Taming Thought Engineers

Big Tech is peddling a new technology cocktail it claims will produce unbiased news and impartial information searches. In truth, Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and now Spotify, are using new digital tools to manipulate information in a deceptive campaign to influence viewpoints and control behavior. 

Silicon Valley uses biased algorithms and censorship policies together to form (or is it “conform”?) opinions and conclusions. With the use of social and psychological research, combined with unwitting and unauthorized experimentation on consumers, some of these tech giants have devised ways to change your mind and shape your views about political topics and candidates. 

Search engines cleverly elevate or demote items returned on consumer queries to promote a specific point of view. News aggregators blend fact with opinion to change your perception, judgement, and preferences. Algorithms promote positive stories from the Left to the first page, while the opposite is often true for stories coming from the Right. 

Information manipulation has become a standard practice for these large tech companies. It is sold as balanced news and neutral data searches. In the past this was called propaganda and brainwashing—now we call it Googling. 

The virtually omniscient power to deceive, force speech conformity, and impact the thoughts of millions of consumers, presents a danger to individualism, privacy, and freedom. As with dangerous narcotics or weapons of mass destruction, it should be appropriately monitored and regulated. 

This ongoing assault on free speech is justified with waifish claims from the perpetrators and their useful idiots about the need to preserve decency and personal dignity; and more noble yet, to avoid fake news and hate speech. If such claims sound familiar, they should—at least to those who still read history. Book-burners throughout the ages have uttered similar oaths. 

China’s Qin Dynasty (213–210 B.C.) buried Confucian scholars alive and burned books. The Mongols sacked Baghdad and destroyed its grand library in 1258. That really showed the West how it’s done. In the 1930s, university students, academia, and the Nazi party in Germany collaborated to burn hundreds of thousands of books for being “un-German.” Today, tech giants are collaborating with news agencies, students, academia, Hollywood, and the Democratic Party to restrict speech. 

Big tech has created algorithm-driven, information-deception platforms. They have changed the very definition of news, and now demand speech control, topic conformity, and serve as self-appointed arbiters of the truth. Intolerance and censorship are the re-imagined weapons of the Left. 

How long before we enter a Nineteen Eighty-Four scenario when entities or governments arbitrate “the truth”? Or are we already there? The Soviet Union proved this could be done, even by means of low tech, for most of the 20th century. Millions of people who failed to conform were killed or sent to gulags, and nonconforming news articles were routinely spiked. The Cuban revolution allowed no deviation from the approved truth, imprisoning those who failed to comply; while the Khmer Rouge and its truth campaign sowed the killing fields. So it goes with “the truth.” 

After President Trump was elected, tech giants, in close collaboration with many Democrats, launched an information war, wielding their version of truth. Facebook recently outsourced truth judgment with its notorious “fact checks.” This farcical business decision was no less leftist than when they did it secretly and internally. Google and Twitter use covert internal censors and algorithms to drive searchers toward a leftist viewpoint.

Some of these companies perfected censorship and information manipulation while servicing authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. Google led the way, growing and prospering under such regimes. They were inspired by this power and are implementing many of the same thought engineering techniques and censorship for a political objective in the United States. In a healthy republic, censoring the executive branch while permitting speech from the nation’s enemies might be considered sedition. 

What can be done? 

Legislators, attorneys general, and government agencies should move quickly to protect citizens. They should examine appropriate legislation, regulation, taxation, and legal recourse against companies that manipulate information to deceive their customers. These might look similar to previous consumer protection legislation, designed to protect citizens from confusing loans, credit applications, and deceptive contracts. 

Amendments to the Communications Decency Act could be considered. Experimentation on unwitting consumers should be prosecuted. Prominent digital warning notices should be required on the home page of violators to inform consumers. Warning label precedent was set for the tobacco and alcohol industries, and information manipulation is no less insidious. Antitrust suits should be explored where tech giants hold a monopoly, or a disproportionate market segment. Online information companies should be appropriately regulated and taxed based on their respective industry. 

In short, if entities engage in censorship, information manipulation, algorithm-driven deception, speech restrictions, or purposeful news placement they should be appropriately regulated, taxed, or punished. Perhaps all three.

About Steve Lahr

Steven R. Lahr is a retired Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel, Security Consultant, and an authority on information operations, terrorism, and revolutionary warfare.

Photo: Akindo/Getty Images

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4 responses to “Taming Thought Engineers”

  1. They are also keepers of our social score. Which they could sell to political parties who can reward/punish us for our apparent beliefs.

  2. Why do you want Disqus? It seems like a privacy concern to me and is designed for advertising to site users.