Elon Musk’s controlled release of the documents known as the “Twitter Files” has given us some insight into the inner workings of the social media platform. The batch of docs released on December 20 is arguably the most explosive, detailing Twitter’s deliberate shielding of US propaganda operations. After getting limited access to Twitter‘s internal systems, Lee Fang of the Intercept (12/20/22) detailed how Twitter staff “whitelisted” accounts run by US Central Command (CENTCOM), the unit of the US military that oversees the Middle East, as part of covert propaganda campaigns. In other words, Twitter protected accounts engaged in US psychological warfare operations, even though they clearly violated the platform’s terms of service.
The consolidation of American media by a handful of monopolies has had wide-reaching effects on our politics and culture. A real decline in media literacy and political debate has occurred as separate audiences become increasingly polarized and isolated to the benefit of media corporations both old and new. How did things get so bad, and what can possibly be done to salvage our political culture? Nolan Higdon and Mickey Huff join The Chris Hedges Report to discuss their new book, Let’s Agree to Disagree: A Critical Thinking Guide to Communication, Conflict Management, and Critical Media Literacy. Nolan Higdon is a lecturer in media studies and history at California State University, East Bay.
The United States was founded by dissenters. The Declaration of Independence is one of history’s most significant dissenting documents, inspiring people seeking freedom around the world, from the French revolutionists to Ho Chi Minh, who based Vietnam’s declaration of independence from France on the American declaration. But over the centuries a corrupt centralization of American power seeking to maintain and expand its authority has at times sought to crush the very principle of dissent which was written into the United States Constitution. Freedom to dissent was first threatened by the second president. Just eight years after the adoption of the Bill of Rights, press freedom had become a threat to John Adams, whose Federalist Party pushed through Congress the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts.
Five years ago today, Congress learned from sworn, horse’s-mouth testimony that there is no technical evidence that Russia (or anyone else) hacked the DNC emails showing how the DNC had stacked the deck against Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton’s rival for the Democratic nomination. I can almost hear readers new to this website cry out in disbelief: "That cannot be. Official Washington and the media assured us that the Russians hacked those emails in order to help Trump win. And didn’t Obama throw out 35 Russian diplomats in reaction? And what about those 12 Russian intelligence agents indicted for hacking?" Were U.S. officials and media mistaken? No, not mistaken. They were lying. "But … but, does this mean Special Counsel Robert Mueller knew there was no concrete evidence of Russian hacking just six months into his 22-month investigation into Trump-Russia collusion?"
The following is a thread of Tweets written by Matt Taibbi on Dec. 2 about Twitter’s content moderation practices—specifically dealing with the Hunter Biden laptop story—after being given internal documents by Elon Musk. Outlets like USA Today have reported they have not been able to verify the authenticity of the emails. The thread was promoted by Musk stating “The public deserves to know what really happened …” The “Twitter Files” tell an incredible story from inside one of the world’s largest and most influential social media platforms. It is a Frankensteinian tale of a human-built mechanism grown out the control of its designer.
The FTX story seems truly remarkable. From being founded only in 2017 it rose to be a “partner organisation” of the World Economic Forum and the second largest donor to Biden and the Democrat’s mid-term election campaign. It has now gone completely bust, taking every penny of its depositors money with it. That is some trajectory. I suppose it is inevitable that dodgy chancers would create derivatives markets for gambling on crypto, but I confess I had not given the matter much thought. It goes without saying that in those five years the founder of FTX had managed to take a huge personal fortune out of the company before it went bust. FTX was a one man company belonging to Sam Bankman-Fried.
The Grayzone was disinvited from Web Summit, a tech industry mega-event in Lisbon, Portugal this November, following a personal lobbying campaign spearheaded by Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska. Zelenska was the surprise keynote speaker at Web Summit, addressing conference attendees on November 1. This outlet learned of Zelenska’s role in our cancellation from several sources close to Web Summit CEO Paddy Cosgrave. Their accounts were confirmed in a November 3 report by the Irish Examiner, which noted that The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal and Aaron Mate “had been cancelled from the event at the insistence of the first lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska…” According to a source privy to internal communications among Web Summit organizers, Zelenska “and the highest levels of the Ukrainian government” threatened to “apply significant influence on sponsors” if the summit did not cancel The Grayzone and academic Noam Chomsky, who had also been invited to speak.
The Ukraine conflict has plunged the world into a geopolitical crisis, and its effects on Western media institutions are increasingly concerning to advocates of a free press. The press in the US and most of Europe parrot the opinions of a ruling elite and oversees a public discourse that is often unhinged from the real world. It openly discredits or censors anything that counters the dominant narrative about Ukraine, however factual. It has become nearly impossible to question the virtues of Ukraine’s government and military. How did this happen? Why is a position on the war in Ukraine the litmus test for who gets to have a voice and who does not?
No one, including the most bullish supporters of Ukraine, expect the nation’s war with Russia to end soon. The fighting has been reduced to artillery duels across hundreds of miles of front lines and creeping advances and retreats. Ukraine, like Afghanistan, will bleed for a very long time. This is by design. On August 24, the Biden administration announced yet another massive military aid package to Ukraine worth nearly $3 billion. It will take months, and in some cases years, for this military equipment to reach Ukraine. In another sign that Washington assumes the conflict will be a long war of attrition it will give a name to the U.S. military assistance mission in Ukraine and make it a separate command overseen by a two- or three-star general.
Violence is the most basic and blunt form of press censorship. To kill or imprison a journalist is to silence the public’s source of news. To date, 33 journalists around the world have been killed this year and another 494 are currently imprisoned, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Put another way, thus far in 2022, on average, once per week somewhere in the world a journalist is killed for reporting the news. Sometimes these cases make headlines, as was true in October 2018 when Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist who reported for the Middle East Eye and the Washington Post, was murdered by agents of the Saudi government, and in May 2022 when Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed—almost certainly by Israeli soldiers—in the occupied West Bank while reporting for Al Jazeera.
Under Ukrainian government pressure, major US media outlet CBS News censored a documentary that it produced that exposed corruption in Ukraine. The report estimated that, of the tens of billions of dollars worth of weapons that Western governments have sent to help Ukraine wage a proxy war against Russia, just around 30% have actually made it to the frontlines. People involved in the Ukraine arms ratline told CBS in the documentary that there was significant corruption, due to “powerlords” and “oligarchs,” and that much of the military equipment was being siphoned off or sold on the “black market,” in what was a kind of “black hole.” CBS News published these revelations on August 4 in a joint article and video titled “Why military aid to Ukraine doesn’t always get to the front lines: ‘Like 30% of it reaches its final destination.’”
The US government employs many strategies to try to justify its intervention in the internal affairs and violation of the sovereignty of foreign nations. Chief among these deceptive tactics is Washington’s weaponization of accusations that its adversaries violate the freedom of expression. This is quite ironic, given that the United States is the world’s leading violator of press freedoms, according to any consistent definition of the term. And unlike the countries that Washington claims supposedly repress the freedom of expression within their borders, US government censorship of independent media outlets and suppression of alternative voices is global, hurting people across the planet. The Joe Biden administration has in particular gone to great lengths to depict itself as a defender of civil liberties.
The “Center for Countering Disinformation,” established in 2021 under Volodymyr Zelensky and headed by former lawyer Polina Lysenko, sits within the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine. Its stated aim is to detect and counter “propaganda” and “destructive disinformation” and to prevent the “manipulation of public opinion.” On July 14th it published on its website a list of politicians, academics, activists that are “promoting Russian propaganda” — including several high-profile Western intellectuals and politicians. Republican Senator Rand Paul, former Democrat Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, military and geopolitical analyst Edward N. Luttwak, realist political scientist John Mearsheimer and heterodox journalist Glenn Greenwald were all included on the list. The list does not explain what the consequences are for anyone mentioned.
Since 2016, US government-backed censorship of websites, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, Twitter profiles, and PayPal accounts has escalated alarmingly. Washington targets those who counter the narratives that the government and big business media feed us, whether it be about US intervention and attempted overthrow of other governments, Covid, or stories of Russian interference. With the war in Ukraine, the immense propaganda power of the US government and corporate media has been directed against Russia and intensified on an overwhelming scale.