Technology and Avoiding Censorship

The world of news reporting has been metamorphosing since the Internet became easily available. Print journalism is dying. The newspaper and magazine news sources that have survived have moved onto the internet to some extent, though they may still have a print presence. But the Internet is a funny place, and it, and dwindling financials, have changed those venerable news dinosaurs. Making profits became dependent upon Internet advertising which was measured by ad views or ad clicks. It became more important to these institutions to have stories that received more views rather than stories of deep substance, not that the two are mutually exclusive. Inevitably, the businesses started catering to specific audiences or demographics, posting stories and headlines that would invite those users to click into the article to view the ads. Once proud institutions like the New York Times have become more of a television sitcom, where the stories are played to a captive audience with implied “applause” and “laughter” cue cards. CNN is more like People magazine than a news network.

Speaking of television, much the same has happened to news sources there. As viewers switched from advertising-supported television channels (or paid cable channels) to watching shows and reading news on the Internet, the financial support of the captive television audience dwindled. As that revenue dwindled, television companies had less money with which to subsidize their news. When once news was a point of pride of the stations that they gladly subsidized, the broadcasters now had to compete for advertising revenue for their news shows. These causes likewise led to a similar chasing after of sensational headlines as was occurring in the Internet space.

In short, the mainstream media news sources have turned into a wasteland as far as actual news goes. Instead they relay stories that will play well with their respective cash-cow herds. Or they run stories that are profitable for them to air, either because they are paid to do so or to ingratiate themselves with government agencies or corporations in order to have access or the personal prestige of being seen with later (for those persons high up enough in the pseudo-news organization). It is well documented, for instance, that the CIA has for decades worked with news organizations of all kinds in order to either relay or suppress the stories or propaganda that they want to shape public opinion. This is no less true for many large corporations and political parties who actively work with these organizations for their own propagandistic ends.

It should be no surprise to anyone, then, that people have turned to alternative news sources. This is a great danger to the power of all those organizations currently involved in mainstream news organizations – i.e. government agencies, political parties, corporations, foreign entities, etc. Controlling the media is a way to control the people. People cannot get angry over something that they never hear about, or better yet, they can’t believe anything that the media is portraying as laughable. Because people are, indeed, looking for real news, these interests are doing their best to prevent alternative news sources or at least people’s access to these sources.

In the past several months, we’ve seen many alternative news voices as well as individual users banned from various Internet social media platforms which they used to communicate with the people who followed them – a process called de-platforming. Because these social media platforms are owned by private corporations there is no first amendment violation, even when some of the corporations are counseled by advisory entities with close government ties. Little justification is given for these deplatformings other than vague mumblings from the corporations about hate speech, extremism, insults, Russian spies, and so forth. The corporations are under no obligation, currently, to provide any truth. They say something the content creator did violated their terms of use and that is the end.  So far these deplatforming actions have been overwhelming against conservative voices, though not entirely so.

Recently there has been a similar push in this kind of soft censorship, if I may call it that, among payment processors like credit card companies, Patreon, PayPal, and so forth. Those who pay attention to firearms and second amendment politics may recognize that some of these have long pushed an anti-firearm agenda, but now the agendas are expanding into cutting off funding for alternative news sources and alternative voices.

So the powers that be (TPTB) are cutting off alternative voices from both platforms and funding for their speech and news. Going forward, if you want to see out alternative voices how will you find them and how will you support them? How will you pay them for access to their information, if required? This is currently in flux as technology is evolving.

A few days ago The Rubin Report host Dave Rubin and psychologist Jordan Peterson announced that they are leaving the Patreon payment platform because of its removal of other users for their content. These two want to build their own payment portal to avoid the problem of demonetization. This seems only a stopgap solution, assuming their project gets off the ground. More is needed. Unfortunately, as they acknowledge technological solutions like Bitcoin, in its current form, may be too difficult for the masses to adopt.

There are technologies out there that can be used to get away from the centralized internet and its increasingly domineering attempts to control and silence content. Most of them in their current stages take some effort to use, but they need to be used so that content can proliferate. Use is needed for improvement and expansion. Some of the technologies have been derided in the mainstream as being used only be criminals, terrorists, and other undesirables. This is merely an attempt to prevent you from using them. There is a much greater prevalence of criminals in the regular world wide web, and none of those outlets suggest that you stop using the internet.

One such technology is cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Monero among others. Bitcoin, one of the very first cryptocurrencies, was designed as a sort of digital gold. Like gold, it is inherently scarce and decentralized. Unlike gold, Bitcoin transactions can be made around the world in very precise, fractional quantities/values at high speeds. Like gold, there are a finite number of Bitcoins which can exist. Like gold, Bitcoins are “created” through a process called “mining.” Unlike gold mining, Bitcoin mining is accomplished using computers performing complex computations, mathematically designed to produce new Bitcoins at a certain rate.

But the main advantage of cryptocurrencies is how they are better than fiat currencies like the US dollar. Here it is the decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies that makes them shine for the purposes of avoiding censorship. Because no one controls a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, you can’t be demonetized from it by a government or banking system. Now a government can, and some have, create their own cryptocurrency over which they have control. In that case, that particular cryptocurrency loses its decentralized and pseudonymous nature and is merely a way for the government to have even more control of its monetary system and its citizens’ wealth. By pseudonymous it is meant that while all Bitcoin transactions, as an example, take place over a public network and are recorded in the cryptocurrency’s blockchain, there is not a way to trace those transactions back to specific person or entity. So alternative voices can avoid the control of the banking system and government, as far as demonetization goes, by dealing in cryptocurrency rather than credit cards or bank transfers.

Currently, purchasing cryptocurrencies still involves the banking and credit system. Unless you are using cash at one of several Bitcoin ATM machines around the country, you must still purchase cryptocurrencies using a credit card or through bank transfer. We’ve already seen several large banks ban the use of credit cards to purchase cryptocurrency. And there is a reason that TBTB keep pushing to get rid of cash. You can’t purchase that cryptocurrency at all if they ban cash and ban the purchase of cryptocurrency using the banking system. They would love to have complete control of your money and complete transparency into how you are spending (and receiving) money. Though, even in this case you could still purchase cryptocurrency from someone else who had it through other means of exchange for value.

In order to use cryptocurrency, you need a “wallet” which is a software program that can run on a smart phone or computer. This wallet software is what you use to make purchases with cryptocurrency or to receive cryptocurrency. Not all wallets are able to contain all kinds of cryptocurrencies, most will hold only a few different types. In order to obtain cryptocurrency to put in your “wallet” you need to purchase it either through an exchange, through a cryptocurrency ATM, or from someone else who already has them. An exchange, like Gemini, Coinbase or Square Cash, may also have a wallet application so that you can purchase your cryptocurrency through them, and also make your transactions using their wallet software. There are only two cryptocurrency ATMs that I am aware of in our valley, one in Yakima and one in Kennewick. These two ATMs only deal in Bitcoin. At such an ATM you can use cash to purchase Bitcoin, but you must have an electronic wallet ready to receive the Bitcoin purchased. Finally, you can purchase directly from someone who already has cryptocurrency and exchange cash or other value and receive the cryptocurrency in your electronic wallet.

Exchanges are a location for censorship and demonetization themselves. Free speech social medial platform Gab.ai and its founder were recently banned from Coinbase because of their free speech stance. Bank of America and JP Morgan banned the use of their credit cards for purchasing from exchanges. There are relatively few exchange for converting fiat currency, like US dollars, into cryptocurrency or selling cryptocurrency for US dollar.  But if your intent is to use your cryptocoins, rather than use it as an investment that you will cash out later, then you may not need to cash out your cryptocurrency. Hopefully exchanges can become more centralized in the future. As Gab itself said just hours before they were banned from Coinbase, “The next phase of financial censorship as people move to bitcoin is censoring the on ramps and off ramps (exchanges.) This will force and incentivize people to not use those ramps and instead only use bitcoin for all things. Keep censoring. It will only push people to bitcoin.”

You need to get into cryptocurrency while it is still relatively easy to do so. Using a cryptocurrency wallet is a learning curve, and they need to become more userfriendly. Maybe in five or ten years using cryptocurrency will be easy, intuitive and ubiquitous, but it may also be that a government or bank controlled cryptocurrency is the only option by then. Don’t think of cryptocurrencies as a financial investment; that you’re going to become a millionaire because you’re buying cryptocurrency. You want to buy cryptocurrency to use it – to use it without the banking system or government telling you how you can and can’t use your money.

Tor (The Onion Router) is another tool. Onion routing was developed by the US Naval Research Laboratory in order protect intelligence communications online. Using Tor allows users to use the Internet anonymously. It is not foolproof and does not completely erase tracks on the Internet, but it does reduce the chances for sites to trace usage back to the actual user. While the media would like you to believe that Tor is a “dark corner of the web” sued only for illicit activities, Tor was funded in its early days by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for protecting privacy and anonymity and is endorsed by other civil liberties groups as a method for whistle-blowers and human rights workers to communicate with journalists.

Tor works by using onion routing to encrypt communication and then randomly bounce that communication through a network of nodes run by volunteers around the world. Thus an internet site does not know the actual origin of the user accessing it, but only the last Tor node. In addition to anonymity, this can also allow Tor users to evade internet censorship that relies on blocking access from or to certain user internet addresses. Web sites can also be created which are hosted within, and can only be accessed on, the Tor network. These sites will end with the “.onion” domain ending. These onion sites are not known to the regular domain naming system of the internet and are only resolved by using the Tor network. Alternate voices and news sites may need to move these kinds of hidden sites in order to evade censorship, and some have already done so or are in the process of moving. Downloading and using the Tor Browser is the easiest way to start using Tor and getting access to onion sites.

Another technology is the Internet Invisibility Project (I2P). The Tor network is useful and is recommended for use every time you use the internet, but one drawback of the system is that it still relies on a relatively small number of nodes through which all traffic must travel. An even more decentralize system could be even more resilient and more protective.  Enter I2P. I2P encrypts internet traffic and then sends it randomly through the entire network of I2P users – a peer to peer communication method. Because of the very large number of nodes that any particular traffic could go through, it makes it very difficult for a third party to eavesdrop on an entire conversation.

Besides the peer to peer nature of the communication, the other main difference between Tor and I2P is that I2P uses what is called “garlic routing” instead of onion routing. In garlic routing, parts of multiple encrypted communications are bundled together, another layer of encryption is added, and sent through the peer to peer network before being separated and delivered at the exit node.  This message bundling makes it more difficult for someone trying to intercept and decipher any communication through the network. And finally, I2P uses unidirectional communication paths whereas Tor uses a single bidirectional path. So if communication over a single node is compromised by an attacker, with a unidirectional path only one half of the conversation will be compromised.

As with Tor and its onion sites, I2P also allows you to host websites within the I2P network. These are called “eepsites” and require using the I2P network to access them. These sites end with “.i2p”. In order to start using I2p, you need to download an I2P application. Then you need to configure your internet browser to use that application as a proxy, meaning that you will send all of your web traffic through that application before it actually leaves your computer and heads out onto the Internet. For an added layer of security and anonymity, you can set up a Tor browser to access the I2P network and be using both systems.

These were a few technologies which may be used to avoid the type of censorship occurring on the Internet today. Perhaps newer technologies will come up to replace them. Hopefully they will become easier and easier to use. People of all ages have had to adapt to changing technology. If you do not try to keep up, then you become more and more of a captive of the messages that the TPTB want you to hear or allow you to hear. As the American empire collapses it appears to be becoming more and more totalitarian. This collapse has been in progress for decades, but the frog in the pot doesn’t notice until it is cooked. Your continued freedom may depend on mastering these technologies, or, if not mastery, at least comfortable use. Get a start on learning them now.

If you don’t feel like you are a good self-educator, there are educational resources available. If you live in the US northwest, Combat Studies Group offers a series of GroundRod courses which explain a great deal about these technologies in the context of personal security. Coursera, an online educational site, offers free courses on cryptocurrencies. Irongeek.com has a Tor and I2P Workshop – a three hour video with slides. There are also a host of Youtube videos which discuss these technologies. And there are a host of articles, how-tos, and tutorials around the Internet. Jump in; it may save you in the long run.