Jump to content

An Insider's Guide to "Anti-Disinformation"


Recommended Posts

The Racket News

Andrew Lowenthal spent more than two decades defending digital rights, and watched as peers and partner organizations switched to an opposite mission called "anti-disinformation." An inside account
Andrew Lowenthal
Apr 25, 2023


I knew things were bad in my world, but the truth turned out to be much worse than I could have imagined.

My name is Andrew Lowenthal. I am a progressive-minded Australian who for almost 18 years was the Executive Director of EngageMedia, an Asia-based NGO focused on human rights online, freedom of expression, and open technology. My resume also includes fellowships at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center and MIT’s Open Documentary Lab. For most of my career, I believed strongly in the work I was doing, which I believed was about protecting and expanding digital rights and freedoms.

[Read the accompanying #TwitterFile - The Informational Cartel]

In recent years, however, I watched in despair as a dramatic change swept through my field. As if all at once, organizations and colleagues with whom I’d worked for years began de-emphasizing freedom of speech and expression, and shifted focus to a new arena: fighting “disinformation.”

Long before the #TwitterFiles, and certainly before responding to a Racket call for freelancers to help “Knock Out the Mainstream Propaganda Machine,” I’d been raising concerns about the weaponization of “anti-disinformation” as a tool for censorship. For EngageMedia team members in Myanmar, Indonesia, India, or the Philippines, the new elite Western consensus of giving governments greater power to decide what could be said online was the opposite of the work we were doing.

When Malaysian and Singaporean governments introduced “fake news” laws, EngageMedia supported networks of activists campaigning against it. We ran digital security workshops for journalists and human rights advocates under threat from government attack, both virtual and physical. We developed an independent video platform to route around Big Tech censorship and supported campaigners in Thailand fighting government attempts to suppress free expression. In Asia, government interference in speech and expression was the norm. Progressive activists in search of more political freedom often looked to the West for moral and financial support. Now the West is turning against the core value of free expression, in the name of fighting disinformation.


More decentralized, open-source and secure platforms are needed to resist corporate, philanthropic, and government capture. There are only so many people with $44 billion dollars on hand. The challenge is generating the wide audiences that drive so many users to large platforms. Bitcoin demonstrated that such decentralized network effects are possible, but this needs to be made real in the social media field. Nostr appears to have some potential.

The even bigger problem is a culture that supports widespread censorship, particularly among its previous guardians, progressives, liberals and the left. Free speech has become a dirty word for the very people who once led the free speech movement. Changing that is a long-term project that requires demonstrating how free speech is primarily there to protect the powerless, not the powerful. For example, the Virality Project’s censorship of true stories of vaccine injury left us to the predation of BigPharma, making us less safe. More free speech would have resulted in a better informed and better protected society.

Most important is to return to strong principles of free expression, including for ideas we dislike. The shoe will one day again be on the other foot. When that day comes free speech will not be the enemy of liberals and progressives, it will be the best possible protection against the abuse of power.

Rough edges are the price we pay for a free society.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • 1718734258
  • Create New...