censorship

Wayback Machine Latest Victim of Big Tech Consolidation and Censorship

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 23/05/2020 - 10:56am in

Tags 

News, censorship

In what is turning out to be something of a latter-day dot com bust, many small to medium-sized tech startups are teetering on the edge of oblivion as the deliberate economic shutdown eats away at their capitalization and opens the door for the biggest fish in the tech space and others to pick the ripest fruit from the tech start up tree.

As opposed to the original, this start up bust is accompanied by a very precise view of market opportunities for interested buyers and investors, brought on by an equally deliberate reshaping of workplace conditions and societal interactions which are driving companies like Microsoft to “aggregate capabilities” in “cloud computing, collaboration, access management, and other business continuity tools that saw a surge in demand during regional lockdowns.”

The ride-share behemoth, Uber, for example, is reportedly in talks to acquire Grubhub and expand its food-delivery operations, while Microsoft just completed its purchase of robotic automation company, Softomotive. One global research and advisory firm that focuses on IT and finance has even put out a guide “on how tech startups can best prepare for being acquired by a larger company,” revealing that just 13 companies accounted for a full 60 percent of the $150 billion raised by tech startups between March and April.

Signs that yet another massive wave of consolidation in the technology sector is on the horizon and is already raising concerns throughout the industry, but the fact that it is occurring in tandem with a larger push by outfits like Twitter, Facebook and other huge tech players to stifle freedom of online expression and association should make us pay closer attention to the dynamics at play.

 

Censorship creep

Under the guise of facilitating conversation, Twitter unveiled changes to the reply feature that ostensibly gives users more control, but in reality, it broadens the ability to censor content. The new format, still in testing mode, will allow users to select who can and cannot reply to their tweets. This, of course, presents a serious problem from the vantage point of free flowing interaction and gives even more power to the most popular accounts to stifle undesirable feedback, leaving their viewpoints publicly unchallenged.

Another seemingly innocuous development in the last few days was the announcement made by popular podcaster Joe Rogan on his move to Spotify. The comedian and UFC commentator’s immensely popular podcast has been freely available on YouTube and other platforms since its inception, but his multi-million-dollar exclusive licensing deal with the music platform will further cloister content behind a single outfit and likely diminish its reach and propagation.

Perhaps the most concerning, however, are the changes taking place at one of the most important research tools on the Internet and, up to now, a venerable tool for online transparency: The Wayback Machine.

 

Misplaced century

In the campy 1970s futuristic movie “Rollerball,” starring a young James Caan as a superstar athlete at the twilight of his celebrated career, there is a curious scene in which his character, Jonathan E, visits an archive where the entire knowledge base of humanity is stored. The man in charge of the quantum computer-like machine mentions, in passing, that due to some unknown glitch, the records containing the whole of the thirteenth century have been lost.

Such a predicament is, no doubt, much closer to becoming a real possibility as more and more of humanity’s knowledge is accumulated in massive digital repositories. The danger is not only in the outright loss of stored data as a result of technical malfunctions but also in the greater ability to execute historical revisionism and misrepresenting facts to future generations. Wikipedia – a widely consulted online encyclopedia – is already guilty of this. But, now the Wayback Internet archive is trending down this slippery slope with its recently implemented labeling of snapshot results as potential disinformation.

As a former editor, Elliot Leavy, warns in an article addressing the changes at the Wayback Machine site, “if we continue to censor the past, attaching intent to some but not to others, we will be unable to evaluate anything at all.” Indeed, the new measures instituted at the behest of MIT’s Technology Review over worries of COVID-19 hoaxes do not bode well for the survival of historical accuracy and a discerning populace.

The promise of the internet as an “information superhighway” modeled around democratized access to information is quickly eroding before our very eyes, as the measures are taken to curb the COVID-19 pandemic are being used to restrict unfettered knowledge. Together with the swift consolidation of tech companies that own the means to distribute and create the platforms we are obliged to use, we might soon find ourselves feeling like Jonathan E did when he realized that his once greatest supporters and benefactors were only looking to push him out the door and find a more pliable and less curious superstar.

Feature photo | The homepage of Internet Archive is displayed on a PC. Sharaf Maksumov | Shuttershock

Raul Diego is a MintPress News Staff Writer, independent photojournalist, researcher, writer and documentary filmmaker.

The post Wayback Machine Latest Victim of Big Tech Consolidation and Censorship appeared first on MintPress News.

Technofascism: The Censorship of David Icke is Digital Book Burning in a Totalitarian Age

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/05/2020 - 1:20am in

CHARLOTTESVILLE (Rutherford––We are fast becoming a nation—nay, a world—of book burners.While on paper, we are technically free to speak—at least according to the U.S. Constitution—in reality, however, we are only as free to speak as the government and its corporate partners such as Facebook, Google or YouTube may allow.

That’s not a whole lot of freedom. Especially if you’re inclined to voice opinions that may be construed as conspiratorial or dangerous.

Take David Icke, for example.

Icke, a popular commentator and author often labeled a conspiracy theorist by his detractors, recently had his Facebook page and YouTube channel (owned by Google) deleted for violating site policies by “spreading coronavirus disinformation.”

The Centre for Countering Digital Hate, which has been vocal about calling for Icke’s de-platforming, is also pushing for the removal of all other sites and individuals who promote Icke’s content in an effort to supposedly “save lives.”

Translation: the CCDH evidently believes the public is too dumb to think for itself and must be protected from dangerous ideas.

This is the goosestepping Nanny State trying to protect us from ourselves.

In the long run, this “safety” control (the censorship and shadowbanning of anyone who challenges a mainstream narrative) will be far worse than merely allowing people to think for themselves.

Journalist Matt Taibbi gets it: “The people who want to add a censorship regime to a health crisis are more dangerous and more stupid by leaps and bounds than a president who tells people to inject disinfectant.”

Don’t fall for the propaganda.

These internet censors are not acting in our best interests to protect us from dangerous, disinformation campaigns about COVID-19, a virus whose source and behavior continue to elude medical officials. They’re laying the groundwork now, with Icke as an easy target, to preempt any “dangerous” ideas that might challenge the power elite’s stranglehold over our lives.

This is how freedom dies.

It doesn’t matter what disinformation Icke may or may not have been spreading about COVID-19. That’s not the issue.

As commentator Caitlin Johnstone recognizes, the censorship of David Icke by these internet media giants has nothing to do with Icke: “What matters is that we’re seeing a consistent and accelerating pattern of powerful plutocratic institutions collaborating with the US-centralized empire to control what ideas people around the world are permitted to share with each other, and it’s a very unsafe trajectory.”

Welcome to the age of technofascism.

Technofascism, clothed in tyrannical self-righteousness, is powered by technological behemoths (both corporate and governmental) working in tandem. As journalist Chet Bowers explains, “Technofascism’s level of efficiency and totalitarian potential can easily lead to repressive systems that will not tolerate dissent.”

The internet, hailed as a super-information highway, is increasingly becoming the police state’s secret weapon. This “policing of the mind: is exactly the danger author Jim Keith warned about when he predicted that “information and communication sources are gradually being linked together into a single computerized network, providing an opportunity for unheralded control of hat will be broadcast, what will be said, and ultimately what will be thought.”

It’s a slippery slope from censoring so-called illegitimate ideas to silencing truth.

Eventually, as George Orwell predicted, telling the truth will become a revolutionary act.

We’re almost at that point now.

What you are witnessing is the modern-day equivalent of book burning which involves doing away with dangerous ideas—legitimate or not—and the people who espouse them.

Today, the forces of political correctness, working in conjunction with corporate and government agencies, have managed to replace actual book burning with intellectual book burning.

Free speech for me but not for thee” is how my good friend and free speech purist Nat Hentoff used to sum up this double standard.

This is about much more than free speech, however. This is about repression and control.

With every passing day, we’re being moved further down the road towards a totalitarian society characterized by government censorship, violence, corruption, hypocrisy and intolerance, all packaged for our supposed benefit in the Orwellian doublespeak of national security, tolerance and so-called “government speech.”

The reasons for such censorship vary widely from political correctness, safety concerns and bullying to national security and hate crimes but the end result remains the same: the complete eradication of what Benjamin Franklin referred to as the “principal pillar of a free government.”

The upshot of all of this editing, parsing, banning and silencing is the emergence of a new language, what George Orwell referred to as Newspeak, which places the power to control language in the hands of the totalitarian state.

Under such a system, language becomes a weapon to change the way people think by changing the words they use.

The end result is control.

In totalitarian regimes—a.k.a. police states—where conformity and compliance are enforced at the end of a loaded gun, the government dictates what words can and cannot be used.

In countries where the police state hides behind a benevolent mask and disguises itself as tolerance, the citizens censor themselves, policing their words and thoughts to conform to the dictates of the mass mind lest they find themselves ostracized or placed under surveillance.

Even when the motives behind this rigidly calibrated reorientation of societal language appear well-intentioned—discouraging racism, condemning violence, denouncing discrimination and hatred—inevitably, the end result is the same: intolerance, indoctrination and infantilism.

It’s political correctness disguised as tolerance, civility and love, but what it really amounts to is the chilling of free speech and the demonizing of viewpoints that run counter to the cultural elite.

The police state could not ask for a better citizenry than one that carries out its own censorship, spying and policing: this is how you turn a nation of free people into extensions of the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent police state, and in the process turn a citizenry against each other.

Tread cautiously: Orwell’s 1984, which depicts the ominous rise of ubiquitous technology, fascism and totalitarianism, has become an operation manual for the omnipresent, modern-day surveillance state.

1984 portrays a global society of total control in which people are not allowed to have thoughts that in any way disagree with the corporate state. There is no personal freedom, and advanced technology has become the driving force behind a surveillance-driven society. Snitches and cameras are everywhere. People are subject to the Thought Police, who deal with anyone guilty of thought crimes. The government, or “Party,” is headed by Big Brother who appears on posters everywhere with the words: “Big Brother is watching you.”

We have arrived, way ahead of schedule, into the dystopian future dreamed up by not only Orwell but also such fiction writers as Aldous Huxley, Margaret Atwood and Philip K. Dick.

Much like Orwell’s Big Brother in 1984, the government and its corporate spies now watch our every move. Much like Huxley’s A Brave New World, we are churning out a society of watchers who “have their liberties taken away from them, but … rather enjoy it, because they [are] distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing.” Much like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the populace is now taught to “know their place and their duties, to understand that they have no real rights but will be protected up to a point if they conform, and to think so poorly of themselves that they will accept their assigned fate and not rebel or run away.”

And in keeping with Philip K. Dick’s darkly prophetic vision of a dystopian police state—which became the basis for Steven Spielberg’s futuristic thriller Minority Report—we are now trapped in a world in which the government is all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful, and if you dare to step out of line, dark-clad police SWAT teams and pre-crime units will crack a few skulls to bring the populace under control.

What once seemed futuristic no longer occupies the realm of science fiction.

Incredibly, as the various nascent technologies employed and shared by the government and corporations alike—facial recognition, iris scanners, massive databases, behavior prediction software, and so on—are incorporated into a complex, interwoven cyber network aimed at tracking our movements, predicting our thoughts and controlling our behavior, the dystopian visions of past writers is fast becoming our reality.

In fact, our world is characterized by widespread surveillance, behavior prediction technologies, data mining, fusion centers, driverless cars, voice-controlled homes, facial recognition systems, cybugs and drones, and predictive policing (pre-crime) aimed at capturing would-be criminals before they can do any damage. Surveillance cameras are everywhere. Government agents listen in on our telephone calls and read our emails. And privacy and bodily integrity have been utterly eviscerated.

We are increasingly ruled by multi-corporations wedded to the police state.

What many fail to realize is that the government is not operating alone. It cannot.

The government requires an accomplice.

Thus, the increasingly complex security needs of the massive federal government, especially in the areas of defense, surveillance and data management, have been met within the corporate sector, which has shown itself to be a powerful ally that both depends on and feeds the growth of governmental overreach.

In fact, Big Tech wedded to Big Government has become Big Brother, and we are now ruled by the Corporate Elite whose tentacles have spread worldwide.

The government now has at its disposal technological arsenals so sophisticated and invasive as to render any constitutional protections null and void. Spearheaded by the NSA, which has shown itself to care little to nothing for constitutional limits or privacy, the “security/industrial complex”—a marriage of government, military and corporate interests aimed at keeping Americans under constant surveillance—has come to dominate the government and our lives.

Money, power, control.

There is no shortage of motives fueling the convergence of mega-corporations and government. But who is paying the price?

“We the people,” of course. Not just we Americans, but people the world over.

We have entered into a global state of tyranny.

Where we stand now is at the juncture of OldSpeak (where words have meanings, and ideas can be dangerous) and Newspeak (where only that which is “safe” and “accepted” by the majority is permitted). The power elite has made their intentions clear: they will pursue and prosecute any and all words, thoughts and expressions that challenge their authority.

This is the final link in the police state chain.

Americans have been conditioned to accept routine incursions on their privacy rights. In fact, the addiction to screen devices—especially cell phones—has created a hive effect where the populace not only watched but is controlled by AI bots. However, at one time, the idea of a total surveillance state tracking one’s every move would have been abhorrent to most Americans. That all changed with the 9/11 attacks. As professor Jeffrey Rosen observes, “Before Sept. 11, the idea that Americans would voluntarily agree to live their lives under the gaze of a network of biometric surveillance cameras, peering at them in government buildings, shopping malls, subways and stadiums, would have seemed unthinkable, a dystopian fantasy of a society that had surrendered privacy and anonymity.”

Having been reduced to a cowering citizenry—mute in the face of elected officials who refuse to represent us, helpless in the face of police brutality, powerless in the face of militarized tactics and technology that treat us like enemy combatants on a battlefield, and naked in the face of government surveillance that sees and hears all—we have nowhere left to go.

We have, so to speak, gone from being a nation where privacy is king to one where nothing is safe from the prying eyes of government.

In search of so-called terrorists and extremists hiding amongst us—the proverbial “needle in a haystack,” as one official termed it—the Corporate State has taken to monitoring all aspects of our lives, from cell phone calls and emails to Internet activity and credit card transactions. This data is being fed through fusion centers across the country, which work with the Department of Homeland Security to make threat assessments on every citizen, including school children.

Wherever you go and whatever you do, you are now being watched, especially if you leave behind an electronic footprint.

When you use your cell phone, you leave a record of when the call was placed, who you called, how long it lasted and even where you were at the time. When you use your ATM card, you leave a record of where and when you used the card. There is even a video camera at most locations equipped with facial recognition software. When you use a cell phone or drive a car enabled with GPS, you can be tracked by satellite. Such information is shared with government agents, including local police. And all of this once-private information about your consumer habits, your whereabouts and your activities is now being fed to the U.S. government.

The government has nearly inexhaustible resources when it comes to tracking our movements, from electronic wiretapping devices, traffic cameras and biometrics to radio-frequency identification cards, satellites and Internet surveillance.

Speech recognition technology now makes it possible for the government to carry out massive eavesdropping by way of sophisticated computer systems. Phone calls can be monitored, the audio converted to text files and stored in computer databases indefinitely. And if any “threatening” words are detected—no matter how inane or silly—the record can be flagged and assigned to a government agent for further investigation. Federal and state governments, again working with private corporations, monitor your Internet content. Users are profiled and tracked in order to identify, target and even prosecute them.

In such a climate, everyone is a suspect. And you’re guilty until you can prove yourself innocent.

Here’s what a lot of people fail to understand, however: it’s not just what you say or do that is being monitored, but how you think that is being tracked and targeted.

We’ve already seen this play out on the state and federal level with hate crime legislation that cracks down on so-called “hateful” thoughts and expression, encourages self-censoring and reduces free debate on various subject matter.

Say hello to the new Thought Police.

Total Internet surveillance by the Corporate State, as omnipresent as God, is used by the government to predict and, more importantly, control the populace, and it’s not as far-fetched as you might think. For example, the NSA has designed an artificial intelligence system that can anticipate your every move. In a nutshell, the NSA feeds vast amounts of the information it collects to a computer system known as Aquaint (the acronym stands for Advanced QUestion Answering for INTelligence), which the computer then uses to detect patterns and predict behavior.

No information is sacred or spared.

Everything from cell phone recordings and logs, to emails, to text messages, to personal information posted on social networking sites, to credit card statements, to library circulation records, to credit card histories, etc., is collected by the NSA and shared freely with its agents.

Thus, what we are witnessing, in the so-called name of security and efficiency, is the creation of a new class system comprised of the watched (average Americans such as you and me) and the watchers (government bureaucrats, technicians and private corporations).

Clearly, the age of privacy is at an end.

So where does that leave us?

We now find ourselves in the unenviable position of being monitored, managed and controlled by our technology, which answers not to us but to our government and corporate rulers. This is the fact-is-stranger-than-fiction lesson that is being pounded into us on a daily basis.

It won’t be long before we find ourselves looking back on the past with longing, back to an age where we could speak to whom we wanted, buy what we wanted, think what we wanted without those thoughts, words and activities being tracked, processed and stored by corporate giants such as Google, sold to government agencies such as the NSA and CIA, and used against us by militarized police with their army of futuristic technologies.

To be an individual today, to not conform, to have even a shred of privacy, and to live beyond the reach of the government’s roaming eyes and technological spies, one must not only be a rebel but rebel.

Even when you rebel and take your stand, there is rarely a happy ending awaiting you. You are rendered an outlaw.

So how do you survive this global surveillance state?

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we’re running out of options.

We’ll soon have to choose between self-indulgence (the bread-and-circus distractions offered up by the news media, politicians, sports conglomerates, entertainment industry, etc.) and self-preservation in the form of renewed vigilance about threats to our freedoms and active engagement in self-governance.

Yet as Aldous Huxley acknowledged in Brave New World Revisited: “Only the vigilant can maintain their liberties, and only those who are constantly and intelligently on the spot can hope to govern themselves effectively by democratic procedures. A society, most of whose members spend a great part of their time, not on the spot, not here and now and in their calculable future, but somewhere else, in the irrelevant other worlds of sport and soap opera, of mythology and metaphysical fantasy, will find it hard to resist the encroachments of those would manipulate and control it.”

Which brings me back to this technofascist tyranny being meted out on David Icke and all those like him who dare to voice ideas that diverge from what the government and its corporate controllers deem to be acceptable.

The problem as I see it is that we’ve allowed ourselves to be persuaded that we need someone else to think and speak for us. And we’ve allowed ourselves to become so timid in the face of offensive words and ideas that we’ve bought into the idea that we need the government to shield us from that which is ugly or upsetting or mean.

The result is a society in which we’ve stopped debating among ourselves, stopped thinking for ourselves, and stopped believing that we can fix our own problems and resolve our own differences.

In short, we have reduced ourselves to a largely silent, passive, polarized populace incapable of working through our own problems and reliant on the government to protect us from our fears.

In this way, we have become our worst enemy.

You want to reclaim some of the ground we’re fast losing to the techno-tyrants?

Start by thinking for yourself. If that means reading the “dangerous” ideas being floated out there by the David Ickes of the world—or the John Whiteheads for that matter—and then deciding for yourself what is true, so be it.

As Orwell concluded, “Freedom is the right to say two plus two make four.”

Feature photo | David Icke | Photo | Tyler Merbler

John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

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Free Speech at Oxford (updated with an important correction)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/05/2020 - 9:26pm in

Flying around social media yesterday were cheers that Oxford University had issued a “Statement on the Importance of Free Speech” in response to a motion from the Oxford Student Union allegedly to “ban ‘ableist, classist and misogynist’ reading lists”.

Here’s Richard Dawkins on Twitter, for example:

I checked out the widely circulated Oxford Blue article linked to in Dawkins’ and others’ tweets, as well as the Oxford Student article first reporting on the Student Union motion. Though there were a few snippets here and there, neither article included or linked to the whole text of the motion, or even a substantial block of it.

And what of the “Statement on the Importance of Free Speech” that Oxford University “released”, according to the May 3rd Oxford Blue article? Fortunately, the authors of the article included the entire text of that statement. However, it appears to be the exact same text already posted last year on at least a couple of Oxford sites and released at least as early as May, 2017. It’s not clear what actually happened here. Perhaps the university simply referred the journalists at Oxford Blue to this pre-existing statement. [Update: according to the reporter, yes, this is what happened.]

Oxford Blue also reports that “the university” (they don’t specify who) said, “I can confirm that the University has no plans to censor reading materials assigned by our academics.”

Censor reading materials? Is that what the students were calling for? Not exactly.


Jenny Saville, “Stare III” (detail)

A fellow twitterer answered my request for the actual motion, and from the looks of it, the students were basically aiming for four things:

  1. For Oxford University to add gender identity, disability status, and socio-economic status as protected classes to its policy on acts of hatred and hate speech, which currently only concerns race, religion, and sexual orientation (as it is modeled on Part III of the UK’s Public Order Act of 1986, which concerns “acts intended or likely to stir up” hatred or violence).
  2. For Oxford University to not require students to take any courses whose content would “amount to” criminal hate speech, were the policy amended as in 1.
  3. For Oxford University to require faculty to consider the impact of “including prejudicial articles” on the well-being of protected groups as they finalize their reading lists and to include content warnings if appropriate for any of the readings.
  4. For two Oxford University Student Union officers—the Vice-President for Access and Academic Affairs and the Vice-President for Welfare and Equal Opportunities—to “condemn… the use of hateful material” in required courses. [Note: initially this was reported with the mistaken assumption that these vice presidential positions were administrative positions of the university. Rather, they are student union positions.]

What to make of these demands? The first thing to note is that none of this is censorship. So, for “the university” to say that it has “no plans to censor reading materials” is not, strictly speaking, to reject the student union motion. The closest we get to censorship in the motion is in the condemnation called for in #4, above. That isn’t technically censorship, but it may have similar effects (I don’t know, as I don’t know anything about those particular offices or whether Oxford faculty care about whether they condemn their reading selections). [Note: in light of the correction of #4, above, I think it is safe to say that #4 does not come close to constituting censorship.] #2 might strike some as censorship but it seems “pro-freedom” to me, for if its effect would be to give students more choice—here, not to take a course they otherwise would have been required to.

(In one line in the original document, the students complain about the lack of “criminalization” of certain forms of biased speech, but what they end up calling for from Oxford isn’t the criminalization of speech.)

The extent to which these demands are anti-free speech turns in part on what material is actually covered by it. I don’t know enough about the legal context to know exactly what kinds of texts would be picked out by “intended or likely to stir up” hatred. Are historical documents and older writings ever included here? Has the assignment of a hateful text for the purposes of study ever been the target of the Public Order of 1986 or university policies based on it? Readers, help us out.

Here’s the actual text of the motion (courtesy of Eric Sheng):

As you can see, the students named one example of a text they think would fall under their expanded hate speech proposal: “Procreative Beneficence: Why We Should Select the Best Children” by Julian Savulescu, which appeared in Bioethics in 2001. In this article, Savulescu argues that prospective parents “should select the child, of the possible children they could have, who is expected to have the best life, or at least as good a life as the others, based on the relevant, available information,” which they took to be objectionably ableist.

I don’t think the students did themselves any favors with this choice of example, in which Savulescu distinguishes between identifying conditions, such as poor memory, that tend to make people’s lives worse (a claim he endorses) and saying that people with those conditions are less deserving of respect or are less valuable (a claim he rejects). Regardless of whether one thinks Savulescu’s argument is any good, this article is certainly neither intended to, nor likely to stir up, hatred against disabled persons. The students are just mistaken that it is an example of hate speech.

Suppose, though, that they weren’t mistaken. Even if it were hate speech, note that the students are not calling for Oxford to ban Savulescu’s essay. Rather, they are arguing that students be given the option to take a course in which it is assigned, and that students be warned about its content. One way to put this is that they’re arguing for “informed consent” for encountering hate speech.

Unfortunately, they are also asking for administrators* [students actually; see the correction to #4, above] to condemn the assigning of the reading. Though I tend to favor “more speech” approaches to allegedly objectionable speech, without measures to separate the authority’s expressive actions from its coercive ones (a la Brettschneider), this is an overreach. [Note: in light of the correction of #4, above, which makes clear that it is students, not administrators, being asked to condemn the readings, I retract this criticism.]

So what to think about all of this? Here are three takeaways (feel free to add your own):

(a) The students care about the welfare of the vulnerable among them and are pointing out what they take to be a problem of arbitrariness in law and policy (that there are protections on the basis of, say, race and religion but not gender and class).

(b) The students are arguing for a more-freedom, more-information, and more-speech approach to solving this problem, rather than censorship.

(c) The students seem to have an overly inclusive conception of what counts as hate speech.

I think (a) is good, (b) is a mixed bag owing to the vague call for official condemnations and  [see the correction to #4, above] the confused language of “criminalization”, and (c) is not terrible but not good, either.

The problem with (c) is not really the legal point, but rather an apparent tendency towards a kind of “affirming the consequent”. Here’s an example. We might expect an atheist to criticize the ontological argument for the existence of God, but someone who criticizes the ontological argument for the existence of God is not necessarily an atheist. That is, it doesn’t follow from one’s making an argument an atheist would make that one is an atheist—it depends on the argument (among other things). Similarly, it doesn’t follow from one’s making an argument a racist or sexist or classist would make that one is a racist or sexist or classist—it depends on the argument (among other things). For example, we might expect a racist to argue against affirmative action, but it doesn’t follow that one is a racist in virtue of arguing against affirmative action.

It isn’t surprising that students are susceptible to this mistaken reasoning. For one thing, they’re still learning how to think carefully. For another, it’s not always a mistake to reason this way, and in some contexts (or for people with certain backgrounds) it could be a reasonable heuristic to employ.

Ironically, this kind of reasoning might have been in play in the widely shared descriptions and attitudes expressed about this story, which framed the students as censors. We might think that someone who favors censorship might express the same kinds of concerns the Oxford Student Union did in their motion. But it would be a mistake to conclude, as many seemed to do, that because they expressed such concerns, the students were calling for censorship. They weren’t.

I suppose an additional takeaway would be that, as with some other disputes over speech, the combatants may have more in common than they realize.

 

The post Free Speech at Oxford (updated with an important correction) appeared first on Daily Nous.

WATCH: “Dr Erickson Covid19 Briefing” CENSORED by YouTube

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/04/2020 - 1:00pm in

This is the full version of the press conference, called by doctors Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi, to release the results of their Covid19 testing program. The video, initially broadcast on a local television station in California, went viral on youtube garnering over 4.3 million views…before YouTube took the video down, without explanation. The two …

Chinese state censorship of COVID-19 research represents a looming crisis for academic publishers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 25/04/2020 - 3:15am in

Issues of censorship surrounding the publication of scholarly research in China have been prominent since a series of press reports and publisher statements revealed that works had been removed from circulation that were deemed sensitive by Chinese buyers. As George Cooper observes, evidence that Chinese authorities are conducting pre-publication vetting of COVID-19 related research, raises … Continued

Tories Have Fiddled the Statistics on Coronavirus Deaths – Is Anyone Surprised?

Last Tuesday, 31st March 2020, Mike put up a piece reporting how the Office for National Statistics had caught the Tories fiddling the figures for the numbers of deaths from the Coronavirus to date. According to the government’s figures, the number of dead up to March 20th, the cut off date for the ONS figures, stood at 120. However, they achieved this figure by only counting deaths in hospitals. When the ONS factored these in, the real number of fatalities increased by 23.5 per cent or more, rising to 210. The official death toll at the time Mike put up his article was 1,408. But if the ONS’ estimation of the real figures is correct, then the real number of deaths was 1,739. This assumes that the proportion of deaths in hospitals has remained constant, but as Mike pointed out, it could be much higher.

Mike pointed out in his article that these stats are important, as they show that the government’s figures cannot be trusted. It also means that the government cannot be trusted when it claims that the spread of the virus is slowing. He was concerned that the government would be tempted to lift the lockdown prematurely, which would allow the virus a whole new lease of life.

Coronavirus: UK government death figures are FALSE

Mike wasn’t the only person smelling a rat with the government’s official Coronavirus stats. The previous Thursday, March 26th, Zelo Street put up a piece about how the government’s statistics had mysteriously changed as they altered the rules regarding how the deaths were counted. That Tuesday, the Department for Health and Social Care declared at 15.51 on Twitter that the number of people, who had tested positive for the virus, stood at 8,077 and 422 had died. But on Wednesday the situation appeared to change. At just past a quarter past two, the Department’s Twitter feed announced that the figures would be announced later that afternoon, but reassured readers that they were working hard to compile them. However, the figures were only released on Twitter at 2300 hours, after they had been given to the media. The number of people, who had tested positive was now 9,529, but there had been only 463 deaths in total.

Sienna Rogers of LabourList reported that it had been claimed that the government was changing the way it was releasing the death figures. The numbers of deaths reported may not be the same as the number of deaths that had occurred in the previous 24 hours, as family consent was now required to release the figures. Luke Cooper of the LSE called it what it looks like. He said that family consent was not required if the information was anonymised. This looked like the Tories were fiddling the stats. Chris Smyth of the Times then added that the low figure of the 28 new deaths that had been recorded wasn’t a piece of good news, but the opposite. There were now so many new deaths that the government had changed the cutoff time from 1 pm to 7.30 am. This was supposedly to give the government more time to inform the families and get the details on the locations of the deaths before releasing them. Zelo Street contrasted this with the situation in Italy and Spain, the two countries worst affected, where the hundreds of new deaths are freely reported to the media. The Street concluded that

‘We are told that there is bad news coming down the track; a new NHS facility is being built at the ExCeL centre in London’s Docklands; that facility, NHS Nightingale, has provision for thousands of beds and two morgues; individual reports of deaths are everywhere; TfL staff report scores of their colleagues falling ill from the virus; and the numbers dry up.

This is the stuff from which conspiracy theories spring. Government must come clean.’

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/03/virus-stats-is-government-being-honest.html

This, alas, is too much to hope for. The Tories are a party of liars – always have been, always will be. Their record on the unemployment stats abundantly testifies to that. When unemployment under Maggie Thatcher shot up to over 3 million – an unheard of record at that time, the Tories immediately changed the way the unemployment figures were counted in order to make it smaller. And they’ve kept doing it. A few years ago, when Dave Cameron was the latest malign presence squatting in No. 10, it was revealed that they’d changed the way the stats were collected once again. The unemployment figures were based only on those currently claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. Which meant that the peeps, who were unemployed but ineligible to sign on, or who had refused to do so because of the humiliating way they were treated by the staff and the infamous ‘work coaches’, who ring you up at home to harangue you into getting work, weren’t included.

This is a government that prefers to hide embarrassing statistics. The DWP under another malign presence, the utterly vile Iain Duncan Smith, fought tooth and nail to stop Mike and the other great disability bloggers from getting the statistics for the number of people, who had died after being declared ‘fit for work’ by the government assessor, outsourcing company Atos. They stonewalled, tried to claim that Mike’s request was vexatious, appealed against the Information Commissioner’s ruling when he ruled in favour of Mike, and, when they finally had no choice but to release the stats, interpreted Mike’s request to give him a slightly different set of figures than those he requested. But these were damning enough, even so.

And the subsequent Tory leaders, Tweezer and now Boris, really don’t like meeting the public. They run away and hide from unexpected meetings and questions from the media. Tweezer’s appearances on the campaign trail were carefully choreographed with selected groups and closed to the general public. So were Johnson’s, who fled when confronted by someone he didn’t expect. Remember how he disappeared into a fridge when he was visiting a dairy in order to escape questions from a TV journo? And then we had the unedifying spectacle a few months ago of Boris and Cummings trying to divide the media lobby into inner and outer groups. The inner – who were all their loyal supporters – were to be rewarded by being invited to a press conference on Brexit at No. 10. That attempt to control the media didn’t work, as all the media, even those that staunchly support the Tories, immediately balked at such overt, cynical manipulation and walked out in protest.

The Tories are congenital, irremediable liars. No-one should be surprised that they fiddled the stats. They tried to hide the number of deaths of disabled people, who had been falsely declared fit for work. They’ve falsified the unemployment figures. It should come as no surprise that, as they have shown themselves incompetent and out of their depth at handling the Coronavirus crisis, they should be fiddling those statistics too.

And Mike is right. They are a menace. Boris dithered and tried everything possible to delay imposing a lockdown until it was too late, because he was too worried about the economy at the expense of people’s lives. And a sizable proportion of the Tory party and their supporters, like the noxious Brendan O’Neil of Spiked, Toby Young of the Spectator, Trevor Kavanagh of the Scum, still believe that people should sacrificed for the sake of the economy.

There is therefore a very real danger that the Tories will use the falsified stats to justify lifting the lockdown prematurely, and so starting off a new wave of illness and deaths.

Big Tech Firms are Using Automation to Censor News About the Coronavirus

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/03/2020 - 6:38am in

Big tech is again attempting to define the range of acceptable political discussion on its platforms; this week YouTube announced a number of changes in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic, chief among those being that automated systems, rather than humans, will predominantly be authorizing or removing content in the foreseeable future.

“As COVID-19 evolves, we’re doing our best to support those who watch, create, & make a living on YouTube. Many of us here & in our extended workforce are unable to work as usual, so we’re reducing staffing in certain offices, causing some disruptions,” it said in a message on Twitter. “With fewer people to review content, our automated systems will be stepping in to keep YouTube safe. More videos will be removed than normal during this time, including content that does not violate our Community Guidelines. We know this will be hard for all of you.”

The news that the video sharing platform is now at the mercy of an automated system that even its creators admit does not function properly was greeted with skepticism, especially as YouTube did not explain why watching and judging content on its platform could not be done remotely.

Other big tech firms like Facebook and Twitter also notified the public that they were switching to potentially defective automated moderation during the pandemic. Facebook had been criticized last week for insisting that employees continue to come to work but has now performed an about face. “We may see some longer response times and make more mistakes as a result,” it similarly warned.

The problem with measures like these is that the way the algorithms have been designed, they generally hit alternative media hardest. In the past, Facebook has deleted pages belonging to anti-establishment outlets like the Black Agenda Report and Venezuelanalysis on the unsubstantiated grounds that they were potentially Russian-backed fake news or simply for “suspicious behavior.” In early February, Twitter blocked the account of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro and deleted those of 2,000 of his supporters.

Immediately after the new changes were implemented, social media was awash with people angry that their posts had been removed for no legitimate reason. MintPress was no exception, with our story about Cuba’s response to the coronavirus flagged and blocked. Meanwhile, it appears alternative media outlet 21st Century Wire has been deleted altogether. MintPress CEO Mnar Muhawesh described it as censorship under the guise of fighting fake news.

Whether active or not, big tech algorithms privilege corporate media and de-list, de-rank and de-monetize alternative stances against war, empire and government secrecy, bucking the government line, often being precisely why people visit the sites in the first place.

Big media giants are becoming increasingly intertwined with big government agencies that they are supposed to be holding to account. In their book titled, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business, Eric Schmidt and fellow Google executive Jared Cohen wrote, “What Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century…technology and cyber-security companies [like Google] will be to the twenty-first.” Last year, Facebook announced that it was partnering with NATO think tank, the Atlantic Council, in order to help weed out fake news on its site. The Council’s board is a whos-who of high state officials, including Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and multiple former CIA chiefs, including Michael Hayden, Leon Panetta, and Michael Morell. After working with the council, Facebook immediately began banning and removing accounts linked to media in official enemy states like Iran, Russia, and Venezuela and began silencing critics of Western governments.

39 percent of Americans get their news from Facebook, 20 percent from YouTube and 15 percent from Twitter, according to the 2019 Reuters Institute Digital News Report. Furthermore, similar numbers of people in other countries rely on those platforms to understand world events; effectively meaning the U.S. government is increasingly in control of what the planet sees online. A case in point is Iran in January, when, at the behest of the Trump administration, Instagram banned all messages of support for General Qassem Soleimani, who had been killed in a U.S. drone strike. “We operate under U.S. sanctions laws, including those related to the U.S. government’s designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its leadership,” a tech spokesperson said. Instagram has over 24 million Iranian users. A University of Maryland poll found over 80 percent of Iranians held a positive view of the general, meaning that Trump, through Silicon Valley monopolies over online communication, could effectively censor a majority opinion from being spoken by Iranians, to Iranians.

One of the principal problems with any decision over moderation on these tech giants is that they are so dominant they have effectively become public utilities, too big, and too important not to use. But until they are either broken up or nationalized, their opaque structure will always lead to decisions like this which increase suspicion and alienation.

Feature photo | An activist of the group ‘Pause the System’ dresses up to protest in front of the Downing Street gate to ask the government to follow WHO guidelines for the coronavirus outbreak in London, March 17, 2020. Frank Augstein | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Big Tech Firms are Using Automation to Censor News About the Coronavirus appeared first on MintPress News.

DISCUSS: Assange Extradition Hearing

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 25/02/2020 - 12:10am in

Julian Assange’s extradition hearing is underway as of this morning, at Woolwich Crown Court. It will be his first public appearance since last May. However fair, impartial, or even real this legal process is, there’s no question of its importance in terms of the idea of free speech. Even if you don’t buy the Assange …

Censorship is the death of Democracy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/02/2020 - 10:00am in

Eric Zuesse No democracy can survive censorship. If there is censorship, then each individual cannot make his/her own decisions (voting decisions or otherwise) on the basis of truth but only on the basis of whatever passes through the censor’s filter, which is always whatever supports the censoring regime and implants it evermore deeply into the …

WaPo, CNN pile on in attempt to discredit American Herald Tribune

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 08/02/2020 - 6:00pm in

Prof. Anthony Hall In responding to an attack on a media venue about which I care a lot, this Canadian from Alberta Canada is being pulled into the swamp. I find myself showering repeatedly to try to wash away the scum from the quagmire created by CNN and the Editorial Board of the Washington Post. These media operations …

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