Censorship’s slope is always slippery & the Internet Archive’s embrace of biased ‘fact-checking’ proves it
The Internet Archive has begun slapping “fact-checks” on archived pages, supposedly to provide “context” they’re missing. But readers don’t need their thoughts babysat, and it’s a small step to deleting the page altogether.
The nonprofit, which operates the Wayback Machine – an archive of old web pages spanning decades – announced last week that it would begin adding “fact-checks” and “convenient links to contextual information” to certain archived pages, unsettling internet freedom activists and researchers who rely upon the 40-petabyte mega-archive to do their work.
NEW: fact-checking & context banners now on some #WaybackMachine pages.
Our goal is to preserve the Web as it was published.
In addition, fact checks & context about the original web page are important data for our users.
Learn more abt our new efforts:https://t.co/bUG55zQOsE
— Internet Archive (@internetarchive) October 30, 2020
The Internet Archive insisted in its blog post announcing the change that fact-checks were “important data for our users.” A glimpse at the replies excoriating the archive for taking a big step closer to turning its once-venerable servers into a giant memory hole might suggest otherwise. However, a visit to the Archive’s “about” page reveals exactly which ‘users’ the site is striving to serve by shoehorning fact-checks into its formerly faithful attempts to preserve the internet.
The Archive’s top funders happen to be the primary financial backers of the fact-checking industry – specifically the Knight Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Rita Allen Foundation, and eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund. These entities also fund the Poynter Institute, the digital journalism powerhouse that has transformed fact-checking from a noble profession conducted out of readers’ sight to a public scolding tactic aimed at quashing dissent. Fact-checkers are no longer working on the same side as journalists – the new breed, trained by Poynter and the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) it operates, are eternally on the prowl for narrative deviance. The pinnacle of professional achievement is calling out a high-profile journalist for veering away from prevailing narrative orthodoxy and applying the “fake news” label. And Archive.org has just become a potent weapon in their arsenal.
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Bots in the belfry
Ironically, this strain of fact-checkers is notorious for its loose grasp of facts. Archive.org uses an old version of a page from independent news collective IndyMedia to illustrate the new fact-checking policy, linking it to an investigation by fact-checker Graphika that declares it’s part of a Russian propaganda network with the ominous name of ‘Secondary Infektion’. Any right-thinking reader will scurry away from the page as fast as possible, lest they be “infekted” by those nasty Russian bots they’ve heard so much about.
Yet Graphika employs discredited conspiracy theorists like Ben Nimmo, a character assassin affiliated with the UK’s nefarious Integrity Initiative and NATO-backed pro-war think tank the Atlantic Council who sees Russians under his bed at night and specializes in smearing UK citizens as bots. Graphika’s flashy illustrations, though impressive-looking, appear to be an attempt to distract from the lack of proof for its allegations (and the presence of shills like Nimmo on the masthead of almost every “investigation” it has ever conducted).
The Internet Archive’s list of fact-checkers bristles with similarly dodgy entities. Also listed is the Stanford Internet Observatory, whose head Renee di Resta previously worked with New Knowledge (now Yonder) – the firm whose fake “Russian bots” infamously gifted Democrats a Senate seat in 2017. Fellow “fact-checker” Lead Stories is little more than a clubhouse for CNN alumni. PolitiFact is itself owned by the Poynter Institute, and the Washington Post recently paid out millions of dollars to a high school boy for smearing him with a viral video. The reputations of these fact-deficient fact-checkers benefit significantly from having their credibility laundered through the Internet Archive, which has historically been seen as above the partisan fray.
Slope gets slippery
When Archive.org first began applying warning notices to old pages in May, tacking its “yellow boxes of shame” onto deleted posts from the Medium.com blogging platform that had been removed for violating that site’s strict policy on “disinformation” related to the novel coronavirus, defenders insisted the policy was just a one-off. There was no way the Internet Archive would become the memory hole, they said. Last week’s developments have proved them wrong.
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The Internet Archive surely knows by now – after watching Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube get sandblasted by the media and Congress alike for not cracking down even harder on political wrongthink – that anything short of a total purge of dissent will merely lead to complaints a platform isn’t removing enough “disinformation.” These people can be ignored, but if one throws them a bone, they won’t let go until they’ve gotten the whole skeleton.
As George Orwell himself said, “he who controls the past controls the future.” The Internet Archive’s deep-pocketed backers now control the internet’s shared past, and there’s nothing stopping them from highlighting it all and hitting “delete.”
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