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.

@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.


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