17 January 2020 — See You in 2020
If you’ve paid attention to the unprecedented online censorship that Western governments and tech companies have been carrying out in recent years, you’ve noticed a pattern. Almost every time a notable account gets shut down or measures are put in place to sabotage the alternative media, these entities claim that they’re doing it for some sort of national security purpose. The first social media policies to filter out “fake news” were done in response to widespread establishment hysteria about Russian propaganda. This rationale of combating supposed foreign disinformation became a precedent for actions like the massive social media account purges of summer and fall 2018, wherein Facebook shut down the page of the anti-imperialist outlet Venezuela Analysis and deleted major anti-police pages.
Now that war tensions have drastically escalated with Iran, the online censors are admitting with more openness that their goal is to advance Washington’s foreign policy goals. As tech companies have suspended or restricted the accounts of the supreme leader of Iran, the president of Syria, and the leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as alternative media outlets and ordinary people have been censored, and as Facebook has announced it will censor content which is in support of Iran’s recently assassinated general, the goal has been almost explicitly stated. Facebook has said that it’s done this in order to comply with the White House’s sanctions on Iran, indicating that the other tech companies have had similar motives amid their systematic targeting of accounts that challenge U.S. regime change goals.
It seems that from the perspective of these companies, they’re rightly finessing the geopolitical situation, moving to crack down on anti-imperialist content that will put them under scrutiny from the government or the media. This is certainly the kind of justification they’ve presented for their censorship efforts, with platforms consistently removing the same material that’s decried by the political and media class as “misinformation” or “foreign propaganda.” Despite this narrative that the censorship is mundane and sensible, its ultimate purpose is clear: to prepare the United States for a scenario of total war.
When I say “total war,” I don’t just mean a war with Iran or its allies Russia and China. I also mean the war that the United States military is going to be waging against internal unrest, mass migration, and climate change-related natural disasters in the coming years and decades. The aim of this censorship campaign is social control, which is becoming increasingly vital for the U.S. empire as the world becomes less stable.
Recent statements from the technocrats who run the empire’s military/intelligence bureaucracy reveal this anticipation of a chaotic coming paradigm. “We are facing environments that the masters of war never foresaw,” warned the narrator of a 2016 Pentagon video that showcases how the U.S. military will respond to climate collapse and social unrest. “We are facing a threat that requires us to redefine doctrine and the force in radically new and different ways.”
Later that year, the United States Army War College published a document that detailed plans for fighting in what the authors call “contemporary Stalingrads,” where “civil unrest” both abroad and in America itself will “plague the governance of such cities and play significant roles in the military operations conducted within them,” necessitating “the restoration of order and stability.”
It’s no surprise that the document calls for increased efforts to control the internet as these conflicts develop. It says that “The other problem when dealing with cyberspace in relation to megacity contingencies is that adversaries can exploit the almost automatic transparency that it creates — both to show US forces in bad light and their own actions very positively.” It concludes that “Part of IPB [intelligence preparation for the urban battlefield] prior to any action in a megacity or sub-megacity must be to identify the services providers for both telecommunications and the Internet. It is also important to identify online opinion-makers who could have a major impact in any controversy over US military intervention.”
During these military operations-which the document says could take place in “cities like Amsterdam, London, New York, Paris, and Tokyo”-larger difficulties will indeed arise for the stability of the U.S. government. If Hurricane Katrina happened in 2020, social media would explode as people catalog atrocities like the government’s neglect of the poorer storm victims and the violence that private mercenaries carried out within 2005 New Orleans. The military evidently fears that if the authorities are put on blast in such ways during situations of crisis, broader unrest will be sparked.
The events of the last few years have vindicated these speculations; the global crisis of neoliberalism has recently caused millions of people around the world to carry out strikes and protests, and all it could take for such unrest to emerge in the U.S. is an event of popular outrage that gains traction through social media.
In anticipation of this instability, the system is cracking down against dissent, and against groups that are deemed to be threats to order. Thousands of migrants (along with some American activists) have been detained by ICE amid increased border militarization. Trump has further militarized the police and carried out a what he’s called a “surge” against poor nonwhite communities. This month, police came to an Oakland neighborhood with a tank and army grade weapons and removed mothers and babies from their homes. Whether or not World War III happens, the U.S. government is preparing to use its resources for a war against America’s own population.
In India, which is more severely impacted by inequality and climate change, we’re seeing how a fascistic capitalist regime manages the Internet in the face of growing social collapse. India has become the Internet shut-down capital of the world, with the government regularly cutting off communities from the Internet for months at a time in the last decade. As the genocidal case of Kashmir most clearly shows, the far-right Hindu nationalist Modi government is doing this with the aim of social control.
And as the U.S. Army War College’s 2016 document hinted at, the U.S. could do this as well when it’s decided that a functional internet is too dangerous to be allowed for certain places. Look to the state of martial law that was imposed in Chile last year to get a sense for how Washington will respond when unrest breaks out in the U.S. empire’s core. In every facet of society, the Internet most of all, freedom of expression will be treated as a liability.
The police, the military, and U.S.-aligned paramilitaries will be relied on more and more to maintain order, creating a situation where information will have to be much more tightly controlled; remember that online outrage about a 2011 incident of police violence galvanized the Occupy Wall Street movement. America’s intelligence community was heavily involved in monitoring the Occupy protests, and it learned from them that the Internet will need to be more heavily policed in the event of future unrest.
Now we see just what the censorship campaign and “foreign propaganda” hysteria of the last few years has been leading towards: a thorough suppression of online dissent and the criminalization of disfavored journalists and activists. Before long, when America’s environmental and social crises deepen and desperate people take to the streets, the corporate state will reveal what it means by “countering disinformation” and “keeping our country safe.” The main “propagandists” the authorities are censoring will be journalists within the country, and the main “threats” the bourgeois military forces are fighting will be Americans themselves.