It may sound like something out of the classic book ‘1984’ by George Orwell, but it appears to be coming true: the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has reportedly posted a contract request for ‘Media Monitoring Services’ with the goal of compiling a database of virtually media.
According to this report from the website Business Standard, those included will be everyone from journalists to bloggers and even “media influencers” for the government.
Considering the vast scope of social media, the latter term could be taken to mean everyone from Instagram users with high amounts of followers to LinkedIn publishers and everyone in between.
The department, which was created in large part to monitor terrorist-related activities, would have 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week access to the new “media influencer” database according to the report.
Because of the far-reaching scope of the pending new program, many in the alternative media and even some mainstream sources like CNN and Forbes have published reports raising plenty of further questions about the aims of the program.
But Tyler Houlton, spokespman for the DHS, published a dismissive tweet about those raising questions on the new project, especially what he deems to be “conspiracy theorist” types.
“Despite what some reporters may suggest, this is nothing more than the standard practice of monitoring current events in the media,” he tweeted following a tweet by the Committee to Protect Journalists of the Forbes article.
“Any suggestion otherwise is fit for tin foil hat wearing, black helicopter conspiracy theorists.”
The request would categorize each journalist and media influence based on beat, location, outlet size/type and journalist role, allowing unprecedented access for tracking every single type of reporter imaginable.
Houlton said that the new project is “nothing more than the standard practice of monitoring current events in the media,” however.
Michelle Fabio, a writer for Forbes, wrote an editorial about the issue that is well worth a read, reminding readers that freedom of the press is something taken for granted in the U.S. even as journalists are being gagged, stifled, and even attacked routinely in other parts of the world.
“Dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered,” the organization UNESCO wrote as part of its promotion of World Press Freedom Day, which is May 3.
In the United States, journalists are given an immense amount of freedom compared to many other places in the world including China, Russia and the Middle East. This climate of freedom has allowed for the explosion of new knowledge to reach mainstream audiences on everything from unique new topics like alternative and natural health to interviews, news and perspectives that would never typically reach the biggest media outlets, which are beholden to corporate sponsors and maintaining close relationships with government officials and agencies.
Fabio and others worry that this new database could change everything, and potentially lead to censorship.
As part of its media database, the DHS will seek compile information on “any and all media coverage” related to the department or a particular event. The database will include information on several different factors including the “sentiments” of each influencer.
The goal is to “protect and enhance the resilience of the nation’s physical and cyber infrastructure,” Fabio wrote.
But with media freedom at its lowest levels in 13 years according to Freedom House, which has monitored the situation for nearly 40 years, and constant crackdowns occurring in many other parts of the world along with denouncements of so-called “fake news” here at home, could this be a grim precursor of a new era of restricted freedom?
That remains to be seen, but for now the best thing we can do is be aware of the prospect that more censorship happen, and to make sure we safeguard media freedom at all costs.
You can read the full draft for the program, titled ‘DHS’ Statement for Monitoring of Media Services,’ by clicking on this link.
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