After a week of vocal protests from online supporters of Julian Assange, Twitter has reversed its unjust removal of the prominent pro-Assange activism account @Unity4J.
After the account was suspended without any explanation being presented to its operators, Assange supporters drew a clear line in the sand against internet censorship and began making a big noise that couldn’t be ignored. The account’s suspension drew condemnations from high-profile Assange supporters like Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, World Socialist Website, RT and Lee Camp, as well as a sustained social media campaign by grassroots supporters which included artwork, memes, and, of course, relentless “tagging” of Twitter Support and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
Political dissidents in general, and Assange supporters in particular, can take this as a very positive sign. It cannot be denied that there is pressure being applied to new media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube to forcibly marginalize all perspectives which fall outside the ever-shrinking Overton window of approved political discourse, but it also cannot be denied that speaking out works. If enough people push back against internet censorship to make it too conspicuous and obvious, it can’t happen.
Unity4J co-founder Elizabeth Lea Vos called this from the early hours of the account’s suspension, tweeting, “We know that Twitter can and does reinstate accounts after suspension in the wake of a public outcry: @caitoz was suspended only to be reinstated after multiple journalists spoke out against it.”
“@caitoz” is my account, which was indeed reinstated after I was suspended from Twitter for expressing political wrongthink last year. A bunch of high-profile journalists and activists helped voice objection to my unjust removal from the platform, not necessarily because they liked my work but because they understood that the direction the platform was headed posed a grave threat to all politically dissident speech.
So we see a pattern here where censorship can only happen in the unseen margins. In a society where our rulers must maintain their nice guy image of free speech and democracy, censorship only works when it’s invisible. The social engineers cannot operate in an overtly totalitarian way without shattering the free democracy image and thus losing the ability to effectively propagandize the masses, without which they cannot rule. We can use this weakness of theirs to our advantage by continually ringing alarm bells and shining a spotlight on any overtly totalitarian behavior yelling “What’s this? Why are you doing that? Hey everyone, come look at this weird thing they’re doing!” Internet censorship in its current form can’t operate under such conditions.
Though Twitter’s opaque and unaccountable moderation process makes it impossible to ever know exactly what happened behind the scenes, from my own experience it’s probably safe to assume that @Unity4J was conducting itself in the same way thousands of other Twitter accounts behave every single day without issue, but it got singled out (possibly via establishment-friendly mass reporting) due to its dissident political speech. Some admin ruled that if you squint at the account’s behavior and the Twitter rules in just the right way, removing the account was warranted. Then a bunch of loud complaints began coming in, prompting an investigation which found that by golly, it turns out that we don’t have to squint at the facts of the matter in that weird way after all. After which the account was restored.
Whenever there’s a spate of iron-fisted censorship from a large online platform, I see many dissidents talking about vacating that platform in favor of fringe sites with a more tolerant attitude toward dissident speech. Please do not do this. If you want to spend time on a much smaller platform like Mastodon or Minds then by all means go ahead and do so, but please remain active on large, mainstream sites as well.
Remember, the goal of all political dissent is to get dissident ideas into mainstream consciousness. If we all vacate the areas where the mainstream public are spending their time, we’re doing the social engineers’ job for them by quarantining ourselves to some isolated fringe sector of the internet. That’s exactly what they want us to do. They want us to remove ourselves so we can’t infect the mainstream herd with wrongthink.
So don’t do it for them. If they’re going to keep clamping down on dissident speech online, force them to do it out in the open where everyone can see. As we’ve just witnessed, they have a much, much harder time conducting censorship while under the light of public scrutiny.
Our job here is very simple: if we can get the mainstream public to start paying attention to the actual mechanisms of empire, oligarchy and oppression, we win. If we can’t, we lose. Everything that doesn’t help us toward this end is a frivolous distraction. The social engineers understand all of this quite clearly. We need to understand it too.
Stand in the center of the public stage, and keep infecting the herd.
Twitter has become policy. It is platform, direction and determination. It has served one particular person well, a hazy mechanism to fog up the lenses of law makers. When President Donald Trump needs an air-wave filling distraction, a bilious splurge of interest in the blogosphere, he is always happy to lob a grenade of 280 characters or so. His targets and recipients oblige in an unsettling dance. Speeches are made, press galleries filled and resolutions submitted to Congress.
Trump’s last round of fired remarks found their targets in Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. They were not mentioned by name, but presumption can be all powerful. “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.” Then came his none-too constructive suggestion: “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
While his remarks against “The Squad” are in characteristic poor taste, not to mention inaccurate (three of the representatives were born in the United States) they remain characteristic, brutish panto and all part of the boundless show that is Trumpism. They are not designed to convert the unconverted or convince the unsure with rhetorical sharpness or insight. Anti-Trump and pro-Trump lines are firmed, concretely paved for the next election. The issue, till then, is merely to occupy space with venom and fury, to divide and hope that the house will fall when the votes are tallied.
Such space of distraction assumes a few forms, all ultimately lending false credibility to incendiary smatterings. Words are broken down, assumptions unpacked. Were his words racist? Yes, claim some. Did he articulate a substantive vision? Most certainly, go others. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi deemed them “xenophobic”.) For Omar, Trump’s words are programmatic, “a blatantly racist attack on four duly elected members of the United States House of Representatives, all of whom are women of colour. This is an agenda of white nationalists.”
President Barack Obama’s chief election strategist David Axelrod, similarly sees a program, albeit encased in a trap, with Trump wanting “to raise the profile of his targets, drive Dems to defend them and make them emblematic of the entire party. It’s a cold, hard strategy.” The none-too-implicit suggestion here is that the quartet risk being hung out to dry come 2020 by the party strategists.
In solidarity, the four representatives expressed their marshalled outrage, all the time attempting to give a sense of elevated fury to the garbage gilded twittersphere while denying its enduring relevance. Omar fell for the laid bait on the issue of impeachment, claiming on Monday that “it is time for us to impeach this president” having “openly” violated his constitutional oath.
The quartet managed to get up a House resolution, passed by 240 to 187 votes, condemning Trump for “racist comments that have legitimised fear and hatred of New Americans and people of colour”. The resolution, for good measure, also praised the value immigrants had brought to the United States. Trump ventured his own view. “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”
The show delighted commentators dazzled by the fireworks. It was seen as historic, because it was the first time in over a century a President had received such a vote of disapproval. But it was true polarising fodder for the Trump administration, bound to inflict indigestion for anybody keen to seek a united stance. Division reigned; disorder prevailed and the representatives stuck to firmly etched party lines, with the exception of four Republicans who crossed the floor.
Democrat Representative John Lewis, Democrat from Georgia, spoke of knowing racism when seeing it and feeling it “and at the highest level of government”. Pelosi claimed that to not condemn Trump’s words “would be a shocking rejection of our values and a shameful abdication of our oath of office to protect the American people.”
Representative Dan Meuser, Republican of Pennsylvania, was ill-tempered in response, insisting that the whole show had been a “ridiculous slander” which did a “disservice to our nation”. “What has really happened here is that the president and his supporters have been forced to endure months of allegations of racism.”
Republicans slanted their attack on procedural improprieties, less on the nature of Trump’s words than the behaviour of their Democrat colleagues, who they regarded as impugning the motives of the President. A failed effort was made to excise any suggestive words from the House Speaker’s record in accordance with the Jefferson Manual, a text authored by Thomas Jefferson in 1801. Quaintly if revealingly, the manual states that “references to racial or other discrimination on the part of the President are not in order.” Appalled by the bickering and disagreement, Representative Emanuel Cleaver II, Democrat of Missouri, banged the gavel and took his leave. “We just want to fight.”
While the president versus squad show was boiling over, an arguably more significant resolution failed to gather the numbers. Sponsored by Representative Al Green, Democrat from Texas, the measure seeking to impeach Trump in light of his comments on the four representatives, failed by 332 votes to 95. Bigotry, argued Green, was “a high crime and misdemeanour.”
The president, while publicly condemning the exercise as “time consuming”, would have been heartened: the squabbling Democrats may well have been united in their rebuke of the president’s tweets, but such consensus was momentary. In Pelosi’s words, “We have six committees working on following the facts in terms of any abuse of power, obstruction of justice and the rest that the president may have engaged in”. With unwitting comedic effect, the House Speaker found herself claiming that to be “the serious path we’re on – not that Mr Green is not serious, but we’ll deal with that on the floor.” And dealt with it they did, putting the pro-impeachment Democrats back into their crammed box.
One of the biggest Twitter accounts dedicated to circulating information and advocacy for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, @Unity4J, has been completely removed from the site. The operators of the account report that they have been given no reason for its removal by Twitter staff, and have received no response to their appeals.
Any Assange supporter active on Twitter will be familiar with the Unity4J account, which originated to help boost the wildly successful Unity4J online vigils in which well-known Assange defenders would appear to speak out against his persecution. As of this writing, the account has been gone for a day and a half.
“About 8:45am CST on Thursday July 11, one of our Unity4J Twitter team members went to retweet on the account and noticed that the account was no longer accessible,” reports pro-Assange activist Christy Dopf, one of the operators of the account. “When each of us also attempted to access the account we all received the same message ‘Account Suspended’. Twitter did not send us a reason or violation for the suspension. So an appeal was submitted. We did receive correspondence that Twitter got our request and the case is currently open. Unfortunately we do not have a timeline on how long this could take.”
Speaking for myself as a vocal Assange supporter on Twitter, I can say that I’ve been following the @Unity4J account closely since its earliest days and I’ve never once seen it post anything other than highly professional-looking advocacy for Julian Assange. I’ve certainly never seen it post anything that could be construed as abusive, misleading, or otherwise in violation of any of Twitter’s posted rules.
This account’s deletion is just the latest in a long string of apparently biased actions against WikiLeaks and Assange by the immensely influential social media platform. That bias was made abundantly clear with Twitter’s ridiculous refusal to verify Assange while he was posting from his own account despite his undeniably being a significant public figure, and despite the fact that Twitter was well aware that the account was authentic. The platform has been receiving consistent complaints among Assange supporters of using shadow bans to marginalize their voices, as well as unfair posting locks and restrictions.
“It seems that Assange supporters have been targeted for suspension over the last few days and weeks, including the suspension of individuals (Yon Solitary, Monique Jolie) as well as accounts like Unity4J,” Unity4J co-founder Elizabeth Lea Vos told me today. “All of these suspensions are unacceptable, but I find the Unity4J suspension especially egregious because it was an amplifier of events across the board, not only actions run by Unity4J. It never broke the twitter rules and it was an activist account supporting a journalist who’s been silenced or ‘disappeared,’ so this suspension is an extension of that suppression. Assange asked us to become his voice, and platforms like Twitter appear to be actively working against the possibility of that effort.”
The main Twitter account defending Julian Assange, and therefore press freedom & freedom of speech, has been suspended.@Unity4J – suspended for defending a hero.#Unity4J
Pro-Assange activists have been speaking out against @Unity4J’s removal.
“The main Twitter account defending Julian Assange, and therefore press freedom and freedom of speech, has been suspended,” tweeted comedian and Redacted Tonight host Lee Camp. “@Unity4J – suspended for defending a hero.”
“HELP!! Twitter suspended @Unity4J The global #FreeAssange supporters account!” tweeted Assange’s mother Christine Assange. “Its a central point for updates, interviews and actions re my son politically persecuted journalist JULIAN ASSANGE! Please demand @TwitterSupport and @Jack re-instate it. Many thanks #Unity4J”
“I have no doubt that @Unity4J’s twitter account was suspended because it was a hub of useful information on solidarity events and actions in support of Assange, WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning and more. Horrendous censorship to suspend the account, @TwitterSupport,” tweeted Elizabeth Lea Vos.
“If @Unity4J is not restored, it is proof that Twitter would have sided against the Free Mandela movement, and every other mass liberation movement of a ‘terrorist’ turned Nobel nominee,” tweeted Unity4J co-founder Suzie Dawson.
Many other Assange supporters have been flagging the attention of the Twitter Support account and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey objecting to the unjust silencing of a perfectly legitimate activist account, to no avail thus far.
The censorship of political speech on online media platforms is a large and growing problem. Twitter has been better about this than the far more sycophantic Facebook and Google, but the discrimination against anti-establishment political speech is undeniable at this point. I myself was removed from the platform last year just for saying the world would be better off without warmongering US Senator John McCain in it, and was only restored after protests from high-profile Twitter users.
In a corporatist system of government, in which there is no meaningful separation of corporate power and state power, corporate censorship is state censorship. With giant Silicon Valley corporations aligning themselves with shady state-funded propagandistic think tanks like the Atlantic Council, being admonished on the Senate floor that they must help quash political rebellion, and being targeted for narrative control influence by the US military, there’s vanishingly little difference between what’s happening more and more to political speech with these tech giants and what happens in overtly totalitarian governments. The only difference is the stories people choose to tell themselves about it.
The time to speak up about this silencing is now. Your voice is next.
A deadly serious tweet at the weekend from Armando Iannucci, the comedy writer responsible for the hugely popular Westminster TV satire show The Thick of It, reveals something significant about the problem of resolving the so-called Labour anti-semitism “crisis”. In response to a tweet by a follower discussing my recent blog post entitled “The plot to keep Corbyn out of power”, Iannucci observed: “Fresh insight on the Labour antisemitism story. It’s all a lie stoked up by Jews.”
It is very unlikely that Iannucci had actually read my post beyond the headline. If he did, it would suggest he has significant problems with basic comprehension. More likely he was simply demonstrating his own misunderstanding of what those of us who challenge the narrative of a Labour anti-semitism “crisis” are actually saying.
There is much nonsense written about how we all now live in our own echo chambers. That may still be largely true if your opinions fit neatly inside the so-called Overton window, which in the UK spans the short leap from Blairism to Conservatism. Stick within this narrow manufactured consensus of supposedly rational policy – neoliberal orthodoxy at home, and neoconservative warmongering abroad – and you will rarely be exposed in depth to any other ideas unless you consciously seek them out.
Cocooned from real debate
But those of us whose politics are considered “radical” or “dissident” are confronted with the ideas of these consensus-enforcers almost every waking moment. There is no escape from the BBC, or the topical TV shows recycling the issues dominating the pages of the billionaire-owned press, or the policy agendas of a political class owned by the global corporations that now run our societies, or the conversations of friends and family shaped by these upholders of the status quo.
Unlike those in the political centre who are reassured each day by the consensus telling them that they are sensible, responsible, sane people, those on the supposedly “radical fringes” of politics must listen to a public discourse that characterises them as deluded and dangerous, as prey to wild conspiracy theories and populism, and now – after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has threatened to break one side of the Overton window’s frame by rejecting neoliberalism and endless foreign wars – as unconscionable anti-semites.
Those in the centre may have spent a lifetime cocooned from real political debate but in recent years they have faced two massive disruptions to their peace of mind: the entry of a “radical”, in the form of Corbyn, into mainstream politics; and the partial democratisation of public debate with the growth of social media. Both developments have proved most unwelcome to the centrists.
They are now horrified to hear other kinds or voices saying things that once would never have been allowed near a newspaper or micophone. When they are exposed to critical voices on new media platforms, they react by characterising them as “offensive”, “populism”, “fake news” or “demonisation”. Their instinct is to impugn their critics’ credibility and motives rather than engage with their arguments, and to shut down or limit the platforms where these alternative opinions can be aired.
Shouting into the wind
Although they have been brought superficially into contact with these ideas, like most people used to the comforts of privilege they can afford not to listen. They understand enough to know that we disagree with them, but they do not care to make sense of why. They hear our noise, they fear it even, but they do not stay quiet long enough to learn anything about what we have to say.
And for that reason we are shouting into the wind, our words carried far off where they can do no harm. When we fall silent, all we hear is a caricature of the arguments we have articulated clearly.
This could not be more evident than in the case of Chis Williamson, a political ally of Corbyn’s who like so many others has found himself consumed by the evidence-free consensus that, when Corbyn was elected party leader four years ago, Labour became “institutionally anti-semitic” overnight.
Corbyn’s commitment to tackling all kinds of racism, of course, risks smashing the consensus on Israel, a country that has been indulged by European and US leaders for decades. Israel has long been firmly in the west’s privileged fold – provided with diplomatic, financial and military assistance – even though, under Netanyahu, it no longer tries to conceal its ever more repressive policies towards the Palestinians.
Incredibly, Israel’s easily documented policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid are not only still unpunished but it has become ever harder to talk about them. Month by month, more western states move towards outlawing the world’s first major solidarity movement with the Palestinians – an entirely non-violent one – which calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it concedes the same rights to Palestinians as it does to Jews in the region.
Not daring to listen
The consensual public narrative about Williamson is that he made an anti-semitic remark to Labour party members. All wings of the UK media, including supposedly liberal outlets like the Guardian, have reported that Williamson was caught saying Labour had been “too apologetic” about anti-semitism. The fact that a video recording of his statement is all over social media, showing that he didn’t say anything of the sort, is of no significance to them. The centrists aren’t interested in the evidence. They are determined to keep the privilege of their echo chamber.
The problem for the so-called “radical” is that the unwillingness of the centrists to listen is compounded by a deeper problem – that like Iannucci, they dare not listen. The mischaracterisation of Williamson’s statement can help us understand why.
What Williamson said was not that Labour had been “too apologetic” about anti-semitism, but that Labour had been “too apologetic” in the face of smears that party members were anti-semitic. He wasn’t minimising anti-semitism, he was defending the membership from a campaign of demonisation that portrays them as anti-semites – something you might think delicate centrists, so ready to take offence, might have understood.
But the centrists aren’t listening to what Williamson actually said. They hear only what they need him to have said for their worldview to continue making sense.
Trapped in an echo chamber
Here is what Iannucci, Billy Bragg, Owen Jones, Tom Watson and Margaret Hodge apparently believe Williamson said:
We in Labour are not interested in the fact that Jews experience racism from our party. We are determined to ignore the problem of anti-semitism they have identified. Instead of taking responsibility for our racism, we are going to blame Jews for the problem. When we say anti-semitism has been weaponised, what we mean is that Jews are plotting against our party. We are writing a new Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Seen like this, Williamson and most of the Labour membership are anti-semites. But only someone trapped in their own echo chamber could really believe this is a view anyone in Labour has actually endorsed. Williamson and the members who support him aren’t saying Jews are behind the smearing of Labour. They are saying the dominant forces of our society are.
And this is where the real chasm between the centrists and the radicals opens up. The issue of anti-semitism has become a shadow play for centrists, offering them a supposed moral high ground, as they try to hold the fort against the ideological barbarians at the gate.
Two views of social conflict
There are two ways of understanding conflict in our societies.
The centrists have adopted as their own an understanding of the world cultivated for them by a lifetime of listening to, and trusting in, the state-corporate media. It presents conflict as a battle between personalities, individual and collective: between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt; between Republicans and Democrats; between Trump and Antifa; between Julian Assange and two Swedish women; between Apple Mac and Windows; between men from Mars and women from Venus; between social conservatives and the LGBT movement; between blacks and whites; between Brexiteers and Remainers; between Jews and anti-semites.
This understanding of the world – as a battle between personalities, and the ideas and values they embody – is the one we are encouraged to focus on by the political and media class. That is for three reasons. First, presenting politics as exclusively a battle between people and ideas keeps most of us divided and feuding rather in solidarity with each other. Second, it has been relatively easy to determine the winners of this kind of conflict when the narrative can be controlled through the state-corporate media. And third, the focus on personalities stops us thinking about a much more profound and meaningful way of viewing conflict – as a class-based, economic struggle.
This way of understanding conflict sees it as structural, as a battle between those with money and power and those without. On this view, society is structured by the powerful to maintain and expand their power. This theory of conflict regards the corporate media not as a neutral platform for debating ideas and values, but as a weapon, one designed to cultivate only those ideas and values that preserve the power of the existing elite. This is what Noam Chomsky and others have called “brainwashing under freedom” by the western media.
The brutal logic of power
The structural nature of power should be obvious, if we hadn’t been so brainwashed to think otherwise by our media. To gain some perspective, consider a different historical time such as the feudal period. It would sound preposterous to offer an analysis that society then was shaped chiefly by whether the king and his barons were nice people or bad. There weren’t dramatic, structural changes every time a new prince ascended to the throne. There was a great deal of continuity and consistency over many centuries because each king and his courtiers had the same economic motive to justify a system preserving their wealth and privilege. A king could tinker with the system in ways suited to his personality, but the ruthless, brutal core of the system had to be maintained. Any king who lacked these steely qualities would be toppled by someone who didn’t.
The same applies today to the heads of major corporations. So long as it proves profitable, Exxon is not going to stop despoiling the planet to extract hydrocarbons, whoever is appointed CEO. Exxon could never appoint a “nice” CEO in the sense of someone prepared to forgo profit and shareholder value – not so long as the current neoliberal economic model dominates. Even were a ruthless CEO to have a Damascene conversion in the job, suddenly becoming a serious environmentalist, he or she would be removed before they could take any decisions that might jeopardise the corporation’s profits.
That is why genuine radical leftists are much less interested in who becomes the figurehead of a corrupt and corrupting political system than they are in finding ways to challenge the system and thereby highlight how power operates in our society. The goal is fundamental change, now of a kind that is needed to save us as a species, rather than continuing image management.
Corbyn’s rise is so important because he threatens to lift the veil on the power structure, either because he is forced into a clash with it as he tries to implement his policies or because he is crushed by it before he can pursue those policies. Corbyn offers a unique opportunity to hold up a mirror to British society, stripping away the beautified mask to see the ugly skeleton-face below. He risks making the carefully concealed structure of power visible. And this is precisely why he is so dangerous to the status-quo-supporting centrists.
No single Jewish view
But still, aren’t Williamson and Labour members suggesting that “Jews” are the ones behind this, as Iannucci infers? When we speak of plots by the powerful, global corporations, the banks and capitalists, aren’t we really using coded language for “Jews”? And if we aren’t, how do we explain the fact that Jews are so certain that Labour is mired in “institutional anti-semitism”?
“Jews”, however, are not of one mind on this issue, except in the imagination of centrists pursuing the “Labour is institutionally anti-semitic” narrative. Certainly, there are lots of different views among British Jews about Labour. It’s just that only one strand of opinion is being given a platform by the political and media class – the one against Corbyn. That should hardly surprise us if, as I explained, the corporate media are not there to reflect different constituencies of opinion, but to enforce a consensus that serves the powerful.
The problem with Iannucci’s implicit argument that Jews should be left to decide whether Labour is anti-semitic – and that denying them that right is itself anti-semitic – is not only that it assumes Jews are of a single view. It makes two further dubious assumptions: that those who have been given a voice on the subject have actually experienced anti-semitism in Labour, and that they have no other identifiable motives for making such a claim. Neither assumption withstands scrutiny.
When the largely conservative leadership of the Board of Deputies is given centre-stage as spokesperson for British Jews on the issue of Labour and Corbyn, it can speak with no meaningful authority. Its previous leader, Jonathan Arkush, was not only an unabashed supporter of the Conservative Party, but openly welcomed its governing alliance with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, extreme Protestant loyalists, as “positive news” for Jews. His successor, Marie van der Zyl, argues that the Board exists “to promote a sympathetic understanding of Israel” – a position that necessarily drives her and the Board into a profound ideological clash with Corbyn and much of the Labour membership behind him.
Examples crumble on inspection
Those Jews inside Labour vociferously promoting claims of a supposed anti-semitism “crisis” in Labour, chiefly the Jewish Labour Movement and a handful of Labour MPs, have been much less forthcoming with actual examples. There is no doubt, as we are often reminded, that former Labour MP Luciana Berger received death threats, but it is much less often noted that those threats did not come from Labour members, they came from the far right. Dossiers like the one submitted by MP Margaret Hodge have shown to be cluttered with cases of alleged anti-semitism that have nothing to do with the Labour party. And MP Ruth Smeeth’s infamous claims of an anti-semitic remark against her by black anti-racism activist Marc Wadsworth crumbled on closer inspection, as did her claim to have received 25,000 anti-semitic comments in a matter of days.
The motives of the leadership of the Jewish Labour Movement need questioning too, as an Al-Jazeera undercover investigation revealed two years ago. It exposed the fact that the JLM was working closely with Shai Masot, an agent inside the Israeli embassy whose job was to help mobilise opposition to Corbyn. Again unsurprisingly given that the media serves the interests of power, Al-Jazeera’s investigation received negligible coverage and made almost no impression outside pro-Palestinian circles despite its shocking findings.
As self-confessed Zionists, and hardline ones at that, the leaders of the JLM – representing only a few hundreds members, some of them not Jewish – regard Israel as a supremely important issue, and seem largely indifferent to what Israel is doing to the Palestinians. The JLM and its allies in Labour Friends of Israel have been central to efforts to force the Labour party to adopt a new definition of anti-semitism that conflates strong criticism of Israel with Jew hatred. Jewish supporters of Corbyn inside Labour, who have been highly critical the JLM and Labour Friends of Israel, such as Jewish Voice for Labour, have been mostly sidelined in media coverage or dismissed as the “wrong kind of Jews”.
In other words, when we hear from Jewish organisations, it is specifically the ones that have an agenda deeply at odds with Corbyn’s – either for his left wing politics or for his adamant opposition to Israeli oppression. Supposed “Jewish” opinion on Labour has simply become another echo chamber, one selected for amplification because its message is the one centrists want to hear: that Corbyn and his supporters are very bad people who must not be allowed near power.
Polls reveal ugly racism
But even if all that is true, polls suggest a significant number of ordinary Jews think there is a problem with anti-semitism in Labour. How can we dismiss or denigrate their views?
Well, if only one view of Labour and anti-semitism is being aired in the media, it is almost certain that a majority of Jews will end up believing the truth of a supposed “Corbyn threat”. Jews are no different from the rest of us. No smoke without fire, they’ll say. If the media keep telling them that Williamson said Labour was “too apologetic” about anti-semitism, even though it is documented that he didn’t, then most – those who listen to the BBC and read the papers rather than doing the hard work of their own research – will come to believe it must be true he said it. The evidence is irrelevant if a consensus has been manufactured in spite of the evidence.
Further, the fact that a majority believe something is true quite obviously doesn’t make it true – or right. And that applies to Jews just as much as any other group. If you doubt me, consider this. Polls of Israeli Jews consistently show them holding views that would appall most people in Britain, including British Jews. One survey published in December and conducted by Israeli Channel 10 TV showed that 52 per cent of Israeli Jews are prepared to admit that they think Jews are better than non-Jews, with only 20 per cent disagreeing with the statement. Some 88 per cent are disturbed at the idea of their son befriending a girl from the fifth of Israel’s population who are Arab. And three-quarters are worried by hearing a public conversation held in the mother tongue of this large, quiescent Arab minority.
So if Israeli Jews can be so obviously wrong in their beliefs and values, if the ugliest forms of racism are rife in their society after long exposure to simple-minded Arab hatred from their own political and media class, why should we expect more from British Jews – or from ourselves – after long exposure to a similar media-constructed consensus? To believe otherwise would be to assume that most of us are capable of building our own value systems from scratch, that we can develop a worldview in total isolation from the information and narratives we are bombarded with every day by the media and our politicians.
Whipping up fear
There is a plot against Corbyn to stop him getting anywhere near power. It is a very obvious one, as I documented in my last post. It has taken many forms over the past four years, but has settled on anti-semitism as the most effective smear because it is such a difficult accusation to deny if the actual evidence is not taken into account, as in Williamson’s case – and so many other examples – illustrate.
Is it not telling that the media, while going to such lengths to alert audiences to the Jewish identity of those offended by Labour anti-semitism, have so rarely mentioned that many of those supposedly doing the offending – including those suspended and expelled by Labour for anti-semitism – are Jewish themselves?The media and status-quo-enforcing politicians on both sides of the aisle have whipped up fear over anti-semitism among a portion of British Jews, just as their US equivalents did among a majority of Americans during the McCarthy witch hunts for Communists and during round-ups of Asians during World War Two.
They have done so because Corbyn poses a genuine threat, not to Jews but to a power structure the political and media establishment are deeply invested in – ideologically, financially and emotionally. This class is at war with ordinary people, Jews and non-Jews alike. And it will use any means necessary to prevent disrupting the continuing dominance of turbo-charged neoliberalism, an economic system that threatens all our futures on this planet.
One day, if we survive as a species, when neoliberalism looks as archaic and outmoded as feudalism does to us today, all of this will look much clearer. By then, we may finally understand that we were played for fools – all of us.
Last week, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid signed the US extradition request to hand over Julian Assange, who is charged with 18 counts of violating the US Espionage Act. Assange’s immediate fate now lies in the hands of the British justice system.
Javid ‘consistently voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas’, including war on Afghanistan, Syria and the catastrophic 2011 assault on Libya. In other words, he is a key figure in precisely the US-UK Republican-Democratic-Conservative-Labour war machine exposed by WikiLeaks.
John Pilger described Assange’s extradition hearing last week to The Real News Network:
I don’t think these initial extradition hearings will be fair at all, no… He’s not allowed to defend himself. He’s not given access to a computer so that he can access the documents and files that he needs.
I think where it will change is if the lower court – the magistrate’s court that is dealing with it now and will deal with it over the next almost nine, ten months – if they decide to extradite Julian Assange, his lawyers will appeal. And it will go up to the High Court. And I think it’s there in the High Court where he may well – I say “may” – get justice. That’s a cautiously optimistic view. But I think he’s most likely to get it there. He certainly won’t get it the United States. There’s no indication of that.
As we noted in a media alert last week, the groundwork for the persecution of Assange has been laid by a demonising state-corporate propaganda campaign. Nils Melzer, the UN special rapporteur on torture, who is also Professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow, has turned the accepted ‘mainstream’ view of Assange completely on its head:
First of all, we have to realize that we have all been deliberately misled about Mr Assange. The predominant image of the shady “hacker”, “sex offender” and selfish “narcissist” has been carefully constructed, disseminated and recycled in order to divert attention from the extremely powerful truths he exposed, including serious crimes and corruption on the part of multiple governments and corporations.
By making Mr Assange “unlikeable” and ridiculous in public opinion, an environment was created in which no one would feel empathy with him, very similar to the historic witch-hunts, or to modern situations of mobbing at the workplace or in school. (Our emphasis)
These are very significant, credible comments and, as we will discuss below, Melzer recently provided a stunning example on Twitter of how this ‘carefully constructed, disseminated and recycled’ image of Assange has been faked.
Melzer’s revelation concerns Assange’s long, dishevelled beard, which was a source of much ‘mainstream’ hilarity when Assange was arrested and dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy on April 11. First, let’s remind ourselves of some of the grim highlights of this media coverage. In the Daily Mail, Amanda Platell wrote:
How humiliating that as the alleged sexual predator Julian Assange emerged from Ecuador’s embassy, flourishing a wild beard, Australian scientists revealed a primordial link between “flamboyant accoutrements such as beards” and titchy testicles.
In the New Statesman, the Guardian‘s Suzanne Moore celebrated:
O frabjous day! We are all bored out of our minds with Brexit when a demented looking gnome is pulled out of the Ecuadorian embassy by the secret police of the deep state. Or “the met” as normal people call them.
Julian Assange… looked like a sort of mad Lord of the Rings extra as he was hauled away from the Ecuadorian embassy last week.
Charlotte Edwardes wrote in the Evening Standard:
Julian Assange’s removal from the Ecuadorian embassy brought his straggly beard into the light. The Beard Liberation Front gets in touch to say he will not be considered for its annual shortlist of the best facial hair. “It is impossible to unequivocally state that his beard presents a positive public image,” it says.1
I see Tolstoy has just been arrested in central London.
Like so many journalists, Derek Momodu, the Daily Mirror‘s Associate Picture Editor, made a joke about a bearded character from the BBC comedy series ‘Only Fools And Horses’:
Unconfirmed reports that Wikileaks boss Julian Assange tried to pass as Uncle Albert to avoid arrest – but no-one was fooled.
The Daily Star devoted an entire article to the mockery:
Bearded Julian Assange compared to Uncle Albert as Twitter reacts to arrest
Pamela Anderson’s favourite fella has got a surprising new look.
Embedded in the piece was a Daily Star reader survey that attracted 234 votes:
Would you describe Julian Assange as…
A hero [36%]
A weirdo’ [64%]
Unsurprising results, given the context and the wider political-media campaign.
The Daily Express also devoted an article to comedy takes of this kind:
Hilarious Julian Assange memes have swept Twitter in the wake of the Wikileaks founder’s arrest including one he tried to pass himself off as Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses – here are the best ones.
In The Times, Ben Macintyre wrote a piece titled, ‘Julian Assange belongs with crackpots and despots’, observing that Assange had been ‘hauled out of the Ecuadorian embassy, wearing the same beard and outraged expression as Saddam Hussein on removal from his foxhole’. The caption accompanying the photos said it all:
Julian Assange revelled in holding court at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Right, the Panamanian [dictator] General Manuel Noriega took refuge in the Vatican embassy in 1989
There are clear Stalinist and Big Brother echoes when one of the most important political dissidents of our time generates this headline (subsequently edited) in the Daily Mail:
A soaring ego. Vile personal habits. And after years in his squalid den, hardly a friend left: DOWNFALL OF A NARCISSIST
The title of a Guardian press review also headlined completely fake, Ecuadorian government claims that Assange had smeared the walls of the embassy with his own excrement as highlighted in The Sun:
“Whiffyleaks”: what the papers say about Julian Assange’s arrest
The assumption behind all these comments, of course, was that Assange’s beard was further confirmation that he was ‘a definite creep, a probable rapist, a conspiracist whackjob’, as ‘leftist’ media favourite Ash Sarkar of Novara Media tweeted. Or, as the Guardian‘s George Monbiot wrote in opposing Assange’s extradition:
Whether or not you like Assange’s politics (I don’t), or his character (ditto)…
As discussed, Nils Melzer argues that Assange has become ‘”unlikeable” and ridiculous in public opinion’, not because of who he is, but because of a state-sponsored propaganda campaign – the journalists listed above are either complicit or dupes. This media charade was exposed with great clarity by Melzer’s revelation on Twitter:
How public humiliation works: On 11 April, Julian Assange was mocked for his beard throughout the world. During my visit, he explained to us that his shaving kit had been deliberately taken away three months earlier.
It had simply never occurred to the great herd of journalists – which understood that Assange was someone to be smeared, mocked and abused – that his appearance might have something to do with Ecuador’s brutal treatment cutting off his communications, his visitors and even his medical care. Fidel Narvaez, former consul at the Ecuadorian embassy from the first day Assange arrived, on 19 June 2012, until 15 July 2018, said the Ecuadorian regime under president Lenin Moreno had tried to make life ‘unbearable’ for Assange.
As part of a Swedish project in support of Assange, a message containing an offer from Melzer to be interviewed was emailed to around 500 individuals, primarily Swedish journalists. Recipients were able to reply with a single click on an embedded link in the message. Not a single journalist did so. In an email copied to Media Lens, Melzer commented:
My impression is that, after my initial press release, most of the mainstream media have gone into something like a shock paralysis leaving them unable to process the enormous contradiction between their own misguided portraits of Assange and the terrifying truth of what has been going on in reality. The problem, of course, is that mainstream media bear a significant share of the responsibility for enabling this disgraceful witch-hunt and now have to muster up the strength to face their tragic failure to objectively inform and empower the people in this case.
One of my own nationalities being Swedish, I am quite familiar with what a certain obsession with political correctness can do to one’s capacity for critical thinking. But the fact that, of more than 500 solicited Swedish journalists, not a single one was interested in an in-depth interview with a Swiss-Swedish UN expert publicly accusing Sweden of judicial persecution and psychological torture, speaks to a level of denial and self-censorship that can hardly be reconciled with objective and informative reporting.2
It is indeed a dramatic example of denial and self-censorship. But, alas, there is no ‘shock paralysis’, for corporate media have been treating the best-informed, most courageous and most honest truth-tellers this way for years and decades.
When Denis Halliday, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, resigned in protest in September 1998, describing the UN sanctions regime he had set up and run as ‘genocidal’, his comments were mentioned in passing then forgotten. The same treatment was afforded his successor as UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Hans von Sponeck, who resigned in protest at the sanctions in February 2000. Since its publication in 2006, von Sponeck’s forensic, deeply rational and deeply damning account of his experiences, A Different Kind Of War – The UN Sanctions Regime In Iraq, (Berghahn Books, 2006), has been mentioned once across the entire US-UK press, in a single paragraph of 139 words in an article by Robert Fisk in the Independent, and never reviewed.3
At a time of maximum global media coverage of Iraq, Halliday was mentioned in 2 of the 12,366 Guardian and Observer articles mentioning Iraq in 2003; von Sponeck was mentioned 5 times. Halliday was mentioned in 2 of the 8,827 articles mentioning Iraq in 2004; von Sponeck was mentioned 5 times.
In 2002, Scott Ritter, former UN chief weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991-1998 declared that Iraq had been ‘fundamentally disarmed’ of 90-95% of its weapons of mass destruction by December 1998, signifying that the case for war was an audacious fraud.4 In the 12,366 articles mentioning Iraq in 2003, the Guardian and Observer mentioned Ritter a total of 17 times.
In February, we described how Alfred de Zayas, the first UN rapporteur to visit Venezuela for 21 years, had commented that US sanctions were illegal and could amount to ‘crimes against humanity’ under international law. Our ProQuest UK media database search for the last six months for corporate newspaper articles containing:
‘de Zayas’ and ‘Venezuela’ = 2 hits
One of these, bitterly critical, in The Times, was titled:
Radical Chic – The UN’s system of human rights reporting is a politicised travesty
There have been a couple of other mentions in the Independent online, but, once again, we find ourselves reaching for the same comment from Noam Chomsky that sums it up so well:
The basic principle, rarely violated, is that what conflicts with the requirements of power and privilege does not exist.5
Edwardes, ‘Julian Assange’s removal’, Evening Standard, 12 April 2019.
Melzer, email, 13 June 2019.
Fisk, ‘Fear climate change, not our enemies’, The Independent, 20 Jan 2007.
Ritter and William Rivers Pitt, War On Iraq, Profile Books, 2002, p. 23.
Chomsky, ‘Deterring Democracy’, Hill and Wang, 1992, p. 79.
Last week, Canadian feminist and journalist, Meghan Murphy, announced that she is suing Twitter. Having been permanently suspended from Twitter last Fall, Murphy’s lawsuit challenges Jack Dorsey’s contention made last September to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Twitter Transparency and Accountability wherein he stated, “We don’t consider political viewpoints, perspectives, or party affiliation in any of our policies or enforcement decisions, period.” Taking aim at Twitter’s contradictory and unevenly-applied policy, Murphy’s lawsuit is legally challenging Twitter by accusing this big tech company of censoring content made by users based on conflicting political perspectives (eg. conflicting with those of Dorsey or others at Twitter). Meghan confirms that Dorsey has acted against his own company’s mandate which was “to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers. Our business and revenue will always follow that mission in ways that improve and do not detract from a free and global conversation.”
In a video explanation, Murphy details the reasons for her lawsuit, outlining the many contradictions within Twitter’s exercise of its policies and its censorship of its users, most notably feminists and anyone who is gender critical. Murphy’s “crime”? She tweeted this: “Men are not women” and “How are transwomen not men? What is the difference between a man and a transwoman?” Reminiscent of the tenor preceding the Scopes Monkey Trial, this lawsuit is bound to mark the stark terrain between free speech and censorship while also legally cementing the fundamental right to discuss critically the pitfalls of politically acceptable speech when multi-billion tech firms are today sponsoring the main arenas of free speech: social media.
It’s not only conservative pundits who are perplexed by this double-standard of who gets to have a Twitter account (eg. Donald Trump and Louis Farrakhan), but also centrist publications are covering this event. But why are many left-wing news sources ignoring both Murphy’s banning from Twitter in addition to the more problematic elision of women’s rights around which this issue turns? And how will such a lawsuit affect the levels of responsibility that everyone from website/domain hosting companies to social media elites must maintain in order to keep in check with national laws that protect freedom of expression?
This lawsuit is bound to be a game-changer for everyone as it will challenge many basic “givens” about social media and the power of tech giants like Twitter. Without a doubt, Facebook, Instagram and Google, among others in this field, are playing close attention to this lawsuit, since what results from this lawsuit will potentially set out case law for a good many years.
For starters, tech giants are today controlling public opinion through censorship and how they excise certain individuals from public participation on what Twitter itself admits is not a private—but a public—platform. Dorsey is on record numerous times stating just this. When interviewed by Sam Harris about Meghan Murphy two weeks ago, Dorsey is asked about why Murphy was banned when Twitter has kept accounts by numerous people and groups that have posted inflammatory content. Dorsey’s answer contradicts what he told the U.S. government last fall: “I don’t believe that we can afford to take a neutral stance any more…I don’t believe that we should optimize for impartiality.” Harris then asks Dorsey, “Why not take refuge in the First Amendment?” as a comprehensive response. Dorsey’s response: “The enforcement of [our rules] is not always apparent….If you just look at one enforcement action, we don’t suspend people purely for saying one particular thing permanently.” While Dorsey exempts violent threats from this rule, it is clear that Dorsey is playing language games in how he has shifted Twitter’s role as arbiter of free speech: “I don’t think we can be this neutral passive platform any more.” Effectively, Dorsey is advocating for censorship. Hence, the disconnect between what he said to Senate last year and where Twitter asserts itself as a public arena for the democratic sharing of ideas and against what Dorsey calls the “shutting down” of those who “weaponise” Twitter. He goes on to claim that Twitter’s role is more about what the platform “amplifies” and and what conversations it “gives attention to”—all this to couch removal of those who produce content that Twitter does not agree with.
Harris warns the listener before the interview that Dorsey is skilled at stepping around difficult questions, but as you listen to the interaction, it is painfully clear that Dorsey promotes censorship by stating that Twitter’s focus is on promoting certain ideas, not people. Still Dorsey is cognizant that people produce ideas, not the inverse. So in this interview he is slippery, plays with terminology and essentially justifies the removal of what he deem disagreeable viewpoints through the removal of the creators of such viewpoints. Renaming censorship as focusing on “what are we amplifying”, Dorsey has come up with a slick media spin for a metaphorical “re-education camp” for banned Twitter users.
As is the case for Murphy, social media is used for building a brand and career, marketing, research and company promotion. Murphy’s suit argues that being banned from Twitter negatively impacts her work as a journalist pointing to how news publications cite Twitter from The New York Times and beyond. Additionally, where the public geographic spaces of old are being deferred to social media, this brings up new challenges for what Dorsey has repeatedly called Twitter—a “public square.” In fact, in his Senate testimony last year, Dorsey used this term five times to refer to Twitter. So one must wonder why the public square is being privately controlled, or at the very least, why private companies hosting the public forum are exempt from upholding the laws which guarantee free expression.
Like Twitter, fellow tech giants are dangerously approximating the role of censors of free speech in their respective empires which they had claimed, years earlier, to have created to expand free speech. Dorsey clearly expresses a desire for “healthy conversation” but fails to uphold the promised platform for freedom of expression one year later.
In all the mounting media coverage of problems with the Internet, such as invasion of privacy, vulnerability to hacking, political manipulation, and user addiction, there is one constant: online advertising. Online advertising is the lifeblood of Google, Facebook, and many other Internet enterprises that profit by providing personal data to various vendors. Moreover, the move of tens of billions of dollars from conventional print and broadcast media continues, with devastating impacts, especially on print newspapers and magazines.
But does online advertising work for consumers? The Internet was once considered a less commercial medium. But today consumers are inundated with targeted ads, reviews, comments, friends’ reactions, and other digital data. Unfortunately for advertisers, consumers are not intentionally clicking on online ads in big numbers.
Google’s search ads tackle people when they search for a product or service. A controlled study by eBay research labs in 2014 concluded that Google was greatly exaggerating the effectiveness of such ads—at least those bought by eBay. eBay’s researchers concluded that “More frequent users whose purchasing behavior is not influenced by ads account for most of the advertising expenses, resulting in average returns that are negative.” This is the “I-was-gonna-buy-it-anyway problem,” says an article in the Atlantic.
The Atlantic notes:
Whether all advertising—online and off—is losing its persuasive punch…Think about how much you can learn about products today before seeing an ad. Comments, user reviews, friends’ opinions, price-comparison tools…they’re much more powerful than advertising because we consider them information rather than marketing. The difference is enormous: We seek information, so we’re more likely to trust it; marketing seeks us, so we’re more likely to distrust it.
Some companies like Coca-Cola have cooled on using online advertising. But advertising revenues keep growing for Google, Facebook, and the other giants of the Internet. These companies are racing to innovate, connecting ads to more tailored audiences, which tantalize and keeps hope springing eternal for the advertisers. The Internet ad sellers also provide detailed data to advertise themselves to the advertisers staying one step ahead of growing skepticism. This is especially a problem when there is inadequate government regulation of deceptive advertising. It is the Wild West! Online advertising revenues are the Achilles’ heel of these big Internet companies. Any decline will deflate them immensely; more than public and Congressional criticism of their intrusiveness, their massive allowed fakeries, their broken promises to reform, and their openings to unsavory political and commercial users. If they lose advertising revenue, a major revenue bubble will burst and there goes their business model, along with their funding for ventures from video hosting to global mapping.
After reviewing the many major negatives attributed to the Internet, the New York Times’Farhad Manjoo writes, “So who is the central villain in this story, the driving force behind much of the chaos and disrepute online?… It’s the advertising business, stupid.” He adds, perhaps optimistically, “If you want to fix much of what ails the internet right now, the ad business would be the perfect perp to handcuff and restrain.”
Randall Rothenberg, who heads a trade association of companies in the digital ad business, urges advertisers “to take civic responsibility for our effect on the world.” Then he shows his frustration by saying that, “Technology has largely been outpacing the ability of individual companies to understand what is actually going on.” All of this even before artificial intelligence (AI) takes root. Meanwhile, Facebook, Google, and Twitter keep announcing new tools to make their ads “safe and civil” (Facebook), open and protective of privacy. At the same time matters keep getting worse for consumers. The backers and abusers keep getting more skilled too (see Youtube Kids ).
In a recent report titled “Digital Deceit,” authors Dipayan Ghosh and Ben Scott wrote:
The Central problem of disinformation corrupting American political culture is not Russian spies or a particular media platform. The central problem is that the entire industry is built to leverage sophisticated technology to aggregate user attention and sell advertising.
If so, why isn’t more public attention being paid to this root cause? Not by the mass media which is obviously too compromised by the Congress, by academia, or by more of US before “We the People” become the conditioned responders that Ivan Pavlov warned about so many years ago.
There was a time when the internet was an experiment in anarchy, but it is increasingly becoming an experiment in “stateness”, meaning police-order. Social networks are in crisis. Our governments are losing patience with them, grilling geek after geek to demand they be more loyal to the nation-state and take a more active role suppressing apparently foreign points of view.
The unplugging of the entire internet by NATO countries to stop vaguely defined “Russian trolls” – a nationalistic smear for rebellious social media users living not in Russia but our own countries – cannot be ruled out. As laughable as this possibility may seem to internet users, Western leaders are dead serious about the issue. They consider users who mock them online as existential threats. That they may eventually give up and unplug everything will be touched on here, but it also needs more consideration at a later date.
For now, the focus must be on what might happen to the major social networks. If they are profoundly reshaped by geopolitical tension and paranoia, will they be of any continued use for publishing anti-establishment slogans and views? How will the new Cold War affect the freedom of writers and independent creators to express themselves through social networks?
Lawmakers in the US, the UK, the EU, and other NATO-aligned political structures are wrathful towards social networks due to the influence they indiscriminately offer anyone who signs up to them. Since the US election of 2016, we have watched staff from Twitter, Facebook and Google get grilled by screaming American and British lawmakers. The ageing lawmakers, not willing to take any chances in the “neuland” of the internet (so described by Angela Merkel) treat social networks with the utmost disdain and hostility. For them, the internet is a war-fighting domain, a battlefield of states with fixed front lines, a red zone where insurgents snipe at them. For them, the objective must be to silence anyone who disagrees with them and glorify anyone who does agree with them.
According to the traditional paranoid geopolitical mindset, social networks have to even be regarded as unwitting hostile actors. By offering people the chance to choose their own sources of information and even reproduce those sources and share those sources to others, social networks undermine loyalty to the nation-state, making it harder to spread Nineteenth Century ideas of loyalty and incite new petty wars with other nation-states. Our fossilized politicians, longing for the day when every young man had to complete mandatory military service and longed to die for the flag, seek to lobotomize the youth and restore nation-state loyalty to execute warlike aims against geopolitical foes Russia and China.
While hostility of ageing politicians towards social networks may be worrying, their complete intellectual failure and lack of understanding of what they are dealing with is encouraging. Their obsession with the current major social networks – Twitter and Facebook – suggests that they regard social media in the same way that they view news media. In their view, social networks are just some other big companies that need to be reined in. Just one or two big actors need to be forced to conform to the regime’s ideology, like the well-behaved top news journalists broadcasters, and the politicians’ authority will be restored. The “trolls” will be defeated. The youth will start to respect the bleary-eyed generals and politicians who were kept awake at night by them.
Unfortunately for every internet creator, the reactions of Twitter, Facebook and Google have been cowed. All are eager to prove their nationalist loyalty, particularly to the US state, because their websites’ physical infrastructure is based on the territory of the US state. They have the American regime’s gun to their heads, just like the television stations. Google serves the Pentagon loyally, but may be incapable of preventing its platform’s exploitation by the Pentagon’s enemies and critics due to the sheer number of targets flooding their scopes.
It is possible that the frail politicians so concerned about “trolls” will be able to cower in safety very soon behind a wall of new media enforcement, but it will not last forever. If the power of individuals to express themselves freely at major social networks, chiefly Twitter and Facebook, is sabotaged, communities will move gradually to other social networks and continue their activity there. The centre of media attention will shift away from dullness and conformity to somewhere more interesting once again.
A major consideration for alternate media when selecting social networks has likely been the presence of third party applications that can amplify one’s views across social media by providing automated posting services. These upset the traditional dominance of the wealthy and the powerful over the press. Very low overhead is required to establish a publication using various automation and aggregation tools to create feeds that offer a wide different spectrum of news and commentary than the mainstream. Attacks against automation under the guise of fighting “fake news” and “bots” are therefore an excuse to hamper small and independent media projects that lack the staff to manually post every item of content to the social networks. This assumes that the social networks are really going to fight automation. The BBC and its supporters are mindless bots, if we look seriously at Twitter’s rules, and yet the people whose accounts get suppressed by Twitter are not bots but real people targeted by the British regime for holding dissident views.
Perhaps the flight of dissenting users to some future alternative social network should settle the battle between politicians and trolls. But it would probably only anger Western politicians even more, as they regard all alternative media as extremist, so the counterinsurgency would rage on. Not able to pressure the alternate social networks, politicians may resort to the brute force of the law, seeking court orders to block every app or social network being used to hurt political egos or express disloyalty to the state. But websites can be cloned and mirrored, and insurgent networks would be continuously made available again, as is the case with the various “putlockers” endlessly springing up to avoid the court orders that are always too slow and ineffective to counter free streaming.
There is every reason to think that many of the most effective anti-government critics would still be able to thrive even on the mainstream social networks, merely by altering their choice of language and modifying aspects of their behavior to evade the automated tools being used to remove them. Resistance can vary between passive and active forms, and rejection of national loyalty and lack of support for war will always be possible in any forum even if everyone else is a bloodthirsty and rabid nationalist. Advocacy for the removal of censorship and the destruction of the yokes used to enforce conformity and faith on a social network would always be considered a moderate and neutral view, making it possible to support more rebellious creators without joining them.
The inevitable failures of an online counterinsurgency described above could eventually prove too much for some governments to bear, and the result would be the complete destruction of the internet – something states will always be able to do. They might first attempt “balkanization”, forcing users to only register for accounts at social networks if they reside in the country where the social network is based. If that occurs, websites like Twitter and Facebook would fall into the geopolitical space of NATO, and support of NATO war aims and propaganda would become a compulsory requirement of all users, with everyone lobotomized to be docile supporters.
Balkanization would fail to achieve anything. As recent hunts for “trolls” have demonstrated, they are not actually foreign, nor are they automated. The alleged Russian enemies, “trolls” and “bots” are real people. They are not hackers from Russian spy agencies, but independent authors, journalists and creative people – civilians located inside our own countries who hold anti-war and anti-colonial views on foreign policy. Such innocent people look like they will be the new targets in the next “accidental” rampage by our incompetent regimes against perceived anti-state threats.
If they pursue and yet fail to achieve anything against trolls through political pressure, court orders, and geopolitical militarization of the social networks, politicians who view trolls as a true threat to the state will inevitably advocate a total ban on the internet. It is for this final contingency that independent writers and serious activists must prepare themselves.
It is not enough to have a collection of friends and followers on some top social networks, and even a robust email list may not be enough to sustain one’s writing. Real contacts and a real publishing history outside the social networks, even in print, are a requirement to sustain anti-establishment momentum and the propagation of balanced views. Anything less, and the paranoid regime can delete you and all its other critics with the push of a button. The conservation of social media-based activists on lists and their transformation into published authors is one way for them to save themselves from simple bans, at the same time amplifying their voices ever more.
The development of the Mont Order society to connect and preserve dissenting influencers on social networks can only help. It may be that teaming up to use a variety of applications, technologies and email clients based under different geopolitical poles of influence (the US, the EU, Russia and China) may be the only route towards independent political writing and advocacy under the suffocating conditions of the new Cold War. Such a strategy, pursued early on before it is even necessary, would allow dissident gatherings on social networks to survive purges, hostility, court orders, balkanization and even the plug being pulled completely by these paranoid regimes we have tolerated.
Much of what is forecasted here is dark, and perhaps too dark. Perhaps the internet isn’t really doomed to die at the hands of paranoid and vain politicians trying to defoliate it to fight their critics. Perhaps police-order is not achievable across the internet. It could be that many of the stages of counter-insurgency would require so much legal reform and such a high budget that most of the politicians concerned will die of old age and be replaced by a more tech-savvy and relaxed generation before their aims are even close to being achieved. Nevertheless, it is prudent to seek out and imagine counter-strategies to survive even the most heavy-handed actions by politicians against critics.
Our capitalist elites have used propaganda, money and the marginalizing of their critics to erase the first three of philosopher John Locke’s elements of the perfect state: liberty, equality and freedom. They exclusively empower the fourth, property. Liberty and freedom in the corporate state mean the liberty and freedom of corporations and the rich to exploit and pillage without government interference or regulatory oversight. And the single most important characteristic of government is its willingness to use force, at home and abroad, to protect the interests of the property classes.
Here’s a thought experiment for social workers assisting homeless, recovery (drug, alcohol), re-entry (coming out of prison), and those diagnosed with mental and physical health challenges: Take a college educated “professional,” George, and then a “homeless” person, Julia, and put them in the same tattered clothes, take away phone, ID, money, credit cards, blindfold them, transport them from say Portland, Oregon, and to Toronto, Canada, or Buffalo, NY, and drop them off in an alley in a run-down part of town at 3 am on a Monday. Then challenge them to get back to square “go.”
We know the homeless person, or the former incarcerated person, or the recovering addict will be home — Portland – within 48 hours. The professional, either in FIRE (finance insurance real estate) or any number of elite fields, will tank quickly. Especially if we were to drop that person off outside of town into a homeless camp.
In my field of social work, many employers I talk to would rather have a former inmate, a former felon, who has gotten his or her life back on track, on the job. Really. There are even Harvard (who cares that it’s Ivy League, by the way?) studies to that effect. Of course, the rationale is based on company loyalty; an ex-con would really appreciate his freedoms now; hard work – workaholic – since all that time in the lobotomizing prison system would kick in an obsessiveness toward keeping busy, keeping moving. Then, some employers I talk to think most workers or potential workers are the problem, would steal time, money, goods, and things from the company. So, the felon has already done time, knows the depravity of prison systems, and would stay on the up and up without jeopardizing incarceration. Plus, in the US, companies get a tax break for hiring former felons!
The fields of social work are growing, yet the pay is shrinking, the work conditions are ramped up, the management are bizarre examples of former social workers themselves (very anti worker, very hard on outside-the-box thinkers, and completely blank on what radical social work is and how to even apply the principles of that form of social work). Most non-profits do the dirty work of what a society is looking more and more to not provide for – mental health care for a bigger and bigger share of the USA population; disability services for a larger and larger swath of Americans mentally, psychologically, intellectually, socially, physically, and spiritually broken or disabled; financial, employment, education, housing assistance for an ever-growing population of humans who are not able to work and live and transport and find health care for themselves in this New Gilded Age.
The non-profits I have worked for are top-heavy, have very little money put aside or earmarked or grant-provided for the workers; many of the non-profits hire development associates, upper management shills, PR folk, marketing and events coordinators; many are in shining and remodeled digs while casting shadows on the street people they supposedly care about.
Some of us in social services have come from other professions, and like me, many are former teachers. Very few are radical thinkers, and many are just trying to hang on. When you work in an at-will state, where organizing and workplace coordinating is akin to communism, and when you work for people younger and the same age as yourself who once had their lives more or less put together but who are today on the streets, in shelters, in vans on the side of the road, and who have to pay for legal debts – hospital bills, legal financial obligations, debts coming at them via mean-assed debt collectors and repo men — the idea of Six Degrees of Separation comes cold like melting glaciers as really Only One Degree of Separation.
Manfred Max Neef calls this country, USA — richest, biggest land rip off abusing, military mightiest, vastest financial thieving, culturally insanest — underdeveloping.
I mean, your country is the most dramatic example that you can find. I have gone as far as saying — and this is a chapter of a book of mine that is published next month in England, the title of which is Economics Unmasked. There is a chapter called “The United States, an Underdeveloping Nation,” which is a new category. We have developed, underdeveloped and developing. Now you have underdeveloping. And your country is an example, in which the one percent of the Americans, you know, are doing better and better and better, and the 99 percent is going down, in all sorts of manifestations. People living in their cars now and sleeping in their cars, you know, parked in front of the house that used to be their house — thousands of people. Millions of people, you know, have lost everything. But the speculators that brought about the whole mess, oh, they are fantastically well off. No problem. No problem.
This short piece – rare for me at DV, LA Progressive, and other places, since I still believe that concision is not a favorable tool to understanding the complexities of our society and systems thinking – is all tied to really what many Americans WAY WAY before Trump’s family set foot in this country have always believed about Mexico or New Orleans or Dominican Republic or South Africa or Philippines or Afghanistan (just replace a country like Haiti with any number of 120 countries in the world) have said, stated, written and professed undiplomatically and through the Economic Hit Men: They are ALL shitholes.
I have had plenty of people in my 61 years living on this planet, after being in dozens of countries (I have lived and worked in), fellow (sic) Americans (sic) who thought my white skin and my little lists of three college degrees and my male status entitled my fellow Americans to rant on and on about how dirty, backward, primitive, slow-witted, poor, inefficient, shady, criminal this or that country is — countries from which I lived, traveled and worked and those many have not stepped foot in, beyond FOX News and Hollywood propaganda.
That Trump now voices what Americans have believed, and economists have practiced, and our military branches have reflected – America is Great, and the rest of the rabble (well, maybe not Norway or Finland — that’s about it for that pure white race places) are part and particle the shitholes Trump so undiplomatically states the world is.
In reality, though, if we look at the definition of “shit”/”hole,” it all comes back to this warring, militant, earth-killing, global lording over country called the United States of America. Infantilized, lobotomized, one-paycheck/broken bone/auto accident/employment termination/criminal justice involved/foreclosure AWAY from shithole status.
This poor white and now multi-race co-opting country of people who have zero idea how and why its more or less isolated little status among the global actors is set in their minds as “okay . . . Great/Yes We Can/Make It Great Again/Numero Uno” because of the shit we serve up to the rest of the world vis-à-vis military and economic and resource plundering insanity.
While our own country is full of shit-holes– full of systems of penury and debasement and depravity and delusion and destruction and increasing wrath upon its own populations – we see this spasm of protestations from the Liberal Democrats Who Support All Those Democratic Party apparatchiks of regime change and collateral damage carried out on what Bush or Obama see as the “shit hole Iraqis and Afghans and Libyans and Yeminis and Somalis.” Imagine, the democrats crying about Trump and his redneck Americanism.
Which party said we had to bomb them back to the stone age? Which party wrapped up Japanese Americans in barbed wire luxury? Which party helped to wipe out 3 million Vietnamese? Who bombed, razed, illegally mined, economically double-triple tapped the world’s other shit holes? Way-way before two-bit The Apprentice got raves and ratings and millions. It’s Trump who is still on record ranting about the Central Park Five, found to be falsely convicted and held in prison (now released), stating months ago, after the five men were acquitted, found to be innocent and released, that “they are guilty of the rape, man.” His Trump Faulty Towers Corp. paid or two full page ads in the NYT ranting about “their guilty” after they were found innocent.
Again, a reset button is necessary when looking at the big billionaire’s motley mind and fourth grade thinking style: who is he, how did he get here, where did he learn, how did he exist in this country, what is his American soul made of . . . . The who, why, when, what, where and how are questions Americans of all political stripes never ask.
We can tap dance around those “deplorables” voting for George Wallace or Barry Goldwater or George Bush or Donald Trump, or dance around those millionaires who see other shitholes producing other super predators, or two-step into more delusion when Super Rich Hollywood defines You and Me and Success and Failure, or when Amazon dot com comes crashing into your local bricks and mortar, or how the millionaire media or celebrities come into your living rooms via cable or iPhone and kidnap your loved ones, young and old.
Seriously, which shithole shall we concentrate on in the US of A, the engine of shit holes, the Mother of All Shitholes, coming to a neighborhood nearby, or Flint Michigan, or Charlottesville, or Fortune 1000 boardroom or dis-education college faculty and administration?
One, the economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy.
Two, development is about people and not about objects.
Three, growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily require growth.
Four, no economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services.
Five, the economy is a subsystem of a larger finite system, the biosphere, hence permanent growth is impossible.
And the fundamental value to sustain a new economy should be that no economic interest, under no circumstance, can be above the reverence of life.
I am sorry to say in my years as a journalist, college teacher, union organizer, social worker, environmentalist, urban planner, etc., I have run into more shithole thinkers in this country than all the countries I’ve been to combined, by far. If you want to run into real thugs, real criminals, real depravity, delusional thinking, disgusting thinking, real retrograde philosophy, real illiteracy, real infantilism, come to a town near me – Pacific Northwest, or Texas or Arizona, or anywhere I have done my time in.
Not many anti-Trump people would question the root cause of his shithole role running this shithole country, and the mirror is not large enough for self-reflection: biggest military in the world, biggest land mass stolen from original nations, biggest area cleared of natural ecosystems, biggest group of la-la-land thinkers. Magical thinkers, the lot of us, really.
Let the knee-jerking go on and on as Americans attempt to parse out who they are in that mirror mirror on the wall! Unless you have ended the mythical belief in this country’s prowess and greatness and stopped hiding from this society’s advanced malignant cancer called predatory and consumer capitalism, then you are the Trump in that mirror, without or without the orange glow!
Max-Neef: First of all, we need cultured economists again, who know the history, where they come from, how the ideas originated, who did what, and so on and so on; second, an economics now that understands itself very clearly as a subsystem of a larger system that is finite, the biosphere, hence economic growth as an impossibility; and third, a system that understands that it cannot function without the seriousness of ecosystems. And economists know nothing about ecosystems. They don’t know nothing about thermodynamics, you know, nothing about biodiversity or anything. I mean, they are totally ignorant in that respect. And I don’t see what harm it would do, you know, to an economist to know that if the beasts would disappear, he would disappear as well, because there wouldn’t be food anymore. But he doesn’t know that, you know, that we depend absolutely from nature. But for these economists we have, nature is a subsystem of the economy. I mean, it’s absolutely crazy.