Notes on the Twitter Files (20)

I have tried to keep up with the Twitter Files in this series of notes to which I have added a separate series of footnotes. I think the revelations of the Twitter Files are the biggest story out there. The silence of the mainstream media in the story is certainly suggestive.

Andrew Lowenthal has now added a twentieth installment of the Twitter Files in a 36-part thread he calls “The Information cartel.” The thread can be accessed via the tweet below or via the “unrolled” thread posted here.

Lowenthal expands on his thread in narrative form at Matt Taibbi’s site in “An Insider’s Guide to ‘Anti-Disinformation.'” Taibbi himself comments on the thread in “Report on the Censorship-Industrial Complex.” Subhead: “Introduction to a series of features about the new global speech-policing bureaucracy, uncovered in the Twitter Files and beyond.”

Lowenthal’s Twitter thread and long Racket News essay only partially overlap. The essay is long but probably easier to absorb. Both are worth reading.

Lowenthal first introduces himself:

I am a progressive-minded Australian who for almost 18 years was the Executive Director of EngageMedia, an Asia-based NGO focused on human rights online, freedom of expression, and open technology. My resume also includes fellowships at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center and MIT’s Open Documentary Lab. For most of my career, I believed strongly in the work I was doing, which I believed was about protecting and expanding digital rights and freedoms.

In recent years, however, I watched in despair as a dramatic change swept through my field. As if all at once, organizations and colleagues with whom I’d worked for years began de-emphasizing freedom of speech and expression, and shifted focus to a new arena: fighting “disinformation.”

Long before the #TwitterFiles, and certainly before responding to a Racket call for freelancers to help “Knock Out the Mainstream Propaganda Machine,” I’d been raising concerns about the weaponization of “anti-disinformation” as a tool for censorship. For EngageMedia team members in Myanmar, Indonesia, India, or the Philippines, the new elite Western consensus of giving governments greater power to decide what could be said online was the opposite of the work we were doing.

Lowenthal reports that he has found a huge web of nongovernment and government organizations collaborating to suppress information under the banner of anti-disinformation.

After gaining access to #TwitterFiles records, I learned the ecosystem was far bigger and had much more influence than I imagined. As of now we’ve compiled close to 400 organisations globally, and we are just getting started. Some organisations are legitimate. There is disinformation. But there are a great many wolves among the sheep.

I underestimated just how much money is being pumped into think tanks, academia and NGOs under the anti-disinformation front, both from the government and private philanthropy. We’re still calculating, but I had estimated it at hundreds of millions of dollars annually and I’m probably still being naive – Peraton received a USD $1B dollar contract from the Pentagon.

In particular, I was unaware of the scope and scale of the work of groups like the Atlantic Council, the Aspen Institute, the Center for European Policy Analysis and consultancies such as Public Good Projects, Newsguard, Graphika, Clemson’s Media Forensics Hub and others.

Even more alarming was just how much military and intelligence funding is involved, how closely aligned the groups are, how much they mix in civil society. Graphika for example received a $3M Department of Defense grant, as well as funds from the US Navy and Air Force. The Atlantic Council (of Digital Forensics Lab infamy) receives funds from the US Army and Navy, Blackstone, Raytheon, Lockheed, the NATO STRATCOM Center of Excellence, and more.

I can’t say this is exactly the short version of the long story, but it gives you the gist of Lowenthal’s findings.

I wouldn’t want you to miss this one.

There is much more on the scope and scale of the “anti-disinformation” complex in both Lowethal’s thread and essay. I hate to say it, but what Lowenthal describes may actually be “a conspiracy so immense.”

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