Expert: Pradeep Banerjee
Fake news. Fake news. Fake news. We hear these words every day. But really how fake is fake news? Turns out not very fake. Any news that does not toe the line of the mainstream media is labeled by it as fake news. It is no secret that the mainstream media today is interested only in the news that serves its political patrons and sponsors. Understandably, any news that can be damaging to them gets suppressed.
For long TV and newspapers were the main sources from where people consumed news. Big media houses had the power to manufacture public opinion. Fortunately, that hegemony is now dwindling. With the rise of social media, a new source of consuming news has been born. And Facebook has emerged a leader in this domain. Make no mistake, with over 2 billion users, Facebook today is the world’s most influential news spreading organization, although it might not want to identify itself as such. Fifty-two percent of Brazilians, 61 percent of Mexicans, and 51 percent of Italians and Turks use the platform for news, while a survey in the US showed that 39 percent of Americans get their news from the site. People use Facebook to voice their opinion and propagate the news that for long was being kept hidden from a vast majority of the population. New pages sprung up overnight on Facebook discussing local news and issues concerning the common people, something that the mainstream media had since long given up caring about.
The advent of Facebook set the power balance right. It put power right where it belonged—in the hands of the masses. But letting us mere mortals have such freedom was not something that our political masters desired. They would rather prefer ruling a country full of zombies than a country of thinking and independent people. They had to do something. They wanted that we hear only what they want us to hear and think only what they want us to think. They decided that Facebook had to be reined in.
And they are succeeding.
Reuters last month reported about Facebook teaming up with two organizations that specialize in agitprop and are funded by the US government: the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI). The company’s choice of partners is bound to raise a few eyebrows as both these groups were created in the early 1980s as arms of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA backed Cold War enterprise. The NED and its affiliates have since been instrumental in ‘regime changes’ around the world. As one of its founders famously noted in 1991 “a lot of what we do now was done covertly by the CIA 25 years ago.” Today, Washington based NDI and IRI employ senior Democratic and Republican politicians; the NDI is chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, while the late Sen. John McCain was the longtime IRI chair.
Facebook’s collaboration with the IRI and NDI is also troubling because since their inception these organizations have aggressively pursued regime changes against governments the US has deemed hostile. The NDI undermined the Sandinista government of Nicaragua in the 1980s, while IRI claimed to have played a key role in the 2002 coup against the popular leftist President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. In an attempt to justify its otherwise internationally illegal act IRI stated that it had:
“Served as a bridge between the nation’s political parties and all civil society groups to help Venezuelans forge a new democratic future…. We stand ready to continue our partnership with the courageous Venezuelan people.”
Voicing his fears about the collaboration, Mark Weisbrot, co-director at the Center for Economic and Policy Research tweeted that Facebook’s decision to work with US government-funded organizations was “Orwellian” and informed that both its new partners “specialize in overseas propaganda.”
Facebook says that its move to collaborate with NDI and IRI is meant to bolster its “election integrity efforts” around the globe. But why would a social network based in the US be interested in election integrity efforts outside the US? Election integrity efforts should be the responsibility of authorities of the concerned country where the elections are to be held.
Facebook’s Product Director for Elections and Civic Engagement Samidh Chakrabarti said, “preventing election interference” on the platform has been “one of the biggest cross-team efforts” the company has seen. Katie Harbath, who heads Facebook’s Global Politics and Government Outreach team, said she wanted to be clear that Facebook’s work with the IRI and NDI will only be focused “internationally” and that it has nothing to do with domestic elections in the US. Harbath said the two organizations have “a lot of experience in working in elections and in many countries around the globe” and that Facebook can learn from them about “election integrity risks” that exist in other countries.
Putting the comments made by Chakrabarti and Harbath in context, it becomes clear that this teaming up with government-funded think tanks is an effort by the US government to influence the election outcomes in other countries by using the reach that Facebook has. Whose nefarious purpose shall this partnership serve: Facebook’s or The Deep State’s? Maybe it will serve both. Facebook will get government backing and government-sponsored projects while the government will successfully be able to establish puppet governments across the world. A win-win situation for both.
But we the common people of the world will lose. We will lose our independence and our dignity.
Our fears are not unfounded. Presidential elections in Brazil, which pits far-right Jair Bolsonaro against leftist Fernando Haddad is scheduled on October 7, 2018, and there are reports that Facebook is anxious to better curate what Brazilians see on their feeds in the run-up to the elections. It means that the US government is using Facebook to influence the voters in Brazil and trying to get a candidate it supports elected. Is this not election interfering by the American government? But it should not surprise us, after all the US government has a long history of undermining democracy in many countries including in Brazil. It supported a coup in 1964 against the progressive Goulart administration. Violating all international norms, it spied on the leftist President Dilma Rousseff in the run-up to the parliamentary coup against her in 2016.
In the past Facebook also partnered with another dubious NATO sponsored American think tank called the Atlantic Council. Soon after the partnership, Facebook deleted accounts and pages connected with Iranian broadcasting channels. It was also reported by The Intercept that in 2017 the social media platform met several Israeli government officials to discuss which Palestinian voices it should censor. Ninety-five percent of Israeli government requests for deletion were granted.
In yet another fallout of this partnership, Facebook changed its algorithm to reduce traffic significantly for progressive outlets like Common Dreams, while the pages of Venezuelan government-backed TeleSur English and the independent Venezuelanalysis were shut down without warning. They were reinstated only after a nationwide public outcry.
From these events, it is clearly evident that the US government and its allies are effectively using social media, particularly Facebook to silence dissent, both at home and on the world stage.
Using Facebook’s unprecedented reach the US government has effectively become the arbiter of what the world sees and hears. It now wields the ability to marginalize or simply delete news from organizations or countries that do not share its opinions, a power that it has shamelessly used against USA Really repeatedly, without providing any credible reason. There is no doubt in our minds that it will use this power to put puppet governments all across the world. Remember this is not an idle threat, it is becoming the reality.
How the US intends to use its social media leverage is scary. As an example, to highlight its draconian ways let us tell you that the US went to great lengths to create an entirely new fake social network, similar to Twitter, for Cubans with the aim of stirring unrest and overthrowing the Cuban government, according to the Guardian. Although the Obama administration claimed that it failed in its attempts, but who knows. Maybe they succeeded in what they planned.
We the aware and informed citizens of the nation must not forget that Facebook is the new media tsar. It has an absolute monopoly over the flow of worldwide news and by partnering with government supported coup-agents it is ensuring that the dystopian world that Orwell imagined becomes a reality. All of us who see this change coming and strongly believe in the free and open exchange of information should oppose Facebook from becoming a tool of US foreign policy. For those Americans who sleep in peace thinking that this is all aimed only at foreign governments and that they have nothing to fear, let me remind them of a poem by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.