Big Tech, Lockdowns, “iso”, and social control: waking up to a dystopian nightmare

Big Tech, Lockdowns, “iso”, and social control: waking up to a dystopian nightmare

Big Tech, Lockdowns, “iso”, and social control: waking up to a dystopian nightmare

The word “lockdown”, once part of prison vocabulary, has now become ubiquitous with the impact of the WHO global declared pandemic. The year 2020 is marked by the changes wrought by it. Our lives irrevocably changed by responses of various governments to the looming fear of an unseen foe, the threat of COVID 19.

“Iso” changes our lives forever

Our changing language reflects the focus of our lives in 2020. The Miriam Webster word of 2020 was “pandemic”, the Collins English Dictionary (based in Scotland) selected “lockdown” and the Australian National Dictionary Centre chose the word “iso”, an abbreviation of “self-isolation”, as the Australian word of the year.[1]

Australians are renowned for cheerfully abbreviating words, often in a tongue in cheek and irreverent manner. The introduction of the word “iso” to the common lexicon reflects this and also the very human inclination to make what is unknown and scary more familiar.[2] A way to find comfort in an uncertain world.

The word “Iso” found wide appeal on social media sites as those forced into isolation by Government authorities scrambling to deal with the unknown consequences of an unseen threat, took to the sites in efforts to find a sense of connection and community – their lives stripped bare of ordinary human interaction. There was “iso-kilos”, “iso-baking”, “iso-waistline”, “iso-haircuts” and “iso-fashion”. Humans finding commonality in times where “self-isolation” was promoted as the solution to “flatten the curve”.

Those in isolation, removed from their ordinary social networks, found solace on Facebook and Twitter, their shopping habits changing to online platforms such as Amazon. Any company that benefitted people stuck at home was set to boom.

“Iso” a boom to Big Tech

To say that lockdowns imposed because of the pandemic have been good for the Tech giants is an understatement. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Netflix profits have soared in 2020 to 2021 to unprecedented billions.[3] In the second quarter of 2020 Amazon had reported a 40% sale increase amounting to $88.9 billion dollars[4] and Twitter reported a 34% growth increase.[5]

The services offered by the Tech giants have become indispensable to a world in lockdown. Their power has increased exponentially and with this they have developed an unfettered power to control who appears on their platforms and the information that is permitted to be published.

What are the potential repercussions where there are increasingly isolated populations that have become reliant upon these Tech giants for human interactions, services and, most significantly, information about the threat posed by the virus?

Where the right to free assembly has been banned, then the free flow of information, including rigorous scientific debate, is essential for the individual to retain agency over their own life and choices. But is that agency threatened in an environment where the available information is filtered by the Big Tech giants to only disseminate what they have decided is suitable?

In this the alarm should be loud and clear. Big Tech have an investment in keeping the “iso” alive and their consumers held captive. There is arguably a clash of interests and currently the power held by Big Tech means that there can be no balancing of those interests; the equation is slanted all one way.

Are we aware of the control exerted by Big Tech?

When Twitter and Facebook started there was a commercial interest in inviting controversy in the published content and it paid to have a free flow of ideas. Their new users were enticed with the idea of ‘free’ platforms where they could share ideas, their lives and things that were important to them. For most of us we cannot now imagine our lives without the daily feed of information, infotainment and posts from friends and family.

As a corollary to the seemingly irresistible sense of freedom offered by these platforms to the user, these mediums have developed unprecedented power: a power that has only consolidated and strengthened with its “iso” captive audience that has become more reliant than ever upon the services the platforms provide. The power of Google, Facebook and Twitter is exhibited in a number of ways:

  • Economically with multi-billion dollar annual turnovers based upon advertising revenue, built upon access to billions of users
  • Over the free flow of information, by holding the right to regulate or exclude what information is presented on their platforms.
  • Access to ‘news’ published by traditional media because Facebook and Twitter are the platform by which the majority of consumers find their daily news feed, this arguably leads to exerting at least an unspoken editorial control over the content published by traditional media.
  • By the slow erosion of what is published by traditional media because of the relative economic power now wielded by the Big Tech companies. Traditional media has been pushed to ‘click-bait’ journalism, where it has been pushed to publish sensation over fact otherwise risk extinction in a market where an article’s success is based upon ‘clickability’ that is usually driven by emotional valence.[6]

It is not only Twitter and Facebook that have built unprecedented power over access to information. Google is the search engine used by billions of people around the globe and it has algorithms that promote certain stories and demote others. Whistleblowers have divulged that Google has slowly been training its algorithms to reflect the political views of the company, so that it could influence its preferred worldview.[7]

For example, when you type a phrase into Google you are offered phrases with the text already typed in. In 2008, these options drew upon signals of your previous searches or those by users world-wide. More recently the “fairness” algorithm manipulates the options that come up. Google suggests these algorithms are to promote fairness to minorities,[7] but in practice the search functions may serve to manipulate the user covertly presenting a worldview that slowly influences patterns of thinking and behaviour. It is simple to understand the influence of such algorithms, the information that you find and you are saturated with will influence your thinking. For instance, try this search, “men can” – you get “men can lactate”, “men can have periods” and “men can get pregnant”.

Research by psychologist, Robert Epstein, looking at the USA 2018 mid-term elections suggested that there was “significant pro-liberal bias on Google—enough, quite easily, to have flipped” local elections from Republican to Democrat.[8] Although Google has denied such activities, its “fairness” search functions implies that its search options are driven by an ideological agenda.

Certainly, when I tried to search for information about how the Google algorithm works, with Google I could only find positive and dry information explaining how to promote your business on Google. Information on the more pernicious impact of how Google search functions work has to be found through alternative search engines that do not moderate that specific content to be found.

Censorship on Twitter

Facebook and Twitter have always held the right to regulate or exclude what information is presented on their platforms. However, that censorship is now being wielded to impose unprecedented control upon what is posted upon those platforms, such that only one view of science is accepted. The only acceptable stance for publication is that all Covid-19 ‘vaccines’ are ‘good’ and any questioning of efficacy, safety or reporting of adverse events is potentially classed as ‘misinformation’. When debate is banned and scientific inquiry is controlled and only one view of science is accepted we are on a slippery slope.

As well as banning content that questioned the outcomes of the USA 2020 elections, on 1st March 2021[9] Twitter announced that it would put warning posts on posts that contain what the platform considers to be misleading information about the coronavirus vaccines. It had already banned questioning the safety or efficacy of the vaccines and official restrictions imposed upon populations as well as taking issue with the prevalence of the virus or the risk it poses.[10] Twitter has now adopted a ‘5 strikes and you are banned’ policy. The censure escalates from one strike with no action, two strikes invites a 12-hour lockout, 24 hours for 3 strikes, 7 days locked out for four strikes and a permanent suspension for 5 or more strikes.

In the past 12 months Facebook has been gradually increasing its censorship of content it has determined to be ‘misinformation’. Early in the pandemic its policy was to promote posts with what it deemed was ‘accurate coronavirus information’, putting warning labels on what it determined was ‘misinformation’ and pushing that material lower in people’s feeds. In October 2020 Facebook banned posts discouraging vaccines, more recently this has been articulated to cover any posts that say the COVID-19 vaccines or their ingredients are toxic, poisonous, harmful or dangerous. It also prohibits any content calling to action, advocating or promoting that others not get vaccinated. In December 2020, it began removing posts it considered ‘misinformation’ that had been debunked by public health experts. In February 2021 it has adopted a more repressive stance, expanding the list of claims it would not allow and threatening to ban those that repeatedly spread ‘misinformation’.

So you cannot question the fairness of elections or the wisdom of government enforced lockdowns on Twitter or Facebook. It matters not that economies are in tatters, the suicide rate particularly for young people has escalated and that millions of businesses have been decimated and billions of people worldwide have been left unemployed. The stance supporting government lockdowns is unsurprising given that these platforms are amongst the principle economic beneficiaries of social-isolation.

You cannot question the wisdom of newly developed ‘vaccines’ that have been rushed through an approval process that saw only 8-week trials to limited populations and left more questions than they did answers. For instance, there was no data collected on the dangers of the new technologies applied in the vaccines on fertility, pregnancy, aged populations or even on long term life expectancy. We know little of the side effects. We hear a few reports of adverse events with vaccines linked to miscarriage in a number of instances.[11] Notably, questioning why pregnant women were administered the vaccine in the first place when there was no scientific data to support its use in such circumstances is unlikely to be permitted on Twitter or Facebook.

It has to be said that scientific debate is being stifled by an approach that only allows publication of a standpoint that Covid-19 vaccines are ‘good’ and ‘safe’. No questioning of what is accepted as the only ‘correct’ information is permitted.

If we cannot question what the government is doing, what then? It raises a frightening spectre.

In the dystopian novel Animal Farm, George Orwell depicted the disintegration of a utopian society of animals where a series of utopian principles are slowly reduced to one law; "All Animals Are Equal / But Some Are More Equal Than Others." It reflects the disintegration from rules that are intended to reflect fairness and free thought and speech to one law only to benefit a ruling elite. The many doctors, scientists and epidemiologists who have questioned the current dominant view on Covid-19 and the lockdowns have no voice, they are silenced. Here we hear echoes of that if we translate it to; “All Science is Equal/ But Some Science is More Equal Than Other Science.”

So what happens to us when those mega giants of the Tech industry, controlled by a few outrageously wealthy men, determine that certain information is now ‘off-limits’, or those that promote the information now banned are ‘de-platformed’?

Did we wake up in a dystopian world?

When we look at the control now exhibited by Facebook and Twitter and the ban on questioning lockdowns or medical treatments and we add to that the government controls that have whole communities and countries placed in home isolation and those who protest such restrictions arrested, we have to start looking at what is going on. Does not the image of an Australian woman from Melbourne being arrested in front of her children for supporting a public protest against the lockdowns on Facebook give us pause for concern? Our basic freedoms are being eroded and the condition we are left in is now labelled the “new normal.”

What is now the “new normal”?

An Irish writer described the “new normal” as the phrase “used to describe the bonkers new existence we have lived in for the last nine months”, including “working from home, Zoom calls, seeing elderly relatives through Perspex screens, shuttered pubs and restaurants”.[12] But the “new normal” also includes a reliance upon social media to make up for the lack of social interaction, when social distancing at 1.5 to 2 metres apart means no congregating in crowds. Well, that is unless you happen to live in Australia where major sports events with government backing are miraculously Covid safe and the strict distancing applied to mere mortals who are not allowed to attend school, plays, concerts or choirs does not apply.

Here I come back to language. In his dystopian novel 1984, Orwell presented a world in which fear is used as a tool for manipulating and controlling individuals who do not conform to political orthodoxy. Orwell was aware of the power of words to manipulate and control: in the novel he demonstrated this understanding by the book's totalitarian government utilizing a form of language – ‘Newspeak’ – that served to discourage free thinking. In George Orwell’s own words, it was intended "to make all other modes of thought impossible."[13] What is acceptable thought, or orthodox, is “Goodthink”.[13] Orwell exposed how words could manipulate the psyche, for instance the term “Blackwhite”. This was a "willingness to say that black is white” and the “ability to believe that black is white . . . and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary."[13]

Is it so different to “Blackwhite” to label all science that offers alternative suggestions for medical treatments and interventions for Covid-19, or raises concerns as to the safety and efficacy of others, as “misinformation”? If we are told published material is “misinformation”, do we have to suspend all critical thought and be denied the capacity to look at all the evidence for ourselves? Facebook and Twitter have imposed the word “misinformation” to define anything that questions the orthodox and accepted view that Covid-19 vaccines are ‘good’! Even in the face of reported adverse events upon pregnancy or the aged we are expected to believe that “black is white”. We are expected to forget that scientific debate was once part of a robust system of scientific research.

Are we faced with a war of ‘disinformation’ – that is the deliberate circulation of misinformation in the pursuance of agenda? We do not know because we are being denied the right to see all the evidence and think for ourselves.

What are the markers of a dystopian world?

In a dystopian society control may be exerted by large corporations, a mindless or extreme bureaucracy, or through technology or philosophical or religious control. Common aspects include:

  • propaganda being used to control the people.
  • information, independent thought, and freedom being restricted
  • the people are constantly surveilled
  • the people are put in fear of the outside world
  • Individuals conform to uniform expectations
  • Individuality and dissent are determined to be bad and subject to various punitive measures.

It takes little imagination to join the dots here. In our current circumstances in Western countries like the United Kingdom, the USA and my home in Australia, we are faced with various social controls which are being supported and promulgated by Big Tech. On reflection, from all that we have considered above, are we not in a position where:

  • Ideas and thoughts are being moderated?
  • There is a restriction upon what ideas are allowed to be disseminated?
  • Restrictions on our movements are being imposed by law and the freedom of assembly has been severely restricted?
  • We are only steps away from being required to have mandatory treatments with unknown long term impacts?
  • Our expression is curtailed and dissent is labelled ‘misinformation’?
  • You cannot raise concern as to the benefits of receiving a vaccine?
  • You cannot question orthodox science, even with other credible science if it is not in accord with the orthodoxy?
  • Only one version of reality is permitted, that is that all Covid-19 vaccines are good?
  • Political views are controlled – voices of one side of the debate are silenced and removed from view?

In other words, the control of our thought, speech and understanding of the world is assured.


References:

  • [1]

    ABC Radio Canberra. (2020, November 17). 'Iso' named Australia's 2020 word of the year, beating coronavirus-related terms 'bubble' and 'COVID normal' Retrieved from, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-11-17/iso-is-the-australian-word-of-the-year-dictionary/12890260

  • [2]

    Australian National University. (2020, November 17). Iso picked as ‘typically Aussie’ word of the year. Retrieved from https://www.anu.edu.au/news/all-news/iso-picked-as-%E2%80%98typically-aussie%E2%80%99-word-of-the-year

  • [3]

    Thorbecke, C. (2020, August 26). The winners in a pandemic economy: Big tech and lockdown essentials soar. ABC News. Retreived from https://abcnews.go.com/Business/winners-pandemic-economy-big-tech-lockdown-essentials-soar/story?id=72495436; Financial News Media.Com (2020, August 12). Pandemic Lockdowns Proving to Be a Windfall for Social Media Stocks As New Users Skyrocket, Cision PR Newswire. Retrieved from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/pandemic-lockdowns-proving-to-be-a-windfall-for-social-media-stocks-as-new-users-skyrocket-301110555.html

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    Thorbecke, C. (2020, August 26). The winners in a pandemic economy: Big tech and lockdown essentials soar. ABC News. Retreived from https://abcnews.go.com/Business/winners-pandemic-economy-big-tech-lockdown-essentials-soar/story?id=72495436

  • [5]

    Financial News Media.Com (2020, August 12). Pandemic Lockdowns Proving to Be a Windfall for Social Media Stocks As New Users Skyrocket, Cision PR Newswire. Retrieved from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/pandemic-lockdowns-proving-to-be-a-windfall-for-social-media-stocks-as-new-users-skyrocket-301110555.html

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    Greig, A. (2021). Facebook Australia – No news is good news. Unimed Living. Retrieved from https://www.unimedliving.com/state-of-the-world/freedom-of-speech/facebook-australia-no-news-is-good-news.html

  • [7]

    Svab, P. (2019, June 24). Google Stealthily Infuses Political Agenda Into Products to Prevent Trump Reelection, Insiders, Documents Say. The Epoch Times. Retrieved from https://www.theepochtimes.com/google-stealthily-infuses-political-agenda-into-products-to-prevent-trump-reelection-insiders-documents-say_2976582.html

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    Svab, P. (2019, March 25). Google Likely Shifted Undecided Voters in 2018 Election, Perhaps Millions, Researcher Says. The Epoch Times. Retrieved from https://www.theepochtimes.com/google-shifted-undecided-votes-in-2018-election-experiment-indicates_2851481.html

  • [9]

    Twitter (2021, March 1). Updates to our work on COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. Retrieved from https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2021/updates-to-our-work-on-covid-19-vaccine-misinformation.html

  • [10]

    Twitter (2020, December 16). COVID-19: Our approach to misleading vaccine information Retrieved from https://blog.twitter.com/en_us/topics/company/2020/covid19-vaccine.html

  • [11]

    Lee, M. (2021, March 1). 3 Dozen Cases of Spontaneous Miscarriages, Stillbirths Occurring After COVID-19 Vaccination. The Epoch Times. Retrieved from https://www.theepochtimes.com/3-dozen-cases-of-spontaneous-miscarriages-stillbirths-occurring-after-covid-19-vaccination_3716385.html

  • [12]

    McGreevy, R. (2020, December 31). Covid-19, cocooning, new normal – 10 phrases that defined 2020. The Irish Times. Retrieved from https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/covid-19-cocooning-new-normal-10-phrases-that-defined-2020-1.4448012

  • [13]

    Deakin, D. (1984, January 2). WORDS: Newspeaking Your Way Through 1984. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1984/01/02/words-newspeaking-your-way-through-1984/e20fde82-9b37-42e7-9df6-f8108f907188/

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  • By Alison Greig, BA LLB(Hons), LLM(Hons, Grad Dip Psych, EPA Recognised

    Alison is a writer, life coach and a passionate advocate for true freedom of expression. Her legal and philosophical interests include regulation of cyber-abuse and cyber-crime, health care, freedom of religion and human rights.