the Global News network saw fit to print from the group.

The context here is what CAN gleaned from the social-media accounts of a white guy being investigated for murdering a Muslim man in Ontario the month previous. Among other things, CAN found:

… he followed individuals associated with the national socialist black metal scenes, we are talking neo-Nazi metal. From there, we found his YouTube account, we found that he posted a video that’s associated with this chant that’s associated with this Nazi Satanist ideology, and we looked back on his other social media profiles and found that he used very specific language that would indicate that he was an adherent, or at least extremely well-versed, in the ideology of this Nazi death cult.

What is “Nazi Satanist ideology”, you ask? CAN nor the reporter tells you. What’s a “Nazi death cult”? Same thing. Nothing. Certainly, concerned Canadians would like to know things like how many death cults are out there, whether they’re here in Canada, etc., but, again, no details — and, no, this “chant” business isn’t explained either.

How do we know this isn’t all just word play designed to produce certain mental effects? We don’t, and that’s what makes uncritical reporting from corporate media seem sensationalist and deceptive.

Global News also pushed out a claim that appears on CAN’s site about Canada having a whopping 300 ‘far-right extremist’ groups. This would be news to most — including CSIS, Canada’s FBI, because it would be astounding if it were true. One research report that looked through the SPLC’s own list of around a thousand hate-groups in the US concluded it to be essentially a fraud designed to scare the public—I haven’t been able to find any details about the contents of CAN’s list anywhere online; a red flag for an objective reporter and political leaders, surely (just this week, the list was mentioned by the leader of Canada’s progressive party).

Now, I don’t disbelieve the accused killer has some alarming internet habits (nor that CAN does some good work), but the complete lack of push-back from Global News as well as its failure to seek an outside source (a law professor? CSIS spokespeople?) clearly had to do with what the corporate media has always done since at least the days of William Randolph Hearst: provoking fear from the public so they spend more attention on the media-spectacle and less on capitalism.

That this type of advocacy takes the public’s focus away, as Smith argues, is frustrating enough. But on top of it, just days after Smith’s piece, CAN received a $268,000 grant from Trudeau’s Liberal Party. The federal grant followed a corporate one of $10,000 from the Bank of Montreal just weeks after the murder of George Floyd. Both were surely intended to divert attention away from the economic oppression each is deeply invested in and likely a waste of taxpayer-funds that could be spent on things like race-relations education or de-escalation training for cops.

Even calling CAN “liberal” seems to be overly generous. As Dissident Voice contributor Yves Engler has documented, CAN apparently failed to condemn a horrific Al Quds rally in Toronto last year in which innocent Palestinian-rights protesters were hounded by 50 to 100 members of anti-Islam groups, including the notorious Jewish Defense League (which the FBI labels a terrorist organization). Interestingly enough, among the harassing protesters was something called the Soldiers of Odin, a motorcycle gang who CAN does label a hate group. On most days at least.

This likely wasn’t loafing on the job. CAN’s chair Bernie Farber has a history of defending Israeli apartheid going back to the 1980s when he led a Zionist lobbying group, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC).  His former CJC partner Len Rudner is also part of CAN. Counterpunch even wrote back in 2007 that Farber is somewhat of an originator of the now well-known conflation of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism — Not one of our proudest exports, if true.

Unsurprisingly then, he’s also called support for BDS or the use of  “apartheid” to describe what’s happening in the oPt as signs of “anti-Semitism.”

The inconsistencies don’t stop there. In 2018, he led a push to remove a statue of John A. Macdonald stating that, due to him espousing “legalized racism” and having ‘degraded’ indigenous peoples, he shouldn’t receive “any honours”, let alone statues. In addition, Farber’s given seminars on the genocide and ‘betrayal by colonialist ideals’ experienced by Canada’s First Nations. Fair enough. But such sensitivity toward indigenous rights and reconciliation should strike some as slightly incongruous considering his previous attempt to ban pro-Palestinian activists from participating in Toronto’s Gay Pride parade. Or, his defense of notorious anti-Muslim activist Daniel Pipes. Or, his opposition to York University students protesting Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead, a three-week-long assault in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed, some with white phosphorous.

For progressives, emphasizing racial issues over class struggle has been controversial since it began in the late sixties. Both should be pursued without cannibalizing one another. After all, one can point to numerous examples of big business, past and present, stoking up racial tensions among workers in order to pursue a divide-and-conquer labor strategy.

Further, highlighting the problem of hate groups screams of a middle-class concern, one which working people can’t afford to elevate above the structural economic unfairness they deal with daily.

Smith’s argument that ‘white supremacist terror’ has become a distraction for the benefit of the oligarchs has plenty of merit. The near-constant and symbolic denunciations it receives from Trudeau’s Liberals and Woke Capital helps bear this out as does the SPLC’s hoovering up of donation funds that could’ve been spent in minority communities.

And merely speaking out against white-supremacist gangs shouldn’t inspire self-righteousness or automatically make you a leftist. SPLC and CAN prove this. Leaning into serious racist structures like those found in Israel and elsewhere does. Until we see this from CAN, the SPLC, etc., corporate media’s attention and our tax dollars should be spent elsewhere.

The post "Nazi Satan Death Cults" and other Mass Distractions first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Strange Demise of the American Herald Tribune

Many observers would agree that the biggest loser in the recent U.S. presidential election was not Donald Trump, it was the media. The news that was presented to the American public amounted to a tsunami of negative reporting on Donald Trump buttressed by opinion polls that turned out to be poorly executed and wrong by a huge margin. Some might argue that Trump got what he deserved as he was a bad candidate and a bad man, but the unwillingness of the media to pursue stories detrimental to Joe Biden, particularly the corruption surrounding son Hunter, demonstrated a reckless disregard for admittedly unpleasant facts that might have changed some votes.

As an honest media is essential to the proper functioning of a democracy the issue of the politicization of the Fourth Estate is perhaps more serious than who eventually wound up being elected. The degradation of the traditional media, exemplified by the shameful reporting on the Russiagate fiction, has unfortunately come at a time when the new media, i.e. the “internet” is also undergoing transformation. Though some Americans continue to believe that when they go “online” they will get a free flow of useful and factual information that will guide them in making decisions or coming to conclusions about the state of the world, they are increasingly finding only spin or misdirection.

The conceit that the internet would bring with it alternative viewpoints challenging the status quo might have been true to an extent twenty years ago, but the growth and consolidation of corporate information management firms has instead limited access to material that it does not approve of, thereby successfully shaping the political and economic environment to conform with their own interests, and, increasingly those of the federal government. Facebook, Google and other news and social networking sites now all have advisory panels that are authorized to ban content and limit access by members and threats from Washington about regulating the companies and their offerings keep everyone toeing the line.

The United States government, riding a wave of Donald Trump inspired complaints about fake news, has itself been increasingly engaged in suppressing viewpoints that it objects to. The first major attack on foreign media operating in the United States came in 2017, when Russian government news sites Russia Today (RT America) and Sputnik were compelled to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938. U.S. intelligence agencies had stated in a January report that the stations, which broadcasts on cable and over radio in the United States, are part of “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine” and that they had contributed to the Kremlin’s campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential. That was of course untrue. Based on the report, the Department of Justice compelled RT America and Sputnik to register under FARA, which inter alia requires the disclosure of financial information.

The United States has moved to criminalize what it considers propaganda by foreign adversaries through its 2017 creation of the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force (FTIF) in the bureau’s Counterintelligence Division. The Justice Department claim that both the Russian sites were agents of the Kremlin might appear to be fair enough, but it was noted at the time that many other government-supported foreign news services operate freely in the U.S. without having to declare themselves “agents” and the U.S. itself openly operates propaganda sites like Radio Free Europe overseas without any hindrance.

Since that time, Washington and the media have also been beating the familiar drum that foreigners are interfering in American politics, to include Russia, the Chinese, and the Iranians. In August a 77 page report produced by the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) on Russian internet based news and opinion sources was released. It claimed that the Russians were guilty of spreading disinformation and propaganda on behalf of the Kremlin. Its full title read “Understanding Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem” and it included a lead paragraph asserting that “Russia’s disinformation and propaganda ecosystem is the collection of official, proxy, and unattributed communication channels and platforms that Russia uses to create and amplify false narratives.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the New York Times is hot on the trail of Russian malfeasance, describing the report and its conclusions in a lengthy article “State Dept. Traces Russian Disinformation Links” that appeared on August 5. The Times described how the government report identified a number of online sites that it claims are actively involved in the “disinformation” effort. The Times article focuses on one site in particular that this author writes for, describing how “The report states that the Strategic Culture Foundation [website] is directed by Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the S.V.R., and stands as ‘a prime example of longstanding Russian tactics to conceal direct state involvement in disinformation and propaganda outlets.’ The organization publishes a wide variety of fringe voices and conspiracy theories in English, while trying to obscure its Russian government sponsorship.” It also quotes Lea Gabrielle, the GEC Director, who explained that “The Kremlin bears direct responsibility for cultivating these tactics and platforms as part of its approach of using information and disinformation as a weapon.”

Russia has, of course, been falsely accused of supporting the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the existence of alternative news sites funded wholly or in part by a foreign government is not ipso facto an act of war or even particularly aggressive. Also, the claim that the Strategic Culture Foundation was and presumable still is a disinformation mechanism is overwrought. Yes, the site is located in Moscow and it may have some government support but it features numerous American and European contributors in addition to Russians. Its content is generally speaking antiwar and often critical of U.S. foreign policy but the contributors include conservatives, libertarians and progressives who write on all kinds of

subjects.

The latest attack by the U.S. government on an alternative media resource, involves the American Herald Tribune (AHT), which was launched as an alternative news site in 2015. Canadian Professor Anthony Hall, serves as the Editor in Chief of the site. Hall currently lives in Lethbridge Alberta Canada and is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Lethbridge. The name and internet domain base of the site were set up and initially funded by Iranians whom Hall had encountered on one of his several trips to Iran. The news site is admittedly highly critical of American foreign policy and of Israel, which also means that it is supportive of both Iran and Syria. It is strongly opposed to the United States initiating a war with the Iranians. Its contributors include myself as well as scores of writers from the Americas, Europe and Asia and articles have appeared on a wide range of topics.

AHT first came under pressure in February, based on a cyber-security report that alleged that the site was one element in a large disinformation network being run by the Iranian government. The story was picked up by CNN and the Washington Post, with a Post review of the CNN information claiming that though AHT masquerades as a self-professed “’genuinely independent online media outlet’ …cybersecurity experts have determined [it] is part of a far-reaching Iranian influence campaign. The strategy is simple: create a network of inauthentic news sites, then enlist associated accounts on popular platforms to spread the stories not only here but also in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. American Herald Tribune’s modus operandi matches what we’ve already learned about online disinformation: Adversaries ‘launder’ their campaigns through sympathetic citizens of target countries, or just citizens they offer money to — from authors on propagandistic or outright deceptive news sites to run-of-the-mill social media users.”

The cybersecurity company that wrote the damning report cited by CNN is based in California and is called Fire Eye. It reportedly has numerous contracts with the federal government and its assessment about the Iranian disinformation network provided nothing in the way of actual evidence nor did it actually name AHT, though there has been an independent unsupported claim that AHT was founded in Iran. Fire Eye also rated its “assessments” in the report as being presented with “moderate confidence.” In government-speak, that means that the conclusions are mostly speculative, not based on hard evidence, and do not require further action.

Prominent investigative journalist Gareth Porter has also described the social media censorship AHT has endured. His June report maintains that the FBI had encouraged Facebook, Instagram, and Google to remove or restrict ads on AHT specifically. In 2018, AHT’s Facebook page was deleted and its Instagram account was closed.

If the allegations regarding AHT’s role in a larger conspiracy sounds similar to the false charges made against Russia post 2016, they should, as they come out of the same script of “foreign interference.” The CNN coverage of AHT should have been seen as a warning that more was to come. On October 7 the Department of Justice took decisive action when it “…seized 92 domain names that were unlawfully used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to engage in a global disinformation campaign… According to the seizure documents, four of the domains purported to be genuine news outlets but were actually controlled by the IRGC and targeted the United States for the spread of Iranian propaganda to influence United States domestic and foreign policy in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and the remainder spread Iranian propaganda to other parts of the world. In addition, the seizure documents describe how all 92 domains were being used in violation of U.S. sanctions targeting both the Government of Iran and the IRGC. We will continue to use all of our tools to stop the Iranian Government from misusing U.S. companies and social media to spread propaganda covertly, to attempt to influence the American public secretly, and to sow discord…”

On November 4 the Justice Department seized an additional 27 alleged IRGC supported domains. The AHT was included in the seizures and the site is now down. All of AHT’s accumulated articles archived in the domain are also inaccessible.

What is happening here is an effort by the U.S. government to suppress any news source if it can be plausibly linked to a foreign government that is unfriendly. At the present time that basically means Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. To be sure, AHT publishes authors with dissenting views, who frequently criticize U.S. foreign policy towards Iran in particular and also regarding the Middle East more generally. But to make the case against AHT and the other alleged Iranian disinformation sites, the Justice Department had to claim that the funding for the network was coming from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Force, an organization that it has conveniently labeled as “terrorism supporting.” It is a tenuous argument on all levels, but the real damage being done is to the First Amendment right, Freedom of Speech. The ability of Americans in particular to obtain up-to-date and reliable information has been eroding for twenty years or more while the claim that “foreigners” providing alternative viewpoints to small audiences are destroying democracy is ridiculous as there is no evidence that anyone was radicalized by anything through what he or she was hearing or seeing. If Joe Biden’s administration continues to move in the same direction as Donald Trump and the mainstream media itself self-censors to go along with the charade, there will be very little freedom left when the next national election rolls around.

 

The post The Strange Demise of the American Herald Tribune first appeared on Dissident Voice.

It is the Equalities Commission, not Labour, carrying out Political Interference

I recently published in Middle East Eye a long analysis of last week’s report by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission into the question of whether the UK Labour party had an especial antisemitism problem. (You can read a slightly fuller version of that article on my website.) In the piece, I reached two main conclusions.

First, the commission’s headline verdict – though you would never know it from reading the media’s coverage – was that no case was found that Labour suffered from “institutional antisemitism”.

That, however, was precisely the claim that had been made by groups like the Jewish Labour Movement, the Campaign Against Antisemitism, the Board of Deputies and prominent rabbis such as Ephraim Mirvis. Their claims were amplified by Jewish media outlets such as the Jewish Chronicle and individual journalists such as Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian. All are now shown to have been wrong, to have maligned the Labour party and to have irresponsibly inflamed the concerns of Britain’s wider Jewish community.

Not that any of these organisations or individuals will have to apologise. The corporate media – from the Mail to the Guardian – are continuing to mislead and misdirect on this issue, as they have been doing for the best part of five years. Neither Jewish leadership groups such as the Board of Deputies nor the corporate media have an interest in highlighting the embarrassing fact that the commission’s findings exposed their campaign against Corbyn as misinformation.

Breaches of procedure

What the report found instead were mainly breaches of party protocol and procedure: that complaints about antisemitism were not handled promptly and transparently.

But even here the issue was not really about antisemitism, as the report indicates, even if obliquely. Delays in resolving complaints were chiefly the responsibility not of Corbyn and his staff but of a party bureaucracy that he inherited and was deeply and explicitly hostile to him.

Senior officials stalled antisemitism complaints not because they were especially antisemitic but because they knew the delays would embarrass Corbyn and weaken him inside the party, as the leaked report of an Labour internal inquiry revealed in the spring.

But again, neither the media nor Jewish leadership groups have any interest in exposing their own culpability in this false narrative. And the new Labour leadership, under Keir Starmer, has absolutely no incentive to challenge this narrative either, particularly as doing so would be certain to revive exactly the same kind of antisemitism smears, but this time directed against Starmer himself.

Too hasty and aggressive

The corporate media long ago styled Labour staff who delayed the complaints procedure to harm Corbyn as antisemitism “whistleblowers”. Many of them starred in last year’s BBC Panorama programme on Labour in which they claimed they had been hampered from carrying out their work.

The equalities commission’s report subtly contradicts their claims, conceding that progress on handling complaints improved after senior Labour staff hostile to Corbyn – the “whistleblowers” very much among them – were removed from their posts.

Indeed, the report suggests the very opposite of the established media narrative. Corbyn’s team, far from permitting or encouraging delays in resolving antisemitism complaints, too often tried to step in to speed up the process to placate the corporate media and Jewish organisations.

In an example of having your cake and eating it, the commission castigates Corbyn’s staff for doing this, labelling it “political interference” and terming these actions unfair and discriminatory. But the unfairness chiefly relates to those being complained against – those accused of antisemitism – not those doing the complaining.

If Labour had an identifiable problem in relation to antisemitism complaints, according to the report, it seems to have occurred mostly in terms of the party being too hasty and aggressive in tackling antisemitism, in response to relentless criticism from the media and Jewish organisations, rather than being indulgent of it.

Again, no one in the media, Jewish leadership organisations, or the new Labour leadership wants this finding to be highlighted. So it is being ignored.

Flawed approach

The second conclusion, which I lacked the space to deal with properly in my Middle East Eye piece, relates more specifically to the commission’s own flawed approach in compiling the report rather than the media’s misrepresentation of the report.

As I explained in my earlier piece, the commission itself is very much an establishment body. Even had it wanted to, which it most certainly did not, it was never going to stick its neck out and rubbish the narrative presented by the establishment media.

On procedural matters, such as how the party handled antisemitism complaints, the equalities commission kept the report as vague as possible, obfuscating who was responsible for those failings and who was supposed to benefit from Corbyn staff’s interference. Both issues had the potential to fatally undermine the established media narrative.

Instead, the commission’s imprecision has allowed the media and Jewish organisations to interpret the report in self-serving ways – ways convenient to their existing narrative about “institutional antisemitism” in Labour.

Scouring social media

But the report misleads not only in its evasion and ambiguity. It does so more overtly in its seemingly desperate effort to find examples of Labour party “agents” who were responsible for the “problem” of antisemitism.

It is worth pondering what it would have looked like had the commission admitted it was unable to find anyone to hold to account for antisemitism in Labour. That would have risked blowing a very large hole in the established media narrative indeed.

So there must have been a great deal of pressure on the commission to find some examples. But extraordinarily – after five years of relentless claims of “institutional antisemitism” in Labour, and of organisations like the Campaign Against Antisemitism and the Jewish Labour Movement scouring through Labour members’ social media accounts – the commission is able to muster sufficient evidence against only two individuals.

Two!

Both are found responsible for “illegal harassment” of Jewish people.

In those circumstances, therefore, it is important to critically examine just what evidence exists that these two individuals exhibited antisemitic attitudes or harassed Jews. Presumably, this pair’s behaviour was so egregious, their antisemitism so unmistakable, that the commission felt it had no choice but to single them out and hold the party responsible for failing to punish them summarily (without, of course, exhibiting at the same time any “political interference”).

I won’t test readers’ patience by examining both examples. In any case, I have dealt with one of them, Ken Livingstone, London’s former mayor, at length in previous blog posts. They can be read here and here, for example.

Outward appearances

Let us focus instead on the other person named: a minor Labour party figure named Pam Bromley, who was then a local councillor for the borough of Rossendale, near Bolton.

First, we should note that the “harassment” she was deemed to have carried out seems to have been limited to online comments posted to social media. The commission does not suggest she expressed any hatred of Jews, made threats against any Jews individually or collectively, or physically attacked anyone Jewish.

I don’t know anything about Bromley, apart from the handful of comments attributed to her in the report. I also don’t know what was going on inside her head when she wrote those posts. If the commission knows more, it does not care to share that information with us. We can only judge the outward appearance of what she says.

One social media post, it is true, does suggest a simplistic political outlook that may have indicated an openness to anti-Jewish conspiracy theories – or what the commission terms a “trope”. Bromley herself says she was making “general criticisms about capitalism”. Determining antisemitic conduct on the basis of that one post – let alone allowing an entire party of 500,000 members to be labelled “institutionally antisemitic” for it – might seem more than a little excessive.

But notably the problematic post was made in April 2018 – shortly after Corbyn’s staff wrestled back control of the complaints procedure from those hostile to his project. It was also the same month Bromley was suspended from the party. So if the post was indeed antisemitic, Corbyn’s Labour lost no time in dealing with it.

Did Bromley otherwise demonstrate a pattern of posting antisemitic material on social media that makes it hard to dispute that she harboured antisemitic motives? Were her comments so obviously antisemitic that the Labour party bureaucracy should have sanctioned her much sooner (even if at the time Corbyn’s staff had no control over the disciplinary process to do so)?

Let us examine the two comments highlighted by the commission in the main section of the report, which they deem to constitute the most clear-cut examples of Bromley’s antisemitism.

Raw emotions

The first was posted on Facebook, though strangely the commission appears not to know when:

Had Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party pulled up the drawbridge and nipped the bogus AS [antisemitism] accusations in the bud in the first place we would not be where we are now and the fifth column in the LP [Labour Party] would not have managed to get such a foothold … the Lobby has miscalculated … The witch hunt has created brand new fightback networks … The Lobby will then melt back into its own cesspit.

The strong language doubtless reflects the raw emotions the antisemitism claims against Corbyn’s supporters provoked. Many members understood only too well that the Labour party was riven by a civil war and that their socialist project was at stake. But where exactly is the antisemitism in Bromley’s tirade?

In the report, the commission says it considered the reference to a “fifth column” as code for Jews. But why? The equalities commission appears to have placed the worst possible interpretation on an ambiguous comment and then advanced it as an “antisemitic trope” – apparently a catch-all that needed no clarification.

But given what we now know – at least since the leaking of the internal Labour report in the spring – it seems far more likely Bromley, in referring to a “fifth column”, was talking about the party bureaucracy hostile to Corbyn. Most of those officials were not Jewish, but exploited the antisemitism claims because those claims were politically helpful.

Interpreted that way – and such an interpretation fits the facts presented in the leaked internal report – Bromley’s comment is better viewed as impolite, even hurtful, but probably not antisemitic.

Joan Ryan, an MP who was then head of Labour Friends of Israel – part of the lobby Bromley is presumably referring to – was not Jewish. But she was clearly very much part of the campaign to oust Corbyn using antisemitism as a stick to beat him and his supporters with, as an Al-Jazeera undercover documentary exposed in early 2017.

Ryan, we should remember, was instrumental in falsely accusing a Labour party member of an “antisemitic trope” – a deception that was only exposed because the exchange was secretly caught on film.

Internecine feud

Here is the second comment by Bromley highlighted by the commission. It was posted in late 2019, shortly after Labour had lost the general election:

My major criticism of him [Corbyn] – his failure to repel the fake accusations of antisemitism in the LP [Labour Party] – may not be repeated as the accusations may probably now magically disappear, now capitalism has got what it wanted.

Again, it seems clear that Bromley is referring to the party’s long-standing internecine feud, which would become public knowledge a few months later with the leaking of the internal report.

Here Bromley was suggesting that the media and anti-Corbyn wing of the party would ease up on the antisemitism allegations – as they indeed largely have done – because the threat of Corbyn’s socialist project had been ended by a dismal election result that saw the Tories gain a commanding parliamentary majority.

It could be argued that her assessment is wrong, but how is it antisemitic – unless the commission believes “capitalism” is also code for “Jews”?

But even if Bromley’s comments are treated as indisputably antisemitic, they are hardly evidence of Corbyn’s Labour party indulging antisemitism, or being “institutionally antisemitic”. As noted, she was suspended by the party in April 2018, almost as soon Corbyn’s team managed to gain control of the party bureaucracy from the old guard. She was expelled last February, while Corbyn was still leader.

Boris Johnson’s racism

It is instructive to compare the certainty with which the commission treats Bromley’s ambiguous remarks as irrefutable proof of antisemitism with its complete disregard for unmistakably antisemitic comments from Boris Johnson, the man actually running the country. That lack of concern is shared, of course, by the establishment media and Jewish leadership organisations.

The commission has repeatedly rejected parallel demands from Muslim groups for an investigation into the ruling Conservative party for well-documented examples of Islamophobia. But no one seems to be calling for an investigation of Johnson’s party for antisemitism.

Johnson himself has a long history of making overtly racist remarks, from calling black people “piccanninies” with “watermelon smiles” to labelling Muslim women “letterboxes”.

Jews have not avoided being stigmatised either. In his novel 72 Virgins, Johnson uses his authorial voice to suggest that Jewish oligarchs run the media and are able to fix an election result.

In a letter to the Guardian, a group of Jewish Corbyn supporters noted Johnson’s main Jewish character in the novel, Sammy Katz, was described as having a “proud nose and curly hair”, and he was painted “as a malevolent, stingy, snake-like Jewish businessman who exploits immigrant workers for profit”.

Nothing in the equalities commission’s report on Labour comes even close to suggesting this level of antisemitism. But then again, Johnson has never argued that antisemitism has been politically weaponised. And why would he? No one, from the corporate media to conservative Jewish leadership organisations, seems to be taking any serious interest in the overt racism demonstrated by either him or his party.

The post It is the Equalities Commission, not Labour, carrying out Political Interference first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Social Media’s Erasure of Palestinians is a Grim Warning for our Future

There is a growing unease that the decisions taken by social media corporations can have a harmful impact on our lives. These platforms, despite enjoying an effective monopoly over the virtual public square, have long avoided serious scrutiny or accountability.

In a new Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, former Silicon Valley executives warn of a dystopian future. Google, Facebook and Twitter have gathered vast quantities of data on us to better predict and manipulate our desires. Their products are gradually rewiring our brains to addict us to our screens and make us more pliable to advertisers. The result, as we are consigned to discrete ideological echo chambers, is ever greater social and political polarisation and turmoil.

As if to underline the ever-tightening grip these tech corporations exert on our lives, Facebook and Twitter decided this month to openly interfere in the most contentious US presidential election in living memory. They censored a story that could harm the electoral prospects of Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger to incumbent President Donald Trump.

Given that nearly half of Americans receive their news chiefly via Facebook, the ramifications of such a decision on our political life were not hard to interpret. In excising any debate about purported corruption and influence-peddling by Biden’s son, Hunter, carried out in his father’s name, these social media platforms stepped firmly into the role of authoritarian arbiter of what we are allowed to say and know.

‘Monopoly gatekeeper’

Western publics are waking up very belatedly to the undemocratic power social media wields over them. But if we wish to understand where this ultimately leads, there is no better case study than the very different ways Israelis and Palestinians have been treated by the tech giants.

The treatment of Palestinians online serves as a warning that it would be foolish indeed to regard these globe-spanning corporations as politically neutral platforms, and their decisions as straightforwardly commercial. This is to doubly misunderstand their role.

Social media firms are now effectively monopolistic communication grids – similar to the electricity and water grids, or the phone network of a quarter of a century ago. Their decisions are therefore no longer private matters, but instead have huge social, economic and political consequences. That is part of the reason why the US justice department launched a lawsuit last week against Google for acting as a “monopoly gatekeeper for the internet”.

Google, Facebook and Twitter have no more a right to arbitrarily decide who and what they host on their sites than telecoms companies once had a right to decide whether a customer should be allowed a phone line. But unlike the phone company, social media corporations control not just the means of communication, but the content too. They can decide, as the Hunter Biden story shows, whether their customers get to participate in vital public debates about who leads them.

The Hunter Biden decision is as if the phone company of old not only listened in to conversations, but was able to cut the line if it did not like the politics of any particular customer.

In fact, it is even worse than that. Social media now deliver the news to large sections of the population. Their censoring of a story is more akin to the electricity company turning off the power to everyone’s homes for the duration of a TV broadcast to ensure no one can see it.

Censorship by stealth

The tech giants are the wealthiest, most powerful corporations in human history, their riches measured in hundreds of billions, and now trillions, of dollars. But the argument that they are apolitical – aiming simply to maximise profits – was never true.

They have every reason to promote politicians who side with them by committing not to break up their monopolies or regulate their activities, or, better still, by promising to weaken controls that might prevent them from growing even more fabulously rich and powerful.

Conversely, the tech giants also have every incentive to use the digital space to penalise and marginalise political activists who urge greater regulation either of their activities, or of the marketplace more generally.

Unlike their explicit deletion of the Hunter Biden story, which incensed the Trump administration, social media corporations more usually censor by stealth. That power is wielded through algorithms, the secret codes that decide whether something or someone appears in a search result or on a social media feed. If they desire, these tech titans can cancel any one of us overnight.

This is not just political paranoia. The disproportionate impact of algorithm changes on “left-leaning” websites – those most critical of the neoliberal system that has enriched social media corporations – was highlighted this month by the Wall Street Journal.

Wrong kinds of speech

Politicians increasingly understand the power of social media, which is why they want to harness it as best they can for their own ends. Since the shock of Trump’s election victory in late 2016, Facebook, Google and Twitter executives have regularly found themselves dragged before legislative oversight committees in the US and UK.

There, they are ritually rebuked by politicians for creating a crisis of “fake news” – a crisis that, in fact, long predated social media, as the deceptions of US and UK officials in linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and claiming that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” testify to only too clearly.

Politicians have also begun holding internet corporations responsible for “foreign interference” in western elections – typically blamed on Russia – despite a dearth of serious evidence for most of their allegations.

Political pressure is being exerted not to make the corporations more transparent and accountable, but to steer them towards enforcing even more assiduously restrictions on the wrong kinds of speech – whether it be violent racists on the right or critics of capitalism and western government policy on the left.

For that reason, social media’s original image as a neutral arena of information sharing, or as a tool for widening public debate and increasing civic engagement, or as a discourse leveller between the rich and powerful and weak and marginalised, grows ever more hollow.

Separate digital rights

Nowhere are ties between tech and state officials more evident than in their dealings with Israel. This has led to starkly different treatment of digital rights for Israelis and Palestinians. The online fate of Palestinians points to a future in which the already-powerful will gain ever greater control over what we know and what we are allowed to think, and over who is visible and who is erased from public life.

Israel was well-positioned to exploit social media before most other states had recognised its importance in manipulating popular attitudes and perceptions. For decades, Israel had, in part, outsourced an official programme of hasbara – or state propaganda – to its own citizens and supporters abroad. As new digital platforms emerged, these partisans were only too willing to expand their role.

Israel had another advantage. After the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, Israel began crafting a narrative of state victimhood by redefining antisemitism to suggest it was now a particular affliction of the left, not the right. So-called “new antisemitism” did not target Jews, but related instead to criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights.

This highly dubious narrative proved easy to condense into social media-friendly soundbites.

Israel still routinely describes any Palestinian resistance to its belligerent occupation or its illegal settlements as “terrorism”, and any support from other Palestinians as “incitement”. International solidarity with Palestinians is characterised as “delegitimisation” and equated with antisemitism.

‘Flood the internet’

As far back as 2008, it emerged that a pro-Israel media lobby group, Camera, had been orchestrating covert efforts by Israel loyalists to infiltrate the online encyclopedia Wikipedia to edit entries and “rewrite history” in ways favourable to Israel. Soon afterwards, politician Naftali Bennett helped organise courses teaching “Zionist editing” of Wikipedia.

In 2011, the Israeli army declared social media a new “battleground” and assigned “cyber warriors” to wage combat online. In 2015, Israel’s foreign ministry set up an additional command centre to recruit young, tech-savvy former soldiers from 8200, the army’s cyber intelligence unit, to lead the battle online. Many have gone on to establish hi-tech firms whose spying software became integral to the functioning of social media.

An app launched in 2017, Act.IL, mobilised Israel partisans to “swarm” sites hosting either criticism of Israel or support for Palestinians. The initiative, supported by Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs, was headed by veterans of Israeli intelligence services.

According to the Forward, a US Jewish weekly, Israel’s intelligence services liaise closely with Act.IL and request help in getting content, including videos, removed by social media platforms. The Forward observed shortly after the app was rolled out: “Its work so far offers a startling glimpse of how it could shape the online conversations about Israel without ever showing its hand.”

Sima Vaknin-Gil, a former Israeli military censor who was then assigned to Israel’s strategic affairs ministry, said the goal was to “create a community of fighters” whose job was to “flood the internet” with Israeli propaganda.

Willing allies

With advantages measured in personnel numbers and ideological zeal, in tech and propaganda experience, and in high-level influence in Washington and Silicon Valley, Israel was soon able to turn social media platforms into willing allies in its struggle to marginalise Palestinians online.

In 2016, Israel’s justice ministry was boasting that Facebook, Google and YouTube were “complying with up to 95 percent of Israeli requests to delete content”, almost all of it Palestinian. The social media companies did not confirm this figure.

The Anti-Defamation League, a pro-Israel lobby group with a history of smearing Palestinian organisations and Jewish groups critical of Israel, established a “command centre” in Silicon Valley in 2017 to monitor what it termed “online hate speech”. That same year, it was appointed a “trusted flagger” organisation for YouTube, meaning its reporting of content for removal was prioritised.

At a 2018 conference in Ramallah hosted by 7amleh, a Palestinian online advocacy group, local Google and Facebook representatives barely hid their priorities. It was important to their bottom line to avoid upsetting governments with the power to constrain their commercial activities – even if those governments were systematically violating international law and human rights. In this battle, the Palestinian Authority carries no weight at all. Israel presides over Palestinians’ communications and internet infrastructure. It controls the Palestinian economy and its key resources.

Since 2016, Israel’s justice ministry has reportedly suppressed tens of thousands of Palestinian posts. In a completely opaque process, Israel’s own algorithms detect content it deems “extremist” and then requests its removal. Hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested by Israel over social media posts, chilling online activity.

Human Rights Watch warned late last year that Israel and Facebook were often blurring the distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel and incitement. Conversely, as Israel has shifted ever further rightwards, the Netanyahu government and social media platforms have not stemmed a surge of posts in Hebrew promoting anti-Palestinian incitement and calling for violence. 7amleh has noted that Israelis post racist or inciteful material against Palestinians roughly every minute.

News agencies shut down

As well as excising tens of thousands of Palestinian posts, Israel has persuaded Facebook to take down the accounts of major Palestinian news agencies and leading journalists.

By 2018, the Palestinian public had grown so incensed that a campaign of online protests and calls to boycott Facebook were led under the hashtag #FBcensorsPalestine. In Gaza, demonstrators accused the company of being “another face of occupation”.

Activism in solidarity with Palestinians in the US and Europe has been similarly targeted. Ads for films, as well as the films themselves, have been taken down and websites removed.

Last month, Zoom, a video conferencing site that has boomed during the Covid-19 pandemic, joined YouTube and Facebook in censoring a webinar organised by San Francisco State University because it included Leila Khaled, an icon of the Palestinian resistance movement now in her seventies.

On Friday, Zoom blocked a second scheduled appearance by Khaled – this time in a University of Hawaii webinar on censorship – as well as a spate of other events across the US to protest against her cancellation by the site. A statement concerning the day of action said campuses were “joining in the campaign to resist corporate and university silencing of Palestinian narratives and Palestinian voices”.

The decision, a flagrant attack on academic freedom, was reportedly taken after the social media groups were heavily pressured by the Israeli government and anti-Palestinian lobby groups, which labelled the webinar “antisemitic”.

Wiped off the map

The degree to which the tech giants’ discrimination against Palestinians is structural and entrenched has been underscored by the years-long struggle of activists both to include Palestinian villages on online maps and GPS services, and to name the Palestinian territories as “Palestine”, in accordance with Palestine’s recognition by the United Nations.

That campaign has largely floundered, even though more than a million people have signed a petition in protest. Both Google and Apple have proved highly resistant to these appeals; hundreds of Palestinian villages are missing from their maps of the occupied West Bank, while Israel’s illegal settlements are identified in detail, accorded the same status as the Palestinian communities that are shown.

The occupied Palestinian territories are subordinated under the name “Israel”, while Jerusalem is presented as Israel’s unified and undisputed capital, just as Israel claims – making the occupation of the Palestinian section of the city invisible.

These are far from politically neutral decisions. Israeli governments have long pursued a Greater Israel ideology that requires driving Palestinians off their lands. This year, that dispossession programme was formalised with plans, backed by the Trump administration, to annex swathes of the West Bank.

Google and Apple are effectively colluding in this policy by helping to erase Palestinians’ visible presence in their homeland. As two Palestinian scholars, George Zeidan and Haya Haddad, recently noted: “When Google and Apple erase Palestinian villages from their navigation, but proudly mark settlements, the effect is complicity in the Israeli nationalist narrative.”

Out of the shadows

Israel’s ever-tightening relationship with social media corporations has played out largely behind the scenes. But these ties moved decisively out of the shadows in May, when Facebook announced that its new oversight board would include Emi Palmor, one of the architects of Israel’s online repression policy towards Palestinians.

The board will issue precedent-setting rulings to help shape Facebook’s and Instagram’s censorship and free speech policies. But as the former director-general of the justice ministry, Palmor has shown no commitment to online free speech. Quite the reverse: she worked hand-in-hand with the tech giants to censor Palestinian posts and shut down Palestinian news websites. She oversaw the transformation of her department into what the human rights organisation Adalah has called the Orwellian “Ministry of Truth”.

Tech corporations are now the undeclared, profit-driven arbiters of our speech rights. But their commitment is not to open and vigorous public debate, online transparency or greater civic engagement. Their only commitment is to the maintenance of a business environment in which they avoid any regulation by major governments infringing on their right to make money.

The appointment of Palmor perfectly illustrates the corrupting relationship between government and social media. Palestinians know only too well how easy it is for technology to diminish and disappear the voices of the weak and oppressed, and to amplify the voices of the powerful.

Many more of us could soon find ourselves sharing the online fate of Palestinians.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Social Media’s Erasure of Palestinians is a Grim Warning for our Future first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Social Media’s Erasure of Palestinians is a Grim Warning for our Future

There is a growing unease that the decisions taken by social media corporations can have a harmful impact on our lives. These platforms, despite enjoying an effective monopoly over the virtual public square, have long avoided serious scrutiny or accountability.

In a new Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, former Silicon Valley executives warn of a dystopian future. Google, Facebook and Twitter have gathered vast quantities of data on us to better predict and manipulate our desires. Their products are gradually rewiring our brains to addict us to our screens and make us more pliable to advertisers. The result, as we are consigned to discrete ideological echo chambers, is ever greater social and political polarisation and turmoil.

As if to underline the ever-tightening grip these tech corporations exert on our lives, Facebook and Twitter decided this month to openly interfere in the most contentious US presidential election in living memory. They censored a story that could harm the electoral prospects of Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger to incumbent President Donald Trump.

Given that nearly half of Americans receive their news chiefly via Facebook, the ramifications of such a decision on our political life were not hard to interpret. In excising any debate about purported corruption and influence-peddling by Biden’s son, Hunter, carried out in his father’s name, these social media platforms stepped firmly into the role of authoritarian arbiter of what we are allowed to say and know.

‘Monopoly gatekeeper’

Western publics are waking up very belatedly to the undemocratic power social media wields over them. But if we wish to understand where this ultimately leads, there is no better case study than the very different ways Israelis and Palestinians have been treated by the tech giants.

The treatment of Palestinians online serves as a warning that it would be foolish indeed to regard these globe-spanning corporations as politically neutral platforms, and their decisions as straightforwardly commercial. This is to doubly misunderstand their role.

Social media firms are now effectively monopolistic communication grids – similar to the electricity and water grids, or the phone network of a quarter of a century ago. Their decisions are therefore no longer private matters, but instead have huge social, economic and political consequences. That is part of the reason why the US justice department launched a lawsuit last week against Google for acting as a “monopoly gatekeeper for the internet”.

Google, Facebook and Twitter have no more a right to arbitrarily decide who and what they host on their sites than telecoms companies once had a right to decide whether a customer should be allowed a phone line. But unlike the phone company, social media corporations control not just the means of communication, but the content too. They can decide, as the Hunter Biden story shows, whether their customers get to participate in vital public debates about who leads them.

The Hunter Biden decision is as if the phone company of old not only listened in to conversations, but was able to cut the line if it did not like the politics of any particular customer.

In fact, it is even worse than that. Social media now deliver the news to large sections of the population. Their censoring of a story is more akin to the electricity company turning off the power to everyone’s homes for the duration of a TV broadcast to ensure no one can see it.

Censorship by stealth

The tech giants are the wealthiest, most powerful corporations in human history, their riches measured in hundreds of billions, and now trillions, of dollars. But the argument that they are apolitical – aiming simply to maximise profits – was never true.

They have every reason to promote politicians who side with them by committing not to break up their monopolies or regulate their activities, or, better still, by promising to weaken controls that might prevent them from growing even more fabulously rich and powerful.

Conversely, the tech giants also have every incentive to use the digital space to penalise and marginalise political activists who urge greater regulation either of their activities, or of the marketplace more generally.

Unlike their explicit deletion of the Hunter Biden story, which incensed the Trump administration, social media corporations more usually censor by stealth. That power is wielded through algorithms, the secret codes that decide whether something or someone appears in a search result or on a social media feed. If they desire, these tech titans can cancel any one of us overnight.

This is not just political paranoia. The disproportionate impact of algorithm changes on “left-leaning” websites – those most critical of the neoliberal system that has enriched social media corporations – was highlighted this month by the Wall Street Journal.

Wrong kinds of speech

Politicians increasingly understand the power of social media, which is why they want to harness it as best they can for their own ends. Since the shock of Trump’s election victory in late 2016, Facebook, Google and Twitter executives have regularly found themselves dragged before legislative oversight committees in the US and UK.

There, they are ritually rebuked by politicians for creating a crisis of “fake news” – a crisis that, in fact, long predated social media, as the deceptions of US and UK officials in linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11 and claiming that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” testify to only too clearly.

Politicians have also begun holding internet corporations responsible for “foreign interference” in western elections – typically blamed on Russia – despite a dearth of serious evidence for most of their allegations.

Political pressure is being exerted not to make the corporations more transparent and accountable, but to steer them towards enforcing even more assiduously restrictions on the wrong kinds of speech – whether it be violent racists on the right or critics of capitalism and western government policy on the left.

For that reason, social media’s original image as a neutral arena of information sharing, or as a tool for widening public debate and increasing civic engagement, or as a discourse leveller between the rich and powerful and weak and marginalised, grows ever more hollow.

Separate digital rights

Nowhere are ties between tech and state officials more evident than in their dealings with Israel. This has led to starkly different treatment of digital rights for Israelis and Palestinians. The online fate of Palestinians points to a future in which the already-powerful will gain ever greater control over what we know and what we are allowed to think, and over who is visible and who is erased from public life.

Israel was well-positioned to exploit social media before most other states had recognised its importance in manipulating popular attitudes and perceptions. For decades, Israel had, in part, outsourced an official programme of hasbara – or state propaganda – to its own citizens and supporters abroad. As new digital platforms emerged, these partisans were only too willing to expand their role.

Israel had another advantage. After the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza, Israel began crafting a narrative of state victimhood by redefining antisemitism to suggest it was now a particular affliction of the left, not the right. So-called “new antisemitism” did not target Jews, but related instead to criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights.

This highly dubious narrative proved easy to condense into social media-friendly soundbites.

Israel still routinely describes any Palestinian resistance to its belligerent occupation or its illegal settlements as “terrorism”, and any support from other Palestinians as “incitement”. International solidarity with Palestinians is characterised as “delegitimisation” and equated with antisemitism.

‘Flood the internet’

As far back as 2008, it emerged that a pro-Israel media lobby group, Camera, had been orchestrating covert efforts by Israel loyalists to infiltrate the online encyclopedia Wikipedia to edit entries and “rewrite history” in ways favourable to Israel. Soon afterwards, politician Naftali Bennett helped organise courses teaching “Zionist editing” of Wikipedia.

In 2011, the Israeli army declared social media a new “battleground” and assigned “cyber warriors” to wage combat online. In 2015, Israel’s foreign ministry set up an additional command centre to recruit young, tech-savvy former soldiers from 8200, the army’s cyber intelligence unit, to lead the battle online. Many have gone on to establish hi-tech firms whose spying software became integral to the functioning of social media.

An app launched in 2017, Act.IL, mobilised Israel partisans to “swarm” sites hosting either criticism of Israel or support for Palestinians. The initiative, supported by Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs, was headed by veterans of Israeli intelligence services.

According to the Forward, a US Jewish weekly, Israel’s intelligence services liaise closely with Act.IL and request help in getting content, including videos, removed by social media platforms. The Forward observed shortly after the app was rolled out: “Its work so far offers a startling glimpse of how it could shape the online conversations about Israel without ever showing its hand.”

Sima Vaknin-Gil, a former Israeli military censor who was then assigned to Israel’s strategic affairs ministry, said the goal was to “create a community of fighters” whose job was to “flood the internet” with Israeli propaganda.

Willing allies

With advantages measured in personnel numbers and ideological zeal, in tech and propaganda experience, and in high-level influence in Washington and Silicon Valley, Israel was soon able to turn social media platforms into willing allies in its struggle to marginalise Palestinians online.

In 2016, Israel’s justice ministry was boasting that Facebook, Google and YouTube were “complying with up to 95 percent of Israeli requests to delete content”, almost all of it Palestinian. The social media companies did not confirm this figure.

The Anti-Defamation League, a pro-Israel lobby group with a history of smearing Palestinian organisations and Jewish groups critical of Israel, established a “command centre” in Silicon Valley in 2017 to monitor what it termed “online hate speech”. That same year, it was appointed a “trusted flagger” organisation for YouTube, meaning its reporting of content for removal was prioritised.

At a 2018 conference in Ramallah hosted by 7amleh, a Palestinian online advocacy group, local Google and Facebook representatives barely hid their priorities. It was important to their bottom line to avoid upsetting governments with the power to constrain their commercial activities – even if those governments were systematically violating international law and human rights. In this battle, the Palestinian Authority carries no weight at all. Israel presides over Palestinians’ communications and internet infrastructure. It controls the Palestinian economy and its key resources.

Since 2016, Israel’s justice ministry has reportedly suppressed tens of thousands of Palestinian posts. In a completely opaque process, Israel’s own algorithms detect content it deems “extremist” and then requests its removal. Hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested by Israel over social media posts, chilling online activity.

Human Rights Watch warned late last year that Israel and Facebook were often blurring the distinction between legitimate criticism of Israel and incitement. Conversely, as Israel has shifted ever further rightwards, the Netanyahu government and social media platforms have not stemmed a surge of posts in Hebrew promoting anti-Palestinian incitement and calling for violence. 7amleh has noted that Israelis post racist or inciteful material against Palestinians roughly every minute.

News agencies shut down

As well as excising tens of thousands of Palestinian posts, Israel has persuaded Facebook to take down the accounts of major Palestinian news agencies and leading journalists.

By 2018, the Palestinian public had grown so incensed that a campaign of online protests and calls to boycott Facebook were led under the hashtag #FBcensorsPalestine. In Gaza, demonstrators accused the company of being “another face of occupation”.

Activism in solidarity with Palestinians in the US and Europe has been similarly targeted. Ads for films, as well as the films themselves, have been taken down and websites removed.

Last month, Zoom, a video conferencing site that has boomed during the Covid-19 pandemic, joined YouTube and Facebook in censoring a webinar organised by San Francisco State University because it included Leila Khaled, an icon of the Palestinian resistance movement now in her seventies.

On Friday, Zoom blocked a second scheduled appearance by Khaled – this time in a University of Hawaii webinar on censorship – as well as a spate of other events across the US to protest against her cancellation by the site. A statement concerning the day of action said campuses were “joining in the campaign to resist corporate and university silencing of Palestinian narratives and Palestinian voices”.

The decision, a flagrant attack on academic freedom, was reportedly taken after the social media groups were heavily pressured by the Israeli government and anti-Palestinian lobby groups, which labelled the webinar “antisemitic”.

Wiped off the map

The degree to which the tech giants’ discrimination against Palestinians is structural and entrenched has been underscored by the years-long struggle of activists both to include Palestinian villages on online maps and GPS services, and to name the Palestinian territories as “Palestine”, in accordance with Palestine’s recognition by the United Nations.

That campaign has largely floundered, even though more than a million people have signed a petition in protest. Both Google and Apple have proved highly resistant to these appeals; hundreds of Palestinian villages are missing from their maps of the occupied West Bank, while Israel’s illegal settlements are identified in detail, accorded the same status as the Palestinian communities that are shown.

The occupied Palestinian territories are subordinated under the name “Israel”, while Jerusalem is presented as Israel’s unified and undisputed capital, just as Israel claims – making the occupation of the Palestinian section of the city invisible.

These are far from politically neutral decisions. Israeli governments have long pursued a Greater Israel ideology that requires driving Palestinians off their lands. This year, that dispossession programme was formalised with plans, backed by the Trump administration, to annex swathes of the West Bank.

Google and Apple are effectively colluding in this policy by helping to erase Palestinians’ visible presence in their homeland. As two Palestinian scholars, George Zeidan and Haya Haddad, recently noted: “When Google and Apple erase Palestinian villages from their navigation, but proudly mark settlements, the effect is complicity in the Israeli nationalist narrative.”

Out of the shadows

Israel’s ever-tightening relationship with social media corporations has played out largely behind the scenes. But these ties moved decisively out of the shadows in May, when Facebook announced that its new oversight board would include Emi Palmor, one of the architects of Israel’s online repression policy towards Palestinians.

The board will issue precedent-setting rulings to help shape Facebook’s and Instagram’s censorship and free speech policies. But as the former director-general of the justice ministry, Palmor has shown no commitment to online free speech. Quite the reverse: she worked hand-in-hand with the tech giants to censor Palestinian posts and shut down Palestinian news websites. She oversaw the transformation of her department into what the human rights organisation Adalah has called the Orwellian “Ministry of Truth”.

Tech corporations are now the undeclared, profit-driven arbiters of our speech rights. But their commitment is not to open and vigorous public debate, online transparency or greater civic engagement. Their only commitment is to the maintenance of a business environment in which they avoid any regulation by major governments infringing on their right to make money.

The appointment of Palmor perfectly illustrates the corrupting relationship between government and social media. Palestinians know only too well how easy it is for technology to diminish and disappear the voices of the weak and oppressed, and to amplify the voices of the powerful.

Many more of us could soon find ourselves sharing the online fate of Palestinians.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Social Media’s Erasure of Palestinians is a Grim Warning for our Future first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Early Voting, Long Lines, and Voter Suppression

November 3rd, Election Day in America, is rapidly approaching. However, early in-person voting has started in several states across the country and there are some concerning issues already coming to light this election year.

Videos by voters have been circulating on social media sites such as Twitter, showing extremely long lines and long waiting periods. The state of Georgia in particular had several videos circulating around with people claiming it took 11 hours to cast their vote. While big voter turnout numbers alone are not necessarily a bad sign, the long lines speak to something darker: a lack of adequate polling locations, a gutting of the U.S. postal service, and voter suppression.

Of course, it’s not the first time voter suppression has occurred in a major election, and it likely won’t be the last unless more active efforts are made to combat voter suppression and we demand better from our leaders.

Hiding in Plain Sight

It’s fair to wonder: what exactly is voter suppression? It’s not as if we are given a handbook on it when we register to vote and it’s often left out of political debates — but voter suppression tactics have been around nearly as long as voting itself. They have ranged from literacy tests to what we’re seeing now in Texas, with Governor Greg Abbott restricting the number of locations in each county where voters can drop off their mail-in ballots before the election.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was created to help combat voter suppression and while it is regarded as a significant change in voting rights, like most legislation created decades ago, it fails to cover modern voter suppression tactics and problems. Of course, provisions to the act have been created over the years, but it’s proving to still not be enough to completely stop voter suppression tactics.

One modern-day issue that has prevented who knows how many votes are more restrictive voting laws. Half of the states in the United States have strict photo ID requirements, limited early voting, and tough voter registration restrictions. These restrictions significantly affect POC, senior citizens, those with disabilities, and college students. And that’s not by mistake.

Voter suppression makes it difficult for people to pass legislation that actually benefits them as well as vote against the things that would directly harm their livelihood. And the people creating and utilizing these voter suppression tactics know that. Look at North Dakota, for example.

In 2018, the state passed a new voter ID law that required voters to have a current residential street address printed on their ID. This directly impacted the Native Americans living in North Dakota on rural tribal reservations as they typically use a P.O. box due to their homes being too remote for the Post Office to deliver mail. With this new law in place though, tribal IDs with P.O. boxes were no longer considered a valid voter ID.

While it is hard to say if this new law was directly responsible for the outcome of the North Dakota 2018 elections, it is worth noting that Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp lost her seat in Congress to her Republican challenger, Kevin Cramer.

More Than a Tweet

How can we start tackling this issue in an effective way? One option could be social media. While social media won’t change our voting rights laws outright, it can serve as a powerful tool to help spread awareness of this problem. Being active on social media and educating others about voter suppression is a start that could ultimately lead to real change.

Social media activism, as those at Maryville University put it, can promote social justice. They explain, “The use of social media to uplift voices and stories, create awareness, and build and strengthen relationships creates a space for organizations, activists, and citizens to demand justice.” A few examples of how social media can be used to combat issues such as voter suppression include:

  • Platforming Lived Experiences: Social media has a long and wide reach across the globe and as such, is able to amplify and share the issues impacting people. For minorities and underrepresented communities, social media might be the only way to have their voices heard and get their story out into the public’s eye. We’ve seen it already with the Black Lives Matter and MeToo movement, but there are certainly more issues social media can help tackle, including voter suppression.
  • Coordinating Community Responses: Not only is it important to bring awareness to social justice issues through social media, but it can also be a useful tool for creating online communities where people are able to find support and come together to fight against the issues that affect their lives.
  • Sharing Pictures and Videos: With most people now walking around 24/7 with a camera in their pocket, it’s a lot easier to record and document real-life examples of injustices and other concerns. Moreover, it’s a lot easier to share those videos and pictures thanks to social media platforms, meaning more people can see with their own eyes what is happening in the world and their communities.

Of course, social media can also be used as a harmful tool in the wrong hands. There are some who still struggle with digital literacy, meaning conspiracy theories, edited content, and outright lies can also be massively shared amongst communities. And while there are those who can tell if a video or post is credible or not, there are still a number of people who aren’t familiar with the online world and aren’t able to discern fact from lies.

Unfortunately, social media activism really only benefits those who have access to the online world. So, while it is an extremely helpful tool, it can still be limiting and should be used in addition to other concerted efforts.

Changing Our Perspective

Voters who deal with problems such as long lines and long wait times often get labeled as enthusiastic and committed to their civic duty. While that is certainly true, many voters don’t have the ability to wait in line all day to cast their vote — and they shouldn’t have to. Furthermore, by sharing “inspiring” stories of those who wait in line for hours on end, it puts voter suppression tactics in a more positive light rather than exposing it for what it is.

In order to start enacting change within our voting rights, we need to change our perspective. It should not be difficult to vote. As Americans, it is our right to vote and those who make an active effort to stop certain people from exercising their civic duty need to be held responsible. With the right tools, motivation, and determined efforts it is possible to rewrite the discriminatory voting system we know today.

The post Early Voting, Long Lines, and Voter Suppression first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Let’s Cut The Crap About “White Supremacy”

How many times do we need to request a meaningless “denunciation” of white supremacy? We, on what passes for a left, are supposed to be critics of corporate media, so why the dog-like obedience to its idiotic framing on this non-issue? President Trump has issued such pointless denunciations before, and did so again in the first presidential debate with Joe Biden, saying “sure” when asked if he would be willing to denounce white supremacists.

Then he introduced the apparently radical notion that there are two sides to every conflict, and took the side of those “defending property” and upholding the values of our non-existent but somehow sacred democracy. Why should we become unhinged about that?

If you’re presented with images of burning cars and buildings, thuggish types attacking someone, and people screaming obscenities at Trump, cops, America, or whatever stand-in for Satan we care to name, it has the same effect as images of police or other thugs choking, beating on, or shooting someone in the back, and this, in turn, produces self-righteous but entirely unilluminating rhetoric about Nazi scum, fanatic Marxist assassins, KKK skinheads, or Antifa rioters running amok and destroying the greatest civilization ever seen on God’s formerly green earth.

People obviously do believe, based on competing tsunamis of distortion pouring through anti-social media, that right-wing, Nazi white supremacists are attacking the foundations of decency and America while others are equally convinced that left-wing socialist supremacists are converting the U.S. into a Pol Pot style killing field. Both lines of “thought” are equally moronic. The question is, why are we on the left, supposedly making intelligent criticism of a society we hope to transform into something decent, dumb enough to choose between them?

Few have written at greater length (and no one more elegantly) than Jonathan Kozol about the devastating impact of race on our society, going back to the publication of his first book, Death At An Early Age in 1964. For the subsequent fifty-six years, Kozol has been relentless in describing the informal apartheid system that replaced Jim Crow and perpetuated the horrifying legacy of slavery. But nowhere in the thousands of pages of superb text he has produced does one find any mention of “right wing extremists” being the problem.  On the contrary, Kozol continually points out how wealthy liberals have withdrawn into private cocoons of luxury and ease, refusing to allow their children to go to school alongside poor blacks, Puerto Ricans, or other “people of color,” though the more sensitive among them can often be persuaded to write generous checks to charity causes working on the other side of the apartheid wall.

This is the central problem, not racist skinheads.

So please, let us have no more Southern Poverty Law Center-style “studies” of how right-wing fascists are poised to take over the country, which they’ve been robotically repeating since the 1970s. (According to them, statements like “It’s OK to be white” are “hate speech,” and a Trump fart constitutes mass gassing of people of color.) The country is securely in the hands of those who own the private economy and run the national security state, not Antifa, the Proud Boys, or the dreaded “alt-right.”

Let’s concentrate on our real enemies for a change.

The post Let's Cut The Crap About "White Supremacy" first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Morning in Hell

It’s the proper morning to fly into Hell.
― Arthur Miller, The Crucible, 1953

One of the greatest delusions of the average man is to forget that life is death’s prisoner.
— Emil Cioran, On the Heights of Despair, 1934

Increasingly, I think, the American public operates in a mild dissociative state. I wrote about it here (my blog). It is almost as if people are afflicted with a kind of PTSD — only one where the trauma is generalized, relatively low grade, but ongoing.

Any of us who have questioned the Covid narrative have had to put up with an inordinate amount of hectoring, name calling, ridicule, and ostracism. I remember when I signed on the artist appeal as part of the Milosevic Defense Committee, and the abuse and anger I faced whenever this topic came up. People who had no history with the region, knew little of the political landscape, would nonetheless wax irate, furious and near tears that I would hold such outrageous positions. Now a over a decade later two members of that committee have won Nobel Prizes (Harold Pinter and Peter Handke). You would think that might cause people to take a moment, reflect, recalibrate their thinking on the topic. But alas, it rarely does.

The Covid narrative has generated the same near hysterical indignation. The narrative, as it has been constructed by the WHO, CDC, and more likely a dozen or so billionaires (including Bill Gates) is so rife with contradiction and illogic that one might think cracks would begin to show. That many who accept the word of authority in general might, at this point, start to question why none of this story makes sense. But no. Not in America anyway. (or rather, to be more precise, there is a pushback, but it keeps to a low profile lest the little Cotton Mathers of the haute bourgeoisie put one in the stocks). Leave it to America to make the flu into a morality play. However, there are clear signs of people waking up. In Europe certainly.  See here and here.

And not only Germany, doctors and health care professionals in Belgium, too. But the governments are sticking to the story they were handed. In Norway here I still cannot drive to Sweden. Why? Who knows, there is no reason provided. The PM uttered something about better safe than sorry, and staying the course. Everything is discussed this way, in infantile baby talk, gibberish and slogans. Anti-democratic edicts delivered as if by a kindergarten teacher.

Someone wrote to me on social media the other day and said “Not everyone gets to live in Norway. Here we are surrounded by death”. Now he lives in Los Angeles. In a nice west-side area. He is not surrounded by death. Or rather only in his hallucinatory inner theatre of the mind is death present, surrounding him. But this language has a quality I associate with Hollywood. It’s kitsch image making. Never mind it’s literally not remotely true. But this is a version of something that I think happens all the time now. This man is in his own private movie. It is a movie made of diverse parts; there is something from all the various post apocalyptic zombie films (and TV, think Walking Dead).  There is something of Norman Rockwell in there, or even Thomas Kincaid.  There is Dr. Phil and Oprah and the cheapening of emotion. The snarky pedestrian thoughts of a Bill Maher, too.

This is what has come to pass for public intellectuals and intellectual discourse. All are almost impossibly banal. There are parts from a dozen disaster movies, too. I mean literally all the way back to Towering Inferno. And there is, perhaps most significantly, a quality that is harder to define or outline, but which I associate with JJ Abrams and Joss Whedon. It is a quality of comforting superficiality, of controlled threat in worlds of generic cheeriness. Interestingly both were born in NY and are only a year apart in age (mid-fifties). Both have a background in animation and computer generated affects. Both came out of a comic book sensibility and have, more than anyone else in contemporary media, helped to shape the manufactured nostalgia for a fantasy of America. It is the creation of a longing for a past that never was. But both have established a universe of whiteness and equilibrium where the threat is from without. For it cannot be from within because there is no ‘within’. In that sense these are the anti-psychoanalytic purveyors of a youth culture for adults. A comic or cartoon world view in which the sentimental plays an enormous role. It is a world without tragedy or real suffering. And just beneath the surface but always implied, is a respect for authority. It is also a world where one is encouraged NOT to grow up.

The Covid story takes place in a universe of Whedon and Abrams, with parts of The Hunger GamesBreaking Bad, and the films of John Hughes. (Hughes was really the precursor for both Whedon and Abrams). Covid is taking place on the streets where Breakfast Club was filmed. In people’s heads anyway. Covid, the virus, is an overdetermined symbol — and one that only makes even a tiny bit of sense if it is located in these personal streaming sites in your brain. (and I recommend Jonathan Beller, The Cinematic Mode of Production). There is a tendency toward fetishization, too, and hence the ubiquitous appearance and opinion of celebrities. It’s bordering on surreal much of the time: Hip Hop moguls are asked about climate change, Silicon Valley billionaires voice opinion on overpopulation or vaccinations, soap opera stars offer thoughts on stem cell research. Nothing is investigated, really. It is all driven by whatever is most lurid or sensationalized. The ruling class has clearly encouraged, if not mandated, a certain line of thinking on the pandemic. The ruling class has profited enormously from the lockdown, and is quite happy with a semi permanent state of crisis. In fact, it is likely that this was at least partly all planned. I mean what does one think those billionaires at the Bilderberg meeting talk about? Or at DAVOS or the like? The ruling elite anticipated crises in Capitalism, and the lockdown certainly provides cover for massive plunder of pensions, real estate, and really, most everything.

But the system, to some extent, does the work for the ruling class without instruction at this point. For revenue is generated by blood and violence, and secondly by sex. The template has already been put in place. (If it bleeds, it leads). Although something has happened to the ‘sex sells’ dimension of the Spectacle. People seem less and less in the throws of passion or lust. The societies of the west are declining into some form of neurasthenic bloodless onanism. The consumption of porn is up, but I’m pretty sure sex acts are actually down. And the allegorical dimension of the Covid narrative serves as both substitute gratification and as a symbolic purification ritual.

This week Trump announced he had “tested positive”. He had been campaigning for the previous week and felt fine. Then he tested positive and is described as having flu-like symptoms. That this is part of a strategy I have no doubt, but I also could not begin to describe that strategy. But the magical appearance of symptoms the minute he tested positive echoes the overall magical thinking involved in this entire narrative. There is a veritable mania, now, concerning testing. And yet even the NYTimes admits the tests are virtually meaningless. But no matter. We must test more !!

(Just one aspect of the testing problem.)

Magical thinking permeates the climate discourse, as well. Never in history, or never since the Enlightenment, have so many people pretended to know so much. For the educated thirty percent (white and reasonably affluent) it is the era of the TED talk. Nothing dare last longer or be more demanding than a quick (and entertaining) ten minutes. The fires in California have come primarily from downed power lines (badly out of date and rarely serviced), but exacerbated by homeless encampments (rarely mentioned) and fireworks — and, of course, the drought that has extended backward a decade. California has always burnt. It was part of the ecosystem to rid the hills and forests of dead shrub and trees.

Climate is clearly a part — snow-pack is down, and summer heat has dried out shrubbery. But much of what is dried out is shrub not native to California (stuff like cheat-grass, a native of Asia and parts of Africa, and notoriously invasive) whose forests are overstocked anyway. Infrastructure in America is rotting, and per California, the wild areas have been neglected for almost a hundred years. But that is not a part of the narrative. The narrative must be about the rebellion of Earth itself and population. And population matters only in terms of who can afford to over-consume. The problem is that the most obvious pollution issues (militarism and the packaging industry) are never addressed. US imperialism is the cause of most of the suffering in the world. Most of the instability. But the infantile anthropomorphizing of much green discourse is just more baby talk. I often hear “we are waging war against ourselves”. This is a dangerous bit of mystification. (Note that this riff goes all the way back to the Pogo comic strip in the 1960s}. It’s more simplistic sloganeering and like most such chestnuts, class analysis is absent. I have written a good deal on the psychological appeal of certain hi-tech fantasies, the seductive aspect of AI, and yet the world is more proletarianized than ever.  See here and here.

The issue of the seducing aspects of tech…from my blog.  See here and here.

Yes, people, in a very general sense, can be seen as self-destructive. It’s one of the most troubling byproducts of the habituation to screens, the loss of literacy and numeracy and the loss, really, of an ability to think critically. But this cultic hysteria is driven by the increasing precarity and desperation in contemporary life. The loss of unions plays a part, the absence of a real left party, a radical Marxist party. For all the terrific work activist groups do (prison abolishment groups, criminal justice reform, and stuff like the Innocence Project) there remains a vacuum in terms of electoral politics. Perhaps that is just going to be the way this goes. Maybe the entire electoral apparatus is dead. And maybe that is a good thing.

There is a quality of suffocating sameness and emptiness that permeates daily life. People don’t look at each other on the street, they look at their phones. One is walking, all the time, among the pod people. America’s mental health is in a dire state. The U.S., and really this is increasingly true in Europe, too, but not nearly to the same extent, is an excruciatingly lonely country. People have lost the ability to make, and more, to sustain friendships. And how the role of social media plays into that is an open question. Or media in general.

So while, yes, the marketing of technology serves to manufacture an appeal, on one level there are troubling numbers of people who seem, all by themselves, to *want*, to desire, ravishment by our robot overlords. Android sex is a thing, and it’s growing. And it’s not just men who want “pleasure model” androids (okay, for now they have to settle for this), but many want to not just fuck androids– but to get fucked *by* androids.

The engine is capitalism.

A number of world leaders have contracted Covid. Much as many get the flu. There is something curiously similar in nearly every one of these cases. Boris Johnson, Bolsanaro, the fascist interim President of post coup Bolivia Jeanine Anez, Mikhail Mishustin of Russia, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire, and India’s Amit Shah, the #2 strongman behind Modi, and also in India, Pranab Mukherjee, former President, who subsequently died (age 84) from the virus (no, actually he died from a blood clot on his brain). I only mention this because I experience an unsettling vertigo when trying to parse all this and make it into something comprehensible. The way Covid tests work one might well think everyone on the planet has the virus.

Already there has been significant psychological harm done to children.  See here.  The clear lesson is to fear the other. That humans are contagious and potentially lethal. Intimacy is officially discouraged. I cannot imagine that message were I fourteen or sixteen. Growing up in the sixties the idea was to promote intimacy, feelings, and to exactly *not* fear emotional openness. The English speaking west has gone from Paul Goodman to Theresa Tam. The resurgent Puritanism is not restricted to odd ducks like Tam…. Even bourgeois pundits are noticing. This is Zoe Williams in The Guardian:

There remains, in public life, a rich seam of puritanism that you notice only when times are so bleak that you could really do without it. A sense that frivolity is immoral, even if it is 95% of your economy; a feeling that they had it coming, all those people dedicating their lives to the generation of fun. Puritans tend not to announce their disapproval except in the most roundabout ways, so you can rarely pin it on them. But standing on the precipice of a year that ends without dancing, bears, dancing bears, playhouses, ale houses, music or Christmas, all I can think of is how happy Oliver Cromwell would have been. It is like all his cancelled Christmases come at once. He would be dancing (not dancing) in his grave.

This is a lament from the privileged class, but perhaps that’s actually a good sign.

The ruling class don’t wear masks or have travel restrictions imposed on them.

There is no longer even a pretense. The rich are entitled to special treatment. The rich deserve a clean depopulated world where they can cavort on the green, frolic in elysian fields by murmuring brooks, and to not be troubled by darkies and riffraff. Remember it was a mere hundred years ago that Belgium brought Congolese from their African home, to be paraded in human zoos. Those they hadn’t already murdered.

Covid is the final act in the transference of wealth to the top 1%. And culture is being destroyed along with everything else. Cinemas are closing, permanently, theatres, too, permanently, and museums. Galleries and other art spaces are shuttered, likely to never reopen. Something like 30 million jobs have been lost. There is an acute desperation across America.

Who survives? Amazon, Netflix, Google, Comcast, Facebook, et al. Those who control the screens control the world. It is a new morning in hell.

The post Morning in Hell first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Why is the World going to Hell? Netflix’s The Social Dilemma tells only Half the Story

If you find yourself wondering what the hell is going on right now – the “Why is the world turning to shit?” thought – you may find Netflix’s new documentary The Social Dilemma a good starting point for clarifying your thinking. I say “starting point” because, as we shall see, the film suffers from two major limitations: one in its analysis and the other in its conclusion. Nonetheless, the film is good at exploring the contours of the major social crises we currently face – epitomised both by our addiction to the mobile phone and by its ability to rewire our consciousness and our personalities.

The film makes a convincing case that this is not simply an example of old wine in new bottles. This isn’t the Generation Z equivalent of parents telling their children to stop watching so much TV and play outside. Social media is not simply a more sophisticated platform for Edward Bernays-inspired advertising. It is a new kind of assault on who we are, not just what we think.

According to The Social Dilemma, we are fast reaching a kind of human “event horizon”, with our societies standing on the brink of collapse. We face what several interviewees term an “existential threat” from the way the internet, and particularly social media, are rapidly developing.

I don’t think they are being alarmist. Or rather I think they are right to be alarmist, even if their alarm is not entirely for the right reasons. We will get to the limitations in their thinking in a moment.

Like many documentaries of this kind, The Social Dilemma is deeply tied to the shared perspective of its many participants. In most cases, they are richly disillusioned, former executives and senior software engineers from Silicon Valley. They understand that their once-cherished creations – Google, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat (WhatsApp seems strangely under-represented in the roll call) – have turned into a gallery of Frankenstein’s monsters.

That is typified in the plaintive story of the guy who helped invent the “Like” button for Facebook. He thought his creation would flood the world with the warm glow of brother and sisterhood, spreading love like a Coca Cola advert. In fact, it ended up inflaming our insecurities and need for social approval, and dramatically pushed up rates of suicide among teenage girls.

If the number of watches of the documentary is any measure, disillusion with social media is spreading far beyond its inventors.

Children as guinea pigs

Although not flagged as such, The Social Dilemma divides into three chapters.

The first, dealing with the argument we are already most familiar with, is that social media is a global experiment in altering our psychology and social interactions, and our children are the main guinea pigs. Millennials (those who came of age in the 2000s) are the first generation that spent their formative years with Facebook and MySpace as best friends. Their successors, Generation Z, barely know a world without social media at its forefront.

The film makes a relatively easy case forcefully: that our children are not only addicted to their shiny phones and what lies inside the packaging, but that their minds are being aggressively rewired to hold their attention and then make them pliable for corporations to sell things.

Each child is not just locked in a solitary battle to stay in control of his or her mind against the skills of hundreds of the world’s greatest software engineers. The fight to change their perspective and ours – the sense of who we are – is now in the hands of algorithms that are refined every second of every day by AI, artificial intelligence. As one interviewee observes, social media is not going to become less expert at manipulating our thinking and emotions, it’s going to keep getting much, much better at doing it.

Jaron Lanier, one of the computing pioneers of virtual reality, explains what Google and the rest of these digital corporations are really selling: “It’s the gradual, slight, imperceptible change in your own behaviour and perception – that is the product.” That is also how these corporations make their money, by “changing what you do, what you think, who you are.”

They make profits, big profits, from the predictions business – predicting what you will think and how you will behave so that you are more easily persuaded to buy what their advertisers want to sell you. To have great predictions, these corporations have had to amass vast quantities of data on each of us – what is sometimes called “surveillance capitalism”.

And, though the film does not quite spell it out, there is another implication. The best formula for tech giants to maximise their predictions is this: as well as processing lots of data on us, they must gradually grind down our distinctiveness, our individuality, our eccentricities so that we become a series of archetypes. Then, our emotions – our fears, insecurities, desires, cravings – can be more easily gauged, exploited and plundered by advertisers.

These new corporations trade in human futures, just as other corporations have long traded in oil futures and pork-belly futures, notes Shoshana Zuboff, professor emeritus at Harvard business school. Those markets “have made the internet companies the richest companies in the history of humanity”.

Flat Earthers and Pizzagate

The second chapter explains that, as we get herded into our echo chambers of self-reinforcing information, we lose more and more sense of the real world and of each other. With it, our ability to empathise and compromise is eroded. We live in different information universes, chosen for us by algorithms whose only criterion is how to maximise our attention for advertisers’ products to generate greater profits for the internet giants.

Anyone who has spent any time on social media, especially a combative platform like Twitter, will sense that there is a truth to this claim. Social cohesion, empathy, fair play, morality are not in the algorithm. Our separate information universes mean we are increasingly prone to misunderstanding and confrontation.

And there is a further problem, as one interviewee states: “The truth is boring.” Simple or fanciful ideas are easier to grasp and more fun. People prefer to share what’s exciting, what’s novel, what’s unexpected, what’s shocking. “It’s a disinformation-for-profit model,” as another interviewee observes, stating that research shows false information is six times more likely to spread on social media platforms than true information.

And as governments and politicians work more closely with these tech companies – a well-documented fact the film entirely fails to explore – our rulers are better positioned than ever to manipulate our thinking and control what we do. They can dictate the political discourse more quickly, more comprehensively, more cheaply than ever before.

This section of the film, however, is the least successful. True, our societies are riven by increasing polarisation and conflict, and feel more tribal. But the film implies that all forms of social tension – from the paranoid paedophile conspiracy theory of Pizzagate to the Black Lives Matter protests – are the result of social media’s harmful influence.

And though it is easy to know that Flat Earthers are spreading misinformation, it is far harder to be sure what is true and what is false in many others areas of life. Recent history suggests our yardsticks cannot be simply what governments say is true – or Mark Zuckerberg, or even “experts”. It may be a while since doctors were telling us that cigarettes were safe, but millions of Americans were told only a few years ago that opiates would help them – until an opiate addiction crisis erupted across the US.

This section falls into making a category error of the kind set out by one of the interviewees early in the film. Despite all the drawbacks, the internet and social media have an undoubted upside when used simply as a tool, argues Tristan Harris, Google’s former design ethicist and the soul of the film. He gives the example of being able to hail a cab almost instantly at the press of a phone button. That, of course, highlights something about the materialist priorities of most of Silicon Valley’s leading lights.

But the tool box nestled in our phones, full of apps, does not just satisfy our craving for material comfort and security. It has also fuelled a craving to understand the world and our place in it, and offered tools to help us do that.

Phones have made it possible for ordinary people to film and share scenes once witnessed by only a handful of disbelieved passers-by. We can all see for ourselves a white police officer dispassionately kneeling on the neck of a black man for nine minutes, while the victim cries out he cannot breathe, until he expires. And we can then judge the values and priorities of our leaders when they decide to do as little as possible to prevent such incidents occurring again.

The internet has created a platform from which not only disillusioned former Silicon Valley execs can blow the whistle on what the Mark Zuckerbergs are up to, but so can a US army private like Chelsea Manning, by exposing war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so can a national security tech insider like Edward Snowden, by revealing the way we are being secretly surveilled by our own governments.

Technological digital breakthroughs allowed someone like Julian Assange to set up a site, Wikileaks, that offered us a window on the real political world – a window through we could see our leaders behaving more like psychopaths than humanitarians. A window those same leaders are now fighting tooth and nail to close by putting him on trial.

A small window on reality

The Social Dilemma ignores all of this to focus on the dangers of so-called “fake news”. It dramatises a scene suggesting that only those sucked into information black holes and conspiracy sites end up taking to the street to protest – and when they do, the film hints, it will not end well for them.

Apps allowing us to hail a taxi or navigate our way to a destination are undoubtedly useful tools. But being able to find out what our leaders are really doing – whether they are committing crimes against others or against us – is an even more useful tool. In fact, it is a vital one if we want to stop the kind of self-destructive behaviours The Social Dilemma is concerned about, not least our destruction of the planet’s life systems (an issue that, except for one interviewee’s final comment, the film leaves untouched).

Use of social media does not mean one necessarily loses touch with the real world. For a minority, social media has deepened their understanding of reality. For those tired of having the real world mediated for them by a bunch of billionaires and traditional media corporations, the chaotic social media platforms have provided an opportunity to gain insights into a reality that was obscured before.

The paradox, of course, is that these new social media corporations are no less billionaire-owned, no less power-hungry, no less manipulative than the old media corporations. The AI algorithms they are rapidly refining are being used – under the rubric of “fake news” – to drive out this new marketplace in whistleblowing, in citizen journalism, in dissident ideas.

Social media corporations are quickly getting better at distinguishing the baby from the bathwater, so they can throw out the baby. After all, like their forebears, the new media platforms are in the business of business, not of waking us up to the fact that they are embedded in a corporate world that has plundered the planet for profit.

Much of our current social polarisation and conflict is not, as The Social Dilemma suggests, between those influenced by social media’s “fake news” and those influenced by corporate media’s “real news”. It is between, on the one hand, those who have managed to find oases of critical thinking and transparency in the new media and, on the other, those trapped in the old media model or those who, unable to think critically after a lifetime of consuming corporate media, have been easily and profitably sucked into nihilistic, online conspiracies.

Our mental black boxes

The third chapter gets to the nub of the problem without indicating exactly what that nub is. That is because The Social Dilemma cannot properly draw from its already faulty premises the necessary conclusion to indict a system in which the Netflix corporation that funded the documentary and is televising it is so deeply embedded itself.

For all its heart-on-its-sleeve anxieties about the “existential threat” we face as a species, The Social Dilemma is strangely quiet about what needs to change – aside from limiting our kids’ exposure to Youtube and Facebook. It is a deflating ending to the rollercoaster ride that preceded it.

Here I want to backtrack a little. The film’s first chapter makes it sound as though social media’s rewiring of our brains to sell us advertising is something entirely new. The second chapter treats our society’s growing loss of empathy, and the rapid rise in an individualistic narcissism, as something entirely new. But very obviously neither proposition is true.

Advertisers have been playing with our brains in sophisticated ways for at least a century. And social atomisation – individualism, selfishness and consumerism – have been a feature of western life for at least as long. These aren’t new phenomena. It’s just that these long-term, negative aspects of western society are growing exponentially, at a seemingly unstoppable rate.

We’ve been heading towards dystopia for decades, as should be obvious to anyone who has been tracking the lack of political urgency to deal with climate change since the problem became obvious to scientists back in the 1970s.

The multiple ways in which we are damaging the planet – destroying forests and natural habitats, pushing species towards extinction, polluting the air and water, melting the ice-caps, generating a climate crisis – have been increasingly evident since our societies turned everything into a commodity that could be bought and sold in the marketplace. We began on the slippery slope towards the problems highlighted by The Social Dilemma the moment we collectively decided that nothing was sacred, that nothing was more sacrosanct than our desire to turn a quick buck.

It is true that social media is pushing us towards an event horizon. But then so is climate change, and so is our unsustainable global economy, premised on infinite growth on a finite planet. And, more importantly, these profound crises are all arising at the same time.

There is a conspiracy, but not of the Pizzagate variety. It is an ideological conspiracy, of at least two centuries’ duration, by a tiny and ever more fabulously wealth elite to further enrich themselves and to maintain their power, their dominance, at all costs.

There is a reason why, as Harvard business professor Shoshana Zuboff points out, social media corporations are the most fantastically wealthy in human history. And that reason is also why we are reaching the human “event horizon” these Silicon Valley luminaries all fear, one where our societies, our economies, the planet’s life-support systems are all on the brink of collapse together.

The cause of that full-spectrum, systemic crisis is not named, but it has a name. Its name is the ideology that has become a black box, a mental prison, in which we have become incapable of imagining any other way of organising our lives, any other future than the one we are destined for at the moment. That ideology’s name is capitalism.

Waking up from the matrix

Social media and the AI behind it are one of the multiple crises we can no longer ignore as capitalism reaches the end of a trajectory it has long been on. The seeds of neoliberalism’s current, all-too-obvious destructive nature were planted long ago, when the “civilised”, industrialised west decided its mission was to conquer and subdue the natural world, when it embraced an ideology that fetishised money and turned people into objects to be exploited.

A few of the participants in The Social Dilemma allude to this in the last moments of the final chapter. The difficulty they have in expressing the full significance of the conclusions they have drawn from two decades spent in the most predatory corporations the world has ever known could be because their minds are still black boxes, preventing them from standing outside the ideological system they, like us, were born into. Or it could be because coded language is the best one can manage if a corporate platform like Netflix is going to let a film like this one reach a mass audience.

Tristan Harris tries to articulate the difficulty by grasping for a movie allusion: “How do you wake up from the matrix when you don’t know you’re in the matrix?” Later, he observes: “What I see is a bunch of people who are trapped by a business model, an economic incentive, shareholder pressure that makes it almost impossible to do something else.”

Although still framed in Harris’s mind as a specific critique of social media corporations, this point is very obviously true of all corporations, and of the ideological system – capitalism – that empowers all these corporations.

Another interviewee notes: “I don’t think these guys [the tech giants] set out to be evil, it’s just the business model.”

He is right. But “evilness” – the psychopathic pursuit of profit above all other values – is the business model for all corporations, not just the digital ones.

The one interviewee who manages, or is allowed, to connect the dots is Justin Rosenstein, a former engineer for Twitter and Google. He eloquently observes:

We live in a world in which a tree is worth more, financially, dead than alive. A world in which a whale is worth more dead than alive. For so long as our economy works in that way, and corporations go unregulated, they’re going to continue to destroy trees, to kill whales, to mine the earth, and to continue to pull oil out of the ground, even though we know it is destroying the planet and we know it is going to leave a worse world for future generations.

This is short-term thinking based on this religion of profit at all costs. As if somehow, magically, each corporation acting in its selfish interest is going to produce the best result. … What’s frightening – and what hopefully is the last straw and will make us wake up as a civilisation as to how flawed this theory is in the first place – is to see that now we are the tree, we are the whale. Our attention can be mined. We are more profitable to a corporation if we’re spending time staring at a screen, staring at an ad, than if we’re spending our time living our life in a rich way.

Here is the problem condensed. That unnamed “flawed theory” is capitalism. The interviewees in the film arrived at their alarming conclusion – that we are on the brink of social collapse, facing an “existential threat” – because they have worked inside the bellies of the biggest corporate beasts on the planet, like Google and Facebook.

These experiences have provided most of these Silicon Valley experts with deep, but only partial, insight. While most of us view Facebook and Youtube as little more than places to exchange news with friends or share a video, these insiders understand much more. They have seen up close the most powerful, most predatory, most all-devouring corporations in human history.

Nonetheless, most of them have mistakenly assumed that their experiences of their own corporate sector apply only to their corporate sector. They understand the “existential threat” posed by Facebook and Google without extrapolating to the identical existential threats posed by Amazon, Exxon, Lockheed Martin, Halliburton, Goldman Sachs and thousands more giant, soulless corporations.

The Social Dilemma offers us an opportunity to sense the ugly, psychopathic face shielding behind the mask of social media’s affability. But for those watching carefully the film offers more: a chance to grasp the pathology of the system itself that pushed these destructive social media giants into our lives.

The post Why is the World going to Hell? Netflix’s The Social Dilemma tells only Half the Story first appeared on Dissident Voice.