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The Twitter Files and the new censorship regime
I have been working with the Twitter Files team. The files show how "anti-disinformation" academics and NGOs undermined free speech and expression.
[An adapted version of this piece also appears on the Institute of Network Cultures blog]
The Files show wide-spread censorship masquerading as “anti-disinformation” and intense collusion between government agencies, NGOs, academia, BigTech, media, philanthropy, the intelligence community, and more.
Tinfoil hat stuff? The Twitter Files show it is real.
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They uncover a level of corruption that is hard to grasp, much of it among the ‘anti-disinformation’ and digital rights fields where I have worked for almost 20 years.
To say this is disappointing would be an incredible understatement. A 180 on what I understood to be our values.
Twitter Files #18 and #19 focus on the Virality Project, an “anti-vaccine misinformation” effort led by Stanford and bringing together elite academia, NGOs, government, and experts in AI and social media monitoring, with six of the biggest social media companies on the planet. They went far beyond their “misinformation” remit. Twitter Files show the Virality Project pushed platforms to censor “stories of true vaccine side effects”.
Partnered in the effort were Facebook/Instagram, Google/YouTube, TikTok, Pinterest, Medium, and Twitter.
Reporting side effects of the now-pulled Johnson & Johnson vaccine would have been labelled “misinformation” under Virality Project decrees. Had Kerryn Phelps (the first female president of the Australian Medical Association) taken to Twitter to describe her and her wife’s vaccine injuries, these too would have been labelled misinformation. German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach would have also been censored last week for admitting that as a result of the vaccines “there are severe disabilities, and some of them will be permanent”. (Video)
Rather than listening out for safety signals to protect the public, leaders in the “anti-disinformation” field ran cover to protect BigPharma, smearing and censoring critics. The moral depravity is astounding and quite possibly criminal.
The Virality Project however is just part of a broader cultural shift that reverses long standing liberal/left commitments to free expression and allows censorship in the name of protection and safety. However in suppressing “stories of true vaccine side effects” the Virality Project put people in danger. Rather than keeping people safe they exposed us to the depredations of BigPharma.
The centrality of censorship ideology to the digital rights field is illustrated in former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden opening RightsCon 2022, the sector’s biggest civil society event. EngageMedia co-organised RightsCon in 2015 when I was Executive Director. Ardern claims that “weapons of war” and “disinformation” are one and the same.
RightsCon 2022 also heavily promoted US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Blinken oversees the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, one of the most egregious US government promoters of “anti-disinformation” as censorship. (See Twitter Files #17)
Western leaders that advocate for censorship in the name of “disinformation” severely undermine those fighting authoritarian regimes around the world. Those regimes frequently evoke the threat of “fake news” to justify their crack downs.
Is disinformation an actual problem? Yes, though it is overstated and the “anti-disinformation” field is making it worse, not better. It is also contributing to increasing polarisation.
I encourage you to read both releases in full and hold what you have been told about Elon Musk just for a moment. Musk is neither hero nor demon. The Twitter Files however are a critical catalyst to challenge the new censorship regime we now live under and reinvigorate the movement for free expression.
(Note that I am a paid consultant for Matt Taibbi and have no relation whatsoever to Musk).
If you can walk and chew gum you’ll know that uncovering liberal/left corruption doesn’t imply support for the reactionary right.
Free speech and expression protect us from the most powerful actors on the planet; corporations, the State, and a growing plethora of international bodies. Ultimately we need radically decentralised social media that is more immune to their capture. Our safety depends on it.
Many have come before me, however far too few have been willing to challenge this ethical fall from grace. The good news is that it's not too late.