The 'Disinformation' Industry: Shut Up Or Else

Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool


Unherd is one of my favorite news and opinion sites. 

Dedicated to discussing the undiscussable in today's censorious world, it is less an ideologically driven site than one that challenges the orthodoxy

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The Western world is divided and uncertain. In the realms of politics, morality, science and culture, establishment opinion is skittish, but assertive — quick to form a consensus and intimidate dissent into silence. Meanwhile, increasingly powerful anti-establishment voices are fast forming into their own tribes.

UnHerd tries to do something different — and harder. We are not interested in contrarianism, or opposition for its own sake; but we make it our mission to challenge herd mentality wherever we see it.

This may be to speak for people who are otherwise dismissed; to challenge lazy consensus; or to make the argument for dimensions of existence that are lost in the din. We seek out thinkers who can bring the broader wisdom of history, philosophy, science and religious thought to bear on the current moment.

We try to give a platform to the overlooked, the downtrodden and the traduced; and to people and places that the world has chosen to forget.

We have no allegiance to any political party or tradition. Our writers often disagree with each other. Our approach is to test and retest assumptions, without fear or favour.


Challenging the orthodoxy is not in vogue, and Unherd is paying a price. It has become a target of the disinformation industry because it allows a diversity of opinion, and diversity always means that at least some of the facts will be inconvenient to The Narrative™, and some of the opinions inconvenient to the Truth™ being shoved down our throats

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The case of Unherd is especially interesting as it also demonstrates the arbitrariness of the process by which the deplatforming decisions are made. One "disinformation" group labels the site more reliable than The New York Times, and another labels them dangerous disinformers spreading hate, a threat to our very society. 

The verdicts of “ratings agencies” such as the GDI, within the complex machinery that serves online ads, are a little-understood mechanism for controlling the media conversation. In UnHerd’s case, the GDI verdict means that we only received between 2% and 6% of the ad revenue normally expected for an audience of our size. Meanwhile, neatly demonstrating the arbitrariness and subjectivity of these judgements, Newsguard, a rival ratings agency, gives UnHerd a 92.5% trust rating, just ahead of the New York Times at 87.5%.

As I keep pounding on in my censorship posts--this is the fourth I have written this week--the consequences of being labeled unreliable or hateful content are dire--as you can see, Unherd has been stripped of 96-98% of its potential revenue simply because a government-funded gatekeeper decided they didn't like the fact that they publish some authors who assert that people with penises are male. 

It really is that simple: define sex as every biology textbook did until yesterday, and the government-funded "misinformation" industry works assiduously to shut you down. 

As the Belgians shut down the National Conservative conference for exactly the same offenses--saying things a Mayor doesn't like, the publisher of Unherd was testifying to the House of Lords about the campaign to destroy dissent. Each event provided an exclamation point to the other. 

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Disinformation only really became a discussion point in response to the Trump victory in 2016, and was then supercharged during the Covid era: Google Trends data shows that worldwide searches for the term quadrupled between June and December 2016, and had increased by more than 30 times by 2022. In response to the supposed crisis, corporations, technology companies and governments all had to show they were taking some form of action. This created a marketplace for enterprising start-ups and not-for-profits to claim a specialism in detecting disinformation. Today, there are hundreds of organisations who make this claim, providing all sorts of “fact-checking” services, including powerful ratings agencies such as GDI and Newsguard. These companies act as invisible gatekeepers within the vast machinery of online advertising.

How this works is relatively straightforward: in UnHerd’s case, we contract with an advertising agency, which relies on a popular tech platform called “Grapeshot”, founded in the UK and since acquired by Larry Ellison’s Oracle, to automatically select appropriate websites for particular campaigns. Grapeshot in turn automatically uses the “Global Disinformation Index” to provide a feed of data about “brand safety” — and if GDI gives a website a poor score, very few ads will be served.

The "disinformation" industry has turned out to be great for the establishment--lots of government and private money gets distributed, sinecures are provided to favored individuals, and a massive campaign to stamp out free thought is sold to the public as "defending democracy." Think NPR's news president, whose chops were developed in government and nonprofits, transferred to Wikipedia, and now she runs NPR. She has been, quite literally, a government agent who transferred into the private sector to shape the political terrain. 

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In reality, it is an industry that exists mainly to use the same psychological warfare techniques developed by the security state.  

The "disinformation" industry popped up because the government was hamstrung by the pesky 1st Amendment, as Maher herself admitted. 

The First Amendment prevents the government from directly censoring people, so a parallel "private" industry was created to do what the government officially could not. It is, of course, a distinction without a difference, but there it is. It has worked. 

Maher even admits that the truth can get in the way of collective action, so f**k it, let's go for the latter. 

Remind you of anything?

Disinformation, at least today, is just a codeword for "dissent." There is even a new term for true information that violates the Narrative™ (such as the Hunter Biden laptop): "malformation," which must be suppressed as ruthlessly as "misinformation."

Who are these people?

The Global Disinformation Index was founded in the UK in 2018, with the stated objective of disrupting the business model of online disinformation by starving offending publications of funding. Alongside George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, the GDI receives money from the UK government (via the FCDO), the European Union, the German Foreign Office and a body called Disinfo Cloud, which was created and funded by the US State Department.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, its two founders emerged from the upper echelons of “respectable” society. First, there is Clare Melford, whose biography published by the World Economic Forum states that she had previously “led the transition of the European Council on Foreign Relations from being part of George Soros’s Open Society Foundation to independent status”. She set up the GDI with Daniel Rogers, who worked “in the US intelligence community”, before founding a company called “Terbium Labs” that used AI and machine learning to scour the internet for illicit use of sensitive data and then sold it handsomely to Deloitte.

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If you dig just a tiny bit you will see intelligence officials everywhere--in Big Tech and in other key spots in the infosphere. They have become the gatekeepers of what you see, what can be said, and who gets the spotlight. 

Back when it was first set up in 2018, they defined the term on their website as “deliberately false content, designed to deceive”. Within these strict parameters, you can see how it might have appeared useful to have dedicated fact-checkers identifying the most egregious offenders and calling them out. But they have since broadened the definition to encompass anything that deploys an “adversarial narrative” — stories that may be factually true, but pit people against each other by attacking an individual, an institution or “the science”.

GDI founder Clare Melford explained in an interview at the LSE in 2021 how this expanded definition was more “useful”, as it allowed them to go beyond fact-checking to targeting anything on the internet that they deem “harmful” or “divisive”:

A lot of disinformation is not just whether something is true or false — it escapes from the limits of fact-checking. Something can be factually accurate but still extremely harmful… [GDI] leads you to a more useful definition of disinformation… It’s not saying something is or is not disinformation, but it is saying that content on this site or this particular article is content that is anti-immigrant, content that is anti-women, content that is antisemitic…”

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"Something can be factually accurate but still extremely harmful..." Like disparaging the effectiveness of masks, or jabs, or school closures, or making people die alone, or...

The goal is to enforce an approved Narrative™, which is to say totalitarianism. It is no different from China's social credit system, which is the model. 

This is of a piece with the lawfare we see, the open borders, the debanking, and the selective prosecutions. We are living in a society increasingly ruled by people who see psychological warfare on their citizens as a necessary part of governance. In Canada and the UK, the government deployed psychological warfare units from the military to support the policies during the pandemic. 


What is most disturbing to me is that as these revelations have come out, the public has mainly shrugged. Not everybody, of course, but far too many.

Perhaps that is because the leftist side of the political spectrum is happy that you and I are being suppressed. There is a reason that "sinister" is a synonym for "left."

Everybody should be outraged that the military--the actual military!--was deployed to lie to us. They used the same tactics against Western citizens as they used against the populations of countries with whom we are at war--only this time to convince people to trust the government rather than rebel. 

Hence my calls you those of you who have yet to sign up for VIP membership. The government and its agents want us to shut down and their agents demonetize our content because it is inconvenient. 

I invite you once again to sign up for our VIP program, which is the lifeblood of all Townhall Media publications. Free speech is dying, and Big Tech and Big Government want us gone. Only you can help us keep going. 

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As I wrote earlier, we need your help to keep going despite all the attacks. Sign up for our VIP Program. Use the codCENSORSHIP for 50% off!

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Dennis Prager 12:00 AM | May 22, 2024
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