Put aside, for the briefest of moments, whatever you believe about vaccines. I’m not going to try to convince you one way or the other about vaccinating children and the alleged health risks posed by vaccines. I’m not even going to get into the debate about whether or not parents should be compelled to have their children vaccinated. I want to talk about free speech (technically, freedom of thought) and whether or not human adults can be trusted with making their own choices.
I’ve done my own research about the science in favor and against the anti-vaxxer movement. I made my decision based on this information. What my decision was isn’t relevant for this discussion. The point that needs to be first considered is the fact that there is data is out there for people to read. The videos are there for people to watch. The opinions are available for people to digest.
But that may not be the case for long. Those opposed to the anti-vaxxer movement are urging everyone from tech companies to the federal government to the United Nations to essentially outlaw any information that does not conform with the majority opinion. Much of these efforts are driven by the pharmaceutical industries themselves, but most is driven by concerned citizens who believe parents should not have a choice about their children’s healthcare as it pertains to vaccines. Their argument is a good one: When anti-vaxxers put their own children at risk, they put other people’s children at risk. This is a textbook argument about one person’s rights impeding on another person’s rights.
The counter argument is that if vaccines are so effective, then there’s no reason for those who have their children vaccinated to worry about being exposed to children who are not vaccinated. Again, it’s a good argument.
And that’s the point. There are good arguments on both sides when it comes to rights. The science is heavily weighted towards favoring vaccinations, but that doesn’t mean the science that talks of risks of vaccinations should be stifled.
As is usually the case, I am referring specifically to freedom of thought rather than freedom of speech, since technically there’s no freedom of speech issue here with private companies banning anti-vaxxer information. They are private companies, and while they inappropriately enjoy certain protections as content platforms while simultaneously invoking their privilege as content aggregators, the bottom line remains the same: thoughts are being suppressed because they’re considered dangerous by some.
This isn’t a 1st Amendment issue because as of right now, the government isn’t involved in the suppression as far as we know. That means the battle over whether or not information from anti-vaxxers should be shareable on social media, searchable on Google, and discussion-worthy on mainstream news outlets is becoming a series of oversteps on the part of the companies helping with suppression. This should concern everyone regardless of their choices and beliefs regarding vaccinations.
Those who have followed this topic over the past few months are likely aware Google and Facebook, among others, have embraced certain types of policies with varying levels of transparency behind them in an effort to make anti-vaxxer information as inaccessible as possible. Those opinions are quashed now and the crackdown hasn’t even reached its apex. Now, GoFundMe is no longer allowing fundraisers for anti-vaxxer organizations on their platform, either.
It’s extremely important to understand this point: I would rather a government say vaccinations are mandatory than for the “information czars” of social media and search engines to quash ideas that are unpopular with the majority. That’s not an opinion swayed by my personal perspectives on vaccinations; I’d feel this way whether I was a Big Pharma lawyer or Charlie Sheen. But we’re adults. We can discern information and should be allowed to do so. Some will choose wisely. Others will not. It’s not the responsibility of tech companies or governments to tell us which information is too dangerous for our petty little minds to access.
Just give us the facts and let us make up our own minds.
When government says vaccinations are mandatory, there’s recourse for those against them. When Facebook, Google, or GoFundMe think anti-vaxxer advocates are worth hiding or removing altogether from their platforms, there’s no recourse.
Is technology making it feel like time is speeding up?
Some of the things they put out at Truthstream Media are extremely compelling. Then there are times when their videos are a bit blah. This is one of those times, but don’t be discouraged. There’s actually some pretty interesting information to glean from all of this.
Time does seem to be getting faster, or at least passing faster. Most attribute it to age. Some have speculated about the changing speed of light which scientists have demonstrated is getting slower. Since time, space, and light are all relative to each other, a slowing speed of light would actually make us feel like time is getting faster. But the notion that Truthstream Media latched onto is both the real likely cause as well as an interesting bit of information in and of itself.
Our attention spans are dropping thanks the prevalence of information and media in our lives. When once it could take hours just to download a television show, today we can stream movies without interruption on our smartphones. We’re able to bounce around from website to website, app to app, all in our search for the next stimulation, the next dopamine hit.
Since we’re able to get information more quickly, is that the reason our attention spans are growing shorter? Is that also the reason time seems to be moving faster? Know knows. It’s a decent video, albeit not their best.
Endless Mayfly: Iran’s disinformation wing that attacked America, Israel, and Saudi Arabia online
There are times when Iran seems to be one of the most sophisticated nations in the world when it comes to covert operations. They don’t have the level of techniques employed by espionage experts in the United States, Russia, or Israel, nor do they have the technical prowess of China or North Korea, but they have a level of deceptiveness that makes them formidable nonetheless.
But when it comes to disinformation campaigns, they’re ineptitude is almost comical, as Citizen Lab revealed early this morning. The media and technology watchdog and research group has built a reputation for uncovering some of the most complex disinformation schemes conducted across the internet. Their comprehensive uncovering of Endless Mayfly is another huge feather in their bountiful cap.
Here are the key findings from their report:
- Endless Mayfly is an Iran-aligned network of inauthentic personas and social media accounts that spreads falsehoods and amplifies narratives critical of Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Israel.
- Endless Mayfly publishes divisive content on websites that impersonate legitimate media outlets. Inauthentic personas are then used to amplify the content into social media conversations. In some cases, these personas also privately and publicly engage journalists, political dissidents, and activists.
- Once Endless Mayfly content achieves social media traction, it is deleted and the links are redirected to the domain being impersonated. This technique creates an appearance of legitimacy, while obscuring the origin of the false narrative. We call this technique “ephemeral disinformation”.
- Our investigation identifies cases where Endless Mayfly content led to incorrect media reporting and caused confusion among journalists, and accusations of intentional wrongdoing. Even in cases where stories were later debunked, confusion remained about the intentions and origins behind the stories.
- Despite extensive exposure of Endless Mayfly’s activity by established news outlets and research organizations, the network is still active, albeit with some shifts in tactics.
It was initially believed the organization was a Russian proxy, but their techniques and subjects eventually pointed to a likelihood of Iran being involved. While Citizen Lab rightly proclaims a likelihood instead of certainty of Iranian involvement, the data seems to be so clearly linked to Iran that there are only two reasonable explanations: either it is someone trying awfully hard to appear to be linked to Iran, or it’s Iran.
I’m going with the latter.
Their favored technique seems to be establishing fake websites with names close enough to legitimate websites that they’re able to fool prolific social media users and eager journalists dying for a juicy story. Buzzfeed News fell victim to one such instance on a website that looked identical to The Guardian, but that used a URL with a Turkish symbol replacing the “i” in “Guardian.”
They weren’t the only ones fooled. This operation seems to be quite vast.
But there were other obvious signs of falsehood that should have been noticed by the “useful idiots” propagating their disinformation. One article linked to from the report shows plenty of errors that a trained journalist should have noticed, and in this case, he did.
On November 5, 2018, Ali Al-Ahmed, a Washington-based expert in terrorism in the Gulf states and a vocal critic of Saudi Arabia, received a direct message on Twitter from “Mona A. Rahman” (@Mona_ARahman, now suspended).
After engaging in some polite conversation in Arabic with Al-Ahmed, “Mona” shared what appeared to be an article from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. The article contained a purported quote from former Mossad director Tamir Pardo, alleging that former Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman had been dismissed by Netanyahu for being a Russian agent. These allegations, if true, might reasonably be expected to strain relations between Russia and Israel.
The story sent to Al-Ahmed is so loaded with spelling and grammatical mistakes, it’s a wonder anyone could get fooled if this is indicative of the quality of Iran’s disinformation work.
If we assume Iran is, indeed, behind all of this, what does that tell us? We know tensions have been rising between Iran and both the U.S. and Israel. We can assume if they’ve been working at this since at least early 2016, they’ve had an agenda that extended to long before President Trump was elected. They probably found it unlikely he would be. So their goals weren’t to influence the U.S. elections as much as they were intended to shift sentiment from the rest of the world towards the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.
The full report is a wonderful read. As research on such topics, this one is exhaustive and enlightening.
But it still doesn’t answer the question of what this all means for the geopolitical positioning of Iran. They clearly want something, but that something has very likely changed since inception. Their economy was starting to flourish when President Obama was in office. Under President Trump, their economy has begun a rapid fall, prompting alleged actions ranging from sabotaging oil tankers to preparing to strike U.S. targets. They are desperate, and having access to a disinformation organization may help them seed discontent with the United States as our military stance in the Persian Gulf becomes more aggressive.
Iran has been acting like a wild animal cornered by superior forces ever since President Trump started pulling back the layers of protection given to them by President Obama. What will they do next? Their desperation is showing.
U.S. points to Iran being behind weekend oil tanker bombings
Rumors of wars keep popping up in the Middle East and around the world as the United States continues to have our allies prodded and provoked. The latest example is Iran, which U.S. military officials have fingered for the wave of oil tanker bombings over the weekend.
BREAKING: The Associated Press reports that an American military team’s initial assessment of the 4 ships that were bombed over the weekend in the Persian Gulf is that "Iranian or Iranian-backed proxies" were behind the attack
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) May 13, 2019
The Associated Press reported that a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, “said each ship has a 5- to 10-foot hole in it, near or just below the water line, and the team’s early belief is that the holes were caused by explosive charges.”
Was this the intelligence the United States received last month, likely from Ali Nasiri, that prompted the dramatic increase in our military presence in the Persian Gulf? If it is, then this could mark the beginning of actions taken by the United States and/or Israel against Iran.
Not to sound too conspiratorial, but the timing of all this is strange. Now that the United States has a stronger military presence in the region, one would think it should have been enough to dissuade Iran from carrying out such attacks. This leads me to two possible conclusions:
- Iran wants to get attacked. Their economy is in such shambles and getting worse, they feel if they can prompt an attack against them while still being able to claim plausible deniability by using their proxies instead of their military, they will get the sympathies and aid from gullible nations around the world and continue to paint the United States and Israel as the aggressors.
- Someone staged the attacks to implicate Iran. Saudi Arabian proxies would be the most likely culprits.
The former is by far more likely than the latter, but nothing should be ruled out until we have all the facts.
Either way, Iran continues to play a very dangerous game, one they know they cannot win but that they hope they can survive until they get a handle on all of the moving parts in this situation. Even a massive attack from the United States could leave Iran with their current leadership structure intact; it would not behoove the United States to get involved in regime change now or any time in the reasonable future considering our track record in such things.
“We’ll see what happens with Iran. If they do anything it will be a very bad mistake, if they do anything. I’m hearing little stories about Iran. If they do anything, they will suffer greatly. We’ll see what happens with Iran.” – President Trump
I’m against getting involved in any wars that don’t involve us, but Iran continues to creep closer and closer to direct conflict. It’s as if they want us to attack while painting themselves as non-aggressors. These are dangerous times.
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