Propaganda, censorship, and surveillance are attributes of the same underlying aspect: Monopoly. Centralised control.

All three problems have the same effective solution: Break up the monopolies.

Propaganda is a function of amplification, attention, audience capture, selective promotion, discovery, distraction, stealing the air supply or acquiring of any competion, and coöption of the platform. Propaganda is an inherent property of monopoly control.

Censorship and Gatekeeping are functions of excludability, audience gating, selective exclusion, obfuscation, distraction, stealing the air supply or acquiring of any competion, and, again, coöption of the platform. Censorship is an inherent property of monopoly control.

Surveillance whether of the state, capitalist, or non-state actor varieties, is a function of population and provider capture, coercion or gatekeeping of vendors and pipelines, and, again, coöption of the platform. Surveillance is an inherent property of monopoly control.

Audiences, a public, divided across independent networks, with access to different editorial selection, from different distribution networks, with access to different input message streams, are far less subject to propaganda, censorship, or surveillance.

It's importance to realise that the key is not nominal control but actual control, which may be nonobvious or unapparent to many participants. A system with appearances of decentralisation may well be centralised under the surface. Retail brand labels vs. brand ownership, or Luxottica's stranglehold over the eyeglasses market, for example, give a false sense of "consumer choice" in a case of actual tight corporate control.

And why is this? What's the fundamental connection between monopoly and control? Control is about maximising desired outcome to applied effort. In monopoly, there is a central focus of influence, the monopolist. Even a very partial controlling share can still be effective. In a first-past-the-post majority scenario such as elections or corporate share ownership, the bloc which swings the majority has control, even if it itself is numerically a minority. In markets, networks, organisations, etc., a single place to permit or deny input or output increases control by decreasing effort and increasing effect.

Shout-outs to Cory Doctorow (@pluralistic -- a great profile to follow, and, Matt Stoller (, Lina Khan (, Zephyr Teachout (, and others breaking through some seriously Borked chickenshit thinking on this topic.

Propaganda, Censorship, and Surveillance are attributes of the same underlying aspect: Monopoly and Centralised Control

As a Diaspora post, somewhat further extended.

(As is usually the case, I do a lot of thinking through writing.)

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Re: extensions:

Specifically, that propaganda, censorship, surveillance, and, to add a fourth elemend, targeted behavioural manipulation (adtech, computational propaganda) --- micropropaganda vs. macropropaganda --- correspond to different elements (input, output, transit, memory + logic) of the informational network.

Which seems to me a possibly novel realisation.

Increasing the number of entry, exit, and distribution points decreases the efficacy of propaganda (input control), censorship (output control), or surveillance (network control), as well as of targeted manipulation such as adtech and computational propaganda (data retention and algorithm control).

Careful readers may note the close correspondence with the ancient trivium of the classic liberal education: grammar (input), rhetoric (output), and logic (processing based on inputs and stored memory). The ancients had limited network control, widespread surveillance to them was exceedingly expensive, though small-town gossips and palace spies offer analogues.

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My "propaganda, censorship, surveillance, and monopoly' article is bring discussed at HN:

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@pluralistic It turns out that Tim Wu made the surveillance-monopoly connection ... in 2013:

"Why Monopolies Make Spying Easier"

These days, America has one dominant search engine, one dominant social-networking site, and four phone companies. The structure of the information industry often goes unnoticed, but it has an enormous effect on the ease with which the government spies on citizens. The remarkable consolidation of the communications and Web industries into a handful of firms has made spying much simpler and, therefore, more likely to happen. ...

Great explanation and examples.

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Here's Bruce Schneier in 2013 drawing the same connection between , , , and (he omits , though it's all but there), as I did ... seven years later. (See thread)

Bruce Schneier, "IT for Oppression", IEEE Security & Privacy.
March/April 2013

  • What is called censorship when practiced by a government is content filtering when practiced by an organization. Many companies want to keep their employees from viewing porn or updating their Facebook pages while at work. In the other direction, data loss prevention software keeps employees from sending proprietary corporate information outside the network and also serves as a censorship tool. Governments can use these products for their own ends.
  • Propaganda is really just another name for marketing. All sorts of companies offer social media-based marketing services designed to fool consumers into believing there is “buzz” around a product or brand. The only thing different in a government propaganda campaign is the content of the messages.
  • Surveillance is necessary for personalized marketing, the primary profit stream of the Internet. Companies have built massive Internet surveillance systems designed to track users’ behavior all over the Internet and closely monitor their habits. These systems track not only individuals but also relationships between individuals, to deduce their interests so as to advertise to them more effectively. It’s a totalitarian’s dream.
  • Control is how companies protect their business models by limiting what people can do with their computers. These same technologies can easily be co-opted by governments that want to ensure that only certain computer programs are run inside their countries or that their citizens never see particular news programs.

Technology magnifies power, and there’s no technical difference between a government and a corporation wielding it. This is how commercial security equipment from companies like BlueCoat and Sophos end up being used by the Syrian and other oppressive governments to surveil — in order to arrest — and censor their citizens. This is how the same face-recognition technology that Disney uses in its theme parks ends up identifying protesters in China and Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York. ...


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@dredmorbius Nice that you mentioned "micropropaganda" because I was going to reply to the previous post.

Propaganda is not (no longer?) limited to centralized control. Advertising is an example of fully decentralized propaganda, where the actors don't have any kind of real central control, but if their goals align, they'll amplify a single message to the level much larger than a monopoly ever could.

Perhaps we could call it mob-style propaganda. Mobaganda?

@temporal The distinction between macro- and micro-propaganda gets to a few elements:

  • Mass propaganda, let's call it Goebbellian propaganda, relies on targeting the same message to a very large audience. Often a Big Lie, but always simple, clear, and heavily repeated.
  • Targeted propaganda pits individuals (or identifiable, but small, market segments, against an extensive data store (past behaviours, activities, and behavioural models), and machine intelligence. The individual is pitted against trillion-dollar corporations or state actors, yottabyte-sized data stores, and predictive and AI behavioural models.

With macropropaganda at least the message is publicly evident. With micropropaganda it may be impossible to determine what is or isn't manipulation as well as what manipulations are targeted as which individuals or groups.

The targeting element of micropropaganda still pressumes some sort of targeting. To take an example, Cambridge Analytica would have been much less successful if it had to, say, pull data from 100s of individual ISPs' personal home pages, email and chat logs, and inconsistent data formats and standards. Facebook's one-stop shopping of users, activity logs, data standards, and integrated activity across a wide range of services and third-party site integration, created CA's opportunity.

The messaging may not be centralised, but the enabling infrastructure must be.

@dredmorbius I don't see the necessity of centralized infrastructure for targeted/micro-propaganda.

It happens that almost all social media is centralized. But considering that Mastodon is structurally equivalent to Twitter, I can imagine a counterfactual world in which federated social media reached general adoption, and you have people advertising on Mastodon instances. The same kind of propaganda would spread there.

Micro-targeting: people sharing to other people in their social graph.

@temporal I have a half-formed concept about this:

Propaganda doesn't need an organization, or a group, or a command structure, or to even be on behalf of anything, other than an individual communicating in a particular manner, the ends of which is to influence the listener in accordance with the speaker's will by transforming the perceived reality of the listener.

We probably wouldn't recognize this one-on-one or stand-alone propaganda as propaganda, but in this discernment the thing that is "propaganda-y" about it is more to do with the aim of motivated transformation of reality through a particular manner and style of communicating.

Concepts like centralization/decentralization are a separable question of scale or network-orientation of communicating systems in general, and come in to the picture from the side.


@vortex_egg Yes.

The way I feel it, propaganda is about making a large group of people believe things that aren't true, but benefit some other group of people. Said beneficiaries of the propaganda may be the original source of the message - but even historically, propaganda only works if some of the audience believes it and starts convincing/socially pressuring others into believing it too.

So the core operational element here is just a meme that spreads. Centralization is orthogonal.



or to even be on behalf of anything

Actually, propaganda specifically benefits (or is intended to) the originating or amplifying entity.

The etymology highlights this:

1718, "committee of cardinals in charge of Catholic missionary work," short for Congregatio de Propaganda Fide "congregation for propagating the faith," a committee of cardinals established 1622 by Gregory XV to supervise foreign missions. The word is properly the ablative fem. gerundive of Latin propagare (see propagation). Hence, "any movement to propagate some practice or ideology" (1790). Modern political sense dates from World War I, not originally pejorative. Meaning "material or information propagated to advance a cause, etc." is from 1929.

The modern definition:

information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause.


Additionally, propaganda need not be false. The defining character is promotion and not falseness, though it very often is deceptive in at least some means, whether through the lies of commission, omission, or distraction.

Otherwise, what you seem to be discussing are various forms of untruthful information. There's a range of these: disinformation (false, though possibly unwittingly), misinformation (intentional), bullshit (disregard for truth, see Frankfurt), misattribution (true fact A mislabled, accidentally or intentionally, as B), myths, urban legends, folklore, trolling, jokes, and even just entertainment and fiction (often rebranded).

There's also a strong element of psychology involved. Propaganda would be ineffective if it didn't tie into hooks of emotion, engagement, novelty, simplicity, extant tropes, tribalism, and the like. And those can, on their own, give rise to similar memes and myths.

Propaganda, though, is the deliberate harnessing of these and other dynamics to a specific purpose and cause. As such, it requires some element of control: curation, development, strategy, amplification, targeting, assessment.


@dredmorbius Well said.

Whosoever controls the conversation controls reality.

Propaganda, censorship, and surveillance are all means of controlling and shaping the information flows and feedback loops between and among groups of people.

Not just information as data, but the actual dialogic conversation that happens between individuals, communities, societies, &c., which allows us to make meaning together and to direct our collective agency.

The danger of cybernetic totalism is that it absolutely suborns the collective and individual wills of the many different peoples to follow the desires of the few in maximizing their own objectives; depriving the many of the right to self-determine their own futures.

Monopolies facilitate this centralized control, but they are a also a means and not the end. Controlling the conversation is an old tale, with still more to be rooted out.


@vortex_egg Excellent points, addressing individually.

Whosoever controls the conversation controls reality.

I'd noticed (and gotten exceedingly annoyed at) the agenda-setting / Overton-Window-defining nature of mass media a decade or two back. The stories or concepts which are hammered on TV, radio, print, and now online media, dominate discussion. Certain topics seem to never advance, just eternally retread old ground.

Similarly, trolls and idiots drive out nuanced discourse, along with unprivileged / disadvantaged viewpoints. That's the principle reason free-speech absolutism is actually censoring.

There's a place for the uneducated / uninformed --- we all have to learn somehow, but even that can create burdens. As individuals and as groups we've only so much bandwidth.

Plazas and warrens.




means of controlling and shaping the information flows and feedback loops between and among groups of people.

It took me way too long to realise that the "information" in "information technology" was the perception, control, feedback, storage/retrieval, and learning element in commplex systems. That's principally divided into two or three paths; human-based systems (interpersonal, group, mass comms), systems controls (automation, autonomous, remote), and maybe a few others (finance, scientific, military, ...).

But yes: information flows serve to, er, inform, control, feed-back, and learn, whatever the application domain. A chief question is who (or what) they serve.

Senses, speech, writing, signalling, print, telephony, broadcast, computers: they're all informatiion technologies.




Not just information as data, but the actual dialogic conversation that happens between individuals, communities, societies,

Precisely, yes.




The danger of cybernetic totalism is that it absolutely suborns the collective and individual wills of the many different peoples to follow the desires of the few ...

Maybe and maybe not.

I've been looking increasingly at the (mostly deprecated) work of cyberneticians --- Norbert Weiner, Stafford Beer, Alfred Kuhn (not to be cconfused with / no relation to Thomas), Donella Meadows, etc.

Much of their work looks to potential democratising or communitarian (sometimes socialistic or communistic) adaptations of cybernetics.

Riffing off my "dominant-node networks" description, one key might be that such nodes must be publicly held, publicly controlled, or at the very least under some form of collusion-resistant distributed control.



@vortex_egg In his recent talks (his Gizmodo System Reboot podcast interview f'rex:, Doctorow brings up Lessig's Four Laws of cyberspace; Law, Norms, Markets, and Code.

I'm thinking of that in context of my ( "Code" might be a subset of that(Information), or a stand-in for all technological mechanisms.

Another set of frames I've been applying is "Progress, models, institutions, technology, limits, values. Interactions thereof." Which ... maps roughly onto Lessig's classification.

The Values / Norms element matters strongly. How much that can resist monopoly-market dynamics becomes ... an interesting (that is: existential) question.




Monopolies facilitate this centralized control, but they are a also a means and not the end.

So ... I'm not sure how separable these are, which is what I expanded at Diaspora: Control is about maximising desired outcome to applied effort. In monopoly, there is a central focus of influence: the monopolist. (

Power is inherently about finding some locus of control, and a locus of control is inherently monopolistic. I don't think that these are separable.

The means is the end.

Or at least: all power structures are monopolistic. Not all monopolies are power structures.



@vortex_egg The economic discussionnis interesting. Monopoly apologists try to assert that all monopolies exist bygovernment action, or similar nonsense.

Adam Smith discusses monopoly, but also discusses an now-archaic term, engross, "to buy up the whole stock of".

What's explicitly clear from the earlier term is that engrossing:

  • Doesn't rely at all on any government engagement.
  • Is explicitly about control. To "buy up the wole stock" is to control the whole stock.




Yes, I agree. I think you pointed out the discernment that I was trying to make:

Centralization of control through controlling communication predates the corporate monopoly structure, but earlier attempts at the same thing also rely on centralization of control. I'm thinking of the mythical "priest caste" that controls the means of record-keeping, etc.

I was using a pretty one-dimensional definition of monopoly to stand in for corporate monopolies specifically, given that is the extent of the etymology of the word to my knowledge.



I am personnaly very carefull with the word cybernetics. To me there are as much different cybernetics theories as there are different possible cyberspaces architectures with their specific data flow rules or cyber-powers and cyber-rights models.

Currently, the word cybernetics is only understood in the current cyberspace architecture paradigm, fully crypto-fascist.

But it could be different with alternative cyberspaces.

@vortex_egg @pluralistic

@dredmorbius @pluralistic hmm... aren't you missing capital (or power) as that is the real means they use to accomplice monopoly. In simple words.. buying up less capital strong entities and thus remove competition.

@shellkr Capital concentration certainly helps in creating monopoly structures, and is why antitrust / competitiveness regulation is required.


@dredmorbius @pluralistic About the images with companies and their food brands:
1) Kraft rFoods separede and renamed part of their business to Mondelez International several years ago. Depending on where you live, you may encouter "Mondelez" not "Kraft";
2) There is one project that is working on building a database with the data about foods and their contents. Here it is:

They also work on databases for products: and cosmetics:

@dredmorbius @pluralistic For progaganda I’m not sure. There’s a lot of propaganda going on in Telegram groups without monopoly control. It’s more that people who want to spread a message have a lot of power over what we see.

@ArneBab What if any amplification does Telegram have? Is there algorithmic selection / curation?

What is the effect or impact of that propaganda?

Some platforms are effective at developing memes (famously the chans -- 4chan, 8chan, 8kun, etc.), but don't have external reach. For that they would piggyback on larger distribution networks: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, etc., most of which have an engagement-tuned algorithmic amplification dynamic.

That mix of reservoir / breeding pool + amplified distribution is particularly effective.


@dredmorbius @pluralistic I don’t know about amplification from Telegram. I mostly read about private groups where anything goes. I see similar from WhatsApp: People get added and once they are in, propaganda is interspersed with normal communication and bit by bit tuned up. It was advertised as WhatsApp alternative and for some reason it got a lot of takeup by right-wing groups.

I remember that I saw people calling for use of Telegram, because it would not get censored.

@dredmorbius @pluralistic Some kind of breeding ground to keep people pulled in.

The effect is that people get radicalized. It seems that Telegram is well-suited for strategic messaging to smaller groups. But I did not use it yet, so I don’t know *why*.

@dredmorbius @pluralistic But I have an idea why this happens: Stuff from typical news sources isn’t easy to share (some is even behind paywalls, most cannot be one-click shared so that it is completely accessible in the other medium), so media that’s optimized for sharing gets a much stronger boost. That gives those a boost who want to spread messages — as opposed to those who just want to share non-annoyingly with friends.

@ArneBab @dredmorbius @pluralistic I would be surprised if Telegram did any kind of amplification/content filtering as a corporation (they certainly have moderated channels and all that, though).

@dredmorbius Yup - Tim and I have known each other since elementary school. He's got a lot of smart things to say.

@pluralistic Right, I know you know him.

And that he's been hitting the beat on monopoly, tech giants, and ills, for ages. Left him off my earlier top-of-mind shout-out, but he's one of the "others" I had in mind.

News is that he beat me to the punch on tying at least one of the ills to monopoly directly, on similar logic to that I'd just stumbled into.

If you can't be the first to an idea, reinventing one earlier suggested by an expert in the field, and extending or expanding it, isn't bad.

Also credit where due, and learn from others.

Apologies for polluting your notifs, but I share your interests and background. Past decade or so has seen a lot of change in my viewpoints.

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