Four months ago, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the creation of its Disinformation Governance Board. According to AP News, this board was created to combat “disinformation coming from Russia” as well as misleading information that human traffickers use to target migrants who are crossing the US-Mexico border. About one month after this announcement, the DHS paused its new Disinformation Governance Board after widespread criticism.
On August 24th, the DHS shut down its Disinformation Governance Board, after the Homeland Security Advisory Council reviewed the Board and recommended that it be shuttered. This may seem like good news for free speech advocates, researchers who rely on access to news from both Russia and the West for a better understanding of the military conflict in Ukraine, and anyone insulted by the insinuation that they cannot figure out for themselves which sources of information are “good” or “bad.” Unfortunately, while the official DHS “Ministry of Truth” has closed down, it has in fact endured in the form of ever-greater Big Tech censorship.
In the Information Age, it is easier than ever for people to access information and media from all over the world. This is quite to the dismay of the US Empire and multinational corporations, which seek to hide their crimes from the people. With neoliberalism, tech monopolies (private companies not bound by the same rules as the government) increasingly dominate the internet of the West, the online Anglosphere, and to especially control the information space of the imperial core here in the U.S. Intelligence agencies work with Big Tech giants to manipulate social media platforms and censor inconvenient information. Why deal with all the legal red tape and government bureaucracy when a private corporation could unquestioningly do your dirty work for you, in exchange for future contracts?
Facebook founder & CEO of Meta Mark Zuckerberg was featured on The Joe Rogan Experience on August 25, 2022. Rogan first asked Zuckerberg about his life and his opinions on the future of technology, then broached the topic of social media censorship. The host specifically asked Zuckerberg about Facebook’s handling of the Hunter Biden laptop story and whether the company’s protocol had been similar to Twitter’s, i.e. blocking and censoring links to the article.
Zuckerberg’s answer confirmed that his social media corporation had worked directly with an intelligence agency to limit the spread of a story that could have influenced the outcome of the 2020 election. “Basically the background here is the FBI, I think basically came to us — some folks on our team and was like, ‘Hey, um, just so you know, like, you should be on high alert. There was the — we thought that there was a lot of Russian propaganda in the 2016 election. We have it on notice that basically there’s about to be some kind of dump of — that’s similar to that. So just be vigilant.’”
The FBI had warned Facebook about supposed “disinformation” that was later proven to in fact be accurate information. Zuckerberg explained how Facebook handled the potential misinformation. Rather than completely block the Hunter Biden story, Facebook instead used a third-party fact-checking service to determine the validity of the information. Based on their determination, Facebook then moved posts about the story lower on users’ newsfeeds (even though these fact-checkers didn’t determine the Hunter Biden story to be false).
Unsurprisingly, Zuckerberg did not apologize for sheepishly following intelligence agencies’ orders to infringe on our First Amendment rights. He compared suppression of the true story to “the same way that probably having to go through like a criminal trial, but being proven innocent in the end, sucks. Like it still sucks that you had to go through a criminal trial, but at the end you’re free.”
Of course, Facebook is just one Big Tech platform at the service of intelligence agencies and advancing US foreign policy interests. Russian journalist Andrey Guselnikov recently shared six photos on Telegram of a presentation directed at YouTube content moderators on how to identify “hate” and “extremism.” According to the slides, YouTube apparently considers it “harmful” to point out that the Ukrainian military is deliberately targeting Ukrainian and Russian civilians and “hateful” to refer to denazification as being one of the stated goals of the special operation.
Social media corporations’ collusion with intelligence agencies to control the information that we consume is not limited to demonetization, manipulation of the algorithm, or banning of specific information. There is also an effort to cultivate and co-opt the next generation’s social influencers. Announced in a tweet by Washington Post columnist Taylor Lorenz, the White House has held a “press briefing with content creators” about the recently-announced plan for limited student loan debt forgiveness. The tweet featured a video by the TikTok influencer @yourrichbff explaining the application process for the debt forgiveness program.
The above influencer was at least transparent about her own influences, declaring herself “your favorite Wall Street girlie” and excitedly informing her audience that she personally talked to Joe Biden about student loans. But how many other “influencers” and “content creators” attending these White House social media press briefings are less than forthright about their main patrons and motives?