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Iranian Bots and the Facebook Stasi: Manufacturing Consent for the Endless War

By Helen Buyniski | Helen of desTroy | September 3, 2018

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. The American Empire doesn’t handle failure well, and their repeated failures to oust Syrian president Bashar al-Assad have driven them into a frenzy where good judgment and logic are a thing of the past. Russian military intelligence predicts a false-flag chemical attack in Idlib which will be pinned on the Assad regime and used to justify “retaliation” orders of magnitude greater than April’s Tomahawk tantrum. This time, if the words of the Wicked Witch of the UN are any indication, Iran and Russia will also be blamed. While the US has mostly abandoned hope for regime change in Syria, it will not look a gift horse in the mouth, and is gathering aircraft carriers and bombers to the region while pumping out tear-jerking propaganda about Idlib residents fearing for their lives. If the false flag fails, they can always send those bombers to Iran…

Such an attack is very much on the table, with the groundwork being laid in the pro-war press. John Bolton promised the MEK, a “corrupt, criminal cult” of Iranian exiles which bribed its way off the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations in 2012, regime change by 2019, and the clock is ticking. Attempts to foment a color revolution have failed repeatedly, because Iranians aren’t stupid and remember what happened the last time the US overthrew their government. But Benjamin Netanyahu has been baying for Iranian blood for almost three decades, and Bolton cares little for more clear-headed military personnel’s warnings that invading Iran would be a costly, unwinnable nightmare – Real Men Go To Tehran, as they used to say in the halcyon days of the Axis of Evil.

Prelude to War: Iranian Bots

The ruling class understands Americans are wary of another Middle Eastern war and must be convinced they’re under attack. Hence the new bogeyman, just in time for Election 2018: Iranian Meddling. Twitter, Facebook, and Google took time out from deplatforming anti-establishment commentators to delete over a thousand accounts between them after cyber-security firm FireEye released a report detailing a far-reaching “Suspected Iranian Influence Operation.” With only “moderate confidence,” FireEye pointed to “coordinated inauthentic behavior” geared toward “shaping a message favorable to Iran’s national interests” as the smoking gun. Washed-up former intelligence operatives Ron Hosko and Larry Pfeiffer (ex-FBI and ex-CIA, respectively) smugly added that if we hadn’t let Russia get away with their (still unproven) interference in the 2016 election, Iran would never have been so emboldened as to pour $12,000 of cold, hard cash into this social media offensive in order to portray itself favorably to western audiences. 

Facebook, eager to behave, took down 652 offending accounts before the government could even react to the news. FireEye’s report points accusingly to the accounts’ promotion of “anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes, as well as support for specific US policies favorable to Iran,” implying Facebook users should be suspicious of anyone else espousing these views (and warning Iranian and Palestinian sympathizers and other pro-peace activists to shut up, or they’re next). An important step in laying the groundwork for an unpopular war is to “other” and ultimately demonize the enemy, and FireEye’s suggestion that those with pro-Iranian views aren’t even real humans is classic wartime propaganda for the digital age. In addition to three groups of Iranian accounts, FireEye claims it caught some Russians “attempt[ing] to influence politics in Syria and the Ukraine.” This group “was linked to sources that Facebook said the US had linked to Russian military intelligence.” How many hops of truth distortion are too many for even the terminally credulous establishment media?

Perhaps anticipating users’ bewilderment – the offending accounts had broken no laws, were promoting no political candidates, and in many cases had not even bought ads – Zuckerberg explained around a mouth full of jackboot that “These were accounts that were misleading people about who they were and what they were doing. We ban this kind of behavior because authenticity matters. People need to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook.” Lest users make the mistake of trusting Facebook, however, he added that the company would be “working more closely with law enforcement, security experts and other companies,” turning over more user data than ever in its quest to make privacy obsolete. When law enforcement calls on Facebook to create a backdoor in its Messenger program – thus defeating the purpose of “encrypted chat” – does anyone really expect Zuckerberg to stand fast for privacy rights? 

Not to be outdone, Twitter deleted 770 accounts based on the FireEye report, noting that only 100 of these ostensibly Iranian accounts had misrepresented their location and not even all of these had shared “divisive social commentary,” while a single account had purchased $30 in ads. This means over 600 Twitter accounts were deleted for the crime of geography alone (collateral damage?). But Twitter has always gone above and beyond the call of duty, announcing in May that to promote “healthy” conversations it would begin de-ranking users for engaging in “suspicious behavior.” Users who tweeted at many accounts, had multiple complaints against them, or retweeted material tweeted by banned accounts were shadowbanned indefinitely as persona non grata. Since November, Twitter and Facebook have both been turning over information on users who post “divisive” content of the sort promoted by “Russia-linked accounts” to congressional investigators even though a creator of “Russian bot tracker” Hamilton68 admits the accounts his tool tracks are not necessarily bots, or even Russian – “some are legitimately passionate people,” as if passion is an un-American trait. 

Last year, the FBI launched a Foreign Intelligence Task Force to work with US tech firms to combat “foreign influence actors.” With bots and their ilk operating all over the world, the decision to single out Russia and Iran has obvious foreign policy motivation (Bolton also claims that China and North Korea are up to no good on social media). All of this avoids naming the elephant in the room. Even though Israel meddles loudly and proudly in US elections, Facebook openly collaborates with Netanyahu’s government. Beyond removing posts and banning accounts, Facebook even turns over user information to Israeli authorities to facilitate prosecution of Palestinian activists for “incitement,” sometimes over nothing more than a “like” or a “share.” Adding insult to injury, Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs has weaponized the diaspora’s ennui – often caused in no small part by young Jews’ discomfort with the crimes their government commits in their name – with the social media equivalent of a Predator drone. Act.IL is an app that allows the user to participate in the “brigading” (mass-reporting for spurious violations) of hapless strangers for “incitement” – supporting the BDS movement, say, or implying that Palestinians are human rather than a “lawn” to be “mowed.” In a rare case of instant karma, the app was found to be leaking users’ email addresses. A nation where the government and citizen “enforcers” are working together to silence dissent sounds like an authoritarian nightmare, but this is our “democratic” Middle Eastern ally.

Origins of Totalitarianism

Israel is the missing link that explains how “sowing discord” – an offense few Americans had ever heard of until 2016 – entered our national vocabulary. The modern “fake news” panic has its roots in the totalitarian tradition. Words like “inciting,” “fomenting,” and “sowing” “discord” and “subversion” are very versatile weapons in the hands of authoritarian regimes. This language was previously uncommon in the US, but its emergence became inevitable when the “new Pearl Harbor” of 9/11 opened the door to the creation of the modern American police state. Social media are now just extra bars on the cage – the tools we once believed could liberate us, during the promising early months of Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, are now used to silence us. The US, following a blueprint for legal censorship set by post-WW2 Europe, is taking on the totalitarian trappings of China, of Burma, of the central Asian “stans” and of Saudi Arabia. Kazakhstan calls it “inciting national discord,” with the variations “ethnic discord” and “religious discord” applicable as needed to whatever activist, journalist, or trade unionist the regime needs to put on ice for a few years. It’s called “inciting religious hatred” or “ethnic hatred” in Azerbaijan, which also permanently bans 5 major media outlets for reasons of “national security.” Uzbekistan arrests journalists for “extremism.” China targets activists of all stripes for “inciting subversion.” Burma, which is cracking down hard on the press as it seeks to keep its Rohingya ethnic cleansing quiet, criminalizes “speech that is likely to cause fear or harm and incites classes or groups to commit offenses against each other.” Egypt detains lawyers, journalists and activists under charges of “propagating false news.” Saudi Arabia recently put a Shi’a religious leader to death for “sowing discord” and “undermining national unity.” American dissenters, this is your future.

I have already explained how the Great Deplatforming represents the triumph of the repressive concept of Hate Speech over Free Speech, and how this – not Trump blustering about that wall he’ll get around to building someday – is what fascism looks like. The US government uses friendly corporations as workarounds for the constitutional limits on its power. This technique was deployed against the Second Amendment in Citibank and Bank of America’s post-Parkland refusal to process financial transactions from firearm manufacturers, and is being deployed against the First Amendment here. Such corporate-state fascism is very effective, and the ruling class has seen fit to share it with the other “Five Eyes” intelligence partners, all of whom share information gathered by their Panopticon surveillance agencies. This week, ministers from the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand met in Australia to condemn hostile nations who “sow discord, manipulate public discourse, bias the development of policy, or disrupt markets” through their manipulation of social media platforms; they also implored Big Tech to allow law enforcement “targeted” access to users’ encrypted data. Flexing the thuggish muscles of the world’s greatest carceral state, the group acknowledged “individual rights must be protected” (and presumably snickered before adding) “privacy is not absolute” and warning that encryption was being exploited by criminals. 

The Iranian Meddling affair is a perfect distraction from the real malfeasance at Facebook, where Zuckerberg is bringing back Stasi-style crowdsourced secret policing. The company is assigning “trust ratings” to users based in part on their willingness to report their friends for posting “fake news,” fostering a climate of distrust and fear meant to instill reflexive self-censorship. As in East Germany, the central authorities can’t possibly police everyone all of the time, and it is much more advantageous for them to outsource surveillance to the people, since one who cannot trust his neighbor will not unite with him to overthrow the state. Accordingly, Facebook admits that “some users” abuse Facebook’s reporting system, dubbing stories or users they don’t like “fake news” – but don’t worry about those miscreants, because Facebook compensates for their actions with thousands (!) of other measures that go into calculating the trust rating. No user can see his or her own report – that would be telling – so we’re encouraged to tread carefully to avoid running afoul of the ever-shifting Rules. Jordan Peterson, conservatism’s favorite intellectual, delivers his marching orders in a video he posted last week – “nothing is ever simple,” he pleads as he tells his fans that he’s reached an understanding with Zuckerberg, a “very straightforward person” who really just wants to keep his users safe from bad guys like ISIS recruiters. And Iran. Because they’re terrorists, you know?

The police state is no longer necessary when you have internalized the police. “Media censorship is a shift in the flow of information, while self-censorship is a shift in consciousness.” When the government has convinced citizens to do its job – reporting friends and neighbors for “hate speech,” “sowing discord,” and “incitement” on social media, for example – a free society is impossible. 

September 12, 2018 - Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Well put. Agreement and appreciation for it. And to Alethonews for providing it. Few other sources will do so. Imagine this provided by… the so-called MSM?
    And the takeover of policy as Israeli/Zionist control and direction for the United States continues ever more apace. To list such, is more than this reply will attempt, but a list of current and recent events would compile what is now in place.
    How subtle, how pervasive and how successful the subservience of the United States to this objective. To now have the United States conducting political, military and economic war as directed for the benefit of Israel is complete.
    Whatever armageddon results come forth in the middle east will engulf the United States because of this alloy to the Zionists and their minions,
    Jewish or otherwise.
    What the citizens of the United States know is manipulated; what they don’t know, kept as such. What some try to make known and warn against, they will be more targeted and they will be dealt with by tyrants.

    Comment by michael | September 13, 2018 | Reply


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