The “War Against Disinformation” is a Cover for Censoring Inconvenient Speech
The various efforts of governments, mainstream media, and large tech-platforms to combat disinformation, is in reality nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt at censoring any speech that challenges the narrative they need to keep alive to justify their perceived authority.
The article in short:
- Youtube recently removed an important leaked video, due to it being disruptive to the narrative regarding the war in Ukraine that benefits the US government.
- The US government has established a “Disinformation Governance Board”, which is a thinly veiled manifestation of the Orwellian “Ministry of Truth”, despite itself being one of the biggest purveyors of disinformation.
- Disinformation is not something that we are powerless to, nor something that should be handled through increased censorship, but rather through more speech.
Youtube recently removed a leaked recording of US Under Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland and former Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, in which they plot the 2014-coup in Ukraine; a striking example of what apparently constitutes “combating disinformation”, which has become a central objective for both major political parties of the US, the mainstream media, the large tech-platforms, as well as the oligarchs attending the World Economic Forum in Davos.
This was originally reported by Joe Lauria at Consortium News, as the most famous, viewed, and lengthy clip on Youtube was removed, along with “eight years worth of comments”. Less known uploads of the clip do remain for now, or while the full clip can be found on alternative platforms such as Rumble.
This clip provides a very important contextualisation for the 2014 coup in Ukraine, overthrowing President Yanukovych, as Nuland and Pyatt argue about who is going to be placed in high-level government posts, among other important decisions for the country.
Thus, the clip challenges the narrative that the 2014 coup, (or revolution if that is how you see it), was an event that arose organically, and not through heavy US involvement meant to pull Ukraine closer to NATO, in an effort to start a proxy-war.
Yet, regardless of whether one considers it a coup or revolution, this is a clear example of one of the biggest tech-platforms removing a video simply because it challenges the narrative told by the US government. In other words, it is considered “disinformation” simply because it opposes the narrative that the US government is trying to maintain, and thus the government implicitly establishes itself as some sort of arbiter of truth, as if the version of events that it presents is somehow objective truth.
This comes in continuation of the recent development of The Department of Homeland Security establishing its “Disinformation Governance Board”; a dystopian new part of the government that came under rightful scrutiny of many, due to the fact that it enables the US government to further regulate and censor any social media posts that it deems “disinformation”.
The establishment of this type of board should not come as any surprise, considering that “disinformation” has been heralded as one of the main threats against society, especially since the election of Donald Trump, and has been further escalated with the pandemic. Disinformation is constantly being touted as a primary reason for why we are seeing so much conflict, and while there is certainly truth to it, the US government has no legitimacy to decide what is true and what isn’t. To quote Senator Rand Paul during a senate-hearing:
“Do you know who the greatest propagator of disinformation in the history of the world is? The US government!”
The evidence of this claim is overwhelming.
A widely accepted example is the claim that Iraq was invaded due to holding WMD’s; a false claim that was used to justify an invasion that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and thus constitutes truly harmful disinformation.
More recently, and more controversially, examples of disinfo spread by the government can also be found in the form of “Russia-gate” (the idea that the election of Donald Trump was made possible through Russian interference, and that he was effectively controlled by Russia); a theory that has been proven to be utterly false, despite being widely spread by a large part of the US Congress. Again, the US government was willing to spread what is clearly disinformation, as long as it serves their own interests.
Even more controversially, many government officials stated for a long time that the vaccines for Covid would prevent transmission of the virus; a claim that is completely false, as they themselves will now admit, yet nonetheless served to fuel hatred against the unvaccinated and enabled the implementation of the profoundly authoritarian and dystopian vaccine-passports.
A further telling example, is that of the Hunter Biden emails, which demonstrated that Joe Biden’s political status was being utilised to secure business deals for his son, Hunter. This story was widely stamped as “Russian disinformation” by the mainstream media, which was crucial to ensure the election of Biden. The mainstream media has now been proven wrong, as the authenticity of the emails have been verified, yet this has not lead to any further scrutiny, nor even any acknowledgement by the media that it was wrong. Thus, a highly important story, which has influenced the outcome of the presidential election was effectively dismissed as disinformation, not due to any actual evidence of it being false, but rather that it’s effect would be an inconvenience for the government.
Throughout all of the mentioned examples, the mainstream media and big tech platforms have been instrumental in the enforcement of what is considered “truth”, as “fact-checking” has become common-practice. Websites such as Snopes and Factcheck have become heralded arbiters of what is true, and their verdicts have not only been used to label individual posts on social media (such as the warnings under any post relating to the pandemic), but have also become a go-to for verifying claims online.
An appealing solution until one poses the question: who decides what is true?-who is capable of such objectivity?
This is a question that almost immediately invalidates the status given to the organisations, which is probably why we so often avoid it. Yet, our avoidance of this question is not only driven by the futility we feel when addressing it, but also by the way that most politicians and mainstream media frame the issue. Essentially, we are told that disinformation is not only what causing the election of politicians like Trump, civil disobedience, vaccine-hesitancy, and all the other trends that we consider unwanted, but we are also told that we are powerless to do anything to handle this disinformation. Thereby, we are encouraged to believe that a large part of the population is simply ‘too far gone’, and that leaving it uncontrolled will lead to the realisation of everything that we fear.
The would-be leader of the Disinformation-board, Nina Jankowicz expressed this sentiment clearly, in a quote relating to the purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk:
“I shudder to think about, if free speech absolutists were taking over more platforms, what that would be like for the marginalized communities around the world, which are already shouldering so much of this abuse, disproportionate amounts of this abuse,”
Jankowicz claims that free speech is in itself something that, if left uncontrolled, leads to “abuse” of marginalised communities, thus affirming the view that free speech is inherently breeds the disinformation that is causal to all that a person might fear. Furthermore, by presenting large parts of the population as being crazy, insane, “too far gone”, we are led to believe that we are powerless to even address the issue.
It is this implicit assertion, that we are powerless to the effects of disinformation, that is necessary to frighten us into forgetting about the obvious dubiousness of having arbiters of truth, and into allowing them to claim this power.
These premises do not have any grounds outside the fearful worldview that has been manufactured by the mainstream media. Disinformation is a problem, yet it is a problem to which free speech is exactly the solution. It is by challenging, debating, and engaging with disinformation that we not only dissolve its ability to influence people, but also how we reach the people who believe it. Instead of fleeing from issue, and into the arms of an increasingly authoritarian government, we need to face it through more speech.
Exactly what having freedom of speech enables us to do.
Instead of declaring parts of the population to be crazy, we need to start understanding what exactly has led them to the position that they hold, in a manner that embraces all the nuance and complexity of their position, and at the same time begin to engage directly with it. There is a lot of ‘discourse’ online, yet most of it takes the form of critisising or even smearing others, witohut any true willingness to understand the worldview of the other person. The “debates” that take place mostly devolve into battles of sophistry, meaning that the aim becomes not to search for truth, nor to understand the opposition, but rather to fight for the favour of the audience by convincing them that one side is simply wrong.
Understanding and engaging with the position of someone else, does not mean that you approve of their views, but rather it serves to create clarity about their views; a clarity that can dissolve the otherwise perceived validity of their arguments, and perhaps even lead to some semblance of agreement.
Professor Noam Chomsky famously defended the right to free speech of Robert Faurisson, who became famous for his belief that the holocaust of Nazi-Germany did not happen. Chomsky, whose own family suffered through the holocaust, argued that Faurisson should not be punished for expressing his views, not on the basis that he in any way agreed with him, but rather that the principle of free speech should endure regardless of what is being said. After all, what is freedom of speech if we only apply it to views we agree with?:
“I do not think the state ought to have the right to determine historical truth, and to punish people deviating. (…) I’m saying that if you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. I mean Goebbels was in favour of freedom of speech for views he liked, right? So was Stalin. If you’re in favour of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise, otherwise you’re not in favour of freedom of speech.”
The option of censoring the speech of others may feel tempting, yet this does not lead to any real progress; instead it merely pushes the unwanted opinion underground, where it festers.
Even worse, we forget that by acquiescing to the government in this way, we grant it an incredible level of power, that being the authority to dictate truth. This may seem to favour us in the short term, but what happens when we ourselves are the ones who have a view that the government does not agree with?
If the answer to that question is that “I will always agree with the government, because I always do what is ‘right’”, then you have essentially made an implicit agreement with the government that you will believe whatever it tells you to. In other words, you will be under complete control.
This is the same old playbook for furthering authoritarianism; present a threat and convince people they are powerless to face it; that they can only be safe if they accept your “solution”. Instigate enough fear, and they will ignore the fact that they will be giving up their liberty.
We are not powerless to disinformation, and it is exactly by standing for freedom of speech that we reclaim the power to handle it. You don’t defeat nazism by censoring it, but instead by allowing it to step into the arena and taking it down.
The government and the mainstream media has no authority to dictate truth, and even if they weren’t themselves responsible for most of the existing disinformation, we should never give them that authority.