Our New Technological McCarthyism

Richard Gale and Gary Null

Progressive Radio Network, June 21, 2022

Aside from older Boomers and their parents in the Great generation, few people would remember Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts for Communists that destroyed the careers and lives of thousands of people.  It was a dark day in US history. It revealed the nation’s domestic weaknesses and what can happen when ideological beliefs enter the halls of Washington. Once weaponized ideologies have power to judge a person guilty solely on artificially constructed evidence. This in turn becomes the ultimate arbiter for whether a person is a loyal American or not.  

Today, we now have a new incarnation of McCarthyism. If there is a single person in the American landscape who best embodies this repressive ideology it may be Dr Anthony Fauci at the National Institutes for Allergy and Infectious Disease.  During the past three and half decades he has exerted total control over all health policies regarding AIDS in the past and the Covid-19 pandemic today. His control persists despite his repeated flip flops, which calls his medical knowledge and reasoning into question. We could forgive his poor judgment except that it has adversely affected the lives of most Americans. 

However, on the one hand, legions of political and media pundits have supported Fauci. Those who kiss Fauci’s ring win his favor. On the other hand, thousands of physicians, scientists and medical journalists have been attacked, condemned, censored and threatened with the loss of their licenses and careers. And where do most people go for information to find glimmers of truth between Fauci’s officially sanctioned narrative and those who find the narrative deficient or outright false?  The internet.  The internet substantially influences people’s perceptions and increasingly the platforms that question the government are being heavily censored.

It is hard to believe that the Biden White House and Homeland Security just went through a scandal by installing a Disinformation Governance Board to further increase government censorship. The individual originally selected to run the Board, Nina Jankowicz, was forced to resign after her internet posts revealed she herself was disseminating disinformation on a variety of subjects. Yet the department remains and is supported throughout the liberal media. 

The US has never been more divided. What does this predict as we march towards greater challenges and dangers? 

The internet, often thought of as our world’s “final frontier” for free thinkers and the flow and exchange of ideas and information, is seriously ill. It has been systemically infected by ideological viruses, memes of disinformation intent on poisoning our freedom of expression and speech that we take for granted every time we use Google or visit Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Censorship is not limited to the government’s attempts to silence dissent. Yet when it succeeds, society is greatly hindered because people no longer have easy access to the whole truth.  Censorship is one of the most effective ways to lessen people’s freedoms and numb the faculties for critical thought. And because the media, and having access to news and a wide variety of interpretations and opinions is at our fingertips, it has become a critical part of our daily lives. 

A censored society is an uneducated society. It destroys progress and can even destroy careers, reputations and personal lives. Over the years we have witnessed a slow and emerging awakening to the numerous falsehoods fed to us by government agencies, corporations, think tanks and the media. The internet and its technological sophistication have been largely responsible for this gradual awakening, evidenced by the growing distrust and suspicion towards an oligarchy determined to control what we can and cannot view and read. This suspicion is healthy even if it means that many find themselves increasingly confused.  Yet this sense of freedom, the allowance to be dubious about fake news and manicured knowledge, is fragile. Eventually, a castle of lies built upon lies collapses. 

An issue grossly ignored is that with all the new technology and enormous advertising campaigns on Google, Facebook and YouTube, the two younger generations rely upon social media daily. Rarely do they consider the depth that propaganda holds over their lives. During the 1960s and 1970s, support for free speech and holding a healthy skepticism towards federal agencies such as the CIA and Pentagon, and most importantly against mainstream media, strengthened critical thought. Today’s younger generations give little thought towards the content they blindly accept emotionally charged, social media platforms. Virtually nothing in our lives will be private. Sadly, there is no sense of betrayal. No sense of apprehension and fear, and no efforts to protest these actions. 

In our era of institutionalized disinformation and surveillance, from all sides of the political spectrum, we are rapidly sacrificing our common sense and reason to illusions and gut emotional reactions.  The compromised mainstream media is utterly beholden to party storylines. Complex national and global issues are reduced to simplistic and infantile images for mass consumption. Facebook’s misappropriation of its users’ personal information should be a trumpet blast, a wakeup call to action. Tens of millions have been naively duped into the easy and free access to social media and the myth of untethered free expression promised by Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Medium and other internet platforms.  Although Silicon Valley’s technological capacity for global surveillance and censorship has long been a worrisome problem on the internet, both Trump’s and Biden’s handling of fake news as the centerpiece of their campaigns granted Facebook, Google and Wikipedia a green light to increase censorship of dissenting and alternative news, opinions and even scientific facts. Youtube and Twitter have increased their censoring of videos it disagrees with for strictly ideological reasons. Worse, Youtube add links on questionable videos to Wikipedia.  It is questionable whether Wikipedia is a reliable resource for objective intelligence and knowledge. This is not our opinion but that of many university professors who have flagged Wikipedia as an unreliable resource for students’ for students’ research. 

This atmosphere of digital McCarthyism is deeply worrisome. Wikipedia is another internet behemoth, and similar to other tech giants shows signs of being compromised by biases and preferential treatment to private interest groups and extremist ideologies.  In our opinion, Wikipedia’s ideological biases and favoritism to communities hiring and recruiting armies of internet trolls has been responsible for ruining the reputations and tainting the careers of numerous people, notably health professionals and academics who fail to live, teach and practice in alignment with Wikipedia’s very narrow scientific criteria of what is deemed as legitimate proven medical facts. When a belief system becomes a dogma, an ideological doctrine, debate and conversation shut down. Unpopular views on controversial subjects are jeopardized. Or even popular, common sense views are silenced. Only a single message is propagandized and opposing positions that have their own body of commendable evidence are blackened or censored.  In our opinion, shortly after its founding, the WikiMedia Foundation, the parent organization behind Wikipedia, became possessed by ideology. Since then it has increasingly controlled the content for specific subjects. Many entries are riddled with identity politics and volunteer editors have adopted tactics that would make Sen. Joseph McCarthy proud. 

Sophisticated technological algorithms for internet surveillance, utilized to their full extent by the large internet giants, have created what the father of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier, argues is a “behavior modification empire.”  Facebook and Twitter, for example, should no longer be regarded as social media. And Silicon Valley, private corporations, neoliberal cancel culture, and the federal and private intelligence agencies are all too eager to take full advantage of this internet crisis. The tech companies have essentially shut down the public commons that once upon a time promised a cyber utopia, a free and unencumbered Internet that would gather people globally together. In its place has sprung up a shadow techno-regime dominated by the Internet’s ruling corporate regime, billionaires all too willing to sell their acquired information for enormous client fees.  In return, illusions of a functioning democracy, Huxley’s soma, are spoon-fed to the masses seduced by the theater of images flashing across our mobile screens rather than the darker underpinnings behind this total charade. Erringly we believe we are completely free to express ourselves, share opinions, and find new friends with common values to organize together. Yet how many people actually know that every bit of information we share on Facebook with family and friends, groups and organizations and environmental, political and social activists would be gathered to generate profiles about our behaviors and then in turn reduce our personal profiles into commodities to be used by the private and federal elites. The scandal between the collaboration between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, the latter founded by right wing nationalists and Trump supporters, reveals the serious threats to personal freedom when every message, file and photo we’ve ever sent or been sent, when every personal contact on our mobile phones, and every audio message has been hoarded for the benefit of third parties, the least dangerous being advertisers.  

Likewise Google records everywhere we have traveled and knows exactly where we are on the map in real time. As long as your mobile phone is in your possession, Google can always find you.  You can even access a log and map of everywhere you have been for the past year, including how long it took you to get from home to visit grandma for the holiday. Google gathers every piece of data on our computers and phones, including our search and browsing histories. Even though you delete information or may happen to lose data, it remains in Google’s memory vaults.  And this is not done secretly. Google is completely transparent about its intrusion into our private lives and anyone can request and receive a file of everything the megacorporation has collected about us.  One individual, Dylan Curran, accessed and downloaded his personal Google file; it was 5.5 gigabytes, roughly equivalent to 3 million average sized Word documents. What Google actually does with this massive data collection is another matter. 

Most criticism is rightly directed against Google and Facebook. Nevertheless the Wikimedia Foundation has remained relatively unscathed. Undeservingly it has managed to remain marginal from public scrutiny. Rather than participating in intelligence gathering into private citizens’ lives, it has become the Internet’s monolithic gatekeeper and controller of free encyclopedic knowledge. Although it has its critics, often those who have been at the receiving end of Wikipedia’s editorial culture of victimization and abuse, the controversies surrounding Wikipedia are given no attention by mainstream media. Acting freely from third party advertising, draped in the security of its not-for-profit status, it has become an invaluable resource in the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Minimal efforts are made to investigate whether Wikipedia too has hidden agendas that adversely affect the public; or whether the Foundation is actively participating in stealth censorship. We know this to be a fact from firsthand experience.  Do a Google search on any subject or notable person and Wikipedia will often be the first site to pop up in your browser. It describes itself as a free-content encyclopedia and uses a platform that pretends to be open for editing content. This has been one of the encyclopedia’s admirable appeals as well as its curse. However, there is undeniable evidence that the site has injured the lives and careers of many innocent people, especially in the field of medicine and healthcare, and people who seek truths outside the confines of corporate science’s corridors and a quasi-Libertarian and Objectivst universe. 

In effect, the subconscious script behind Facebook, Google and other multinational internet media is designed to convert our lives into commodities, and then convert commodities into dead money.  Lanier considers this a severe threat to our species. “We cannot have a society,” Lanier said during a TED talk, “if two people wish to communicate with each other and the only way it can happen is if it is financed by a third party who wishes to manipulate them.”[4]

The commodification of our personal lives to sell to advertisers is far more innocent than other insidious practices that target people for corporate, financial, national security and political benefit.  We can be certain that Uncle Sam’s spooks have immediate access to all our personal information.  In 2011, Stratfor, a private intelligence firm in Austin, was infiltrated by the hacker group Anonymous. Stratfor is one of the largest private intelligence and surveillance contractors for the National Security Agency and other federal intelligence agencies. The hack acquired addresses, credit card information, bank accounts and passwords on hundreds of thousands of citizens.  Possessing personal information on people can be the single most important weapon to be used against them. That is what made the Inquisition so successful in spreading fear over medieval Spain and Italy to keep citizens weak and passive.  And all of this is available to the NSA to keep a vigilant eye on the American public. 

In his 1954 book The Technological Society, the late great French sociologist, philosopher and Christian anarchist Jacques Ellul foresaw that every form of technology would end up becoming a form of control, power and a means to achieve efficiency. The technological drive to gather more and more personal information on citizens for the benefit of federal agencies, political parties and private corporations, which reward and shower favors upon these firms, is itself an attempt to manipulate the public’s uncertainty and confusion.[5]