The Censorship-Industrial Complex
"The people accusing others of 'disinformation' run the biggest disinformation campaigns themselves."
Updated 2023-05-12: The next major article from Taibbi & co. is out. Added to references with a note.
Matt Taibbi: A Bio
Here's an extremely brief biography of Matt Taibbi, for those who are not aware of his career in journalism. Personally, I think he is one of a handful of excellent "young" USA journalists like Aaron Mate, Glenn Greenwald, and Benjamin Norton among others. If you know about Taibbi, skip to the next section.
Matt Taibbi is the son of a journalist. He is a USA journalist whose career, interestingly enough, began in the late 1990's in the Russian Federation for the generally Russia critical, English language paper The Moscow Times. He traveled through Russia and to Mongolia where he reportedly played basketball for a third tier team. Back in Moscow he started a tabloid with Mark Ames called The eXile before returning to the USA in 2002.
In 2004, he began writing on politics for Rolling Stone, and following the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) in 2008 gained some notoriety for his reporting on it. His 2010 book Griftopia examined the causes and results of the GFC. It, like much of Taibbi's writing style for Rolling Stone used "coarse" language on occasion which purists tend to criticize. By "coarse" one means terms like "bloviating", "moron" or "utterly insane", or colourful phrases like the A.I.G "impending ratings holocaust." This writing style has been compared with Hunter S. Thompson's "Gonzo Journalism". I say, read what you want, and hell yeah, gimme some colour. That is what language is for!
Taibbi joined The Intercept for 7 months to establish a digital magazine Racket but left due to seeming conflicts with management. He returned to Rolling Stone and among other beats covered the 2016 USA Presidential Election which lead to his book "Insane Clown President". He established the "Useful Idiots" podcast with Katie Hjalper and is currently working on the Twitter Files, which is the topic of this article.
A recent article by Mr. Taibbi “Report on the Censorship-Industrial Complex” serves as a vehicle to examine the topic and upcoming research. But first, a little background would help to frame the topic.
The Twitter Files and Some Background
Mr. Taibbi along with other journalists were given access to internal Twitter documents, the “Twitter Files” (emails and so forth), by Elon Musk after he purchased the company. The documents were made available via requests through a lawyer assigned by Musk/Twitter to facilitate the distribution.
Apparently, Taibbi and Musk have had some falling out about how or where articles based on the source documentation should be published. Musk advocated for Twitter itself, and Taibbi advocated for Substack (or anything independent and removed from Twitter) to avoid any sense of impropriety or influence.
A few weeks ago Taibbi was called before Congress to testify on the Twitter files (before or on March 9th). He is then interviewed in early April by Mehdi Hasan on MSNBC who identifies some errors in his tweets, at least one of which is entirely understandable, the mislabeling of CIS as CISA. Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, having heard of the interview, and that errors were admitted during it, accepted Hasan's false claim that Taibbi had mislead congress. She then threatened Taibbi with intentional perjury, which is one hell of a sign of the times.
Taibbi claims, and one can be certain he has carefully checked his testimony, that both Hasan and Plaskett are incorrect in accusing him of misleading Congress, though he has admitted to and corrected some errors in his tweet/publications. On a very boring note, can we just accept that publications make errors all the time. The correct response is not to shadow edit them, but to leave the original visible and issue a prominent correction which is what Taibbi has done.
Mike Masnick from TechDirt is convinced that there are more errors by Taibbi and that Taibbi is misrepresenting the extremity of the problem exposed within the Twitter Files. (We like competing views here, and social media/copyright/technology is Masnick's native turf so his commentary is referenced. I side with Taibbi as to the issue of severity. How Masnick can make his declaration not having seen the Twitter Files exposes a weakness in his argument.)
As I understand it, Taibbi retains the 1000+ pages he was issued by Twitter's lawyer. Taibbi's reporting apparently started on December 2nd 2022 (though the original tweet seems to be on the 3rd, see Sources) with a thread published at Twitter itself.
In his recent article, the subject of this essay, he declares that:
By early February, seeing that keeping track of which group did what was clearly too much work for one person to even begin to take on, I put out an APB for help mainly in trying to answer one question: exactly how big is this new speech bureaucracy?
I found Taibbi’s article re-published at ScheerPost (*). It lays out the direction he intends to follow with his gathered team of independent collaborators in answering a series of interesting questions based on the data provided by Twitter.
(*): Just a little gratuitous advertising for Robert Scheer's latest shoe-string budget publication at which you will find work by many a good journalist and writer like Chris Hedges or Patrick Lawrence, and in this case, Matt Taibbi.
The Censorship Industrial Complex
Mr. Taibbi has adopted the name given by Michael Shellenberger to the
speech/thought mis/dis-information control system exposed in the Twitter files, the Censorship-Industrial Complex (CIC). Shellenberger was one of the original journalists selected by Twitter to receive the files. He came up with the name while preparing to also testify before Congress.
In a sense it all began back in 2018 when in the space of a few days Alex Jones is banned from essentially all social media. Use whatever term you want, collusion, conspiracy or collaboration, it is a concerted effort by the commercial social media giants not to limit some aspects of this man's speech which may be offensive to some, or even many, but a blanket ban on all of his speech on all social media platforms. Various quibbles ensue about the fact that commercial organisations can choose which customers they wish to serve (aka whose data they publish and mine), which is true, and that this is not government censorship, which is true (its private surveillance, the metadata of which ends up in government databases).
This all starts to break down when Congress starts calling the CEOs of social media platforms before them and begin asking how dangerous voices can be suppressed. At this point, as Caitlin Johnstone has been saying for years, this is government censorship at a very close arms length and algorithmic censorship is extremely dangerous.
During the following years, other more subtle tactics emerge. These were labeled as “shadow-banning”. One aspect of this was that people with a following of tens of thousands would send a message (tweet, post or whatever term is used by the relevant social media company) on a hot topic and they'd receive a tiny fraction of the volume of responses (re-tweets, re-posts, likes or what-have-you) they had previously experienced from their community.
There was obviously something going on, and the social media giants were behind it. The question was to what degree were and are the U.S. government or other organisations involved?
This is one of the questions which Taibbi and co. are attempting to answer based on the Twitter Files data. A preliminary finding, or working hypothesis, comes from the Stanford University group called the Election Integrity Project (EIP) which so happens to be collaborating with the two groups, CIS and CISA, which Taibbi had confused in his Tweet. All three are collaborating with Twitter.
The EIP produced a graph which identified the data flows between four "stakeholders", or parties involved in the information “regulation”.
[Image: The EIP graphs the interactions, from the Taibbi article being discussed.]
In the article Taibbi compares this quadripartite group to the tripartite group of the Military Industrial Complex:
If the Military Industrial Complex was propped up by an “Iron Triangle” of donors, Congress, and quasi-private interest groups, the “CIC” is more like a four-legged animal: government, “civil society” organizations, tech companies, and a shocking fourth partner, news media.
Earlier in the article Taibbi notes the unholy alliance of these “stakeholders”:
Civil society institutions, the media, politicians, and government are supposed to maintain distance from one another in democracy. The Censorship-Industrial Complex shows an opposite instinct, for all of these groups to act in concert, essentially as one giant, incestuous intelligence operation — not of the people, but paternalistically “for” the people, or so they believe.
Some early digging led Taibbi to identify the "Global Engagement Center" constructed by Obama under an Executive Order:
In March 2016, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13721, which required the Secretary of State to establish the Global Engagement Center (GEC). The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2017 then mandated that GEC “lead, synchronize, and coordinate efforts of the Federal Government to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United States national security interests.”
Following the money, and harking back to his work on the GFC a decade and half earlier, he discovered that:
… in Fiscal Year 2018, the new anti-disinformation wing of the State Department received $98.7 million, including “approximately $78.7 million in congressionally appropriated funds, and $20 million transferred from the Department of Defense.”
Having been alerted to and verified the fraud that was the "Hamilton '68" dashboard, and having been encouraged to seek connections between it and the GEC Taibbi come to the conclusion that:
the “anti-disinformation” world was awash in cash from a range of public and private sources, and we weren’t dealing with dozens of organizations but at least hundreds, many engaged in language-policing at scale.
This leads to the "APB" (all points bulletin; the call for participants). There are not only over a thousand pages of source material but a very large collection of public, private and somewhat intermediate organisations to investigate and place on a map of the industrial information/thought-control public-private partnership.
His recent article announces some early work, and describes the questions and approach they’ll take during the ongoing reporting.
Interestingly enough, Taibbi's original substack site was titled "TK News". The TK refers to a two letter combination which should never appear in text and thus serves as a useful marker. With the now larger group of collaborating reporters the site has taken on a new name, Racket News, which resurrects the name of the buried project at The Intercept.
Two early releases of this larger body of work are a video by Matt Orfalea (see Sources), which is an hilarous and darkly satirical examination of a modern version of McCarthyism produced by the Hamilton ‘68 fraud at MSNBC, and a Twitter thread by Andrew Lowenthal.
Thankfully, we are not forced to suffer the small fonts and limited screen size of Twitster to read this material. It is, of course, also published at Racket News.
I look foward to further publications based the collaboration's investigations and suggest you read both Taibbi and Lowenthal's articles and have a laugh with Orfalea's video (see the end of Sources).
The Inside Story Of Matt Taibbi's Departure From First Look Media, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill and John Cook, The Intercept, 2014-10-30
Twitter Files, Wikipedia
Mehdi Hasan Dismantles The Entire Foundation Of The Twitter Files As Matt Taibbi Stumbles To Defend It, Mike Masnick, TechDirt, 2023-04-07
First installment of The Twitter Files by Matt Taibbi on 2022-12-03:
YouTube, Facebook, and Apple’s ban on Alex Jones, explained, Jane Coaston, Vox, 2018-08-06
Disinformation x 13., Patrick Lawrence, The Scrum, 2023-04-28
Invasion of the Fact-Checkers, Jacob Seigel, The Tablet, 2023-03-22
Twitter Files: Employees Knew the Media's Favorite Russian Bots List Was Fake, Robby Soave, 2023-01-27
Matt Taibbi: Report on the Censorship-Industrial Complex, Matt Taibbi, (republished at) Scheer Post, 2023-04-26
Report on the Censorship-Industrial Complex, Matt Taibbi, Racket News, 2023-04-25
An Insider's Guide to "Anti-Disinformation", Andrew Lowenthal, Racket News, 2023-04-25
Eleven Minutes of Media Falsehoods, Just On One Subject, Just On One Station, Matt Orfalea, Racket News, 2023-04-25
Other publications by the Tabbi & co. team:
Report on the Censorship-Industrial Complex: The Top 50 Organizations to Know, Matt Taibbi & co., Racket News (republished at ScheerPost), 2023-05-11
Good digging, and well presented (the list that its. The lead in article is a little grandiose for my liking, and the title leaves much to be desired “… you need to know” crap.. The list contains many known existing players (Atlantic Council’s digital forensic labs, Wikipedia, Bellingcat, Integrity Initiative etc.) and plenty of new ones too.
Democrats Threaten Journalist Matt Taibbi With Prison Over Twitter Files! w/ Matt Taibbi, Aaron Maté and Kurt Metzger speak with Taibbi, The Jimmy Dore Show, 2023-04-22
MSNBC Host’s Lie Could Send Journalist to Prison! w/ Matt Taibbi, Aaron Maté and Kurt Metzger speak with Taibbi, The Jimmy Dore Show, 2023-04-22
Elon Musk & Matt Taibbi Feud Over Twitter Files Explained w/ Matt Taibbi, Aaron Maté and Kurt Metzger speak with Taibbi, The Jimmy Dore Show, 2023-04-22
MSNBC Repeats Hamilton 68 Lies 279 Times in 11 Minutes, Matt Orfalea, his youtube channel, uploaded 2023-04-25
FBI & Ukraine Work Together To Censor Americans’ Social Media, Aaron Maté interviews Lee Fang on Ukraine's access via FBI to US Social Media to control narratives, The Jimmy Dore Show, 2023-05-03
Ain't Misbehavin' (I'm Savin' My Love For You), Billie Holiday, her estate/distributors's youtube channel, uploaded 2018-08-17
Or, the original ... with some great piano playing, and ol' Fats doin' his thing.
Fats Waller - Ain't Misbehavin' (Audio), Fats Waller, FatsWallerVevo, uploaded 2019-09-17
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