Sorry to write another journal post so soon after the last one, but something has come up in the past few days that I really feel I should address. Hopefully I've gotten enough sleep that I can write this one coherently.
Alright, time for a "serious" journal entry. I write most of my "serious" journal entries, like the "Games as art" one and "Games vs. Violence" one, not so much as a means of public influence, but just as a way to record my own opinions so I can revisit them later and see if I still agree with them. This post is going to be different. I'm actually writing this one to spread the word about something I feel is important. While I understand I don't have very many readers here on dA, I know I have a few good friends here who may pay attention. So I intend to speak to whomever may listen and spread the word in whatever small way I can.
I suppose I'll start by saying that I love a good plot twist. I love a revelation that, in hindsight, I should have seen coming because it was just so obvious the whole time, but due to assumptions, psychological factors, or outright manipulation of the narrative by the author, I never would have believed. I love and cherish that mind-blowing feeling when I realize I was so expertly tricked or lied to, that I fell for it despite all my clever predictions and calculations, and I respect any author who can evoke that sensation for me.
I take pride in creating these same twists for use in my own stories. If you read anything I write, you'll know that I love doing this all the time. I love it when I can make a character say one line that suddenly changes the whole story, and makes you realize the story you were reading all along was so much different than what you were assuming. I create my own conspiracy theories for my stories that I can later turn into plot points. In fact, sometimes I do it a little bit too much and force surprises where they shouldn't be! But that's because it's just my favorite part of storytelling! The "wham" moment. The surprise. I live for that. I want to master it.
I suppose that's why I've taken an interest in real-life political conspiracies. They're like plot twists in real life, but on a larger scale than what we're normally used to. They're large enough that, in the moment they are revealed, it makes it seem as though real life is a novel being masterfully woven by a storyteller. That same "wham" moment is there, complete with the sudden realization that everyone will need to re-think everything they thought was true, and the precious realization that it was all so obvious from the start and that everyone should have known! At the risk of sounding like a wacko conspiracy theorist, I'll admit that these things really do fascinate me, and I frequently read about them and review evidence for and against popular conspiracy theories. Of course, I don't believe everything I read. And I read about them mainly for entertainment, not because I'm trying to be a political activist, so I'm not about to start posting journals pleading that everyone should "wake up" and realize that our government leaders are secretly shape-shifting aliens! I don't believe that, and I likely never will. But you have to admit, if it were true, wouldn't that just be an awesome plot twist? Wouldn't you just be proud to be alive on the day something like that is revealed, just to say you were there and you saw it?
Well, this brings me to my main point: something kinda like this happened just a few days ago. A new article was released earlier this week, detailing some very interesting parts of Edward Snowden's leaked documents.
Edward Snowden, if you don't already know, is a guy who fled the United States shortly after handing over to a journalist named Glenn Greenwald thousands of top-secret documents detailing the inner workings of the National Security Administration's programs that basically break our privacy laws. Thanks to these papers, we now know that everything you send through the internet or over cell phone networks is recorded and saved for reference later into the PRISM database. They have backdoors to easily decrypt most encrypted data, including your Skype chats, and they can even remotely activate your webcam and your microphone. This stuff isn't just a theory anymore; it's confirmed. Long story short, if you want privacy, go back to hand-written letters and face-to-face conversations; don't go anywhere near a cell phone or a computer connected to the net.
But that's not new information at all. The Snowden documents were leaked last year, and even before then, smaller leaks have been suggesting the same things for years, but they were too crazy for people to believe, so they weren't talked about very much.
This week, there was a new revelation that was pretty startling.
They've also hired professional internet trolls to infiltrate online communities, especially those which discuss conspiracy theories, and use various psychological tactics to disrupt conversations.
And yes, those images are actual powerpoint slides designed to train the agents.
In political science, the term "chilling" refers to the act of trying to make the mass public calm down, usually over a political issue which everyone's talking about. This is often done with censorship: hiding information from people. If you've ever done a google search and have seen the "ChillingEffects.org" link pop up at the bottom because search results are hidden, you can probably understand why. Chilling tactics tend to be very effective: when all your friends stop talking about something, you stop caring about it. When done effectively, the internet will stop caring about that news story published last year faster than they've stopped caring about the Harlem Shake.
Well, that's exactly what happened. The day this story was published, it was censored hard. While perhaps the most starting of all the Snowden revelations so far, it didn't pick up any momentum with the press. It didn't appear on the nightly news and it wasn't covered on any of the online news magazines. Moderators on reddit, which is perhaps the most popular forum in the world at the moment, actively deleted hundreds of links to this story for almost a full day, despite the thousands of votes and comments it was getting. It was... a bit shocking to watch happen, to put it lightly.
But it's understandable why: now we know that some of the highly-opinionated, intelligent-sounding people on the internet aren't just normal people trying to reasonably express their opinion. And knowing that, the whole program becomes vastly less effective.
In a way, this wasn't really surprising to me either: large powerful organizations hire shills to spread propaganda all the time. There are, for instance, a few confirmed cases of EA planting members in communities to de-rail negative topics about their games. But what really got me is that it was the first time in my life I've actually seen so many people scrambling to cover something up, right before my eyes. It was amazing just to watch, in real time, how many people tried to block the story from public view for as long as possible. And to wonder how they got authority over enough people to actively try to censor this story for as long as they did.
In a way, it was one of the "wham moments" I had been waiting for, roughly like I had watched the president reveal himself as a shapeshifter alien.
I guess I just wanted to share that experience with the handful of friends I have here on dA. And I guess I also want to share a lesson that can be learned from censorship.
When you think about an "argument" or a "debate", you often think about snapping at a spouse or a friend or a family member. You think about something that can be "won" or "lost". And this is true, but winning or losing an argument isn't about who's right: it's about who stops complaining first and lets the other person do things their way.
When it comes to political issues, things that can't be solved by individuals, but only with groups, the same principle applies: if you can get people to talk about a topic, you've won. If people stop talking about that topic, you've lost. Snowden himself said he only wanted to start a global debate about surveillance, and that his mission is accomplished. People are talking about it now. Because those are the people who will rise up in an angry mob and defend what's right if things come to that. Without the ongoing debate, we're all just sitting ducks who can be walked over without ever realizing what happened.
So whatever you happen to believe in, never stop learning about it. Watch the news, read the news, talk about the news. Don't be afraid to admit you were wrong or change your mind if new evidence presents itself. Never stop asking questions. Hold your views, but keep challenging them, and keep defending them from people who disagree. In doing so, you will find the people who are withholding information from you, and hopefully circumvent them. But whatever you do, never give up having an opinion. Just having an opinion, and being vocal about it, helps people on both sides of the issue to find the truth, because it keeps the debate going. The moment you decide that having an opinion is too hard because you just can't decide which opinion is "best" or "the right one", is the moment you fall silent and stop being a threat to your enemies. It's the moment you become easily influenced and suggestible. As the old saying goes, "Stand for something or you'll fall for anything."
I was going to end with a stupid pun about "you can't chill a fire that never dies" or something like that, but I couldn't think of a good one. Instead, I'll just thank you for reading, and encourage you to keep up with the news if you aren't already doing so. Some of the best stories, like this one, are quite easy to miss.