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Digital Disinformation And Techno-Surveillance Capitalism – OpEd

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“The media is not your friend. The media is a weapon of the elite in the battle for your mind. They are not plucky truth-tellers but, for the most part, are enormously powerful corporations propagandizing us for their own interests and agendas. They do not challenge power; they are power, the voice of the powerful. The mass media is not trying to provide the public with factual information, but rather to gaslight and propagandize them into subservience and support for elite positions, most of which are against our own interests.” — Alan Macleod, Propaganda in the Information Age (2019)

We live in an age where the ruling elites are rapidly expanding and bolstering their well-oiled, tightly interlocked system of discursive dominance. The transmission agents of capitalist disinformation are major news outlets and internet giants like Facebook, Twitter and Google. Whether it is Iran, China, Venezuela, DPRK, Russia, Syria or Bolivia, capitalism’s brainwashing campaign never stops vilifying those countries that are perceived as threats to imperialism. Not only countries, but heretic individuals are also subject to the relentless propaganda of status quo forces in the form of boycotts, lawsuits or smear campaigns. The present-day situation calls for an analysis of the corporate-controlled informational system which helps preserve the world’s wretched conditions. 

Capitalism’s Mass Propaganda 

In 1988, Edward S. Herman, an economist from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania and Noam Chomsky, a linguist from MIT in Boston, published their seminal book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media where they wrote: “The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfil this role requires systematic propaganda.”

To map the systematic way in which the media is fully integrated into capitalism and functions as an integral actor in class warfare, Herman and Chomsky developed a propaganda model where information about the world had to pass through a series of filters before reaching the mass media’s audiences. They identified five major filters: concentrated media ownership ensures that there is a structural link between informational flows and corporate interests; official sourcing, which leads to self-censorship as media outlets become dependent on the government for accessing information; anti-communism as a national religion, which “helps mobilize the populace against… anybody advocating policies that threaten property interests or support accommodation with Communist states and radicalism”; advertising revenue model snips out information which advertisers don’t like and results in distortion; and organized flak uses hate-mongering rhetoric, psychological pressure and economic threats to punish those journalists who don’t assent to the status quo. 

Justin Podur writes, “In our media environment, these five filters have become supercharged. And new filters have refined propaganda into something more like mind control.” This was bound to happen. As capitalism kick-started itself through necropolitical neoliberalism, the dynamics of class struggle tiled entirely in favor of the bourgeoisie, with the proletariat being left to console itself with the “trickle-down effect” – a euphemism for feeding off the detritus left by the rich. With the economic strengthening of the capitalist class and the weakening of proletarian power, there was a general consolidation of capitalism’s propagandistic capacities. 

Public broadcasting declined, mergers and centralization of media increased, newsrooms’ incorporation into global capitalist networks accelerated and resources for investigative journalism shrank considerably. Today, merely five gigantic corporations, Comcast, Disney, News Corporation, AT&T and National Amusements, control the vast majority of American media, and similar monopolies exist throughout the world. Instead of democratizing journalism, internet and communication technologies morphed into techno-tyranny-surveillance capitalism, resulting in what we have now – plutocrat-sponsored pervasive mind control. 

Resisting Ideological Indoctrination 

Capitalism’s method of manufacturing consent is extremely potent because it does so in a way that is imperceptible and creates a myth of “freedom”. Herman and Chomsky thus write: “The elite domination of the media and marginalization of dissidents that results from the operation of these filters occurs so naturally that media news people, frequently operating with complete integrity and goodwill, are able to convince themselves that they choose and interpret the news ‘objectively’ and on the basis of professional news values.”

The naturalization of the ruling class’ perspective directly results from a person’s passive situatedness in capitalism’s systemic framework. In his book On power and ideology, Chomsky states, “Those who choose to conform, hence to remain within the system, will soon find that they internalize the beliefs and attitudes that they express and that shape their work”. To overcome the limits placed by the bourgeoisie on people’s consciousness, we need to build alternative forums and institutions which can wage a war of attrition against capitalism’s ideological foundations. 

Yanis Iqbal

Yanis Iqbal

Yanis Iqbal is a student and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at [email protected] His articles have been published by different magazines and websites such as Monthly Review Online, ZNet, Canada Files, Green Social Thought, Weekly Worker, News and Letters Weekly, Economic and Political Weekly, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, Dandelion Salad, Arena, Eurasia Review, Coventry University Press, Culture Matters, Global Research, Dissident Voice, LA Progressive, Axis of Logic, Marxism-Leninism Today, Countercurrents, Counterview, Socialist Project, Hampton Institute, Cosmonaut, Orinoco Tribune, Ecuador Today, People’s Review, Eleventh Column, Pressenza, Karvaan India, Clarion India, OpEd News, Janata Weekly, The Iraq File, Portside and the Institute of Latin American Studies.

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