Many people are becoming increasingly aware of the infrastructure being created by governments working hand-in-glove with Big Tech in order to censor any form of dissent. Even two years ago this view would have seemed somewhat paranoid, but through the important disclosures made by Senators Grassley and Hawley, the Twitter Files and also Big Brother Watch’s report on the Ministry of Truth, there is now irrefutable evidence that censorship is taking place on an unprecedented scale.
New research by Thinking Coalition shows that the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) is playing an integral part in this censorship. The research highlights connections (depicted on an interactive map) showing the unhealthy alliance between Big Tech, government agencies (mainly security related) and oligarch foundations who cooperate in order to shut down dissent.
ISD grew out of the Club of Three, established by Lord Weidenfeld in 1996. Although the initial initiative was on countering extremism, a very worthwhile cause, it appears that before Lord Weidenfeld’s death in 2016, the ISD had already been used to counter ‘disinformation’. Judging by its recent annual reports, it seems that the vast majority of ISD’s efforts are now focused on ‘disinformation’. In particular, the ISD seeks to restrict free speech in the areas of:
- 2020 election analysis;
- COVID-19 disinformation; and
- Climate Change disinformation.
Focusing on the second two objectives, it is clear that they are not related to countering extremism. Accordingly, we believe that the ISD’s activities have overreached its original and worthwhile purpose.
Broadly speaking ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’ are defined by the ISD and others as views which do not comply with the state’s declared position on a given subject. The category of misinformation, in essence, relates to erroneous data or opinions, whereas disinformation is a position based on knowingly incorrect data or arguments. Misinformation and disinformation are terms the ISD applies to undermine and negate any challenge to the mainstream narrative. In reality, misinformation means very little, since human knowledge has advanced through argument and counterargument. The idea that the state, or ISD, establishes absolute truth indicates a high degree of arrogance.
This is a dangerous precedent given how wrong governments have been, especially in the very recent past, for example, stating vaccines are 95% effective against Covid infection. With government propaganda recently exposed, it is hard to imagine that anyone could trust in the narrative. Yet, the infallibility of governments is an important baseline for the ISD and other statists.
The basic methodology of ISD, as well as a plethora of similar organisations, is to trawl through social media posts in order to identify heretics questioning the state’s current position on any given subject. Such organisations have been known to compile databases of non-believers, the best known probably being the DeSmog: Climate Disinformation Database. Infamy is such that even death does not result in absolution, such as in the case of David Bellamy who remains targeted even in memoriam.
The ISD’s main focus is elucidating network graphs which visualise interactions of users via social media, primarily Twitter. To provide this analysis with a ‘sciencey’ feeling, various network analysis tools are used and statistics, such as network density, are quoted. However, the entire exercise is flawed from the outset since the interactions of atomised Twitter users do not constitute anything in the nature of a network. The diagrams visualise the intensity of interactions between various Twitter users based on likes and retweets. However, liking or retweeting material from another user does not make you part of a network and ninety-nine times out of a hundred Twitter users will never meet or have any other kind of interaction outside of Twitter. Subtly, the language applied to groupings of Twitter users who, to some extent, share opinions is always negative with terms such as ‘disinformation community’.
As well as labelling Twitter groups in this way, the ISD will also smear specific individuals who receive a lot of social media traction, i.e., those expressing popular views. The most commonly used and increasingly meaningless smears are: ‘far Right’, ‘anti-vaxxers’, ‘climate change deniers’.
In addition to static mapping, the ISD and others are moving to live mapping of discussions online. By their own description, this involves sophisticated programming and it is likely that an enormous amount of time and money is being invested into this technology, again with the main objective of silencing dissent. The ISD alone spends over £5 million per year and, at this stage, it is likely that tens of millions of pounds have been invested by such groups into developing tools to identify political dissent in the U.K. and other countries
Ironically, the ISD and others complain that the opponents of government climate policy are anti-science. Objectively, nobody is more anti-science that the climate alarmism lobby whereby their whole modus operandi is to identify a spokesperson with almost no scientific credentials (e.g., Greta Thunberg) who then seeks to emotionally manipulate the wider public into accepting climate alarmism. Bjorn Lomborg’s book False Alarm meticulously dissects stories on hurricanes, climate related deaths, polar bears etc., and shows that these stories are either misrepresented or are outright lies.
Climate alarmists, like everyone who pushes faulty dogma, aim to silence opposition. The ISD proposes censorship through legislative means and close cooperation with Big Tech platforms, where it has several related initiatives; one is to ensure that its particular world view is incorporated into Big Tech’s Community Standards. While this sounds reasonable, the reality is that ‘community guidelines’ means all things to all people and is open to interpretation. In our experience, these guidelines are little more than the state’s current position on any particular topic, certainly not any kind of absolute truth. Big Tech users can be accused of breaching those guidelines (as we have been), but without identifying the offending action and without providing any option to remedy this breach. The limited right of appeal (if it even exists) on Big Tech platforms is self-regulated by the platform itself and not referred to any external adjudicator; Big Tech is the judge, jury and executioner. In perfect Kafkaesque style, the original breach is often never specified, and the accused is not aware of the offending content which breached the vaguely worded community guidelines.
As set out in the excellent analysis by Francis Hoar in ‘In Protection of Freedom of Speech‘, there can never be a reasonable case for removing that which is neither illegal under criminal law or defamatory under civil law. There are already robust laws which outlaw the use of speech to incite racial, religious or other hatred and civil laws to prevent defamation and other transgressions. There is simply no reasonable basis under which a partisan organisation like the ISD can present its own views as absolute truth and then insist on platforms policing their users to remove dissent to the ISD’s position.
Also encouraged is state sanctioned censorship via legislation which covers the so-called ‘legal, but harmful’ categories of free speech. In addition, the ISD encourages further censorship via legislation including the EU Digital Services Act (DSA) and the U.K. Online Safety Bill.
There is a very limited case for pointing out factually incorrect information posted on social media but only in clear cut cases of falsification and not in connection with views or opinions. In addition, this process should apply even-handedly, which would mean that in many cases it would be applied to the state and its representatives who regularly make untrue statements. For example, President Biden’s untrue statement that “you’re not going to get Covid if you have these vaccinations”.
Strikingly, the authors of the ISD’s recent report ‘Deny, Deceive, Delay’ have little discernible scientific education or professional experience that would enable them to determine what is misinformation. The head of ISD Climate Research and Policy graduated in Arabic and Spanish and her prior experience was as Regional Director Arts at the British Council – but this lack of credentials doesn’t impinge on her willingness to smear scientists like Bjorn Lomborg.
In order to illuminate these nefarious connections, we developed a simple network map for the ISD, where the links between the ISD and others represent real world links in the form of funding or other cooperation. The exact nature of each link between entities in the map can be viewed by hovering over the relevant connection. The ISD lists its funders, but there is no indication as to the relative contributions and, therefore, the relative influence in the context of an approximate £5 million annual income.
The map includes three categories of entity which routinely feature in policy setting, namely:
- A small group of around four foundations set up by ultra-wealthy individuals;
- Big Tech companies;
- Multiple national government agencies.
The same small group of large foundations fund NGOs which develop policy in all major areas including public health, climate and in this case digital censorship (CIFF, Open Society Foundations and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation). They then link (via ISD in this case) with multiple governments around the world, particularly in the Anglosphere and in particular with security agencies of those governments.
Of course, cooperation between big business, governments and foundations is welcome, but there is the risk that this cooperation will be exploited and subvert the democratic process. Based on the recent disclosures via Senators Grassley, Hawley and others, it is clear that the cooperation between the state and Big Tech is moving in a unhealthy and coercive direction. Almost all major Big Tech companies appear in the ISD map, either as funders, partners in various initiatives (e.g., The Shared Endeavour Fund) or recipients of various reports from ISD. In the last category, ISD contacts Big Tech companies with a view to having specific content and users removed.
As mentioned above, the ISD cooperates with various other entities with a similar outlook. One such example is the charity Demos, which submitted a joint response to the Online Harms White Paper and shares common funders Google and the U.K. Government. Demos, in turn, is funded by GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), a U.K. Government intelligence agency.
Another important feature of the ISD map is the global nature of this cooperation, with multiple government agencies from the U.K., U.S., EU, Canada and Australia working with ISD.
The ISD (and others) claim a special status in their interactions with government as representatives of wider civil society. In fact, contrary to this, the ISD does not represent a large section of society, but, rather, actively works against sections of society by trying to censor popular commentators and researchers. It appears that government policy is disproportionately influenced by well-funded and well-organised interest groups like the ISD leading to increasing impositions placed on law abiding individuals who, by and large, wish to be left alone.
In conclusion, we believe that the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) censorship initiatives are not reasonable, are a threat to freedom and should be vigorously opposed.
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