The recent decline of American global power, and the subsequent onset of the U.S./NATO empire’s 21st century cold war with Russia and China, have made the flow of information throughout the capitalist world a lot less free than it was before. To be sure, when this great power conflict started in the early 2010s, censorship and state propaganda had already been intensified throughout the War on Terror. But the emergence of the current alliance between Russia, China, and their partners against the United States created the necessity in the minds of the Western ruling class to expand its list of enemies and, in the process, expand its tools for controlling public discourse.
In this heightened new era of warfare, America’s list of enemies has grown to include not just Russia and China, but also a large amount of the nations those countries are allied with. North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and Syria are the empire’s four other highest level enemies, since the empire feels a strong need to replace all of their governments. The empire’s mid-level enemies include Cuba, Lebanon, and Yemen, which are currently the targets of strategic economic and/or military warfare instead of outright regime change operations. Bolivia and Nicaragua are the low-level adversaries because, while small, they’ve proven themselves willing to actively challenge capitalism and imperialism. All of these countries in total are part of a group of powers whose interests don’t align with those of the Western empire, so the propaganda and censorship practices within the core imperialist nations, particularly the U.S., have tended to treat them like one entity.
An example of this intersection between the empire’s targeting of non-aligned nations and information warfare operations used to control public discourse is the Western media’s simultaneous efforts to vilify Russia, Syria, and people who don’t buy in to that vilification. During moments like last year’s controversy over whether or not Bashar al-Assad committed a chemical attack in Douma, pro-war propagandists claimed that “Russian bots” and “Russian propaganda” were behind the arguments that “Assad apologists” use.
These kinds of slogans were often repeated in the media’s attempts throughout April 2018 to discredit critics of the empire’s official Syria narrative, so much that the war propagandists were sometimes caught using their own tropes too loosely and making themselves look silly. For instance, at one point, the UK government and The Guardian claimed that the Twitter profiles Ian56 and PartisanGirl were automated Russian government accounts, when in fact these accounts were both provenly run by real people.
However, such blatant factual errors in the war propaganda machine’s messaging are rarely remarked upon by the people who believe its narratives, because these narratives are portrayed as the truthful counters to a supposed onslaught of enemy propaganda. The story that the Western empire tells is one of a clash of civilizations, where the people of the West must be constantly vigilant for the deceptions from foreign disinformation agents. As the War on Terror proved over the previous two decades, this Manichean hysteria works on a lot of people.
The events of the last month have again shown how this Western information war is focused not just on one country, but on the entire anti-NATO alliance. In response to messages from Chinese Twitter accounts that objected to or disagreed with Western narratives about the current Hong Kong protests, Twitter has suspended over 900 of these accounts, followed by a suspension of 200,000 accounts that Twitter “believes” were associated with the Chinese government. This has been followed by Google’s shuttering of 200 China-linked YouTube accounts. The reporting on these incidents from the Western media, which has labeled the content of the accounts as “misinformation,” might be how the media will also spin another recent major censorship action: Twitter’s suspension of the English language account of Nicolas Maduro. (So far the media has ignored this latest censorship story, likely because it would be hard to portray positively.)
The examples go on of U.S.-led efforts to silence both representatives and supporters of the countries on the enemies list. This year alone, Twitter has removed thousands of accounts linked to the Iranian government, as well as taken down hundreds of accounts linked to Venezuela amidst the start of the Trump administration’s coup attempt. Similar incidents of online censorship have been intensifying for several years, and they’ve also involved Facebook, YouTube, Google, and even supposedly open platforms like Medium. A small example: Last month, Medium permanently removed all of my articles because they believed I had caused “reputational harm” to the UK-funded Syria regime-change front group, the White Helmets.
The website A Closer Look On Syria has assessed Medium’s attack against me to be a notable incident in the recent progression of online narrative policing, listing it as one example of a “totalitarian media regime” of censorship and propaganda that’s emerged during the new cold war.
To create this regime, the corporations, think tanks, and government officials behind it have needed to reconcile a narrative contradiction that their efforts have caused. This is the contradiction between the idea that Western capitalist democracy is free and open, and the idea that speech needs to be policed by a circle of oligarchic censors. To justify itself in the face of this dissonance, the totalitarian media regime has attempted to redefine what we’re supposed to see as legitimate political speech, treating the ideology and interests of the U.S./NATO corporatocracy as the only things that deserve respect.
Russian social media involvement in public discourse is treated like an outrage, while Israel’s far more significant and effective English language social media influencing program is seen as legitimate. The president of Venezuela isn’t allowed to make tweets that will resonate with the American public, while the U.S. government is able to go much further, by being legally able to insert covert propaganda and disinformation into the media that Americans consume every day, due to the effective repeal of the Smith-Mundt Act in 2012/2013. The public image of the anti-socialist protests in Hong Kong is protected through social media censorship and the boosting of official narratives, while socialist websites in the U.S. have their viewership numbers systematically brought down by Google’s manipulated search engine algorithms.
This eagerness among Western elites to abandon the principles of democracy—and therefore to negate the values of “freedom” and “liberty” that the West has used to claim its superiority over the civilizations that it’s conquered—is rationalized through the logic that Western capitalism and imperialism are innately superior, whether or not they’re democratic. One small example of this: Last year, when Facebook picked two U.S. government-funded organizations that specialize in foreign propaganda and regime-change operations to fight “malicious propaganda,” the default assumption was that Washington/NATO entities were the ones which could be trusted to protect the truth.
Without a radical transformation of how our economic and political systems work (i.e., away from empire and corporatocracy), this crackdown against a free Internet and free speech won’t be reversed. By its nature, the online censorship that’s taking place is being carried out through autocratic means, because it’s built upon the power structure, both digital and physical, of unaccountable private corporations (in cooperation with the government). This is surveillance capitalism. And surveillance capitalism is a system that’s inherently undemocratic, and one that very effectively exploits and manipulates the sentiments of the people and their ability to have an open public discourse.
“This antidemocratic and anti-egalitarian juggernaut is best described as a market-driven coup from above,” Shoshana Zuboff has written in her book from this year The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.
“An overthrow of the people concealed as the Trojan horse of digital technology. On the strength of its annexation of human experience, this coup achieves exclusive concentrations of knowledge and power that sustain privileged influence over the division of learning in society.”
The thought police of the new cold war gain their legitimacy from the double standard that the Washington political class applies to the countries which are targeted by the Western empire, and from the capitalist logic that puts the needs of the market above the needs of the people. Until we can defeat capitalism and imperialism and move towards a freer and more egalitarian online model, one of the best things we can do right now is resist these attacks on public discourse and the free press by supporting the independent journalism community, which at least attempts to place itself outside this circle of autocracy.
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