Let’s face it – there’s a lot of total and utter crap on the internet.
We’ve all seen it; from genuinely insane conspiracy theories, to blatant propaganda, to outright lies from malicious activists. The web is chock-full and overflowing with tripe of the highest order, on just about every subject you could imagine.
In fact, much of it is found in the so-called “official” sources like mainstream news outlets. Random loopers on Facebook and nightly TV news anchors are about even in how likely they are to spread codswallop far and wide.
And so, in light of this reality, the proud nation of Sweden has decided to take a stand.
As reported by the Washington Post:
The Scandinavian country, home to about 10 million people, established the Swedish Psychological Defense Agency on Jan. 1, in a bid to safeguard its “democratic society” and “the free formation of opinion,” the agency said on its website. As the country heads into elections this year, the agency will work alongside the Swedish military and government on the new battleground of fake news and misinformation.”
The article goes on to explain that the agency will not target those within Sweden, but only foreign States:
“The agency will not battle those spreading false information within Sweden, instead aiming “its sole focus on foreign threat actors,” Hjort said. “Russia and China often resort to information influence activities, but we can also see new actors engaging in these activities.”
Now, in fairness to this plan, it’s hard to argue with.
It’s clear that world powers like Russia, China, and even the US have an interest in manipulating narratives and public opinion internationally, and there’s little doubt that large countries do it all the time.
Notably, Australian media outlets have been accused of printing censored, Chinese Communist Party-influenced news in recent years.
China's Communist Party accused of Australian media interference https://t.co/aRhlBbzoUf
— ABC News (@abcnews) December 16, 2020
So believe me, I get it. Foreign interference is a real problem, and it urgently needs a real solution. We can’t trust global superpowers to just not mess with the information we consume.
The only problem is, we can’t really trust our own governments not to mess with our information either.
As much as the Swedish government insists that this won’t be used domestically, once governments have established these systems in principle for one purpose, it’s a very small matter to simply expand them at a later date.
Just look at the vaccine cert – it started being used for travel, and was only supposed to be in place for “a few weeks.” Now you need it for restaurants, pubs, hotels, cinemas – with more venues likely on the way. These reasonable sounding beginnings are very often the thin end of the wedge when it comes to government policy.
And so, we could reasonably expect that while this agency may begin policing foreign propaganda, it won’t take long before it’s turned inward to Swedish citizens. And once the government gets into the business of policing what is factual and what is “misinformation,” things get very dicey.
Take a story Gript broke, where the HSE reported the following as “misinformation”:
- articles from mainstream media outlets, including the New York Times, and an article from an associate editor of the British Medical Journal.
- early reports that the AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines could be linked to blood clots.
- at least two videos of Parliamentarians speaking in their respective Parliaments, neither of which contained any incorrect medical information.
- political comments about lockdowns and anti-lockdown protests, even when those comments contained no medical claims or references to COVID-19.
- posts which made negative comments about particular individuals working in the medical or academic fields, but which made no medical claims.
- posts which were clearly and unambiguously jokes.
The HSE has said that, since February, they have reported over 1,300 social media posts for misinformation. Gript can reveal that the HSE has gone far beyond simply reporting misinformation.https://t.co/ohIstQNwvc
— gript (@griptmedia) October 4, 2021
“But Ben,” you might say. “That’s the Irish State, not the Swedish one. Maybe they’re better over there.”
But States are the same everywhere. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Ireland, or Sweden, or Uzbekistan. If a government has the authority to declare what is true and what is false, and is given powers to manipulate the national conversation, it won’t be long before those powers start being misused, as sure as death and taxes.
And this, at the end of the day, is the serious conundrum that faces us regarding this issue.
We have private Big Tech monopolies trying to influence our opinions using tailor made algorithms, and strategically banning certain users with inconvenient views to curate the information we see.
We have foreign world powers attempting to corrupt our news sources and weaponise social media in our countries for their own ends.
And we have our own governments at home using social media as a powerful tool of propaganda.
At the end of the day, everyone has an agenda. Everyone has a particular worldview or goal that they would like to push. To put the power to decide truth and falsehood in the hands of any group of human beings, flawed as we all are, would be a critical mistake.
Don’t ask me what the answer is. It’ll take time and the work of many people smarter than myself to reach some sort of resolution. But in the meantime, let’s not give the government – any government – the keys to control the narratives we hear.
Until we have a better system in place, let’s all just be a little more discerning and skeptical of what we read, rather than taking anything we hear at face value. Common sense and thinking for one’s self is one thing no government or mega corporation can take away from you.