Can you control the most popular word of the year?

Big Brother Jun 9, 2020

Why we’re finally ditching Medium

Over the past few days, much has been made of Twitter’s Ministry of Truth (Minitrue) protocol.

Better get those official facts!

I’ve been watching with regretful humor as the Twittersphere awoke to our Orwellian present, and the phenomenal power the new media empires are exercising in the narrative wars. When I started drafting this article a couple weeks ago it felt insightful. Now, it feels obvious. But the experiences contained might help color the picture.

In early April (two months ago, which is the point: all of this is not new), I published an article to the Knox blog that analyzed the EARN IT Bill, a covert attack on encryption snaking its way through the halls of power. The piece identified that politicians are leveraging what’s known as the shock doctrine: driving unacceptable legislation on the back of people’s present state of fear. The shock doctrine is an old concept that even the most well-programmed people tend to recognize: it’s a complaint leveled against both “sides” of the political theatre, depending on who is perceived to hold the power at any given point in the narrative. So while the article might be considered controversial by a certain sec, I didn’t expect it to be a topic that triggers any censorship. Not yet.

But dare to point out the obvious and name the c*r*n*v*r*s as the trigger for people’s fear? The result was that Knox’s rented digital platforms—Twitter and Medium—have been compromised ever since. Not a little flag like the screenshot above. But completely missing content.

This might not seem new, but it is a dizzying acceleration of the tech oligarchy’s overreach. Many are already concerned with the influence of Silicon Valley’s behemoths and their control of public discourse. What has shifted significantly in the past few months is the sensitivity of the trigger. For example, Alex Jones had frustrated a lot of people for an extended period by the time he was universally deplatformed. I oppose any deplatforming, but I reluctantly saw that one coming. What surprised me was the disappearing act of our entire publication because we mentioned a single banned word for temporal context. A word that evidently must be editorialized with explicit references to the approved perspective that is easiest for the levers of power to direct. Anything else is a thoughtcrime.

C*r*n*v*r*s is the most popular word of the year. But you’re not allowed to use it.

Wrongthink and the birth of a banned word

Something was apparently wrong when I posted the article to Twitter, with a thread summarizing the piece. Friends quickly informed me that the first Tweet had been censored. And not just hidden in the “Click here to see offensive content” sense. No, the tweet had completely disappeared, even for people with whom I often engage on Twitter. As the author, I had absolutely no indication of this censorship save for messages of concern.

Where did tweet 1/ go?

Now, I have to acknowledge an assumption here. Based on two primary factors, I have found a general consensus among peers that the censorship is due to the article’s mention of c*r*n*v*r*s. These two factors are: 1) the article itself is graphically flagged by Medium for this topic; and 2) observations of similar issues around the time of this debacle.

For context, below are screenshots of the article with each of the three instances of the banned word highlighted. As you can see, we used it for context, not to comment on the virus itself.

Banned word ⅓ in context: providing temporal context
Banned word ⅔ in context: probably the most contentious in the article, but simply identifying how power is leveraged
Banned word 3/3 in context: again, providing temporal context

Keep in mind, the banned word wasn’t in the title or URL of the post. Mindful that Twitter and Medium are rather closely related to each other, either Medium was passing along a flag to Twitter for censorship, or Twitter was scraping sites to find anything that might be worrisome to Big Brother.

In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, newspeak is the government-controlled language with a restricted vocabulary designed to limit freedom of thought and meet the ideological requirements of the establishment. It would seem that I was flagged as a risky asset, likely to violate the emerging restrictions for a new word being carefully orchestrated through the prolefeed, so a helpful link to the disease arm of Minitrue was appended to the top:

Article flagged with a helpful link to the official newspeak resource. Orwell would be proud to have written this immersive experience we’re living

To simplify the discussion, let’s leave to one side what was until a week ago a divisive issue (c*r*n*v*r*s) and focus back on the principle of what is being exercised here. It’s easy to imagine a situation where there was a similar notice posted above this article, linking to the NSA for the official “info” on mass domestic surveillance. Or linking to the Federal Reserve for “info” on Bitcoin. Considering Twitter is now doing the same, this is probably where we’re heading—and fast.

As many have previously pointed out, when these distribution platforms first made the decision to editorialize their content several years ago, there was a strong argument that they ceased to be platforms and instead became editorialized publishers. Perhaps you even agree with most of their editorial decisions: this doesn’t change the simple fact of what they are.

Furthermore, while the argument that publishers such as Twitter and Medium can do what they want because they’re private companies is true, it’s reductionist and avoids some uncomfortable questions. The reach and sway of these publishers is so strong that it was always a matter of time before such sweet honeypots were captured by malicious actors. The promise they offer to governments and other entities with a vested interest in how people think is too enticing to ignore. How many state-led editorial decisions would it take before the line is blurred between private company and state propaganda machine? I contend that we’re already there. Censorship as I understand it has a very specific meaning that implies government involvement; any other action by a publisher is just editing. In the present context, I accuse these platforms of censorship intentionally.

Just two weeks ago we saw YouTube censoring comments using a flippant term for Communist party propagandists. Is anyone really buying their argument that this was an accident? Around the same time, YouTube also removed a documentary by Michael Moore that was critical of the green energy orthodoxy—an entertaining observation given Moore is typically loved by those deputized by Minitrue. But who’s really buying the excuse that removing such an affront to the established narrative was simply due to a copyright claim? To use yet another Orwellian term, taking these responses at face value is an obvious example of doublethink: accepting as true that which is clearly false. With such continued censorship and the editorialization of individual opinions, one must expect this problem to worsen.

From one banned word to the digital gulags

Back to Knox, what happened next was perplexing. Tweeting about a later article on Bitcoin and banking, every single tweet containing a link to our blog was removed. I entice you to read the article if you’re interested; truthfully, it’s the culmination of two years meditating on this topic and I think more people would benefit from reading it than were allowed to see it. But if not, I’ll briefly opine that there’s nothing controversial in this article unless you’re a big fan of the mechanics of the contemporary financial system.

This is what my followers saw:

Or how about this example, further down in the thread. Tweet number 16 linked to an article we published before all of this started, and there’s not even an indication of a censored item. Just a missing number. The content disappeared completely, and frankly I am not sure even I would have noticed. It turns out there’s a strong case for numbering your Twitter threads: a missing block won’t validate to the careful eye.

We’re not the only ones affected by this banned word. Bitcoin author Knut Svanholm had to remove the historic context from the blurb of his latest book to appease the Amazon thinkpol (Thought Police):

Not your platform, not your voice

It might seem unusual to find this diatribe on a Bitcoin blog. But Bitcoin companies by nature deal with a lot of risk. Operating in such an environment requires uncompromising integrity and intellectual honesty. The most successful have strong convictions but open minds, built on rigorous analysis and presented openly to encourage debate. This in turn means that access to neutral platforms is a prerequisite—Knox will never toe the Party line; the company’s communication channels must be open to ideas and critical thinking.

Cultural apathy was already killing opinionated brands, even before this parade of censorship. But now that the situation is so clear, we can no longer tolerate it. You will have observed by now that this post is not on Medium. We took a month off from publishing content to get our own platform running, but even then we have concerns. It will be obvious to the reader that I’ve avoided mentioning the banned word in this piece. Because while it’s trivially easy to ditch Medium, the network effects of publishers like Twitter are a little harder to replicate at this point.

This sort of censorship should prompt you to question all official narratives, even if they seem to make sense to you. Don’t trust, verify—for everything. If so much as an off-hand mention of a carefully curated word gets an entire publication shadowbanned, then you can guarantee one thing: the powers that be have deemed you are not allowed to hear debate on this issue.

The “I fucking love science” crowd often forgets that science is not about proving anything. It’s about testing falsifiable hypotheses against measured data. It’s not an ideology. It’s not a priesthood. If you are not questioning “science”, you are not doing science. This is not my area of work, so I will not put any idea forward about the c*r*n*v*r*s itself, but to say it’s almost certain you’re missing a substantial part of the picture if so much as a mention gets you censored.

A short-lived kick-back against all of this initially was to call it the Wu Flu—a rhythmic reminder of where it appears to have originated (Wuhan) in the face of accusations that geography was somehow racist. But perhaps we should call it the WHO Flu. A reminder of the proven incompetence and corruption of the world government technocrats placed in charge of the narrative, and an allusion to the risk of depersoning (who?) that might be associated with questioning such actions.

Endnote: I also had an email correspondence with a family member about c*r*n*v*r*s that has completely disappeared from Gmail. I haven’t heard of anything similar and there is not enough in my personal experience to explore here, but if you’ve heard or experienced similar, I’d love to hear from you.

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