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Freelancers Wanted: Help Knock Out the Mainstream Propaganda Machine
For a Racket special project, bodies needed
I started working on the #TwitterFiles months ago in the hope of answering a question about whether or not the government was teaming up with private platforms to censor political content. The answer quickly proved a decisive yes, but I’ve since run into a larger, more troubling problem that’s going to require many more person-hours and digging to understand.
For a one-time project we’re aiming to publish in March, Racket needs a hand. We’re looking for the following:
— a reporter or academic with experience researching government contracts, and/or the funding of NGOs or academic research institutions
— an infographics designer, preferably with experience in areas like ecosystem mapping
Though we already have an excellent FOIA writer, experience in that area could be a plus. If you have other skills in mining publicly available information, you could be a fit for the project. Applicants should write to email@example.com. This is not volunteer work — we pay — but it is temporary.
What’s the job? Assignments will vary, and you’d be working under an editor (not me), but roughly: we’re trying to map a new wing of the U.S. government’s propaganda apparatus that popped into view thanks to the Twitter Files. State-directed censorship is scary, but the more disturbing activity we’re seeing inside companies like Twitter involves what you might call “offensive” information operations, a type of aggressive official messaging that all governments practice but is supposed to be restricted by law in the United States.
For decades, our government at least loosely complied with legislation like the Smith-Mundt Act, which prohibits aiming at the domestic population any official propaganda “intended for foreign audiences.” However, gloves came off in recent years.
In a remarkably short time since the end of the Obama presidency, the U.S. government has funded an elaborate network of NGOs and think-tanks whose researchers call themselves independent “disinformation experts.” They describe their posture as defensive — merely “tracking” or “countering” foreign disinformation — but in truth they aggressively court both the domestic news media and platforms like Twitter, often becoming both the sources for news stories and/or the referring authorities for censorship requests.
The end result has been relentless censorship of, and mountains of (often deceptive) state-sponsored propaganda about, legitimate American political activity. In the Twitter Files we see correspondence from state agencies and state-sponsored research entities describing everything from support of the Free Palestine movement to opposition to vaccine passports as illicit foreign propaganda. Some of this messaging devolves into outright smear campaigns, with efforts to denounce the organic #WalkAway hashtag as a Russian “psychological operation” serving as a particularly lurid example. The Hamilton 68 story (about which more is coming) hints at this dynamic.
The irony is the entire field of “disinformation studies” itself has the features of an inorganic astroturfing operation. Disinformation “labs” cast themselves as independent, objective, politically neutral resources, but in a shocking number of cases, their funding comes at least in part from government agencies like the Department of Defense. Far from being neutral, they often have clear mandates to play up foreign and domestic threats while arguing for digital censorship, de-platforming, and other forms of information control.
Worse, messages from these institutions are parroted more or less automatically by our corporate press, which has decided that instead of a network of independent/adversarial newspapers and TV stations, what the country needs is one giant Voice of America, bleating endlessly about “threats to democracy.” I’ve come to believe a sizable percentage of reporters don’t know that their sources are funded by the government, or that they’re repeating government messaging not just occasionally but all the time. The ones who don’t know this truth need to hear it, and the ones who knew all along need to be exposed. This project is about both of those things, too.
Foreign state media is labeled on platforms like Twitter.
I want to put labels on our own propaganda, and need your help to do it.