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Written by Taibbi and eight other contributors — and dubbed “the citizen’s starter kit to understanding the new global information cartel” — the lengthy report provides a summary profile of each major organization involved in the “Censorship-Industrial Complex.”
Taibbi coined that term during his and fellow journalists’ work on the “Twitter Files,” which revealed the widespread cooperation between government agencies and social media companies to censor information in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. (Legal challenges and investigations into social media censorship are ongoing).
The “Censorship-Industrial Complex” is a play on the “military-industrial complex,” a term President Dwight D. Eisenhower used during his famous farewell address of 1961 to warn Americans about the threat posed by the growing merger of military power and private industry that emerged in the wake of World War II.
“Public policy,” Eisenhower warned, “could itself become the captive of a scientific and technological elite.”
More than 60 years later, “The Censorship-Industrial Complex is just the Military-Industrial Complex reborn for the ‘hybrid warfare’ age’ of digital information,” Taibbi wrote.
“The Top 50 List,” according to the report, “is intended as a resource for reporters and researchers beginning their journey toward learning the scale and ambition of the ‘Censorship-Industrial Complex.’ … it tries to answer a few basic questions about funding, organization type, history, and especially methodology.”
Most of the 50 organizations profiled in the report use vague language — what the report describes as “gibberish verbiage” — to justify their anti-free-speech activities.
The organizations vaguely refer to combating “hate speech,” for example, and use unusual terminology such as “toxicity monitoring,” “constructive alternative messages,” “pre-bunking” and “malinformation” (i.e. information that is true but intended “to cause harm”).
In fact, their mission is to enforce strict conformity with official narratives on major political, economic and social issues — from COVID-19 to war to climate change.
The censorship capabilities being established by this network of organizations have the potential to be used in myriad ways in the future.
For example, a number of the top 50 groups refer to “climate misinformation” as part of their mission — but the full range of what that term entails is unclear. If local citizens and conservation groups oppose a corporation’s “clean” energy project, for example, can their social media posts be labeled “climate misinformation”?
Meta (Facebook and Instagram) is already collaborating with one of the top 50 organizations — the Poynter Institute, which runs the “fact-checking” group Politifact — to censor posts by citizens and activists that claim a connection between offshore wind development and the death and endangerment of marine wildlife.
Many of the top 50 are nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which according to the report, are funded by corporations such as Google, Facebook and BlackRock, and by private tax-exempt “philanthropies” set up by powerful billionaires, such as the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust, Open Society Foundations, Omidyar Network and Craig Newmark Philanthropies.
Some on the list are initiatives and programs at elite U.S. universities, including Brown, Harvard, Stanford and Duke.
A U.S. government agency, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, also is on the list.
The goal of the top 50 organizations is “a new homogenous politics,” Taibbi said, “which can be perpetually tweaked and amplified online via algorithm and machine learning.”
In this “homogenous politics” enforced through digital tools, there is to be a “shared vocabulary” — in other words, conformity — in which no substantial disagreement on the issues that truly matter is permissible.
“Democratic society requires the nourishment of free debate, disagreement, and political tension,” Taibbi said, “but the groups below seek instead that ‘shared vocabulary’” and the cold, hard power of censorship.