The EU’s Mass Censorship Regime Is Almost Fully Operational. Will It Go Global?

Government censorship of public online discourse in the West’s ostensibly liberal democracies has been largely covert until now, as revealed by the Twitter Files. But thanks to the EU’s Digital Services Act, it is about to become overt. 

Next month, a little-known development will occur that could end up having huge repercussions for the nature of public discourse on the Internet all over the planet. August 25, 2023 is the date by which big social media platforms will have to begin fully complying with the European Union’s Digital Services Act, or DSA. The DSA, among many other things, obliges all “Very Large Online Platforms”, or VLOPs, to speedily remove illegal content, hate speech and so-called disinformation from their platforms. If not, they risk fines of up to 6% of their annual global revenue.

The Commission has so far compiled a list of 19 VLOPs and VLOSEs (Very Large Online Search Engines), most of them from the US, that will have to begin complying with the DSA in 50 days’ time:

  • Alibaba AliExpress
  • Amazon Store
  • Apple AppStore
  • Facebook
  • Google Play
  • Google Maps
  • Google Shopping
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Pinterest
  • Snapchat
  • TikTok
  • Twitter
  • Wikipedia
  • YouTube
  • Zalando

Very Large Online Search Engines (VLOSEs):

  • Bing
  • Google Search

Smaller platforms will have to begin tackling illegal content, hate speech and disinformation from 2024 onwards, assuming the legislation is effective.

Ominously, as Robert Kogon reports for (granted, not the most popular source of information on NC, but it’s a good, well researched piece), the DSA “includes a ‘crisis response mechanism’ (Art. 36) that is clearly modeled on the European Commission’s initially ad hoc response to the conflict in Ukraine and which requires platforms to adopt measures to mitigate crisis-related ‘misinformation.'”

In a speech in early June, EU Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová, made it crystal clear which country is the current prime target of the EU’s censorship agenda (no points for guessing):

Cooperation among signatories and the high number of new organisations willing to sign the new Code of Practice show that it has become an effective and dynamic instrument to fight disinformation. However, progress remains too slow on crucial aspects, especially when it comes to dealing with pro-Kremlin war propaganda or independent access to data…

As we prepare for the 2024 EU elections, I call on platforms to increase their efforts in fighting disinformation and address Russian information manipulation, and this in all Member States and languages, whether big or small.

Meet the “Enforcer”

The EU is offering tech companies little in the way of wiggle room. When Twitter withdrew from the EU’s Code of Practice on Disinformation in late May, the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner, Thierry Breton, issued a fiery reprimand as well as an unveiled threat — on Twitter of all places:

Jourová also laid into Twitter, saying the platform had mistakenly chosen the path of “confrontation.”

Days later, Breton announced he was visiting Silicon Valley to “stress test” US tech giants, including Twitter, to see how well prepared they are for the launch of the Digital Services Act on August 25. Calling himself the “enforcer”, serving the “will of the state and the people” (as if the two were the same things), Breton remind tech platforms that the EU’s DSA would transform its code of practice on mis- and disinformation into a code of conduct. From Politico:

“We are going there, but don’t want to be vocal before because I don’t want to speak too much. But we offer this and I’m happy that some platforms took our proposal,” Breton said of the non-binding compliance checks. “I am the enforcer. I represent the law, which is the will of the state and the people.”

“It’s a voluntary basis, so we don’t force anyone” to join the code of practice on disinformation, Breton said. “I just reminded (Musk and Twitter) that by August 25, it will become a legal obligation to fight disinformation.”

While Twitter may have left the EU’s voluntary code of practice, many of its other actions suggest it is complying with, rather than defying, the EU’s new rules on disinformation. After all, many other Big Tech platforms have not signed the code of practice, including Amazon, Apple and Wikipedia, but will be subject to the DSA’s obligatory requirements, as long as they want to continue operating in Europe. Also, as Kogon documents, recent programming that has gone into the Twitter algorithm includes “safety labels” to restrict the visibility of alleged “misinformation”:

The general categories of “misinformation” used exactly mirror the main areas of concern targeted by the EU in its efforts to “regulate” online speech: “medical misinfo” in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, “civic misinfo” in the context of issues of electoral integrity, and “crisis misinfo” in the context of the war in Ukraine.

In its January submission to the EU (see reports archive here), in the section devoted precisely to its efforts to combat Ukraine-war-related “misinformation,” Twitter writes (pp. 70-71):

“We … use a combination of technology and human review to proactively identify misleading information. More than 65% of violative content is surfaced by our automated systems, and the majority of remaining content we enforce on is surfaced through regular monitoring by our internal teams and our work with trusted partners.”

Moreover, some Twitter users recently received notices informing them that they are not eligible to participate in Twitter Ads because their account has been labelled “organic misinformation.” As Kogon asks: “Why in the world would Twitter turn away advertising business?”:

The answer is simple and straightforward: because none other than the EU’s Code of Practice on Disinformation requires it to do so in connection with the so-called “demonetization of disinformation.”

Ultimately, Kogon notes, once the DSA comes into full effect, in 50 days’ time, if Elon Musk stays true to his word on freedom of speech and chooses to defy the EU’s “permanent task force on disinformation”, the Commission will mobilise the entire arsenal of punitive measures at its disposal, in particular the threat or application of fines of 6% of the company’s global turnover. In other words, the only way for Twitter to actually defy the EU is to leave the EU.

That is something most tech platforms can but will not do, due to the huge impact it would have on their bottom line. One possible exception to this rule appears to be the Toronto-based streaming platform Rumble, which in November disabled access to its services in France after the French government demanded the multinational company remove Russian news sources from its platform.

EU Commission: Judge and Jury

So, who in the EU will get to define what actually constitutes mis- or disinformation?

Surely it will be the job of an independent regulator or a judicial authority with at least clear procedural parameters and no or few conflicts of interest. At least that is what one would hope.

But no.

The ultimate decider of what constitutes mis- or dis-information, possibly not just in the EU but across multiple jurisdictions around the world (more on that later), will be the European Commission. That’s right, the EU’s power-hungry, conflict-of-interest-riddled, Von der Leyen-led executive branch. The same institution that is in the process of dynamiting the EU’s economic future through its endless backfiring sanctions on Russia and which is mired in Pfizergate, one of the biggest corruption scandals of its 64-year existence. Now the Commission wants to take mass censorship to levels not seen in Europe since at least the dying days of the Cold War.

In this task the Commission will have, in its own words, “enforcement powers similar to those it has under anti-trust proceedings,” adding that “an EU-wide cooperation mechanism will be established between national regulators and the Commission.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) broadly supports many aspects of the DSA, including the protections it provides on user rights to privacy by prohibiting platforms from undertaking targeted advertising based on sensitive user information, such as sexual orientation or ethnicity. “More broadly, the DSA increases the transparency about the ads users see on their feeds as platforms must place a clear label on every ad, with information about the buyer of the ad and other details.” It also “reins in the powers of Big Tech” by forcing them to “comply with far-reaching obligations and responsibly tackle systemic risks and abuse on their platform.”

But even the EFF warns that the new law “provides a fast-track procedure for law enforcement authorities to take on the role of ‘trusted flaggers’ and uncover data about anonymous speakers and remove allegedly illegal content – which platforms become obligated to remove quickly.” The EFF also raises concerns about the dangers posed by the Commission’s starring role in all of this:

Issues with government involvement in content moderation are pervasive and whilst trusted flaggers are not new, the DSA’s system could have a significant negative impact on the rights of users, in particular that of privacy and free speech.

And free speech and a free press are the foundation stones of any genuine liberal democracy, as notes the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):

The First Amendment protects our freedom to speak, assemble, and associate with others. These rights are essential to our democratic system of governance. The Supreme Court has written that freedom of expression is “the matrix, the indispensable condition of nearly every other form of freedom.” Without it, other fundamental rights, like the right to vote, would cease to exist. Since its founding, the ACLU has advocated for broad protection of our First Amendment rights in times of war and peace, to ensure that the marketplace of ideas remains vigorous and unrestricted.

A Transatlantic “Wish List”

The DSA and the Biden Administration’s proposed RESTRICT Act (which Yves dissected back in April) were among the topics discussed during Russell Brand’s recent interview of Matt Taibbi. Both bills, said Taibbi, are essentially a “wish list that has been passed around” by the transatlantic elite “for some time,” including at a 2021 gathering at the Aspen Institute:

The governments want absolute, full and complete access to all data that these platforms provide. And then they want a couple of other things that are really important. They want to have the authority to come in and moderate or at least be part of the process of moderation. And they also want people who are called trusted “flaggers” — that’s how they’re described in the European law — to have access to these platforms as well. What they mean by that are these outside quasi-governmental agencies who tell these platforms what they can and cannot print about things like vaccine safety.

In other words, the legal environment for free speech is set to become even more hostile in Europe. And possibly not just Europe. As Norman Lewis writes for the British online news website Spiked, the DSA will not only force the regulation of content on the Internet, but could also become a global standard, not just a European one:

In recent years, the EU has largely realised its ambition to become a global regulatory superpower. The EU can dictate how any company worldwide must behave if it wants to operate in Europe, the world’s second-largest market. As a result, its strict regulatory standards often end up being adopted worldwide by both firms and other regulators, in what is known as the ‘Brussels effect’. Take the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a privacy law which came into force in May 2018. Among many other things, it requires individuals to give explicit consent before their data can be processed. These EU regulations have since become the global standard, and the same could now happen for the DSA.

The GDPR is not the only EU regulation that has gone global. A few weeks ago, the World Health Organization announced that it will be adopting the EU’s expiring digital vaccine passport as a global standard, as we warned would happen over a year ago.

Of course, when it comes to mass digital censorship Washington is on a similar path to the EU (albeit in the face of stiffer public and judicial resistance). So too is the UK government, which was recently ranked in the third tier of the Index on Censorship, behind countries such as Chile, Jamaica, Israel and virtually all other western European states, due to the “chilling effect” of government policies and the policing, intimidation and, in the case of Julian Assange, imprisonment of journalists.

If approved by the House of Lords, the Online Safety Bill would give telecoms regulator Ofcom the power to force chat app makers and social media companies to monitor conversations and posts before they are sent for what is permissible to say and send and what is not. It will essentially put an end to end-to-end encryption, which allows only the senders and recipients of a message to access the human-readable form of the content.

“That is a precedent that authoritarian regimes are looking to the UK to set, to point to a liberal democracy that was the first to expand surveillance, Meredith Whittaker, president of not-for-profit secure messaging app Signal, told Channel 4 News. “In the terms of the UN human rights commissioner, this is unprecedented paradigm-shifting surveillance. And paradigm shifting not in a good way.”

“We would absolutely exit any country if the choice were between remaining in the country and undermining the strict privacy promises we make to the people who rely on us,” Signal CEO Meredith Whittaker told Ars Technica. “The UK is no exception.”

All of this is as dark as it is ironic. After all, one of the main justifications for the Collective West’s increasingly aggressive posture in other parts of the world — the so-called Jungle, as the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell calls it — is to stem the drift toward authoritarianism being led by China, Russia, Iran and other strategic rivals that are encroaching on the West’s economic turf. Yet back at home (or as Borrell would say, the Garden), the Collective West is, if anything, drifting faster in that direction through its wholehearted embrace of digital censorship, surveillance and control.


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  1. DJG, Reality Czar

    Nick Corbishley: Thanks. You describe the central problem in a few words–

    That’s right, the EU’s power-hungry, conflict-riddled, Von der Leyen-led executive branch. The same institution that is in the process of dynamiting the EU’s economic future through its endless backfiring sanctions on Russia and which is mired in Pfizergate, one of the biggest corruption scandals of its 64-year existence.

    Hits the mark. Keep repeating this description.

    Did I mention to keep repeating it?

    1. Objective Ace

      While that compounds the problem i wouldn’t list that as the central problem. Any entity can make mistakes, even impartial third party well meaning ones. No, Censorship is the problem. Even if there was an impartial arbiter implemented at the start, they almost certainly would be degraded and corrupted over time

      1. ambrit

        Right. Remember when the ACLU supported George Lincoln Rockwell’s right to free speech, even when such speech was offensive to many?
        Any state that decides that censorship and oppression is needed has just admitted that it is weak and fragile. Robust and functional nations can withstand dissent.

        1. Carolinian

          Weak and fragile and dangerous. Biden may be a weak and fragile president but look at all the damage he is doing.

          It’s arguable that the Cold War and now the new Cold War show that the great mid 20th century war billed as being against “fascism” settled nothing and that the same totalitarian impulses are coming to the fore in all those countries that claim to be democracies. Ironically their target Russia may have freer speech according to people like Doctorow. But in any case the internet was always going to be a threat to the information controllers and was designed to so be–not to become some new form of oligarch controlled cable TV. The only way they’ll really control the internet is at the ISP level and even then the system is so interwoven with modern business and our economies that full control is likely impossible.

          Anyhow, thanks NC for the above report.

      2. .Tom

        Agree. vdL is a problem but the big problem is the push to a fascist merger of government and corporate power to effect social control through punishment of dissent. That’s happening throughout Western “civilization” and isn’t her doing. She just happens to be in charge at the EU while it is happening.

      3. DJG, Reality Czar

        Objective Ace and .Tom: And who is in charge? Are things mysteriously happening on their own? A kind of sorcerer’s apprentice?

        Censorship happens? (And even more so during a war? Che sorpresa!)

        People like Ursula van der Leyen are arrogating power to themselves. Think of how many times she has promised Ukraine entry into the EU, regardless of democratic forms and the accession process that Albania is still trying to get through.

        Censorship happens? Wars happen? Promises to Pfizer were made? Mistakes happen.

        Not buying it at all. I still will go by Nick Corbishley’s diagnosis.

    2. Piotr Berman

      “EU conflict-riddled executive branch”, they seem unanimous enough, I assume you mean “conflict-of-interest-riddled”.

  2. Judith

    As the West loses control, it tries harder and harder to maintain control.

    (I am sure Zuckerberg will do whatever they demand.)

    1. Jams O'Donnell

      Yeah. It’s another sign of the rot and decay that is now endemic in the west. The downward spiral will continue until the population have had enough, or perhaps until the BRICS send in peacekeeping troops to stabilise the situation and set up new governments. That will be 40/50 years on though. However, given the way that extreme states of delusion are rife within the ruling cliques, maybe sooner?

    2. TimH

      The governments are very happy when there are only a few popular social media forums, because a few are easy to threaten with anti-monopoly or regulation to bring in to line.

  3. Alan Roxdale

    The tech companies have given the government bureaucracies a taste of power and now they won’t let go. There is a driving hunger for these powers, moving at a speed more usually reserved for post-incident anti-terrorism legislation. There is little doubt in my mind that the main motivation is to control populations now groaning under the strain of neoliberal misrule.

    A large part of the blame for this lies squarely with the tech companies, especially the founders. They let the devil in through government partnerships, hiring beltway insiders, and partnering with NGOs, betraying just about every one of their past professed ideals on liberty and freedom in the process. A lot of the arguments for the commercial web, who runs it and who operates it, have now been conceded, and the simplest option to my mind is a break up of massive tech companies and a return to a far more distributed and independent web. We don’t need most of these companies anyway.

  4. John

    Given that the governments in the EU and the US are bewildered, weak, and fearful, it is not at all surprising that they have turned to surveillance and censorship. They rationalize the undermining of hard won rights of the people as “temporary measures”, “response to disinformation”, and “defense against terrorism.” Lacking confidence in their legitimacy, they have taken up a club.

  5. pjay

    Thank you for this. Very ominous.

    In the US, there has been some resistance to the growing surveillance/censorship industrial complex from two sources: (1) our First Amendment legal protections — now increasingly threatened; and (2) among the general public, from our “libertarian” cultural traditions. I realize the latter makes most NC readers cringe – for many good reasons — but I do believe it is a significant factor, like it or not. Most of the so-called “left” has trouble acknowledging this. Rather, they attack people like Greenwald or Taibbi as “red-brown collaborationists” or just right-wingers. It’s a dilemma for someone like me, and I’m guessing the majority of NC readers. I understand that much of this concern from the “conservative” side is simply partisan posturing; many of these people seem to have no problem censoring proponents of gay rights, accurate racial history, etc. But in my view, *if* the steady expansion of the S/C complex is to be resisted, I think such resistance is going to have to tap into this libertarian tradition. Rhetoric and strategy need to be shaped accordingly. I see no source of mass appeal on the “left” here.

    I would be happy if someone can convince me that I’m wrong.

    1. And

      Your argument seems to operate from a naive idealism

      I mean that yes there is a rational kernel that can be extracted as crucial here

      But it literally makes little sense to aim to tap into a scene that indeed as you note, is more then ready to repress free speech etc when it comes to (you name it): women’s rights, lgbtq+, anything remotely socialist etc etc

      It be like dreaming that you can win over ayn randian scene to seeing the light of some kind of socialist sensibility by virtue of the fact that she has a few smart things to say about the problems of being free

      It’s living in a dream and literally works to give the right wing a far more rosy hue then is warranted

      They are not kidding when it comes to their agenda to reinstall “trad” this or that

      It’s not a matter of just sharing good info etc either

  6. ambrit

    Orwell is being seen more and more to have been a Prophet, almost in the old style religious sense.
    What we have here is a literal Ministry of Truth.
    What history has, or should be teaching us, is that it is a short step from declaring ‘speech’ to be “dis,’ or ‘malicious,’ or ‘alt,’ to declaring the persons engaging in the “prohibited” speech to be ‘dis’ etc. Once the actual persons involved are ‘demonized,’ the next step is the physical liquidation of said ‘alt’ persons.
    This development suggests that there will be an ‘active’ component to The Jackpot. Shall we call it The Jackboot Jackpot?
    I remember being teased and belittled for advancing theories suggesting there to be what we now call a “Globalist Movement.” A neat bit of sleight of hand ensued when the opposition to such a theory posited it’s impossibility because no one could reasonably articulate a cohesive Cabal behind such a wide ranging “conspiracy theory.” Those of us who advocated for this fell idea were thus tarred with the same brush as all the other so called “cranks.” (There are always “cranks.” It’s basic Terran human nature.) The sleight of hand was the ‘requirement’ that a cohesive Cabal be key to any “plot.” The idea of a loosely organized ‘movement’ of like minded groups was not ‘encouraged’ to be posited. Just as the old style Left once promoted the idea of a “United Front,” encompassing diverse groups with equally diverse aims, so too can the Right. (Fascinating that the origins of the terms ‘Right’ and ‘Left’ apparently go back to the social and physical geography of Old Paris.)
    This new application of the ‘Power of the State’ shows that the oppression is now being given outward, concrete form. As Orwell showed in his book “1984,” the real purpose of ‘The Ministry of Truth’ is the exact opposite of it’s stated goals. Similarly, the implementation of the ‘New Ministry of Truth’ will effect the opposite of it’s stated goals. Rather than impose by decree conformity of thought and speech, this New Ministry of Truth will hasten the dissolution of the social order it purports to serve.
    One major flaw in the thinking of Elites everywhere is their tendency to believe that they have a complete and magisterial grasp on the world around them; how it functions and how it can be manipulated. History should teach these Elites that the primary ‘driver’ of historical processes is chaos and accident. Unfortunately, too many of those Elite apparatchiks in positions of Power believe that they are capable and omniscient. The awakening, not if but when it happens, can be brutal and destructive in the extreme.
    As the Philosophers show, when the question is “How low can you go?” the answer very often is, “It is Bureaucrats all the way down.”
    The present actions of the European Union panjandrums shows us that our present day Versailles now contains a “Hall of Fun House Mirrors.”
    Stay as safe as possible.

    1. .Tom

      Agree about the rhetorical trick of denouncing a “Globalist Movement” conspiracy crank. A couple of years back I wrote: “[the] American system of power has the advantage of not being a centralized hierarchy of authoritarian power. It’s more like mafia families (i.e. corporations and the most wealthy actual families) who both cooperate and compete with each other to protect and enhance their own influence. So there is no single-point of failure and no class of subordinate bureaucrats that you might infiltrate. Nobody is in charge. Its a dynamic network constantly rearranging itself around who are the most successful psychotically greedy and domineering mafia bosses.” But the American system is of course partly subordinate to the transnational mafia families that have too much influence in a lot of countries.

      I sometimes wonder if Globocap’s cooption of celebs, like Thunberg going to WEF, is actually a good thing because it makes the transnational mafia more visible.

      1. ambrit

        Prescient comment from before.
        The issue of “visibility” leads the more cynical among us, in which number I include myself, to suppose that such visibility is a form of misdirection itself. The higher the ‘noise’ level, the harder it is to discern the ‘message’ being sent.
        I have recently begun to consider persons such as Thunberg and the muscian Bono as being elaborate Trojan Horses. We are encouraged to bring them into our world views, without looking too closely at the ‘values’ ‘they’ support and promote.
        I have recently encountered the theory that the ultimate goal of the nebulous “Deep State” is not just the rolling back of the FDR ‘New Deal,’ but the repeal of the Enlightenment itself. Such might not be a ‘goal’ of these reactionary elements, but the effect seems to be heading in that direction.
        Stay safe.

        1. .Tom

          I’m told Whitney Webb’s new books are good too. Not the kind of history books I enjoy reading because I find such volume of intricate detail tiresome, although I accept she had to pull it all together for her intended purpose.

          And I was told Eduard Limonov is famous for saying “Everything in America has its own mafia.” but I haven’t read His Butler’s Story yet.

    2. Hickory

      Prophets don’t see the future. They see the present so clearly that the future becomes obvious. All the unhealthy patterns Orwell wrote about existed in his time in one way or another.

      1. ambrit

        Good point. Perhaps it would be better to say that “prophets” see the patterns underlying the march of history and make them plain. In so doing, “prophets’ show up most of the ‘promoters’ and ‘shills’ for the status quo to be fools, and nobody likes being shown up that way. Thus, the commonly seen example of the axion; “No Prophet is honoured in his own time.”

      2. .Tom

        Agree. Orwell was taking about the past, not the future. I grew up in the UK and back then it was (likely still is) normal to say that 1984 and Animal Farm are critiques of Soviet communism. Animal Farm, perhaps, but I think 1984 can just as well be understood as presenting the punishing thought control that Britain deployed during WW2 rather like Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies presents pre-war social conditions.

        1. c_heale

          I was told that 1984 was going to be called 1948, and Orwell just swapped the last two digits.

          A quick check of Wikipedia says this theory is dubious. But I was told it a long time ago (pre Wikipedia), and wikipedia isn’t always reliable…

    3. Bart Hansen

      Good point Ambrit about there being an insiders’ vocabulary of censorship. Could be that ‘malign’ will be resurrected from back in the Pompeo era.

    1. ambrit

      A new and “improved” opera for our times: “Don Juan in Brussels.” Music by Sousa. Libretto by Orwell.
      Can you carry a keyboard?

  7. .Tom

    I think this push for social control through policing speech marries well with Yves’ opening remarks to Steve Fraser’s article today about child labor.

    Liberalism (in the classical sense) is luxury for the good times, when there is sufficient economic surplus, spread around well enough to prevent social unrest. We are in a period of decreasing surplus that is less well spread around. This has been made especially acute by the war in Europe and the EUs response. If child labor is being reintroduced in the USA then we’re in bad shape too.

    Liberalism is the political tradition I grew up with in middle-class Scotland in the 70s and I still hold its ideals dear. But I accept they are little practical use to a household that’s facing sending its children to work instead of school. When times are hard we can either reinvest in a politics of solidarity and true democracy to better spread the wealth and discipline the capitalists or we can let the right-winger parties do their thing: fighting over who should hold the levers of authoritarian social control.

    I see DSA as a step in a frightening merger of state and corporate power to prevent the possibility of any politics of solidarity and true democracy.

  8. bdy

    Will staying informed become a platform hop? The most resilient public spaces will be those non-monetized and decentralized, I suppose. By some miracle, a vibrant info-ecosystem might evolve out of the Rumble-Discord-Mastadon-Telegram college try, with new platforms necessarily supplanting the old as they are inevitably compromised. More likely something will come about that doesn’t look like anything any of us has imagined (and is at the same time hauntingly familiar.)

    After this stuff passes the next wave of legislation scares me a little. At what point do they target the user end and make it illegal to look at the Substacks: Johnstone, Greenwald, Rogan, Carlson, Wikileaks, Sachs, Hersch, MOA . . . who am I forgetting? Oh, Yves and Lambert of course! Sooner or later integrity becomes forbidden fruit in the stupidest timeline.

    I would vote against it if I could. But I can’t, so I guess I won’t.

  9. TomDority

    “On falsehood in Print
    To Thomas symour, Esq.
    Washington, February 11, 1807.”
    “Conscious that there was not a truth on earth which I feared should be known, I have lent myself willingly as the subject of a great experiment, which was to prove that an administration, conducting itself with integrity and common understanding, cannot be battered down, even by the falsehoods of a licentious press, and consequently still less by the press, as restrained within the legal and wholesome limits of truth. This experiment was wanting for the world to demonstrate the falsehood of the pretext that freedom of the press in incompatible with orderly government. I have never therefore even contradicted the thousands of calumnies so industriously propogated against myself. But the fact being once established, that the press is impotent when it abandons itself to falsehood, I leave to others to restore it to its strength, by recalling it within the pale of truth. Within that it is a noble institution, equally the friend of science and civil liberty.
    …. It would seem impossible that an intelligent people, with the faculty of reading and right of thinking, should continue much longer to slumber under the pupilage of an interested aristocracy of priests and lawyers, persuading them to distrust themselves, and to let them think for them.”
    Authored by Thomas Jefferson

    1. Bruno

      Jefferson was quite the type to talk about “integrity!” The Louisiana Purchase (in addition to being the charter for genocide) was as crass a violation of the Constitution as any president could perpetrate. Not to mention the cockamamie charges of “Treason” against his Vice-President Aaron Burr.

      1. TomDority

        “Burr’s expedition
        to Charles Clay
        Washington, January 11, 1807
        Burrs’s enterprise is the most extraordinary since the days of Don Quixote. It is so extravagant that those who know his understanding, would not believe it if the proofs admitted doubt. He has meant to place himself on the throne of Montezuma, and to extend his empire to the Alleghanny, seizing on New Orleans as the instrument of compulsion for our western States. I think his undertaking effectually crippled by the activity of Ohio. Whether Kentucky will give him a coup de grace is doubtful; but if he is able to descend the river with any means, we are sufficiently prepared at New Orleans”
        Authored by Thomas Jefferson

        “On Land Settlement
        to albert Gallatin
        December 24, 1807
        I am glad to find we have 4,000,000 acres west of Chafalaya. How much better to have every 160 acres settled by an able-bodied militia man, than by purchasers with their hordes of negroes, to add weakness instead of strength. Affectionate salutations.”
        Authored by Thomas Jefferson

        As far as my personal views are concerned – and forgive my diversion from the first – free speech et al – to the Second -A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
        ….. with all the mass shootings and general gunplay going on – I have never found out to which “well regulated Militia” these mass shooters belong… If that was known, I should think, it would give the victims a militia to direct liability lawsuits for their negligence in regulating these dung replicates. But ,it appears, it’s the parts of the constitution which don’t line up with the ‘ i have an absolute right to bear arms’. The amendment says what is says, to me it is obvious that because we are a republic – it was not meant to apply to all jacka$%es.
        Anyway- just my two cents and without animosity or anger

  10. The Rev Kev

    We keep on hearing the EU talking about European values but why is it then that the European values that we see are those of the 1930s? So who decides on disinformation then? And is it movable feast? We saw Hunter Biden’s laptop called Russian disinformation and the media censored that story but after the election was over, it was admitted to be true. And who can forget Weapons of Mass Destruction. America went to war over that along with a lot of other nations but it turned out to be a bs story. But by the time it was admitted, we were deep into trying to occupy Iraq. And who can forget all the so-called “misinformation” of the past three years which the establishment used their agents in social media corporations to try to smother. “Horse-paste”, as it turned out, was the very least of it. The cornerstone of any real democracy is a well informed electorate but the elites in the Empire of Lies have decided to opt for total information control instead.

  11. Bsn

    Sounds far fetched and I know we’re all so plugged in, but…… strikes are the final option. Voting, protesting, they don’t care. They know you’ll just get back on that jet, or drive home in your car after a fossil fuel protest, etc.
    So – a digital strike. Do nothing on line for a week as an example. If everyone unplugged, what would they do? They would lose the tether in your purse (or pocket) and they could not intercept your Wi-Fi signal as there would be none. Unfortunately, some have become so plugged in they couldn’t do much of anything such as work or order parts from their suppliers in China, via the internet. This strike option is something to think about and prepare for. Perhaps practice for a few days. Trouble is, I’m sure we’d miss each other. When you got dumped by your sweetie as a teenager, did life end? No, you eventually found another sweetie. Back to rolodex and gardening (in fact, we should have never left them). Are we better off than before hi tech communication?

    1. elissa3

      The idea of a digital strike, or perhaps digital removal is an attractive one for this old beast. Go analog, go local, degrowth as a way of life. Two problems though: 1) unattractive to the under 50s; 2) removes a vital organizing tool to bring down the PTB. Needs more thought, but the limited choices may be forced on us.

  12. Thuto

    As GPUs take over from CPUs as the web’s primary computational heavy lifters, the marginal cost of compute will trend down to zero (because of parallelizing GPUs). Why is this important? Well, it means the tech to enact a surveillance and censorship regime unlike anything the world has ever seen is upon us, and for authoritarians of all stripes (especially the ones wearing liberal cloaks) and their acolytes, the time to move from beta testing of mass scale surveillance and censorship to full-on implementation is now. It’s a unique moment in history where the technology to hyperscale state sponsored mass control of the population is/will soon be “too cheap to meter”, the bureaucrats have bent the technocrats driving the pace of technological innovation to their will, and the citizens of the world, under constant assault from propaganda telling them all this is being done to “keep them safe”, seem bereft of ideas to stop this seemingly inexorable, dystopian march towards ruin.

    “Fighting mis/disinformation” will thus become the veneer to end all veneers, shouted from every rooftop, every pulpit, and every soapbox as the iron fists emerge from the velvet gloves that have up to now kept them hidden.

    1. Nick Corbishley Post author

      Good points, eloquently made, Thuto (especially given the darkness of the topic)

    2. Carolinian

      There was a time–seems like distant history now–when people managed to talk and exchange ideas without using the internet at all. I think you are overstating the case even if it’s what the EU and Bidenistas seem to want. So even if AI takes care of the “haystack” problem (too big to search) it can still be defeated.

      I believe Ambrit got it right in his first comment. Censorship is weakness, not strength. It’s not the mechanism and technical means of censorship we need to worry about but the censors. They may be a lot less powerful than they think they are.

      1. Thuto

        You’re missing the larger point because you’re focusing on a single axis (technology). Technology is a massive force multiplier (a now potent one because of the technical advances I mention and the pointing downwards of the compute cost curve because of them), but it’s the intersection of massive, cheap compute power, the alliance of authoritarian and tech elites, and a populace brow beaten into exhaustion and compliance through economic precarity and propaganda that makes comparison to the past you mention misleading and moot. The political will to push this through is plentiful on both sides of the Atlantic, the technical means to automate and scale totalitarian control of speech are coming on stream, and a general population that’s too tired, too hungry, too polarized to mount anything resembling a potent grassroots movement to oppose these nefarious actors, these together represent the agglomeration of factors that you should be worried about imo, not just AI rendering the haystack problem solved.

        And I wouldn’t be so quick to downplay the impact advances in compute power and the driving down of computational marginal cost will have on the surveillance-censorship state and its ability to unleash its totalitarian whims at scale on an unsuspecting population. Technology decouples weakness from the ability to inflict massive damage (armed with just a joystick, a drone pilot could be morbidly obese and weak but raze an entire city to the ground from the comfort of their living room) so just because people display weakness (and I agree re: censorship is weakness) doesn’t render them incapable of leaving behind them a trail of destruction if the wrong tools fall into their hands.

        1. Carolinian

          Yes technology gives us ever greater power to do terrible things and arguably the atomic age would be a better example. And yet, improbably enough, we have survived it so far. You sound much more expert on this topic than I am but here’s suggesting that the weakness of technology always boils down to all too fallible humans. I also don’t think Americans and middle class Europeans are nearly as desperate as you claim and have plenty of time to sit around and figure out how to hack the totalitarian beast. That technology is a two edged weapon.

          To me Animal Farm is a better book than 1984 because it doesn’t make grandiose claims for technology and social control. The simple message of the former is that power corrupts. And that corruption is always power’s downfall–with a lot of misery to go with it no doubt.

          1. Thuto

            Perhaps you’re right that Europeans and middle class Americans have plenty of time to hack the totalitarian beast, and that the state of affairs in the west isn’t as desperate as the lamentations here at NC and other places would have someone like me who views the situation from a far away perch in South Africa believe. Nonetheless, powerful technology falling into the wrong hands (fallible humans who’ve been corrupted by power) isn’t in my view a weakness, on the contrary it’s a scary proposition to contemplate because it results in a step function increase in their capacity to do damage. You’re right in suggesting that technology is a two edged weapon, meaning ordinary people can also wield its power against the establishment elites and their totalitarian impulses, but with the tech elites being co-opted as co-conspirators against the people, and this alliance huddling together to centralize control of powerful emerging technologies, your view that there’s plenty of time to hack together a counteroffensive for team humanity becomes hard to argue.

            You also seem convinced that the threat is inflated because the past instructs us that humans always come out on the other end having vanquished the beast. I’m by no means an unbridled techno-alarmist, but I’m doubtful the window of opportunity for ordinary people to mount a credible challenge to the nefarious plans of state power allied with with powerful tech corporations will stay open for as long as you think, and this is simply because once the bad guys enact their plans the “new normal” wrought from that will be difficult to unwind without re-architecting the entire structure of the internet. Like you I’m hopeful, I just think you’re perhaps erring on the side of a leisurely approach to this rather critical matter because of your belief that there’s plenty of time to get it right.

        2. NN Cassandra

          Technology is double edged sword. With these censorship gimmicks they really are asking for someone to step up and finally write truly decentralized communication tool that can’t be censored or shut down.

    3. c_heale

      Not sure about the trend down to zero idea. In fact with the current “chip war” between the US and China, I think it won’t be long before prices start going up. And if there is a war over Taiwan, maybe that will be the end of microprocessors (I can see South Korea getting dragged into it, given it’s in that region of the world).

      1. Thuto

        Over 80% of the cost to train large language models is capex to build GPU clusters, but once this upfront cost is behind you, the actual compute cost to train the AI on a given dataset actually trends downwards , and continues doing so. Word in tech circles is that the cost to train LLMs has already gone down by several orders of magnitude compared to when OpenAI where spending a billion dollars to train ChatGPT 3. I believe once China goes hard on limiting exports of critical materials for chip making (something they announced this week they’ll start doing soon), you’ll see the US stance on the “chip war” soften and both sides reaching an agreement to have a managed, if uneasy, co-existence in a new, AI-first world.

        1. Thuto

          Another example by way of comparison is that it’s expensive from a capex pov to set up a traditional datacenter, but the marginal cost of distribution for information on a network powered by that datacenter is very low, even close to zero.

  13. maray

    The EU code is already very well enforced by the major corporations. They all contain regular posting about ‘war heroes’ of the west from Vietnam, to Iraq, passing through the UK war crimes arenas of Kenya, Cyprus, Brumah, where they name soldiers in platoons that attacked civilians. Linkedin is particularly prone to pro war and ‘hero’ postings because of its reliance on military companies for revenue, leaving its ‘members’ to endlessly promote their pro war pro imperialist views unchallenged and if anyone dare challeng them, they are deleted and if they repeat they are banned from the site – this despite Austrailia finding one of its soldiers guilty of war crimes and the UK conducting yet more investigations into known war crimes.
    The EU is simply endorsing a practice of supporting western militarism, the blocking of Palestinian information is well known.
    The current ‘scandal’ of the UK banking system terminating acounts for politicians is not a scandal as it related to their income but the blocking of liberation and protest movements has gone unreported for decades

  14. dingusansich

    [In a synthetic voice of Josep Borrell and Ursula van der Leyen]: Nick, Nick, you poor misbegotten peon, how little you understand about cultivation science. Our garden, painstakingly tended in office buildings from Brussels to Warsaw, is a monoculture. To keep out weeds of heterogeneity takes a lot of work. We have to saturate media with narrative killers that allow only permissible stories to grow as we carefully plant ideologically modified, roundup-ready seeds. It’s politically carcinogenic, sure, but look at the yield! Plus it’s an excellent source of energy for daily two-minute H-word requirements and ready for consumption 24/7!

    So, Nick and fellow peons, talk all you like—for the present—but know that no one subsisting on garden fare will hear you. Have a nice day (in moderation)!

  15. Cine Tee

    Strange to see free speech on the run, almost hard to defend, for those of us who grew up during a period when it was unquestionable.

    If it were just a cultural neo-whorfism, as a new morality or religion, like weeds taking up the land emptied by receding organized religions, then it will fall under some top-down self-organized order eventually. As long as we’re still dominated by other prisoner’s dilemma structures, like free market, then a hierarchy of heuristics will arise in the moral space too, and the neo-whorfism will burn itself out out for being an ineffective heuristic.

    If the censorship is forced by weak governments onto populations which know better and still want free speech, then that will cycle out too.

    If, as they say, the grand narrative shattered in the sixties and since then we’ve split into many languages and many incompatible worlds, and are now reaching a sort of tower of babble culture, where the only discourse that doesn’t poison my well is the small group in the small world around me, then, at the least, we’ll need translators. That’s how we’ve made it this far, people who can speak more than one world at the same time. “I’m cool and smoked marijuana, but I’m a moral absolutist and didn’t inhale.” Hopefully, contradicting ourselves isn’t the only way to speak two languages at the same time. If we move our lives and survival onto the internet, then we may be able to make the tools where that world is possible. Like a mount Olympus of AI gods who can mediate between worlds. If nature shocks us out of it back to natural survival, then it’ll bring us back onto a common narrative.

    But, in the west, and maybe even mostly in western city life, we’re in the middle. We’ve lost nature’s vertical language of hierarchical heuristics required for survival, to be proficient on at multiple scales at the same time. And we’ve had no fertile ground, like social structures of increasing complexity, or internet structures where influence can build upward. The culture is crumbled flat and has a hard time building upward to select its higher influencers (people, structures, and heuristics). The monopolies on the internet have no reason to disperse the influence, or extinguish the wildfire of babble and fighting, a kind of hell, painful for everyone, all the time, but populated by a couple of generations who never knew anything different.

    But until nature or AI gods rescue us, or world war, or whatever next big phase transition is up ahead, it’s probably dangerous to expect a top down force to save us, and to make the dominant structures (gov and cultural) work for our benefit. Do we still have that American culture of individuals working together while a hierarchy of order keeps forming and reforming as needed. The kind of culture or ethic/morality where freedom of speech was obvious. Or could we figure out a shortcut to get there before top down power solidifies the west into a sovietization as powerful as a religion, this time.

    Looking back to the origin of American inalienable free speech, when they wrote “We the People,” the King was across the Atlantic, the people were in America, and all the value was built here. By “We the People” they meant an inverted pyramid. The people were here and on top and the imperial government increasingly unable to provide value and ephemeral.

    But to us, “We the People” no longer means that. In our minds the pyramid is not inverted. It means “We the (little) people” or we the sheep, we the ones who need protection. Free speech may well be the equivalent of leaving your door unlocked or banning the police department. Then trying to maintain free speech is fighting a symptom.

    We have to go upstream to solve problems, and in a world of memes it might not be too hard (you’d think!), but the internet started as kids-land and it’s just now reaching adulthood, maybe somewhat overdue. It could be as simple as posting thoughts bigger than a meme or a tweet, that are irresistible and human. To elucidate instead of argue, spread little phase transitions which continue on their own. One thing that surprised me getting older is that adulthood has more ways of having fun than childhood. The kids who raised each other on the internet without adults weren’t shown how to be the adults in the world. The inverted pyramid is unimaginable to them.

    [to moderator: if this is inappropriate, implausible, or too long, please delete.]

    1. JBird4049

      Being as the Counter Culture of the late 60s and early 70s was in some ways an attempt in reform, if not the ending of the existing system, is there not almost always a Counter-Reformation, yes?

      What is most concerning to me in the medium term is the increasing focus on the control of society to the growing exclusion of a functioning society as a whole. The West is busily burning all of its social, economic, political, and scientific capital trying to maintain its pre-eminence in its power or control of the world’s economic system.

      The East greatest power in the empire of China is busily building up its economic, political, and scientific capital, but it is apparently homogenizing its society more with the population increasingly hostile to the other, whatever that might be. India is under a kind of fascistic regime using nationalism and culture to get and maintain control much like China only without the religious bit.

      Other countries like Brazil do have the ability to survive, even flourish, but I do not see them forming a successful coalition to the other great powers soon.

      Why am I so concern with the levels of control vis-à-vis our mutual survival? Our complex, interconnected, fragile world civilization facing multiple, such as the collapsing climate, at once needs to have the freedom of thought and expression combined with personal a lack of fear to deal with them. All of the major blocs and empires are instead focused on evermore effective censorship on a widening area of doubleplusungood thoughtcrime including harsher punishment and more exclusion. Much like how the Democratic Party’s allies are using Identity Politics and Wokeism to cancel a growing number of people and further destroying the social cohesion of our society, which makes it easier to control. I consider it a larger, more successful, and even more destructive form of COINTELPRO. Such is not the exclusive use of any political or social organization.

      Such repression creates fear, which freezes both individuals and societies in thought, emotions and action, corruption because it is more easily hidden and eats the productive capacities of a society while giving more resources to an ever smaller group of families, and it creates an apparently stronger, more stable society, but what it really does is create a pressure cooker with no release valve. All of the censorship with all of the armed forces that all of them have will not change that very basic reality.

    1. AIex I&I

      Trolling will become a new Volks-Sport. If they want to tighten the noose, they’ll have a dead internet. Then they’ll have to use real force en masse. Are they ready for such a massive escalation? I’ll grow my popcorn.

  16. nazteq

    So will the DSA also put an end to NC itself, with all its perceptible “disinformation”?

  17. Savita

    This post is disturbing!
    Thank you SO much Nick.

    New Zealand had the young and inexperienced, highly unpopular from start to finish, WEF Youth member J..Ardern acting allegedly as prime minister /s.

    I still recall her outburst there was only one body or authority the people should be looking to, and trusting, for their information about Covid. And that was the New Zealand government.

    What is so staggerring and bewildering about this EU Bill is;

    1. It expects companies to be volunteers, self-policing for free. They have no reason to be compelled to work. Thats slavery. If they don’t consent, they should invoice the EU. There are only three possible options. Either they consent to be volunteers. Or, two, they don’t consent but do it as slaves. Or, thirdly, they charge a service fee and invoice accordingly. NB The rate can amd should be outrageous. I am NOT being flippant. These are principles of Equity. Equity supercedes Statute 100℅ of the time. I am describing the rule of law. Three options, people!

    2. That people as a whole don’t have the autonomy, the intelligence, the responsibility, or even the liability, of applying their own discernment or applying the refusal to be discerning – with what they consume on the internet. From which, naturally extrapolating to – herein lay the assumption, the EU Commission are more intelligent than everyone else.

    They better provide their misinformation claim by sworn Affidavit! Otherwise its just a frivolous claim. No sworn Affidavit equals no evidence equals no skin in the game. I want that claim of misinfo only under penalty of perjury

    Oh and Australia is enacting the self-same parlour game. The draft legislation remains open to public comment for another month. Which rarely occurs. They must be so clueless they need to fish for good ideas

  18. caucus99percenter

    The tragedy in Germany is that, practically, the only opposition to this push for totalitarian thought control — with its Orwellian reversal of logic that such suppression of dissent is necessary to “protect democracy” — is coming from right-wing populists (the AfD party / the weekly Junge Freiheit / the monthly Compact magazine).

    1. Futility

      Unfortunately, that is true (in addition to parts of Die Linke around Sarah Wagenknecht, but it is quickly neutered and smeared as Putins fifth column) but I severely doubt the sincerity of the AfD as, typical for the right, they only discover and defend rights when it is their rights that are being trampled on. Quite a few of the Querdenker (a rather self-aggrandizing moniker, roughly meaning contrarian) hold really questionable views and are outraged that their views are being marginalized. I strongly suspect that they would only suppress other views that they find objectionable if in power and don’t operate from a truely enlightened view of free speech. Additionally, quite a few of the AfD leadership are/were members of the Hayek Society, so I pretty much doubt they are in it to defend the electorate.

  19. George Phillies, N3F President

    The authoritarian and dictatorial tendencies of the Europeans and their Union have been visible for a quarter-century. In 1999, after the Freedom Party of Austria won second place in Parliamentary elections, and joined the Austrian government coalition, 14 member nations of the European Union imposed sanctions on Austria, objecting to the Freedom Party’s presence in government. There was no suggestion that the elections had been other than free.

    I note the the Christian-conservative web site gab, which I very rarely actually see, has repeatedly been under threat by the Europeans, and has refused to fold under pressure.

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