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    Is the United States Government Building the Ministry of Truth?

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    In the novel 1984, the Ministry of Truth shaped people's view of the world, in entertainment and facts, both past and present. With Facebook moving to incorporate news content and Google's move to present search results according to an internal "truth o' meter", the only question pundits have is when will they merge to form an official Minitrue?

    "Who controls the past," ran the Party slogan, "controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." So, essentially if all records were mirrors of each other, then if a lie was passed into history, it would become the truth. It is somewhat circular logic, in that sense. You see, in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Ministry of Truth is Oceania's propaganda ministry. The ministry shapes the news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts. 

    Wikipedia notes that- "As with the other Ministries in the novel, the Ministry of Truth is a misnomer and in reality serves the opposite of its purported namesake: it is responsible for any necessary falsification of historical events. In another sense, and in keeping with the concept of doublethink, the ministry is aptly named, in that it creates/manufactures "truth" in the Newspeak sense of the word. The book describes a willful fooling of posterity using altered historical archives to show a government-approved version of events." Now, we aren't exactly living in that reality yet, we hope, but we are nearing something close to it.

    This last week, headlines noted that Facebook has unveiled an enormous new office in Silicon Valley, which is large enough to hold a 9-acre park on its roof, and will house thousands of workers in a single room. The new building in Menlo Park, California, measures 430,000 square feet and apparently has the 'largest open floor plan in the world'. Sounds pretty impressive, right? Another tiny blurb notes that another 2800 engineers have yet to be hired. Everyone knows that Facebook is popular, but why would they be going on a massive hiring spree?

    Well, earlier this week an article at the New York times noted how Facebook had been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook, rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site. The article notes that — "The initial partners are expected to be The New York Times, BuzzFeed and National Geographic, although others may be added since discussions are continuing." So, what’s the problem, you might be asking yourself?

    Well, the article answers that question when it noted- "if Facebook pushes beyond the experimental stage and makes content hosted on the site commonplace, those who do not participate in the program could lose substantial traffic — a factor that has played into the thinking of some publishers. Their articles might load more slowly than their competitors’, and over time readers might avoid those sites." See, with traditional print media dying, and with digital media still for the most part unable to find a profitable business model, it is sink or swim time. Or, to look at it another way, Facebook, with its nearly 1 1/2 billion users, is finding a way to make sure that users never leave their site. Ever.

    Of course, Facebook is only half of the future ministry of truth. The other partner, google, also made headlines when it announced it might change its search algorithms.  newscientist.com notes that Google's search engine currently uses the number of incoming links to a web page as a proxy for quality, determining where it appears in search results. So pages that many other sites link to are ranked higher.

    This system seems to work pretty well as things now stand, but the downside is that websites full of misinformation can rise up the rankings, if enough people link to them. Google now seems ready to change all of that. Introducing….the truth, according to Google.

    Money.cnn.com notes that "the company is figuring out how to rank websites by the veracity of their content. The more truthful the page, the higher up it would appear in search results." So, right about now, you might be asking yourself,  how would it work?

    Cnn.com answers this question as well, "The new algorithm draws on Google's "Knowledge Vault" — a collection of 2.8 billion facts extracted from the Internet. By checking pages against that database, and cross-referencing related facts, the research team believes the algorithm could assign each page a truth score. Pages with a high proportion of false claims would be bumped down in the search results."

    Which all sounds pretty good, right? People want facts, not misinformation. But, what if something is true, but google decides that it is not, or vice-versa? Since this new ranking system is still experimental, we can't know for sure. But what we do know is that according to a recent story in the wall street journal, "Officials at the Federal Trade Commission concluded in 2012 that Google Inc. used anticompetitive tactics and abused its monopoly power in ways that harmed Internet users and rivals." So, we can see that google is not above being evil.

    Another recent story notes how google has gone after alternative press websites that apparently aren't "towing the line". The scandal, in a nutshell, was described by mintpress.com by saying — "Google has been targeting independent media outlets that publish the Abu Ghraib photos, threatening to cut off vital ad revenue that keep many smaller newsrooms afloat." An article on that website concluded- "In forcing independent media outlets like MintPress to remove the photos from their websites, we believe Google is attempting to control the narrative of the Iraq War and the crimes committed against the Iraqi people for the sake of oil and war profiteering interests."

    Antiwar.com also suffered a similar incident when google decided to suspend its AdSense account, along with all revenue. Antiwar.com notes- "The reason given was that one of the site’s pages with ads on it displayed images that violated AdSense’s policy against “violent or disturbing content, including sites with gory text or images.” Of course the images in question were not “snuff,” or anything intended for titillation whatsoever.

    They were the famous images that were widely published in mainstream media  of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib US military prison in Iraq. Those images are important public information, especially for Americans. The websites says they are important because- "They are the previously secret documentation of horrific state violence inflicted in America's name and funded by American tax dollars."

    In ending, the future looks fairly obvious. Facebook will continue to grow its market share and shape the news, entertainment, and possibly the "finer arts", or what passes as finer arts these days. And if it isn't Facebook approved, you won't read about or even know about it. In its part, Google will determine the information you can find, both present and past and if it is true or not, at least according to the Google "Truth o'meter".

    The only question is when will the two companies will merge and officially form the Ministry of Truth. And who knows, with siliconbeat.com reporting that google has visited the white house some 230 times already during Obama's term in office, maybe the future is a little closer than we think.

    So, what do you think dear listeners, "Is the United States Government building the Ministry of Truth?

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    propaganda, freedom of expression, freedom of speech, United States
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