Digital Brownshirts and Their Masters
By: David Souto Alcalde & Thomas Harrington
We are under siege. A nihilistic fanaticism is running free among us thanks to the emergence of a journalistic “ethos” that establishes an almost complete equivalence between the “truth” and those utterances that support the strategic goals of the great economic and digital powers of our time.
A few months ago Facebook censored an article in the British Medical Journal that highlighted serious irregularities in Pfizer’s clinical vaccine trials. Then two weeks ago, fact-checkers from the Spanish websites Newtral and Maldita burst into the public square to accuse professor of Pharmacology, renowned expert in drug safety, and ex-WHO adviser, Joan Ramón Laporte of foisting lies and disinformation onto the Spanish populace. This, in reaction to Laporte’s testimony before a Spanish parliamentary commission investigating the country’s vaccination effort.
Despite his towering credentials, his intervention was quickly tarred as problematic by the media and subsequently banned by YouTube. The crime of this new Galileo Galilei? Alerting the assembled parliamentarians to the existence of grave procedural irregularities in the trials for the vaccines, and questioning the wisdom of a health strategy that aims to inject every Spanish child over the age of six with a new, poorly tested, and largely ineffective medication.
This incident reveals that the fact-checkers will attack anyone who does not accept the truth as dictated by the great economic and government centers of the world. This is not the usual official media obfuscation to which we’ve become accustomed over the years, but rather a brazen McCarthyist intimidation device, designed to frighten citizens into submission by appealing to their lowest and most ignoble instincts, an approach lain bare in Maldita’s smug and Manichaean slogan: “Join and support us in our battle against lies.”
Under this harsh binary logic, an internationally famous scientist like Laporte is not even given the opportunity to be judged wrong or misguided in good faith. Rather, he is immediately accused of being a willful and dangerous liar who must be immediately banished from public view.
Fact-checkers as destroyers of science and the public sphere.
Nowadays the word “fascist” is used so profligately that it has lost most of its meaning. But if we are really serious about describing the operational logic of fact-checking entities like Maldita and Newtral we must recur precisely to that term, adding the prefix “neo” to avoid confusion with the original version of this totalitarian sensibility.
Whereas the original model of fascism sought to enforce social conformity through physical intimidation, the new variant seeks to do so by aggressively enforcing the “acceptable” (to big power, of course) parameters of both scientific discourse and the idea of the public sphere, a direct product, like science, of the Enlightenment. Their objective is to liquidate these flawed but essential spaces of debate in all but name, and thus deprive us of two of the only remaining vehicles we have for defending ourselves against the abuses meted out by the liberal state and its corporate and military allies.
The fact-checking industry was born as a consequence of fake news, that great invented crisis whose sole objective was to provide a pretext for enhancing elite control over any democratic impulse that might arise in response to the sudden and often harsh imposition of neoliberalism and digital technologies in our lives.
But what initially began as a pathetic, overreaching and classist attempt to prevent the unwashed from even considering, say, that people in Hillary Clinton’s entourage might have prostituted minors in a pizza-house basement, quickly morphed, during the Covid era, into something much more sinister and consequential.
It is now the menacing cudgel of an ever-growing exercise in illegitimate corporate and state power, a weapon that allows elites to effectively disappear world-renowned experts like Laporte who dare to put the interests of society ahead of the economic interests and control agendas of Big Pharma and Big Tech.
These Digital Brownshirts are just the most visible and forward-leaning elements of a much broader effort to install the logic of the algorithm—a providential and vertically-imposed concept of truth that vitiates traditional fact-finding and admits neither human intelligence nor scientific debate—as a cornerstone of our human interactions and cognitive processes. Under this paradigm, a linear relationship between power and truth is presented as wholly and completely natural.
When analyzed in this light we could say that while the libels launched against Laporte by Maldita and Newtral are not strictly-speaking algorithmic in origin, they are profoundly algorithmic in spirit in that they are designed, like Neil Ferguson’s well-publicized if completely errant epidemiological models, to radically preempt the search for truth over time through empirical observation and informed debate.
The methods these fact-checkers use to dictate what is to be presented to the public as “true” operate under few, if any known, procedural standards. Rather, in forming their “arguments” it seems they simply cherry-pick the opinions of an expert or two who is known to be on board with the particular “algorithmic” project of social change or social mobilization.
This, regardless of the at times massive gap between the slim credentials and in-field experience of the project-compliant experts (not to mention the fact-checking journalists) and the demonstrated international skill and renown of the objects of their efforts in cognitive cleansing like Laporte, or earlier on in the Covid crisis, Michael Levitt and John Ioannidis.
In short, these fact-checking processes follow neither the basic principles of journalistic ethics—which requires that one enter into a given question without any unduly strong presuppositions—or the necessary back and forth of the scientific method, which insures, or is at least designed to insure, that dissident opinions be considered in the process of establishing operative, if still always provisional, notions of truth.
The only recognizable “strength” the new fact-checkers have—and here we see perhaps the clearest link to the thugs that were strategically deployed by Mussolini and Hitler— is their backing from the very highest levels of social and economic power.
The seriousness of the current situation lies in the way the fact-checkers have—before the often dumbfounded acquiescence of much of the academy itself—successfully arrogated to themselves the right, for all practical purposes, to smash the day-to-day freedom and epistemic authority of scientists, as well as the processes designed to insulate intellectual inquiry from the undue impingements of concentrated power, or to put it more simply, from the possibility that an oligarchy-sponsored mediocrity, or pack of mediocrities, can summarily cancel the widely institutionally recognized wisdom of a Joan Ramon Laporte.
The authoritarianism of the fact-checkers not only cripples science but effectively annuls the very idea of the public sphere by naturalizing the idea that the robust, and at times, conflictual exchange of ideas is in some way perverse. Is it any wonder that observing a world like this, many of our students, who should at their age be bursting with a desire for healthy conflicts in the service of growth, have confessed to us both in private how scared they are to express themselves freely and openly in class?
If the largely anonymous fact-checkers are the shock troops of this campaign to override both epistemological rigor and the idea of the public sphere, the media-anointed “science-explainers” are its field generals.
There is, of course nothing wrong with seeking to make often arcane fields of knowledge accessible to the general public. Indeed when done well by a real scientist like Carl Sagan it is a high art.
The problem comes, as is so often the case today, when the popularizer lacks a grasp of the fundamental debates in the field, and from there, the ability to confidently wade into them as a participant. Painfully aware that he or she is in over his head, they will do what most people unable to compete on their own merits in the field to which they have been assigned tend to do: seek the protection in the arms of power.
This produces a perverse reality, in which the people ostensibly tasked with introducing the public to the complexity of both science and public policy, end up shielding them from an acquaintance with either. And knowing their continued prominence depends on pleasing the powers who have elevated them to the spotlight and who are seeking to destroy existing epistemologies of knowledge in order to facilitate the imposition of their algorithmic logic, they take delight in mocking those few highly accomplished people who have decided not to relinquish their principles in the face of the constant propaganda onslaught.
A good example of this practice of hooliganism in Spain is Rocio Vidal, who works for La Sexta, the country’s most-watched TV network. From a swivel chair in her home office, she ridicules anyone, from the singer and actor Miguel Bosé to the head of Allergic Diseases at Ourense Hospital in Galicia who questions the official dogma of the unprecedented virulence of Covid, and the self-evident wonders of the vaccines. The specific crime of the doctor from Galicia? Stating that the not fully tested Covid mRNA vaccines are, in fact, not fully tested and thus are by definition experimental.
What these medical influencers are doing, no doubt with the full knowledge, approval and perhaps even training of the great financial, governmental and pharmaceutical powers is to effect—under the rubric of the freedom of the press—a rapid sorpasso of the institutions that, with all their faults, have long guaranteed a more or less reliable structure for adjudication of competing claims of scientific truth. Unaccustomed to the aggressiveness, relentlessness and speed of these attacks, most doctors have, sadly, reacted like the proverbial deer in the headlights to them, hoping against hope that this plague of intellectual vandalism will somehow, someway be brought to an end. But it would appear that no such relief is in the offing.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of this inquisitorial logic and praxis in the long run is that it tries to make citizens believe that there is no relationship between science and politics, and that politics—the art of dissent—is a dangerous practice that must be eschewed by every conscientious citizen.
The fact-checkers as the great landowners of the new virtual world.
We must face the fact that the news verification agencies are part of the global control framework set in motion by those who claim for themselves the right to be the owners of all our time and and all of our actions. Behind information verification software services like Newsguard, we find fervent defenders of illegal spying on citizens like former CIA and NSA chief and congressional perjurer Michael Hayden, and US army assassination team leader Stanley McChrystal.
The International Fact-Checking Network to which the aforementioned Spanish fact-check agencies Maldita and Newtral belong is financed in part by Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay and a major player in, among many other shady oligarchic pursuits, the NATO-linked Allegiance for Securing Democracy.
There is nothing politically neutral about these people. Nor has any of them ever shown a great predilection or support for disinterested intellectual inquiry. What all three have shown in abundance is an abiding delight in marshaling power for the present US-led global order and the exercise of often brutally administered schemes of control over others.
The prime objective of fact-checkers—as recognized, for example, by Newtral on its website—is to use algorithms to harvest and manage citizen information, and in this way, usher in a new era in which the minds of individuals will be so seamlessly “pre-directed” to “positive” and “benevolent” ends and behaviors (as so defined by the members of the enlightened classes) that politics in all its forms will come to be seen as superfluous.
This explains why, between them, Google and Facebook currently employ 40,000 “verifiers” who exercise an invisible censorship aimed at swaying our perceptions of the world in ways deemed to be “constructive” by the controllers of those firms and those with whom they have forged political and business alliances.
These efforts lie at the core of the post-humanist gospel as preached by people like Klaus Schwab and Ray Kurzweil. Their clear message to us about the coming world is that while you might be born free, your destiny and the design of your being—and what we used to call its unique sensibilities— will be firmly entrusted to others. Like who? Like the aforementioned gentlemen and their friends who, of course, have much more far-seeing minds than your own.
But if there is one thing that the Digital Brownshirts fear more than the Wicked Witch of the West fears water, it is real politics. Thus far, these informational terrorists have been able to exploit our natural indulgence of the value of free speech for their own ends. Let’s be clear. These censors are, in effect, engaging in mass consumer fraud. And if it is illegal to sell horse meat as beef, and refined sugar as a nutritional supplement, then it should also be illegal for hired guns to arrogate to themselves the right to define truth and destroy long-standing deliberative processes and institutions.
Sadly, however, we cannot wait for our deeply compromised political classes to take the lead on this necessary criminal prosecution. Rather we, as informed citizens, must take the lead in denouncing these vandals and the powers that have cynically unleashed them upon our shared scientific and civic spaces.
In this process, we must help our ever more present-minded citizens, enslaved to the idea—so useful to the elites— that the world is fundamentally entropic, that these nihilists did not just appear on their TV screens by accident, but rather that they were placed there to do someone else’s dirty work, and that our survival as free people depends on the tenacity with which we hunt down those “someone elses” and subject them to one of the more fundamental types political action: popular justice.
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