Facebook has lately announced a series of major steps it would take to combat fake news and the global spread of misinformation that it says could influence elections, but the more we learn about just who it is Facebook is partnering with in this endeavor, the clearer it becomes that these initiatives are not at all designed to foster independent thought and discourse, but to ultimately ensure that public online discourse doesn’t stray too far from official state narratives.
Mark Weisbrot, a co-director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, recently slammed Facebook’s decision to work with US government-funded organizations as “Orwellian” — especially given the fact these organizations themselves “specialize in overseas propaganda.”
Thus while claiming to fight Russian, Iranian, and other propaganda these very groups will strictly enforce an official establishment Washington and NATO view of world events.
Here are 3 extremely worrisome Facebook initiatives to which the public should pay close attention, and which suggest the social media giant is increasingly becoming a censorship arm of the US government and its allies:
1. Facebook’s Partnership with US state-funded think tanks
Last Wednesday Facebook announced it would work with two US government-funded think tanks in order bolster the social media giant’s “election integrity efforts” around the globe.
The new partnership with the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) has been described by Reuters as an initiative to “slow the global spread of misinformation that could influence elections, acknowledging that fake news sites were still read by millions”.
But both the IRI and NDI are funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which has since its late Cold War era founding defined itself as a “soft power” wing of the US government abroad focused on “democracy promotion”.
Journalist Max Blumenthal recently described the NDI as “a taxpayer funded organization that has interfered in elections, mobilized coups, and orchestrated public relations campaigns against nations that resist Washington’s agenda.”
Max Blumenthal explored the National Endowment for Democracy’s machinations in recent history and today in a mini-documentary entitled, “Inside America’s Meddling Machine”
This is tantamount to Facebook relying on the US government to interpret what is “fake” news and what is not.
2. Facebook’s close ties to NATO and US allies
Another think tank, The Atlantic Council, has since last May been directly advising Facebook on identifying and removing “foreign interference” on the popular platform through its Digital Forensic Research Lab, or “DFR Lab”. The Atlantic Council is funded by NATO and European governments and Gulf monarchies.
Previously Mark Zuckerberg indicated the need for an outside source that could identify “foreign influence” bent on malicious intent through specialized geopolitical expertise.
Supposedly the whole partnership is aimed at bringing more objectivity and neutrality to the process of rooting out fake accounts that pose the threat of being operated by nefarious foreign states.
Yet as a Reuters report confirmed, Facebook is itself a top donor to the Atlantic Council, alongside Western governments, Gulf autocratic regimes, NATO, various branches of the US military, and a number of major defense contractors and corporations.
The Atlantic Council has frequently called for things like increased military engagement in Syria, militarily confronting the “Russian threat” in Eastern Europe, and now is advocating for Ukraine and Georgia to be allowed entry into NATO while calling for general territorial expansion of the Western military alliance.
Further it has advocated on behalf of one of its previous funders, Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and gave a “Distinguished International Leadership” award to George W. Bush, to name but a few actions of the think tank that has been given authorization to flag citizens’ Facebook pages for possible foreign influence and propaganda.
Quite disturbingly, this is Mark Zuckerberg’s “neutral” outside “geopolitical expertise” he’s been seeking.
3. Facebook has set up a “War Room” ahead of the November midterm elections
Facebook announced last Wednesday that it plans to set up a “war room” at its Silicon Valley campus to prevent potential foreign election meddling during the midterms.
“We are setting up a war room in Menlo Park for the Brazil and US elections,” Facebook elections and civic engagement director Samidh Chakrabarti said, according to the AFP. He added, “It is going to serve as a command center so we can make real-time decisions as needed.”
A “command center” in a “war room” to make “real-time” decisions huh?… And Facebook says it will gain help from artificial intelligence software to prevent fake posts by those pesky Russians to boot.
The “war room” will further include assistance from the aforementioned NATO-funded DFR Lab, which is to help in flagging posts which could have a malevolent foreign power behind them. All of this should translate into very real concern for the potential of political censorship of American citizens in the name of protecting against foreign election meddling.
Wow, this is pretty Orwellian: Facebook chooses 2 US-government-funded organizations who specialize in overseas propaganda and sometimes regime change to fight “malicious propaganda” Reuters reports without irony or any awareness of who these groups are: https://t.co/t9wLZSmNFF
— Mark Weisbrot (@MarkWeisbrot) September 21, 2018
Early this year The New York Times reported that in order to combat the “discord” allegedly sewn by Russians, most of which the Times story admitted happened after the election, Facebook hired a fleet of people to review content, added to its security team, and hired counterterrorism experts and recruited workers with government security clearances.
What’s the ultimate aim here?
The Council on Foreign Relations’ (CFR) Richard Stengel, a former TIME editor, told an audience at a CFR event in late April called “Political Disruptions: Combating Disinformation and Fake News” that governments “have to” direct “propaganda” toward their own populations.
Notably CFR members are also typically a who’s who among the leadership of above-mentioned organizations like the NED, IRI, NDI, and the Atlantic Council.
These are the types of people looking to “guide” Facebook on flagging disinformation. See what they have to say in their own words:
At a Council on Foreign Relations forum about “fake news,” former Editor at Time Magazine Richard Stengel directly states that he supports the use of propaganda on American citizens – then shuts the session down when challenged about how propaganda is used against the third world pic.twitter.com/ClAT5POv7G
— William Craddick (@williamcraddick) May 11, 2018