For the last eight years I have worked as a writer, researcher, and investigative reporter for many well-known American independent media outlets. I have spent my time investigating digital surveillance technology, attacks on indigenous communities, and the overall growth of the government and corporate power. As someone working in this field, writing about topics which are often seen as controversial or “outside the mainstream” – censorship and personal attacks are part of the job description.
However, the attacks on independent media have rapidly increased in the last four years, with many formerly active journalistic outlets ceasing to exist due to lack of traffic and thus, lack of funds. We have seen outlets outright branded “fake news” or accused of collusion with the Russian government. Some channels and websites have been unable to apply for advertising or use certain digital products based on these labels. Some channels and reporters have been deleted off social media and other digital platforms altogether. And, if the social media managers don’t delete you, they might just use the algorithm to hide your posts, limiting your ability to interact with the public.
ATTACK OF THE “FACT” CHECKERS
Perhaps the most insidious method is the recent use of “fact checkers” to limit the reach of an outlet, or simply brand them with the fake news scarlet letter to discourage readers from engaging. This has been increasing in the last 2 years and I personally know of several remaining indy media outlets who have had to decide whether or not to run certain articles or video reports out of fear they might be censored or banned. Of course, with the algorithmic games being played by social media platforms, most outlets are reaching a tiny fraction of what they once were.
Case in point, The Mind Unleashed. I have been part of the TMU team on and off for the last year or so. In that time we have been struggling to reach a small fraction of our 9 million Facebook followers. Part of the reason we are struggling to reach people is because we have the dubious recognition of being labeled fake news by Facebook and affiliated fact checkers.
In a recent article published in Newsweek Espanol, in partnership with Newsguard, The Mind Unleashed is described as a “site that promises to ‘promote and inspire unconventional thinking,’ but is actually dedicated to publishing falsehoods.”. The quote was in reference to a story TMU had written about the origins of COVID-19 and the potential for the virus to have been created as a bio weapon.
Newsguard is one of a number of “fact checker” services which has proliferated since the election of Donald Trump to U.S. President. Newsguard is a browser plug-in for Chrome and Microsoft Edge that gives trustworthiness ratings to most of the internet’s top-trafficked sites. It uses a color coded system to warn readers of an article or website’s trustworthiness. In a previous investigation, TLAV writer Whitney Webb exposed the neoconservative roots of the Newsguard team. Webb wrote:
“Newsguard’s advisory board makes it clear that Newsguard was created to serve the interests of American oligarchy. Chief among Newsguard’s advisors are Tom Ridge, the first Secretary of Homeland Security under George W. Bush and Ret. General Michael Hayden, a former CIA director, a former NSA director and principal at the Chertoff Group, a security consultancy seeking to “advise corporate clients and governments, including foreign governments” on security matters that was co-founded by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who also currently serves as the board chairman of major weapons manufacturer BAE systems.”
Newsguard started as a partnership between Steven Brill and Louis Gordon Crovitz, with Crovitz appearing to be the connection to the world of finance, media, and geopolitics. Crovitz held a number of positions at Dow Jones and at the Wall Street Journal, is a board member of Business Insider, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and claims to have been an “editor or contributor to books published by the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation.” As Webb noted, “the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) is one of the most influential neoconservative think tanks in the country and its ‘scholars,’ directors and fellows have included neoconservative figures like Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, John Bolton and Frederick Kagan.”
Most recently, Newsguard has created a list of “Websites Publishing False Coronavirus Information” and a list “Super Spreaders” of false information. These lists include many well-known and credible independent media outlets. This is not to say that every website listed is credible and should be supported. The point is that these types of lists only serve to “blackball” certain outlets and schools of thoughts which counter the mainstream version of events.
Newsguard is not the only fact checker service operating in the current “post-truth era”. Social media companies like Facebook have partnered with several organizations with the stated aim of fact checking and debunking disinformation. Of course, these organizations tend to reinforce the narratives being woven by the mouthpieces in the corporate media and the puppet masters working the politicians. For a moment Facebook partnered with reviled “fact checker” Snopes, but, after Snopes was discredited, Facebook has now partnered with companies like Lead Stories.
Lead Stories also “fact checked” The Mind Unleashed a couple times, always using arbitrary standards and semantics to make a story appear to be false or misleading. In one story, Lead Stories relies on data from the aforementioned Newsguard. So who is Lead Stories? The About page states that since January 2019 they have been a part of Facebook fact checker program. They describe the partnership as follows:
“Under the terms of this partnership we get access to listings of content that has been flagged as potentially false by Facebook’s systems or its users and we can decide independently if we want to fact check it or not. In addition to this we can enter our fact checks into a tool provided by Facebook and Facebook then uses our data to help slow down the spread of false information on its platform. Facebook pays us to perform this service for them but they have no say or influence over what we fact check or what our conclusions are, nor do they want to.”
Lead Stories is run by Perry Sanders Jr., an attorney known for representing the family of rapper Notorious B.I.G. after his murder, and Editor-in-Chief Alan Duke, who helped create Lead Stories after 26 years with CNN. Despite Duke’s bio stating that he “did ground-breaking investigative reporting on the Jeffrey Epstein sex trafficking scandal“, CNN is most known as a “super spreader” of propaganda and fake news. It is CNN, ABC, CBS, the Washington Post and others who actually helped cover up Epstein’s crimes. The entire Lead Stories team is filled with former and current CNN employees, as well as other MSM outlets.
Two other organizations that have partnered with Facebook and fact checked TMU are Science Feedback and Africa Check, both which claim to identify and expose the spread of disinformation. Science Feedback describes itself as “a worldwide network of scientists sorting fact from fiction in science based media coverage. Our goal is to help readers know which news to trust”. Africa Check says they are a non-profit attempting to “raise the quality of information available to society across the continent.”
As with Lead Stories and Newsguard, Africa Check uses semantics to label a story false or misleading. Science Feedback uses a similar strategy, casting The Mind Unleashed (and other alternative media sites) in a web of “disinformation” related to a report about the potential for a “mini ice age”.
Interestingly, Africa Check’s list of partners includes The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, yet another example of how the Gates’ spread their influence and agenda around the world – this time as part of an effort to control the dialogue around hot topics. Gates also funded the Event 201 pandemic simulation exercise which discussed the potential for censoring the internet or even arresting individuals who spread information that has been deemed false. Africa Check is also partnered with the George Soros-funded Open Society Foundations.
HOW TO LIMIT DISCUSSION AND CONTROL THE NARRATIVE
The strategy for the social media companies and fact checkers is simple: label someone fake news, lower their reach with algorithmic manipulation, force them to comply to arbitrary commands if they want the fake news label removed, control the narrative and shape the conversation.
Over the last two years I have seen good, hard working reporters and members of the independent/alternative media struggle to maintain integrity and report truthfully about controversial topics while also walking on egg shells in an attempt not to upset the fact checkers. For example, in late February, one writer had an article fact checked for discussing the various reports about COVID-19 being engineered in a lab. The Facebook fact checker stated:
“As explained in our fact-check, the claim that was reported in your article, namely that the coronavirus was created in a lab, is unsupported by evidence and is in fact contradicted by multiple scientific studies indicating that the virus originated naturally in wildlife.”
The writer of this particular order actually went to great lengths to make it clear that some sources disagreed with the claim, but according to Facebook’s fact checker, “it does not acknowledge that the claim is false to begin with, giving readers the misleading impression that there is legitimate scientific doubt over the issue when this is not the case.”
In other words, there is no reason to tell the public that some professionals and researchers have a different theory about the origins of the virus. No matter what was offered to the fact checker there was no compromise. Not only did they want the title to be changed and for an editor’s note to be attached acknowledging the apparently “false” claim, but they said they would not remove the fake news label if we took the article down. The options were essentially to keep the article up and comply, or keep it up, change nothing, and be labeled fake news.
In emails from Newsguard, TMU was admonished for “its history of promoting conspiracy theories related to the Sept. 11 attacks and the Douma, Syria chemical weapons attacks, as well as its promotion of marijuana as a cancer cure in stories”. It’s clear to see that anyone who does not buy the official narratives about the major geopolitical events of our day, or support the Big Pharma kool-aid – will be punished.
Unfortunately, the censors are winning because many in the alternative media are choosing to self-censor in the hopes that things will get better in the long run or that doing so will allow them to stay on the platform longer, and continue to reach more people. As we are now seeing, this is a losing strategy.
TWO YEARS AFTER THE FB-ATLANTIC COUNCIL PARTNERSHIP & THE INDEPENDENT MEDIA PURGE
What we are witnessing today, in May 2020, is the continuation of the fight against “fake news” which began immediately following the election of Donald Trump. In November 2016, Merrimack College associate professor Melissa Zimdars posted a public Google document titled, “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical ‘News’ Sources” which went viral after being reported on by most corporate mainstream outlets.
Within a matter of weeks, a new list appeared online from an organization calling itself PropOrNot, an allegedly independent group of researchers trying to find the truth about the dissemination of Russian propaganda and fake news. This list also contained names of prominent independent media outlets like Anti Media, The Corbett Report, Mint Press News, and many others.
It was this combination of the Zimdars list and the PropOrNot list which had the immediate effect of placing a target on the vast majority of independent journalists and outlets who have also been accused of directly or indirectly conspiring with the Russians. Websites and social media pages for these outlets began to suffer a drastic reduction in reach and interaction with their audiences. Many websites have lost access to Google advertising money due to these false associations. The problem is that the majority of the mainstream media unquestionably reported on and repeated the claims made by these two lists without any attempt at investigative work.
In January 2018, PropOrNot would be exposed for their connections to The Atlantic Council, a think tank with connections to the western Military-Industrial Complex. Coincidentally, in May 2018, Facebook announced a partnership with the Atlantic Council, which officially claims to provide a forum for international political, business, and intellectual leaders. The social media giant said the partnership was aimed at preventing Facebook from “being abused during elections.”
The press release promoted Facebook’s efforts to fight fake news by using artificial intelligence, as well as working with outside experts and governments.
“Today, we’re excited to launch a new partnership with the Atlantic Council, which has a stellar reputation looking at innovative solutions to hard problems. Experts from their Digital Forensic Research Lab will work closely with our security, policy and product teams to get Facebook real-time insights and updates on emerging threats and disinformation campaigns from around the world. This will help increase the number of “eyes and ears” we have working to spot potential abuse on our service — enabling us to more effectively identify gaps in our systems, preempt obstacles, and ensure that Facebook plays a positive role during elections all around the world.”
The Atlantic Council of the United States was established in 1961 to bolster support for international relations. Although not officially connected to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Atlantic Council has spent decades promoting causes and issues which are beneficial to NATO member states. In addition, The Atlantic Council is a member of the Atlantic Treaty Organization, an umbrella organization which “acts as a network facilitator in the Euro-Atlantic and beyond.” The ATO works similarly to the Atlantic Council, bringing together political leaders, academics, military officials, journalists and diplomats to promote values that are favorable to the NATO member states.
Officially, ATO is independent of NATO, but the line between the two is razor thin.
Essentially, the Atlantic Council is a think tank which can offer companies or nation states access to military officials, politicians, journalists, diplomats, etc., to help them develop a plan to implement their strategy or vision. These strategies often involve getting NATO governments or industry insiders to make decisions they might not have made without a visit from the Atlantic Council team. This allows individuals or nations to push forth their ideas under the cover of hiring what appears to be a public relations agency but is actually selling access to high-profile individuals with power to affect public policy. Indeed, everyone from George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton to the family of international agent of disorder Zbigniew Brzezinski have spoken at or attended council events.
In 2016, The New York Times wrote “The Atlantic Council, which has seen its annual revenue grow to $21 million from $2 million in the last decade, offers access to United States and foreign government officials in exchange for contributions. Individual donors, like FedEx, have also helped fund specific reports that align with their agendas.” The Times wrote that giving financial support is rewarded with “an ‘unprecedented level of information and access,’ including the chance to have a corporate executive, if the company donates at least $50,000 a year, speak at an Atlantic Council event ‘with top U.S. and foreign leaders’ present.”
According to their website, “The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) has operationalized the study of disinformation by exposing falsehoods and fake news, documenting human rights abuses, and building digital resilience worldwide.” The DFRLab tracks global disinfo campaigns, fake news stories, and “subversive attempts against democracy while teaching the public skills to identify and expose attempts to pollute the information space.”
The Atlantic Council’s list of financial supporters reads like a who’s-who of think tanks and Non-Governmental Organizations. The Atlantic Council receives funding from the Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment, Cato Institute, Council on Foreign Relations, and the Rand Corporation, to name a few. In addition, various members of the Military-Industrial Complex are benefactors of the Atlantic Council, including Huntington Ingalls, the United States’ sole maker of aircraft carriers; Airbus, the plane manufacturer; Lockheed Martin, the shipbuilder and aviation company; and Raytheon, which makes missile systems. All of the companies have contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense and offer financial support to the Atlantic Council. The Council also receives support from Chevron and the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Finally, the Atlantic Council receives direct financial support from the U.S. Departments of the Air Force, Army, Navy and Energy and from the U.S. Mission to NATO.
By October 2018 – only five months after the Atlantic Council partnership with Facebook – the social media giant announced they were unpublishing, or purging, over 500 pages and 200 accounts who are accused of spreading political spam. Several of these pages and writers were also removed from Twitter on the same day.
“Today, we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior,” Facebook stated in a blog post. Facebook states that the people behind this alleged spam “create networks of Pages using fake accounts or multiple accounts with the same names” and “post the same clickbait posts in dozens of Facebook Groups”.
Nearly 3 years later, we are still seeing the repercussions of the purge of independent media voices. In the wake of COVID-19 and calls for stemming the flow of “misinformation”, we will likely see more censorship and digital purging. Those who are attempting to stay informed and aware need to recognize that getting your news from Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc., will keep you trapped in a bubble of sanitized, state-approved information.
Step Outside the Matrix and Question Everything.Question Everything, Come To Your Own Conclusions.
WRITTEN BY DERRICK BROZE
Derrick Broze, a staff writer for The Last American Vagabond, is a journalist, author, public speaker, and activist. He is the co-host of Free Thinker Radio on 90.1 Houston, as well as the founder of The Conscious Resistance Network & The Houston Free Thinkers.