Oh What a Tangled Web We Freeze

Online surveillance(Image: Online surveillance via Shutterstock)If you’re a blogger in Russia, a new law says you have to register with the government.

If you’re a blogger in America, there’s no need to register with the government. The government, along with its corporate sponsor-partners, already has your name, your number, your address, your whereabouts, your movements in both geography and cyberspace. This is accomplished at no inconvenience to yourself, so as to give you the illusion that your freedoms are still being protected and respected. It’s a balance between your privacy and their security, you see.

Being forced to divulge your identity at Bloggingrad Central seems so unnecessary, so ham-handed. With several journalist murders already under his belt, Putin’s new requirement smacks of paranoia. Russia already ranks a dismal 148th in Reporters Without Borders’ annual report on world press freedoms. But since the ranking hasn’t budged an inch since last year, maybe Vlad is aiming to surpass North Korea, Iraq and Eritrea in the race to the bottom of next year’s list.

And although the USA ranks much higher than Russia, at Number 48, it slipped a whopping 13 places from last year’s ranking. From the report’s summary:

Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example, far from it. Freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs, marking a disturbing retreat from democratic practices. Investigative journalism often suffers as a result.

Among reasons for giving the USA its terrible score, the journalism rights group pointed to the Obama administration’s unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers as sources of leaks; the trial and conviction of Chelsea Manning; the ruthless pursuit of Edward Snowden; the Department of Justice’s seizure of Associated Press phone records; the hounding of New York Times reporter James Risen to try to force his testimony against a CIA source; and the conviction and imprisonment of journalist Barrett Brown for his alleged hacking into the Stratfor private intelligence website.

And if and when the Trans Pacific Partnership goes through, the government and its corporate partners might go even further, awarding themselves the absolute power to shut down websites they don’t like. According to leaks coming out of the ultra-secretive negotiations, even linking to articles from a blog-post could be declared copyright infringement and grounds for immediate shutdown — without warning and with no recourse for the blogger-journalists. And even if the TPP fails and the blogs escape shutdown, there’s always the pending Comcast-TWC merger. If it proceeds as planned, the media-political complex will have the absolute power to effectively bury or slow down traffic to sites. An orgy of bribe-taking from politicians pretending to mull the whole thing over has already broken out. Net neutrality may soon be a thing of the past.

There’s really no need here for any puny Putinesque blogging register. Before we know it, we’ll have one huge Chris Christie-ish traffic jam on our own information superhighway. Censorship can be accomplished in so many ways. There’s the iron-fisted, potboiler/spy thriller of a Putin way. Or there’s the smarmy, ice cold fingers clenching wads of cash American way. The goal and the results are the same: the silencing of the masses.

Meanwhile, dutifully adhering to its own function as quasi-registered White House propagandist, The New York Times sounded the front-page alarm about Russia and the evil Putin:

Russia has taken another major step toward restricting its once freewheeling Internet, as President Vladimir V. Putin quietly signed a new law requiring popular online voices to register with the government, a measure that lawyers, Internet pioneers and political activists said Tuesday would give the government a much wider ability to track who said what online.

Mr. Putin’s action on Monday, just weeks after he disparaged the Internet as “a special C.I.A. project,” borrowed a page from the restrictive Internet playbooks of many governments around the world that have been steadily smothering online freedoms they once tolerated.

(snip)

Widely known as the “bloggers law,” the new Russian measure specifies that any site with more than 3,000 visitors daily will be considered a media outlet akin to a newspaper and be responsible for the accuracy of the information published.

Besides registering, bloggers can no longer remain anonymous online, and organizations that provide platforms for their work such as search engines, social networks and other forums must maintain computer records on Russian soil of everything posted over the previous six months.

Hmmm. The New York Times administration mouthpiece requires its bloggers to register — and until recently, it required “verified” contributors to use their real names and jump through an extremely anti-private Facebook hoop. And naturally, the NSA would never dream of monitoring or infiltrating Times commenting threads, blogs, or any other social networks.

The Times article conveniently forgets to mention that right here in the Land of the Free, a clause in a proposed federal shield law designed to protect reporters would also strip bloggers of their rights under the First Amendment. Senator Dianne Feinstein, miffed about revelations from Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, wants the legislation amended to limit protections to only those writers employed by an established media outlet. Such a restriction could, theoretically, open the door to Putinesque registration requirements, or even prosecution of independent writers for thought crimes against the State.

Feinstein’s definition of a journalist is Orwellian in its vagueness:

  1. working as a “salaried employee, independent contractor, or agent of an entity that disseminates news or information;”

  2. either (a) meeting the prior definition “for any continuous three-month period within the two years prior to the relevant date” or (b) having “substantially contributed, as an author, editor, photographer, or producer, to a significant number of articles, stories, programs, or publications by an entity . . . within two years prior to the relevant date;” or

  3. working as a student journalist “participating in a journalistic publication at an institution of higher education.”

Feinstein apparently needn’t worry about “real” journalists overstepping their bounds, either. Judging from a new study from the University of Indiana, a big chill worthy of Putin has already descended upon the American reporting landscape. The Wire has the whole sad summary:

One of the most surprising developments over that period over the past ten years, is the steep decline in the percentage of journalists who say that using confidential documents without permission “may be justified.” That number has plummeted from about 78 percent in 2002 to just 58 percent in 2013. In 1992, it was over 80 percent.

(snip)

The Obama Administration’s unprecedented targeting of whistleblowers, too, likely has played a role in turning opinions against the use of secret documents. That lack of approval may have played a role in the many media hit pieces on Glenn Greenwald, for one.

It’s not just confidential documents, though; the study also found that journalists are more wary of what it calls “controversial” techniques, such as hidden microphones or falsifying your identity to get information. Approval of Gonzo-style muckraking is way, way down in general.

And the Obama administration, sensing an opening in the frozen door that it had a huge hand in creating, is jumping right in, supplementing and supplanting the Times and the rest of the steno pool traditionally at its disposal. It’s spurning the middleman, and going direct to the consumer. According to the Washington Post, Obama, not satisfied that journalism is living up to his fair and balanced approach, is looking for “new ways to bypass the polarized media.”

He started his campaign innocuously and laudably enough, by inviting local TV weather forecasters to a White House garden party to give voice to his belated election-year concern about climate change. And his handlers vow it won’t stop there:

“With presidential communication, it can either preach to the choir or convert the flock,” said Matthew Baum, a professor of global communications at Harvard. The technological and media changes “basically mean it’ll be easier than ever before to preach to the choir and get harder and harder to convert the flock.”

This new reality has prompted the White House to adopt messaging strategies that once might have seemed unusual or even undignified — including hosting an animated page on Buzzfeed, letting Obama appear on the Internet show “Between Two Ferns” with Zach Galifianakis, and encouraging the president and others to pose for “selfies” and other funny pictures. In hopes of it going viral, White House staff members promote such content to popular sites such as Upworthy, which is known for stock headlines promising readers they will be “amazed” by a particular story.

And once net neutrality is neutralized, and discourse polluted by state-sponsored viral outbreaks, our Google search for news on, say, “record income inequality” could well lead straight to a White House handout that features Obama (and later, Clinton II or Bush III) jokily enthusing that prosperity is just around the corner for the regular folks.

The Post/White House press release continues,

For the president and his advisers, the Web has gone from being an enormous asset to reach young people in the 2008 campaign to a place that can easily divide Americans by political ideology, making all but the staunchest Obama supporters hard to reach.

“In every year, this project gets harder, the media gets more disaggregated, people get more options to choose from, and they self-select outlets that speak to their preconceived notions,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the president’s senior adviser and longtime communications strategist.

OMG! All those options are impeding the flow of official propaganda. Heaven forfend that people get to self-select when they could be watching Obama taking selfies. Because too many choices and “polarizing” points of view might lead to too many independent thinkers. And that leads to dissent…. and ultimately to (dare I say?) revolt! But the White House is on it:

Pfeiffer said the White House is not bypassing traditional media such as news conferences and other events. But he said it’s more important than ever to do late-night comedy and daytime talk shows, ESPN and MTV.

“It used to be that Ronald Reagan or, to a lesser extent, Bill Clinton could give a national address,” he said. “We don’t have that option. We have to go where the public is.”

They won’t have to dig too deep to get their unfiltered messages to the pleasure-seeking, blood-sport, LOL, and bassline rock music receptors in our always-public brains. We won’t even have to register with the State, like in horrible Russia! The State will be only too happy to register with us. Our compliance is their greatest concern. Anesthetized satisfaction is guaranteed.