The New Gatekeepers?

Speaking of media and information failures…

Any competent historian will confirm that propaganda and misinformation have always been with us. (Opponents of Thomas Jefferson warned that bibles would be burned if he were elected). The difference between that history and the world we now occupy is, of course, the Internet, and its ability to spread mis- and disinformation worldwide with the click of a computer key.

As a recent column in the New York Times put it, the Internet has caused misinformation to metastasize.

The column noted that on July 8, Trump had taken to Truth Social, his pathetic social media platform, to claim that he had really won the 2020 presidential vote in Wisconsin, despite all evidence to the contrary. Barely 8000 people shared that “Truth.” And yet 

Within 48 hours of Mr. Trump’s post, more than one million people saw his claim on at least dozen other sites. It appeared on Facebook and Twitter, from which he has been banished, but also YouTube, Gab, Parler and Telegram, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

The spread of Mr. Trump’s claim illustrates how, ahead of this year’s midterm elections, disinformation has metastasized since experts began raising alarms about the threat. Despite years of efforts by the media, by academics and even by social media companies themselves to address the problem, it is arguably more pervasive and widespread today.

It isn’t just Facebook and Twitter. The number of platforms has proliferated. Some 69 million people have joined those like Parler, Gab, Truth Social, Gettr and Rumble, sites that brag about being “conservative alternatives” to Big Tech.  And even though many of those who have flocked to such platforms have been banned from larger sites, “they continue to spread their views, which often appear in screen shots posted on the sites that barred them.”

When the Internet was in its infancy, I was among those who celebrated the diminished–actually, the obliterated–role of the gatekeeper. Previously, editors at traditional news sources–our local newspapers and television news stations–had decided what was newsworthy, what their audiences needed to know, and imposed certain rules that dictated whether even those chosen stories could be reported. The most important of those rules was verification; could the reporter confirm the accuracy of whatever was being alleged? 

True, the requirement that news be verified slowed down reporting, and often prevented an arguably important story from being published at all. Much depended upon the doggedness of the reporter. But professional journalists– purveyors of that much derided “lame stream” journalism–were gatekeepers preventing the widespread dissemination of unsubstantiated rumors, conspiracies and outright lies.

Today, anyone with a computer and the time to use it can spread a story, whether that story is verifiable or an outright invention. We no longer have gatekeepers. Even the larger and presumably more responsible platforms are intent upon generating “clicks” and increasing “engagement,” the time users spend on their sites. Accuracy is a minor concern, if it is a concern at all.

The Wild West of today’s information environment is enormously dangerous to civil society and democratic self-government. But now, an even more ominous threat looms: Billionaires are buying social media platforms. Elon Musk, currently the world’s richest man, now owns Twitter, “a social media network imbued with so much political capital it could fracture nations.”

It’s a trend years in the making. From the political largess of former Facebook executives like Sheryl Sandberg and Joel Kaplan to the metapolitics of Peter Thiel, tech titans have long adopted an inside/outside playbook for conducting politics by other means.

 But recent developments, including Donald Trump’s investment in Twitter clone Truth Social and Kanye West’s supposed agreement to buy the ailing social network Parler, illustrate how crucial these new technologies have become in politics. More than just communication tools, platforms have become the stage on which politics is played.

The linked article was written by Joan Donovan, research director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, and it details the multiple ways in which these billionaires can deploy the power of social media to the detriment of American democracy. As she concludes:

In many ways, the infamous provocateur journalist Andrew Breitbart was right: politics are downstream of culture. To this I’d add that culture is downstream of infrastructure. The politics we get are the ones that sprout from our technology, so we should cultivate a digital public infrastructure that does not rely on the whims of billionaires. If we do not invest in building an online public commons, our speech will only be as free as our hopefully benevolent dictators say it is.

A world in which Peter Thiel and Elon Musk are informational gatekeepers is a dystopian world I don’t want to inhabit.


  1. “the Internet has caused misinformation to metastasize.” as did Television before that, as did radio before that, as did the telegraph before that and the pony express before that.

    Information flow has been increasing in speed and coverage with every advance in technology…..and will continue to do so.

    Unfortunately human’s capacity to keep up has never kept pace. Zoomers have an advantage in that they have never known a world without internet (and 9/11).

    Boomers and Xers have lost one or two steps along the way and unfortunately think everyone else has too. The only edge Boomers have is that they lived through much history……their challenge is to remember it the way it happened.

  2. I’m trying, in my own small way, to make inroads against misinformation, ignorance and lack of civility. To that end I’m glad to say that at 11:45 am today, Rep Ed DeLaney and I shall have a conversation about the issues we face. I won the GOP primary and am the GOP nominee in IN86. I don’t remember an event in which opponents in a political campaign have a conversation about issues and do so without a moderator. This will be on both Facebook and YouTube on

  3. I completely disagree that the internet is the problem. Maybe the purveyors of truth shouldn’t have been peddling propaganda for years instead.

    Much like the crappy newspapers devolving into the dustbin of history, knowledge will continue to expand without the so-called gatekeepers because those with the critical control over what information is released to the people. Whistleblowers have shown us that our government lies and must be held accountable. The private sector lies a lot and needs to be held accountable.

    What you’re seeing are the dams of information being blown up all across the globe BECAUSE of the internet. More needs to take place because the technocrats have controlled it.

    You will see significant collaboration between large media entities and governments with Twitter executives while Twitter was a PUBLIC company. Elon Musk plans on revealing it all because he can as a private entity. I expect meltdowns to occur on the “Left” as this collusion unfolds. The Democratic Party is imploding as it should have in 2016.

    Those who have latched on to the Democrats late in life better prepare for what’s coming. You thought you had a hold of something stable but will learn differently as the curtains are drawn back. 😉

  4. Well, where there’s a market, some money-hungry capitalist will supply the product. Since there are few, if any, morals among the greediest, misinformation platforms will continue to emerge as long as there is that perceived desire to believe bullshit. This speaks as loudly about the platform makers as it does the drooling consumer base that fuels their greed.

    It’s what we’ve always been. Hoaxes sell. Lies sell. Stupidity sells. Easy call. What to do about that? Well, the FCC and a rational SCOTUS would be a good place to start, but that won’t happen. All this idiot-level platform insanity will do is to allow ex-patriots living in a cave somewhere to point their fingers at the U.S., and predict our collapse while patting themselves on the back for being so smart to have run away.

  5. I wish the words ‘disinformation’ and ‘misinformation’ did not exist. They are just an attempt to make LIES and LYING sound less harmful.

  6. The Internet is not the problem; it is the problem people posting on the Internet which is the problem. The Internet didn’t create Trump, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Election Deniers or Loui Gohmert; they made full use of the Internet to support their lies and distortions of facts.

  7. I am finding that getting back to the cellular level of society is helping. Eliminating much of my exposure to cable news and social media, being more attentive to my family and neighbors, absorbing good literature, simply taking a 30 minute walk with a good dog. The constant effort to get my attention with BS 24/7 becomes noise to be tuned out. It gets put in its place petspectivewise.

  8. avoiding social media hacks, this is just one reason why i dont app anything i own. further in this is the pigion holing of every click,and every person who you click. theres no way around it, even if there was,finding that box to check opt out,would be looking for the fabled buried tresure. the euros at least.make a effort to block or stop unwanted infringment on their privacy via social nets,and search engines. selling lists of pigion holed genres make sites money,like the mailing lists. every name is a buck. your privacy be damned.. unlike a library card,its at least secured after king geo 2nd demanded congress for that cards list,as far as i know,he was stone walled. librarians held the line. the use of meta is now a new norm,seems that advertised name by amazon has made it into a ear worm. im gonna stick with pick and select my journalists and said news from a long list of long time opinions and integrity. i usually wait afew days for the flack to settle and other journalists to write about the same ongoing subject. i pigion hole them by genre and keep them alive for further study. yes,i pass these stories to other like minded in my, small little world. being i come here to Prof,Kennedys blog,and gather views and long time experience from diffrent people,of different perspectives. im boring,but deep. the conversations that i have with blue collars who dont read but listen to the slander over content,i relate how that works against them,and will never serve the pocket. if you dont know the question its hard to ask it.

  9. I was driving down the road,
    Feeling hungry and cold,
    I’ve got several things on my mind,
    Two that want to scold me,
    One that wants to hold me,
    The rest claim they’re friends of mine,
    Take it easy, take it easy,
    Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy,

    Thanks weird Al Yankovic!

  10. We have been taught day by day that we are entitled to goods and services galore including entertainment 24/7 and it’s been made so convenient that we are simply never without the means to deliver it. Entertainment has always been about imagination, drama to comedy, information to misinformation.

    We really don’t know what to do about the damage to society that it causes every single day. We don’t know how to distinguish or filter or regulate what builds and informs versus that which just wastes time all the way to creating a dysfunctional society, but we know that it does. It is driven by our system of redistributing wealth up which we look at as opportunity, but at what cost? We want the poison that Rev Jones is cooking up for us.

    We have created what has the power to destroy us and we are helpless in the face of it. We are helpless because part of what it destroys is the means to keep it away.

  11. I am not too worried that Musk will turn Twitter into an Internet hellhole. He spent a huge chunk of his fortune on this and with the wrong policies he could make the company worthless. I think he is getting a crash course in social media economics. In addition, I think there was some buyers remorse and if he could have gotten out of the sale he would have.

    While Twitter may have a market capitalization of $44 billion, it is not a real profitable company. I had heard that a major advertiser General Motors just suspended their advertising on Twitter waiting to see where things fall. It would not take too many decisions like that one sink what little profitability twitter has.

    So Musk is going to need to walk a fine line between his personal philosophies, and what his advertisers will tolerate. There may be a few grand gestures, but all in all, I suspect the core moderation polices will have to remain in place. There may even be some positive aspects of the Twitter purchase, in that there may be more transparency about the internal algorithms that right wingers always claimed unfairly targeted them.

    As for the lack of gatekeepers, it’s a terrible situation, but I don’t have an answer.

  12. I don’t know about any of you, but immediately upon Musk’s purchase, I closed my Twitter account. Yes, a small thing, but…….

  13. Folks love to have their ears tickled, 2nd Timothy 4: 2-4
    They love to have those who speak exactly how they do, even if that’s an illusion. Hence Thiel and Musk, Elon Musk can’t keep his mouth shut, and if it’s moving, crap flows out! Thiel likes to use surrogates, that way he can keep the bad pub out of his nicely styled hair.

    Fool’s love drama, the excitement is the only thing that makes them feel alive. Because they have no life!
    Ecclesiastes 7:9 reads; “Do not be quick to take offense, for the taking of offense lodges in the bosom of fools.”

    So when these buffoons spew how terrible they’ve been offended by fact checkers or maybe even the law, they become indignant and self-aggrieved as they hitch their horse to that particular wagon!

    Now they are apart of a movement, something that they can, in their own minds, be proud of! Fighting for a cause! Even if their “cause” is, “because what?” They really don’t know why they are aggrieved, and if you ask 10 of these self enlightened individuals standing next to each other, every single one would have a completely different idea of their agrievment. But, they will freely quote something that they’ve read on some conspiracy blog or mainstream social network. Naturally they are too lazy to research, but they will listen to unreasonable conspiracies passed on by the like-minded.

    Like I mentioned the other day, fools just do not reside on the left or the right, they are everywhere! “Vote red just to be led” — “vote blue no matter the fool.”

    There is no middle of the road anymore, either you’re radical on the right or radical on the left. Individuals are not allowed to pick and choose, and those choices in the voting booth are lacking. They are just a microcosm of the general population. And a majority of the population are lost. You have the right leaning Judas goats and the left leaning Judas goats, either way, they tend to be followed all the way to the slaughterhouse.

    Watch that pendulum when it starts to swing back the other way, it will be epic.

    “The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, stand at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, alas-alas that great City Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.”
    (Revelation 18:9, 10)

    In other words, Society has collapsed! It’s happened many times in history, this time will probably be the last time.

  14. Pete,

    It’s called bread and circuses! Rome used it to Great advantage, their society was going straight down the crapper, but everyone was preoccupied with all of the bloodletting watching gladiators slaughter each other or wild animals fighting to the death. So after their craving for blood has been satisfied, they get their free bread on the way home. And, the politicians are free to conduct politics as usual.

    Reality shows, and 24/7 news channels talking about the wholesale slaughter of citizens in this country and around the world. So after watching the “Circuses” all day, you can head over to McDonald’s or one could use their EBT card to satisfy that hunger while politicians conduct their politics as usual!

  15. Nancy. Amen.
    John. The sane middle is out there. It’s just not screaming at you.
    For those of you looking for a bit of optimism, I recommend a book by Stephen Prothero titled Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even When They Lose Elections).
    Our country, culture, and communities are a lot more stable and balanced than the medias and the screamers suggest.

  16. Lester,

    Too late brother, it’s so so good, lol!

    as we savor the flavor, I worked at the major utility in Illinois producing nuclear and coal produced electricity. The guys I worked with, some made upwards of $200,000 a year. Most of their wives worked, but when it came to when they thought no one was listening, they were worse than anything I’ve ever heard in the south! The culture of this Mammoth utility continued even after the law said that it couldn’t. They absolutely started hiring people of color in greater quantities. All of those for the past 30 years before I was hired were reinterviewed if they wanted a job there still.

    As you can see by my picture, my avatar, I can fit in almost anywhere physically. But, psychological and faithful conduct was another story. These folks that I’m referring to, all self-identified as being middle of the road. And was it an eye-opener for me.

    How does that song go? “I won’t be fooled again!”

    I know plenty of good people that have different beliefs, whether it’s religious or political or non-political. I even have relatives who have practiced and still practice witchcraft! My grandfather on my father’s side was a Nazi! My great-grandfather on my mother’s side was Pancho Villa’s horse trainer.

    There’s way way more than that, but one thing it’s given me, is a very broad perspective and very intense discernment.

    I enjoy Lester, Vern, and Todd! And I really enjoy Jack. And, if there was a way to piggyback a comment on to someone else’s comment as a reply, and go from there, this thread would probably be 300 comments long. Without a doubt, I would venture to say, they would be extremely interesting.

    People are fearful sharon, and the more afraid they get, the more irrational they become, and because of the media construct in society, it’s not going to turn out well.

    I made a statement, a few times, about the president could declare martial law and clean everything up. And certain individuals on this thread, claim that it would lead to an authoritarian coup. And then, they claim that children should not be allowed to attend services with their parents because they could be quacks! Well, that’s very Nazi-esque if I may!

    I guess they are conservatives in liberal clothing? Or maybe both sides of the same coin?

  17. Perhaps the internet finally reveals the base structure of human society and sociology, the best it’s ever been done. And perhaps the unfairly reviled actual social scientists will, while building an actual Artificial General Intelligence, find a way to modify societ san dystopia. I think it’s all we’ve got. Meanwhile, remove Putin, Orban, etc using the CIA. (A Smirk to Smekens.)

    Sheila: don’t think you know Elon’s mind. He’s smarter than you.

    Hey Sorg! Why do you say that Scripture is not where the truth lies, and then quote it endlessly?

  18. We are all at the mercy of the entertainment/news oligarchy, no matter who owns it or how much money they have spent to buy us. The price we pay is our own integrity and tolerance, as it slowly erodes away to coarseness and violent self-interest.
    Where do you go for information about the events of every day life? I am personally sick of the “entertainment” that passes for news.

  19. As a former IT professional, one of my non religious colleagues stated one day that there was a church in Elkhart that described the internet as a vehicle for Satan. I laughed with him. We used it all day long troubleshooting problems on computers. But, it did give me pause. I think he may have been a soothsayer.

  20. Ormond,

    Never said that lol, I said religion, not Scripture! Religion, especially the Christian religion is not based on Scripture, it’s based on philosophy! The Pope claims to be higher than Jesus christ, now that is nowhere in Scripture. The church says that you can burn in Hell, if you’re bad, Scripture doesn’t teach that
    The church teaches you can go to Heaven, if you’re good, the Scriptures don’t teach that. Many of the Christian churches teach that it’s okay to strive after riches, Scripture doesn’t teach that. Many Christian churches teach that God and Christ and the holy Spirit are all separate entities in one. Scripture doesn’t teach that. Certain religions say that we are bound by the Mosaic law to this day, Scripture doesn’t teach that.

    Scripture is not religion and religion is not Scripture! There’s a huge difference my friend. Religions will tell their adherents to fight against secular authority, Scripture doesn’t teach that. Religion will tell their adherents taxation is wrong, the Scripture doesn’t teach that either.

    All these things mentioned in this comment, religion will teach as Scriptural when it is the exact opposite of Scriptural. Church Dogma is basically philosophy. A philosophical Dogma designed to control the population and exert absolute authority, through fear and cruelty, rather than compassion, over their citizenry.

  21. The “cellular level” sounds very lovely. I was just listening to some exquisite Sarah Vaughan
    ( and Thelonius Monk
    which took me far from the craziness, for a while. But, one has to come back to the moment, at least some of the
    time. The moment will catch up to any of us, sooner, or, later, and we will have to live with it.
    Theil, has taken us on a nightmare ride, along with the Koch boys, and who knows where Musk will take us. Bolsonaro
    has lost, in Brazil, at least for the moment, so there is, may be, one less fascist to worry about, but if the headline I saw
    that said that the early voting has been mostly (so called) Republicans, is accurate, we are in for a hellscape of a
    future, and Sarah can’t save us.
    If that headline is correct, 1984 is here, on steroids, and 1984’s version of “News” is going to make Dante’s inner circle
    of hell seem like a vacation.
    Some of us will be happy to say things like, “I’m glad I’m old.”




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