• The Ministry of Twitter

    December 22, 2022 // 3 Comments »

    I was shadow banned by Twitter, even after my suspended account was restored. What is it with these people? What are they so afraid of?

    Things are changing fast under new owner Elon Musk, but using available free tools a few days ago I found my new account @PeterMVanBuren has been electronically censored. Specifically, using a tool called Shadow Bird, I learned my tweets have been subjected to Reply Deboosting. This means my replies on tweets will be hidden behind a “Show More” button for accounts that don’t follow me. This is particularly frustrating because it essentially silences me except among people who already know and usually agree with me. It makes it nearly impossible to build followers; they have to stumble on to my tweets or come looking for me based on something they have seen online. It is a very effective way of shutting someone up without leaving more than a paranoid’s slime trail behind, until now.

    After years of denying such manipulation (“Paranoid much, dude?”) Elon Musk has made public information showing Twitter has been subjecting mostly conservative voices to search suggestion bans, search bans, ghost bans ( blocking content from an online community in such a way that the ban is not readily apparent to the user) and reply deboosting. Though directed at a variety of users, the bans have disfavored voices from the right and in all cases were implemented without notice to the user and without a chance for any form of process or arguing back. Yes, yes, Twitter is a private company and not subject to the 1A, but the moment they became a private company with the ability and now the demonstrated willingness to influence presidential elections their business became everyone’s business. Extensive Twitter threads posted by Matt Taibbi and Bari Weiss revealed that the company was essentially part of a coordinated Democratic suppression operation and actively colluded with the FBI to destroy Donald Trump and assure Joe Biden’s election. Which is why, as Elon Musk observed, “Twitter is both a social media company and a crime scene.”

    In his novel 1984, George Orwell suggested a diabolical solution to the problem of censorship. He conjured up a technological device for the world of Big Brother that he called “the memory hole.” In his dark future, armies of bureaucrats, working in what he dubbed the Ministry of Truth, spent their lives erasing or altering documents, newspapers, books, and the like in order to create an acceptable version of history. When a person fell out of favor, the Ministry of Truth sent him and all the documentation relating to him down the memory hole. Every story or report in which his life was in any way noted or recorded would be edited to eradicate all traces of him. Same for ideas. A purity of thought, a world in which negative news such as about Hunter Biden’s laptop simply did not exist, was created.

    In Orwell’s pre-digital world, the memory hole was a vacuum tube into which old documents were physically disappeared forever. Alterations to existing documents and the deep-sixing of others ensured that even the sudden switching of global enemies and alliances would never prove a problem for the guardians of Big Brother. In the world he imagined, thanks to those armies of bureaucrats, the present was what had always been — and there were those altered documents to prove it and nothing but faltering memories to say otherwise. Anyone who expressed doubts about the truth of the present would, under the rubric of “thoughtcrime,” be marginalized (shadow banned) or eliminated (search banned.) What is scary is not how Orwell differs from Twitter, but how much the same they are. 1984 was not supposed to be an instruction manual.

    Through my Foreign Service career I served in and visited countries that practiced overt government censorship. Critics of the regime would be punished, the least physical of which method was usually the most effective, simply finding ways to stop them from publishing. No newspaper or broadcasting station would take their work, to the point where they found themselves unable to hand out photocopied pamphlets on street corners. What astounded me was not the censorship per se, that was easy to understand no matter how abhorrent, but the degree of detail. As with Iran’s “appearance” morality people who look for any wisp of hair peaking out from beneath a hijab, no subversive thought is too small, no objectionable material too minor to stomp on. It is the pervasiveness of evil, its level of detail, that makes it so wrong. A dictator need not disappear a troublesome person anymore, just his ideas. The need to murder Jamal Khashoggi was a failure of Internet technology.

    I hate using Twitter but am expected to post my articles there and try to build a following of readers. Even after restoring me to Twitter after my original account with several thousand followers was shut down, somewhere deep within the Ministry of Twitter someone still thought I must be a threat of some kind, and electronically made sure I would never amass as large a following again, all via reply deboosting. I was a thought threat as far as Twitter was concerned and I had to be dealt with. I had made about 50 Tweets and a few RTs; is there some sort of naughty not nice list?

    Of course what Twitter (and no doubt other social media sites) has been doing is small stuff. For the future, look to Google and negative search strategy. Here’s how a negative search strategy works, even if today its focus — largely on pedophiles — is easy enough to accept. Google uses software which makes it harder for users to locate child abuse material. Google Search has been “fine-tuned” to clean up results for more than 100,000 insider terms, many supplied by law enforcement, used by pedophiles to look for child pornography. Now, for instance, when users type in queries that may be related to child sexual abuse, they will find no results that link to illegal content. Instead, Google will redirect them to counseling sites. “We will roll out these changes in more than 150 languages, so the impact will be truly global,” Google claims.

    While Google is redirecting searches for kiddie porn to counseling sites, the NSA has developed a similar ability. The agency already controls a set of servers codenamed Quantum that sit on the Internet’s backbone. Their job is to redirect “targets” away from their intended destinations to websites of the NSA’s choice. The idea is you type in the website you want and end up somewhere less disturbing to the agency. While at present this technology may be aimed at sending would-be online jihadis to more moderate Islamic material, in the future it could, for instance, be repurposed to redirect people seeking news to an Al-Jazeera lookalike site with altered content that fits the government’s version of events. Or making sure no one saw an article about Hunter Biden’s laptop. Or hiding the latest revelations from social media.

    Back on Twitter, welcome to @MoonmanCartoons, an account featuring the conservative editorial cartoons of Robert Mooney. Mooney has all of 88 followers yet is subject to Twitter’s reply blocking and search suggestion ban, making it impossible for him to build followers. He posts a cartoon and less than 100 people see it; why bother, Twitter?

    “Why would they censor us ‘small fish?’ Mooney asked TAC in an interview. “I think there are a couple of reasons, the first of which is simply because they can. If the technology exits, why wouldn’t they use it to achieve their objectives? Also, I think they may see some people at our level as potentially influential if they don’t nip us in the bud. Despite the censorship, I’ve occasionally slipped one by the goalie. For example, when Dinesh D’Souza retweeted one of my cartoons about 2020 election fraud, I got almost 1400 likes and 439 retweets. That sort of thing is rare, but it’s happened a few times, showing that I have a potential receptive audience out there.”

    “As for whether this is similar to other nations that censor, I’ve felt for months that where we are in the U.S. right now with regard to censorship and the criminalization of political opposition is the American equivalent of Germany 1933. Obviously it’s not an exact duplication of the dawn of the Third Reich, but if we keep going down this road, we will end up with a country very different from what we’ve known for over two centuries and from what the Founders intended — and not different in a good way.”

    As they say, it starts with the small stuff. Like Twitter.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, NSA

    Orwell’s Mistakes

    November 28, 2022 // 2 Comments »

    Under the gathering dark clouds of today, a reread of 1984 showed how the otherwise prescient George Orwell was wrong to think people were going to have to be tortured into submission; half of America (still psychologically locked down, vexed and vaxed, of course) wouldn’t want it any other way.

    The world of 1984 is grim in a way 2022 would understand. The people of Orwell’s future want to be controlled. They have come to prefer it. Freedom from choice makes them feel safe. People accept being monitored, and their media being censored. They think of it all with a sense of the inevitable, the only way to stay safe, if they think of it at all. The all-seeing telescreens in their homes, the snitches and spies embedded in their lives, are just the way of it, for the better, really. Language itself is changed not to just stifle dissent but to make it impossible.

    In 1984 it is the government which controls and modifies all media, sending events from the past no longer politically correct down the memory hole. Today we have the legacy media which do that for us. We can no longer read a newspaper or watch a documentary with any expectation any part of it is true. Americans relish fake news. In only one example, the truth is there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. It was all made up, doublethink, embellished with lurid “details” like the pee tape so absurd they wouldn’t make it into a B movie script. Michael Cohen never went to Prague. The FBI had to lie to obtain FISA permission to spy on Trump associates. Yet vast numbers of Americans still believe it all to be true, and seek out media which clings to the edges of the story. Indeed 2+2 can equal 5 if you believe it does.

    In another example, Hunter Biden financially benefited trading off his father’s position. He made millions from China and Ukraine selling influence. The media acted collectively with the full support of about half of Americans to disappear the story and influence the 2020 election. Once pushed underwater, the story never came back in time for the 2020 election, maybe not for the 2024 one. When I Google Hunter’s name I find sympathetic replacement stories about his battles with various addictions. Most Americans welcome the sleight of hand. They don’t want another scandalous administration. They want censorship to clean that up. The government doesn’t have to police it; in America, journalists demand the suspension of other journalists’ 1A rights based on ideology if things go off message.

     

    Orwell’s Two Minutes of Hate was when the public was told to express hatred toward enemies of the state whether it made sense or not. The Brett Kavanaugh hearings were a widely welcomed version of this, using the confluence of mediagenic victims, politicians, and MSM whipping up the crowd. Social media, particularly Twitter, serves the same ongoing purpose; we loved Cuomo as the anti-Trump until told to hate him as a sexual harasser. Is Dr. Fauci a good guy or a bad guy this week? Your own family is also a target as white allies are told “Text your relatives and loved ones telling them you will not be visiting them or answering phone calls until they take significant action in supporting black lives.”

    In 1984 criticism of The Party was the worst sin, punishable by loss of status, loss of work, loss of self — cancellation. Though America so far does not include the physical torture portion (in Newspeak, enhanced interrogation) of 1984-style cancellation, the rest of the tools are active. Party orthodoxy is replaced by the sin of criticizing diversity and being denounced as a racist. Whole industries — academia, media, entertainment — are controlled by the issuance of double plus good anti-racist badges.  Most all the media we consume, and what our kids learn in school, is filtered, judged, and censored by an ideological mob as convinced of their own rightness as any Nazi ever was.

    If you want to keep your job in those fields and more you must embrace Big Diverse Brother, and most are more than happy to do so. Those who fall out of favor with the Party in 1984 become “unpersons,” disappearing with all evidence of their existence destroyed. In 2022 they are deplatformed. Institutions don’t punish dissent per se as much as seek to make enough examples to make dissent impossible.

     

    Orwell envisioned the need for a massive Ministry of Truth to enact societal control when in fact all it took was some silliness about whether calling COVID “Chinese flu” was racism, and a dash of sky-is-falling articles. Make fear the problem and empowering protectors becomes the solution. The message worked: You have to give things up for a safe society. If you don’t, you’re selfish; you’ve committed a crime against your neighbors.

    When Orwell wrote 1984 he could not envision any entity more powerful than government, backed up by secret police and the army itself. Orwell could not imagine global media and its running dog companion social media screening what we read, and providing the tools of cancelation. He did not foresee the end point of global capitalism, a handful of people with almost all the money who could buy the laws and societal changes they wanted.

    Instead of adapting to this reality and pushing back, progressive Americans cheer it on. They roll like dogs in mud over the idea that while the government can’t censor Dr. Seuss, a corporation can. They enjoy the ignorance of pretending such censorship is not censorship because, for now at least, only things they don’t like are being censored. They enjoy pretending it doesn’t matter if it is done by a private entity. They refuse to imagine the same tools turned against an idea they support. They want to believe Big Brother knows best. They do not want dissenting opinions and call greedily on corporations to scrub them from their lives.

    In 2022 America we not only voluntarily accept surveillance, we want more of it because it makes shopping easier. We spend thousands of dollars to buy and maintain 24/7 devices on our person that track our location, record our communications, study and analyze our personal habits from porn preferences to fashion choices, all so Amazon can recommend products to us. Tracking us was sold first as a way to keep us safe from terrorist attacks that never came, then to catalog our associations to keep us safe from a COVID crisis kept on the boil as long as possible. We want Big Brother to know where we’ve been so he can warn us not to associate with the “diseased” people there. Vaccine passports to label and reward the compliant? Yes, please, if it means we can go to ball games.

    We love surveillance technology when it helps arrest the “right” people. So with the Capitol riots we fetishize how cell phone data was used to place people on site, coupled with facial recognition run against images pulled off social media, aided by loved ones snitching, to arrest them. There is even a do-it-yourself version of facial recognition progressives used to help law enforcement ID rioters. The goal was to jail people if possible, but most loyalists seemed equally satisfied if they could cause someone to lose their job.

    In America my society thinks I am so stupid I have to be warned a thing called “Hot Coffee” is hot. I must click accept to multipage legal agreements to use a household appliance. I must on a daily basis subordinate myself to an ever-growing army of private guards, inspectors, stewardesses, waiters, and store clerks who have the power to harm me, or at least mess up my plans for their own amusement. I have to live under laws based on no science or sense. I have to believe history that is not true. I have to keep in mind race does not matter except when it does to select the proper amount of each color into a job or college in pursuit of a lofty goal no one can show really helps. I have been told to judge the fairness of elections based on who wins. I have had to learn to live in a society that hates me simply because I was born a white heteronormative male. After national, state, and local governments, plus my condo board and the local grocery store added layers of Covid laws, rules, and regulations, to hug my adult children last year I had to break laws.
    As a young man I visited Soviet Eastern Europe. I lived in China, and in Taiwan under dictatorship. I spoke to survivors of the Cultural Revolution, and torture victims from Seoul’s years of military control. I’m much older now, and know when I’ve seen a thing before. I know increasingly in my American life my thoughts are increasingly no longer my own. Orwellian? Orwell was an amateur.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, NSA

    What We Lost in the Pandemic

    April 4, 2020 // 11 Comments »


     
    A lot of change has taken place in a very short period of time in America, almost all of it undebated and unchallenged, in response to what still has a long way to go to justify it. But the virus is killing us all! Stop. It is not only possible to hold two ideas in mind at once, it is vital. The virus is a threat. At the same time we are immersed in making fundamental changes to society willy-nilly that will outlive the virus.
     
    Only two weeks ago I had an hourly-paid part-time job, my hours subject to my boss’ needs and whims. That made me a lot like the 60 percent of the American workforce who are also hourly employees, not to mention those working as independent contractors, adjuncts, and the massive undocumented labor behind our farms, hotels, and restaurants. The government ordered most of us to stop working and we did. Nobody is entirely sure if “the government” can actually just do this, but it did. Almost none of us can work from home. We wait like baby birds for the government to drop checks into our mouths. Overnight we went from workers, albeit workers at the failing edge of economic inequality, to dependent on government handouts. As the balance of power between Americans and their government changes dramatically, 60 percent of us approve of Trump’s handling of the crisis.

    Perhaps the clearest example of what just happened took place among teachers. Teachers from K-College worked frantically on their own time to eliminate the need for classrooms and move instruction online. Something that might have been rejected as unacceptable six months ago, or expected to take years under normal circumstances, was done at no new cost overnight. No consultants, no arguments from parents or unions, just worker bees radically transforming the American educational system. It won’t take long after this is done for institutions to realize they don’t need so many teachers, classrooms, janitors, etc. anymore. The infrastructure now assembled can be used so one teacher can instruct hundreds or thousands of kids. Why have ten math professors to teach ten sections in ten rooms when one person online can more or less do it? So teachers, thank you for your efforts to iron out the bugs in a mass proof-of-concept experiment. Don’t worry in the future when you’re out of work; there are always alternatives in the free market system. A porn site is offering the unemployed big bucks as cam girls during the pandemic.

    A live classroom teacher (doctor, therapist, consultant, etc.) may someday become yet another luxury available only to a select few. Quality will be what you can afford. That is part of what corona is doing, helping people adjust to a new standard. Remember once most white collar jobs came with a private office with a door, a dedicated secretary, and a formal lunch hour, never mind a pension. Manufacturing jobs paid a living wage, with union benefits and a picnic each summer to honor the American worker. Stuff happens, ya’ know?

     

    For the second time in about only a decade, we are seeing our homes endangered. Rent payments are hard. As mortgage payments slip the banks are sniffing around like hyenas. Some people will fail on rent payments on the same homes they used to own. Occupy Wall Street? No, occupied by Wall Street.

    Like good boys and girls a lot of us did invest our money after the 2008 economic crisis, yet anyone contemplating retirement or college in the near term just saw 20 percent of all that go away. Again. The bailouts are here, in the trillions, again, for the airlines and other businesses. Of course the stock market will go back up, it always does. What occurs in the space between it going down and going back up is the wealthiest Americans, having money in reserve, buy cheaply once-expensive stocks you were forced to sell at the bottom to feed your family. In a few years you’ll start buying in again, you know, when you get back to work, to push up prices and fuel the rich folks’ gains. The wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-2008 financial crisis growth while the bottom 80 percent, whose wealth was in their homes not stocks, became poorer as their missing homes did not “grow.” Their wealth, such as it was, was a Potemkin vision in the form of their homes which they actually did not own. The last recession represented the largest redistribution of money in a century.

    What about 2020? Since over half of all Americans now own no stock, the wealth in 2020 will be sucked out of the so-called 10 percent, the remains of what was once the upper middle class. They are the only ones who actually have money for the hyper-wealthy to take. The bottom 90 percent are basically too poor to steal from (except our labor; see above.) A month ago the richest 10 percent of Americans owned 84 percent of the total value of the market. The One Percent are in the process of taking from the Nine Percent below them right now. Fair enough in a way; much of the Nine Percent’s wealth was harvested out of the 2008 crisis.

     

    At least in 2008 it was just our money they took. I sit here in NYC under a multi-layered federal, state, and city state of emergency. I am still sort of free to go out, but since most stores, bars, restaurants, theatres, gyms, etc. are closed by fiat, freedom of movement is an illusion, like prisoners circling the rec yard. Adding to the people who now tell me what I can and cannot do, the manager of my local grocery has made up his own rationing rules, choosing which products and which quantities he allows us to purchase.

    Freedom of assembly is gone. No more questions about whether Milo can speak on campus. No more Pink Pussy Hat marches. A month ago if anyone said that to a BLM group, the riot would have been followed by a Supreme Court First Amendment case. In 2020 only three people nationwide have legally challenged anti-assembly orders. Before the virus we made fun of George W. Bush, who in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 seemed to downplay the severity of it all by telling Americans to go shopping, to visit Disney World. That seems generous to a population now cowing in their bedrooms. We are being conditioned to reject the comfort and solidarity of being in the presence of others; one media outlet explains to little JoJo’s and Yorki’s how to report large gatherings to the authorities via an online form.

     

    Politically the progressive movement disappeared with the proverbial whisper, not a bang. Is Bernie still in? All that talk about a brokered convention, third party stuff, whatever, it is gone. Frightened people (they were scared about Bernie’s ideas long before the virus but the end came quick once the virus arrived) want to pull the blanket over their heads. Joe Biden’s campaign slogan seems to be “I Won’t Do Much,” or more succinctly, “Better Things Aren’t Really Possible.” Joe is the political equivalent of an Obama tribute band. You’ve seen them, imitators who look a little like the Rolling Stones. They play only the best hits, competently but not skillfully, showing how wide the gap is between someone who can pull “Honky Tonk Woman” from the ether and someone who can just play the cords with enthusiasm. It’s a way to make a living and for Joe Biden telling everyone things will look like the 1958 it might just be enough. Protip: don’t wager too many dineros on the political future of AOC and The Squad. Even Tulsi endorsed Biden on the way out.

     

    Orwell in 1984 never really explained how it all came to be. He wanted to shock readers with a dystopian society whole on page one, something that felt like it always was and thus always will be. For us, however, living in this time, the evolution is of some interest. Orwell was also an amateur. He imagined freedom as something people would fight for. He did not envision how easy it would be to manipulate fear into learned helplessness such that Americans would in the space of a week voluntarily give up most of their freedoms, along with their actual jobs. Orwell envisioned the need for a Ministry of Truth when in fact all it took was a handful of deaths, some prolefeed — worthless entertainment for the masses about whether calling it “Chinese flu” was racism — and a dash of sky-is-falling articles for the majority not only to go along with the new authoritarianism, but to demand more. Fear is the problem and empowering government is the solution. You have to give some things up for a safe good society. If not, you’re selfish, a thought crime.

    Of all the bell curves, the one of interest is when the cure becomes worse than the disease. When do we as a society cross the line where measures of social control are no longer affecting the spread of the disease but are damaging the life we live. Of course many of the draconian steps taken these past weeks will be pulled back. But some will stick. And the lessons learned by the darkest corners of American life will be jotted down. The same thing happened after 9/11, when frightened by terrorism, Americans gave up their rights to privacy and freedom from search with great enthusiasm. Somewhere Dick Cheney is saying to himself “we could have taken it so much further, we just didn’t realize it would be so easy.”

    Hey, Dick, check it out — we have voluntarily given up our livelihoods and jobs, freedom of assembly, and transferred most of our speech to social media monsters who can edit or block it as they wish. We are heading toward more dependency on government money to eat. Access to medical care, once limited by having “good” insurance, is now limited by medi-bureaucratic decisions — committees who will decide who gets to see a doctor. Remember how even the rumor of such “death panels” under Obamacare set people afire? We understand better now, sorry grandma.

    Unintended consequences? Doubt that. This did not just happen, our governments made it happen near enough to overnight and we wanted them to do that. No one wants to die. But think ahead to how we are going to live.
      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, NSA

    Diplomat Loses Top Secret Clearance for Link to WikiLeaks

    October 20, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Wired.com has the story about State taking away my security clearance as a tit-for-tat for my book documenting their silly failures in Iraq.

    The reporter really captured the 1984 meets Brazil world this is all taking place in:

    In December 2010 the White House issued a directive warning federal employees not to access the government documents WikiLeaks published online.

    “Classified information, whether or not already posted on public websites or disclosed to the media, remains classified, and must be treated as such by federal employees and contractors, until it is declassified by an appropriate U.S. Government authority,” the directive said.

    Ironically, Van Buren had worked across the hallway from Manning for about six months in Iraq in 2009 and 2010 at Forward Operating Base Hammer, he told Wired in a phone interview Wednesday.

    That’s where Manning allegedly downloaded the cables to a CD-Rom while pretending to lip-sync to Lady Gaga music that was supposedly on the disc. Now Van Buren is being punished for linking to something that Manning allegedly downloaded from the Army’s classified network and leaked to WikiLeaks.

    “I literally had my office across the hall from where he worked,” Van Buren said. “I don’t think I actually ever met the guy. The last time I had access to U.S. government secrets was on the Army system that Bradley Manning used.”

    Van Buren said State Department security staff who informed him of his suspension this week didn’t even know who Manning was when he mentioned the name. The security guys, Van Buren said, thought he was trying to brag about his Department connections.

    “Don’t try to impress me with the people you know,” he says one of the staffers told him. “You could work for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; the rules are the same.”



    Read the whole story at Wired.com.




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, NSA