By Hala Mounib
Whoever controls the past controls the future, and whoever controls the present controls the past; because all records of the past are stored physically in the present.
– George Orwell, 1949
Since the civil war in the 1860’s, the U.S. has been divided into ideologically opposing parties. Abraham Lincoln addressed this division in his 1858 House Divided speech, stating that a house divided against itself cannot stand, explaining that it will become either one thing or the other. This separation only grew further today with the widespread of mainstream media and the growth of news platforms which utilize censorship and framing to deliver news that fit whichever narrative they endorse. This piece will look into the impact that censorship has on the current separation between Republicans and Democrats in Trump’s America through analysing Paul Jay’s Gore Vidal History of the National Security State, Julian Assange’s When Google Met WikiLeaks, Hans Rosling’s Factfulness and Ronald Deibert’s Access Denied.
The very basic human survival tactic since the dawn of time has been binary thinking; identifying oneself with a group and separating from others. This ensured the survival of the individual. However, we don’t count on tribes for our survival anymore, instead we associate ourselves with certain ideologies in order to gain a sense of familiarity and comfort. The same instinct that had been utilized by our primates for survival has been passed down onto us and taken advantage of by the mass media to push agendas and generate the most revenue. The most prominent division in the United States is that between Republicans and Democrats, which could almost be equated to a cult following, and the manipulation of data in the media along with censorship, which play a substantial role in widening this separation.
Censorship, according to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, is a cause for celebration. He explains in When Google Met Wikileaks that censoring something immediately gives it power, because topics that don’t hold any revolutionary or controversial value don’t get censored. According to Factfulness, the mass media obsesses over extra-ordinary events that shun normality and the status-quo, as these events tend to be the most appealing to human attention. In this process of filtering information to generate the most attention-grabbing headlines, censorship takes place.
In a 2004 interview with Paul Jay, American writer Gore Vidal expressed the density of propaganda and censorship in the media, dubbing it “grotesque” and “dreaded” 4, and a 2018 study conducted by Pew Research Center highlights his concerns; a sizeable portion of interviewed Americans couldn’t identify and separate opinion statements from factual ones. Additionally, Republicans and Democrats tended to classify a statement as factual if it sided with and endorsed their narrative and beliefs. This goes to show the impact and influence of the media platforms on the average American and how they can shift and mould perspectives according to their likes.
Because of the non-linear fashion of conveying information from one source to another, along with intrinsic human binary thinking which is emphasized nowadays by the common journalistic strategy of setting up opposing views, people are forced to assume a wildly different reality than the one they exist in 8.
Assange states that censorship can also be achieved through complexity during his interview with Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. Generating a large amount of misinformation which drowns out facts is common both online and in mass media. Assange adds that the behaviour of many people can be easily changed with a small amount of information. This very tactic is abused by the media by publishing a huge amount of information that is meant to mislead and distract as different people seek different news platforms and sources. More noise is responsible for a weaker signal 1.
Drawing on Orwell’s quote above, several webpages are taken down regularly due to the desire to alter the past or frame it in a different light. The Guardian and The Telegraph were guilty of this in 2003 during the ongoing presidential campaigns, obviously pushing an agenda as the information was deleted from the cyber intellectual record. In 2013, Google lent its front page to then-Secretary John Kerry, advertising for his Google+ Hangout session which sought to address the war in Syria. Google’s Chairman himself, Eric Schmidt, has been associated with both the DNC and the GOP, donating an equal amount to both political parties 1.
It’s clear that Google, along with several other platforms, are deeply engaged in domestic and foreign policy and utilize censorship in unethical ways due to their association with powerful political bodies, dividing public opinion even more. The state of surveillance that Edward Snowden spoke of assists the process of censorship; tailoring ads to fit an individual’s browsing history, identifying political affiliation and locating online echo-chambers for people to interact in, and pushing propaganda are all cogs that play a significant role in the censorship machine. It’s gotten to a point where some countries’ ISPs shamelessly admit to censoring particular websites, where IP blocking and DNS tampering redirect users and render webpages that admit to censorship and expect compliance from citizens 2.
The mainstream media, the DNC, the GOP, and all their donors partake in a web of lies, corruption, and immoral sycophancy that hinder the accessibility of unadulterated free information, colossally dividing Americans. Assange insists that people have been lied into wars, and that through ensuring that factual information is released to the public domain openly, people can be eventually “truthed” into peace and unity.
Featured Image photo credit goes to Tucker Viemeister
Hala Mounib is a Policy Research Fellow at the American Freedom Institute