Journalists Discuss the Digital Censorship Industrial Complex

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Journalists Michael Shellenberger and Matt Taibbi discussed the organized global entities canceling free speech worldwide. Mr. Taibbi sees the effort to shut down free speech as a human rights crisis.

Michael Shellenberger

There is a censorship industrial complex, but it’s worse than that. We are living in a truly Orwellian world. Mr. Shellenberger introduced Matt Taibbi by discussing losing most of his longtime friends over differences in opinion and how painful it has been. He said he treasures the ones that stuck with him and his new friends like Matt Taibbi.

Matt Taibbi began by talking about what he discovered in the Twitter files. What he and Matt Schellenberger found was a vast industrial censorship complex.

He was “bringing my old school legalistic kind of enlightenment-era notions of free speech with me and I was hoping to answer maybe one or two narrow questions about Twitter, you know? For instance, did the FBI, maybe once or twice intervene to, you know, get in the middle of a speech question? Quickly we all realized that it was something sort of bigger, scarier, and weirder than that.

“What he found was a “sweeping system of digital surveillance combined with thousands or even millions of subtle rewards and punishments designed to condition people to censor themselves. This gigantic Internet-age system that is designed to get people to preempt dangerous thoughts by getting people to avoid having them in the first place…”

“One of the things that Orwell focused on in 1984 was the notion of binaries. In the world that he described in 1984, there were no Shades of Grey. All ambiguities and shades of meaning have been purged and it wasn’t necessary to have words for everything. You didn’t need to have words for warm and cold. You could just have warm and unwarm, for instance, right? This is what we saw a lot of in the Twitter files.

“We saw a lot of taking very complex issues, where there are lots and lots of shades of meaning and finding ways to whittle it down to basically two things.

A great example of this was the Virality Project …led by Stanford University.

“This was basically a catchall program where Stanford took in information from all the biggest Internet platforms – Facebook Google Twitter some others – and they aggregated all the things that they were hearing about COVID and their experiences about content moderation decisions that they made.

“They made recommendations to each of the platforms about how they should deal with these things and the really fascinating thing about this…. Well first, let’s start with the headline – a scary moment in these emails.

“There was one e-mail in which Stanford suggested to Twitter that you should consider as standard misinformation on your platform- stories of true vaccine side effects or true posts which could fuel hesitancy, as well as worrisome jokes or posts about things like natural immunity or vaccinated individuals contracting COVID-19 anyway.

“Basically, what they were doing here was they were trying to get into the minds of millions of people through algorithms that if a person was telling a true story about somebody who got the vaccine and got myocarditis, they didn’t have to say that they got it because of the vaccine, even if they just told the story, even if in the next post they said I’m all for the vaccine.

“The way that the Virality Project interpreted that original post was that this could promote hesitancy, therefore even if it’s true, it’s untrue, right? So you have in reality, you have shades of meaning there there’s a true story that you know suggests that maybe you should be cautious about the virus, the person might be pro-vaccine, but they see it as anti-vax material so it’s vax anti-vax, right?

“And this is constantly throughout. They just took things that were really somewhere in the middle and they moved them in one direction or another.

“Another amazing moment was … a company called Graphica, which described the dangers of undermining what they called authoritative health sources like Anthony Fauci. They were very against even the use of [words like] ‘Fauxi,’ and they’re was this continual process of [stopping the] seeding doubt and uncertainty in authoritative voices. [It] leads to a society that finds it too challenging to identify what’s true or false, so basically what they’re saying is questioning authority … is now disinformation.

“So if you… apply these techniques fifty, a hundred million times, a billion times a billion billion times, eventually what happens is that people see that they … are either going to be defined as approved, having approved thoughts, or unapproved thoughts. If there’s no middle that they cannot occupy, they will just naturally self-sort and self-homogenize.

We’re doing this all throughout society with politics, entertainment, and everything, that’s how you can get … somebody like Russell, who is clearly not a right winger, but they define him as a right winger, anyway. Because there are only two categories of people in the current media environment. There are people who believe in everything true and decent and democracy and puppies and all that, and there’s right-wingers, who are wrong about everything.

“That’s what they’ve been doing. They’ve been they’ve been creating binaries over and above the direct censorship that we saw.

“There’s this relentless effort to sort people into categories. And the other thing that I think, it’s really important to point out and this is another Orwell concept, is double think. This is the idea … of holding two ideas at the same time because he defined it as the act of holding simultaneously two opposite individually exclusive ideas or opinions and believing in both simultaneously.

“Absolutely now, we do that constantly with news stories. things that were true yesterday turned out to be completely the opposite tomorrow, and people are totally fine with that. We just completely skip the fixing process. There’s no stopping to say, ‘Oh sorry, we got that wrong. We just moved to freaking out about the next thing seamlessly …

Matt Taibbi at Occupy Wall Street. He’s a left-wing individual but it doesn’t keep him safe if he speaks against the narrative.

“It wasn’t that long ago that we were told in no uncertain terms that the only suspect in the Nord Stream Pipeline bombing was Russia itself. And just a couple of weeks ago, we were told by the same U.S. government that they were actually aware since last June that this was planned by Ukrainians with the ascent of the highest officials in the Ukrainian military.

“I don’t know what the true story is, but those true stories are completely different, and they don’t stop and say, ‘Oh well, we’re sorry. Let’s resolve that. Let’s square this discrepancy. They just want you to forget.

There’s no way for people to live normally with these contradictions and stay sane. The only thing they can do is live continuously in the moment because that way you don’t have to think about the past. You don’t have to think about the future. You are sort of charged affirmatively to forget everything that you were told before because it might turn out to contradict something they want to tell you tomorrow.

“So we live in the present continually and in the present there are only two choices, so we are living in this very narrow intellectual world and this is over and above the problem of authority that would come in later.

If you somehow managed to get past all these obstacles and actually be an independent free thinker like I think most of the people in this room are, then they’re going to have censorship and other obstacles to try to stop you, but their aim is to prevent that from ever happening, and we saw that over and over in the Twitter Files. I think that’s the lesson that I ended up taking away from it.

“I think [this is] more than a speech crisis. It’s a humanity crisis, and I just hope we’re not too late to fix it.”


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