I abandoned using Google when, after reading Edward Snowden, it became obvious that not only was it designed largely as an information-gathering exercise on me, but that it was in itself generating propaganda by deciding what I am allowed to learn.
You’ll be familiar, by now, with how Google algorithms bias searches heavily towards “reliable” information, by which is meant information that accords with a particular ill-defined narrative decided by the “right” people. Other views on all kinds of issues either appear buried on page 10 of the search, or not at all. It could be either, because the algorithms are not in the public domain. At least with Wikipedia you can ferret out the pseudonyms of the anonymous censors.
Ostensibly the idea is to protect “us” from misinformation, and its latest incarnation is the Trusted News Initiative. This is a collaboration between the BBC and many other organisations with equally direct access to God and no fallible human staff, to enable them all to sing from the same hymn sheet and, more importantly, to burn all the other hymn-sheets:
The BBC’s Trusted News Initiative is a partnership that includes organisations such as First Draft, Google/YouTube, Twitter, Reuters, Meta and The Washington Post. It is the only forum in the world of its kind designed to take on disinformation in real time.
Once this was called “totalitarian censorship,” but in Newspeak it is “preserving democracy,” allowing everyone to have a voice, as long as it is the same voice. “The man with the voice says he’s everybody’s choice/ But he’s the only one in the election.”
One prime example is YouTube‘s policy of banning any COVID “misinformation” that doesn’t comport with the WHO or local health agencies. Quite apart from ignoring the long history of corruption in the WHO, and the increasing realisation that government public health is riddled with the identical grift, this policy fosters insanity, as both WHO and health agencies have been changing their advice back and forth every 24 hours for two years, and in many cases don’t agree with each other. The net result, presumably intentional, is that the obedient have no opinions at all and trust their betters, in the form of non-medical billionaires, to manage the pandemic.
For those unfamiliar with technical jargon like “algorithms,” it’s exactly the same as a Soviet State Prosecutor always presenting the true evidence, and arresting any defence lawyer who introduces anything contradicting it. After all, how could a jury ever decide a criminal case if they have been presented with harmful misinformation by the accused?
So, on the advice of various commentators, I changed from Google to DuckDuckGo a year or so ago, despite the absurd name. Its selling points were (a) refusing to save or pass on user information, and (b) not making its algorithms ideologically biased. It was the “Just give me the facts, and I’ll make my own decision” search engine.
Well, now DuckDuckGo‘s CEO has announced that it is going to be moving pro-Russian misinformation well down the searches by new algorithms, because misinformation about this is so dangerous to the national war effort… oh, the US is not at war with Russia? Who told you that misinformation?? And this misinformation is also going to head each search with reliable news from… trusted sources. Presumably, mainly from the Trusted News Initiative.
Now, don’t confuse the issue by pointing out that if these sources really were that trusted, he wouldn’t have to skew the searches because punters would simply scroll down to their trusted BBC or Washington Post. But the truth is, of course, that you need the biased algorithms because anyone with any sense knows, from long experience, that he doesn’t trust these sources any further than he can throw the entire Davos conference centre, private jets and all.
There are two interesting points arising from this story. One is practical, and one conceptual.
To take the first, ask yourself what it could be that would make the owner of a platform whose entire USP is transparency and freedom of information get into the censorship game? Moreover, in the Twitter exchanges between the CEO and his customers since, it is clear that a huge majority of them despise the change, and many (including myself) are abandoning the platform. His “protection from misinformation” is costing him money, and since it’s a relatively small player, may well lead to bankruptcy.
The only plausible answer, to me, is that some men in dark suits and trilby hats called on him and pointed out that search engines break, and they wouldn’t want anything to happen to his. If these men were commercial rivals, I suppose he could call in the FBI. But suppose they were from the FBI? That would mean that the State is quite determined that no opinions but its own will be considered by you, the free citizens of the only defenders of democracy against the Russian jackboot… when there is no formal state of belligerence between the NATO states and Russia.
Now, it’s still possible to find forbidden information through other platforms, but suppose those besuited men also persuaded the DuckDuckGo CEO that national security was more important than consumer privacy, given what dangerous terrorists those imbibing misinformation become? Well, before long those men in suits and trilbys will no doubt be knocking at your door. Or, inspired by Trusted Source Justin Trudeau, they might simply cancel your bank account and save themselves a visit.
My second point is to venture an explanation for the perceived need to protect us from misinformation. In the real world, facts, impressions and opinions come at us from all sides and compete both in society, and in the individual’s judgement. In many cases we easily converge on common truths, such as that the sun is hot, or that murder is wrong. But in other areas, “iron sharpens iron,” and it is disagreements that generate ideas that remain, to a degree, in turmoil. We might disagree on whether the sun is getting hotter, or whether judicial or military murder is justified, and this prompts different kinds of fruitful debate. In such a world there is no such thing as misinformation, though there may well be views that are deservedly held by small minorities based on inferior information.
That is not so in the world of propaganda. If you are not interested in seeking truth, but only in moulding behaviour (as I describe in Section 1 of Seeing Through Smoke), then any information tending to cast doubt on the programme you are seeking to impose is “misinformation,” or maybe “disinformation” (I’m still not 100% clear on the difference). Whichever it is, it is dangerous by virtue of being, in the propagandist’s eyes, counter-propaganda. It is really “mispropaganda.”
Propaganda must treat people as passive recipients of behavioural manipulation: any thought you allow them to exercise is thought along your preferred channels, the sole aim being to condition behaviour: it is all about the imposition of power, not the conveying of information.
I find this a helpful way of looking at things, because it enables one to distinguish propaganda and propagandists from information and information sources: if someone in today’s setting uses the words “disinformation” or “misinformation,” you know of a certainty that they are propagandists, not information sources, and you will always disbelieve them without strong evidence to the contrary.
If this seems rather absolutist when applied to, say, the BBC or the Washington Post, consider that the boy who cried wolf was an unreliable source even the last time: you cannot drink the unpoisoned parts of a poisoned chalice.
How, then, can we ever decide if MSM sources, or Russian sources, or both, are not telling us the truth? How can we ever form true opinions? As far as the true propagandist is concerned, it won’t matter if you believe nothing, because you will still be passive and the propaganda narrative will prevail. But the true human being will not be afraid to make up his or her mind: it’s called “examining the evidence and making a judgement.” Not long ago that was how quite ordinary jury-members decided between defence and prosecution cases. How times change.