The Menace of Invisibility

Invisible things can be a problem

Matt Taibbi is one of the reporters picked by Elon Musk to process the "Twitter Files". His most recent dump is out today.  In it, he reports on the fraudulent behavior of anti-Trump hacks "Hamilton 68", the self-described Russian election interference bot tracker. Oh, also that Twitter knew Hamilton 68 was fraudulent at the time of the 2020 election. But in an act of collective cowardice, Twitter quivered and vacillated at the mere thought of telling the truth calling them out.

Hamilton 68 got away with their hoax by preying on what can only be either the credulity or the complicity of the press.  The American press, having apparently never learned anything from the history of the American stasi FBI, assumed that former counterintelligence agents, like the head of Hamilton 68, can be trusted.  

Hamilton 68 cultivated a following among progressive operatives the press by claiming to have a super secret magical list of Twitter bot accounts run by the Russians or their proxies. And, according to the lies narrative that was spun by Hamilton 68, the so-called "bots" on their invisible magic list were the nefarious culprits behind any and all chatter on social media which challenged the Russian collusion narrative as a hoax.  

Oh, and no one was ever allowed to see their list of Russian bot accounts because, well, reasons.

What Taibbi has done in his reporting has been to reveal the contents of the invisible magic list. And it turns out (discerning readers won't be surprised to discover) the list is fake.  

No Russian bots.

Mostly just mildly right-leaning Americans.  Twitter knew it at the time, of course, but thought that it would be better to lie by omission keep that information to themselves.

The way Hamilton 68 wielded the power of an invisible list as a means of surrounding themselves with an authoritative aura of mystical insights is, well, a thing worth pondering. It got me thinking about other invisible things that plague our lives with mischief.  

What follows is a list that is by no means comprehensive.  These are just the things that sprang immediately to mind.

Computer Networks

Network packets are invisible to the eye but they transport data and initiate behaviors in computers that do everything from stealing identities and negating privacy to destabilizing the electrical grid.  There are ways to make them visible but they require special tools and expertise.  To all but a few these packets flit unseen and unaccountable for the damage they do.  They also enable all kinds of wonderful things, but they exist outside our view and that makes them useful for having bad behavior go undetected.


Encryption is a way to make data itself invisible.  Encryption is needed, we are told, to keep our data safe.  But while it makes our data invisible to some bad actors, it also makes the behavior commercial actors invisible to us.  

Google and other web giants have grown rich by hoovering up personal information and monetizing that information with advertisers. And they don't disclose, or make it possible for users themselves to easily discover, the kind and quantity of data they are sucking out of our phones and home networks.  

Encryption makes the digital tracks of everyone invisible.  It may very well blind the boogey man hacker, but at the cost of blinding ourselves too.

Online Anonymity

Anonymity is invisibility of one's identity. Anonymity has contributed to a great deal of mischief and strife online. When someone's identity is invisible to others, they tend to say and do things they would never say or do if their identity was known.


Algorithms are invisible malefactors that are often blamed by executives from the web giants, who testify before congress in their effort explain why no one is really at fault for their mistreatment of their customers. Those who testify in this way are gambling that their congressional interrogators are such numbskulls that they will believe this sort of thing.  Alas, they have good reason for betting that way.

Algorithmic bad behavior is neither inevitable nor necessarily even a mystery.  And algorithms neither write nor run themselves.  Nevertheless, they are the invisible, untouchable menace that is blamed and, with a disappointed shrug, we move on to the next question as if nothing can be done.

By contrast, the emerging implementations of machine learning models (which are distinct from algorithms) are often not understood, even by their creators.  Artificial intelligence (AI) explainability is a big topic of discussion in the industry. The uncanny, human-like behaviors exhibited by the most recent advances in applied AI are only partially understood.

Shadow Banning

This is an invisible way of manipulating and steering users away from the posts made by the one who is being banned. The victim can only really see the effects of shadow banning, not the shadow banning itself.  They can't prove they are being shadow banned but they can see the effects.

Twitter testified repeatedly before congress that they did not shadow ban – cross their hearts and hope to die.  By now we know, of course, that at the very time of their testimony, they had an entire robust technology infrastructure that had been developed for the expressed purpose of shadow banning.  That was the entire point.

Maybe those who lied by telling congress there was no shadow banning will be held accountable.  How ironic would that be, to go to jail for lying to an institution that contains a lying slug like Adam Schiff is chock full of liars?  

Hope springs eternal.


What list of invisible menaces would be complete without the inclusion of Covid-19? If you have a powerful enough microscope, I guess Covid-19 isn't really invisible.  But it is invisible to the vast majority of people who, like me, can only see its effects.

(Has anyone besides me wished, at any point during the pandemic,  that you could actually see when your friends and colleagues were wheezing out viral contagion?)

It is Covid's invisibility that has been indirectly responsible for much of the social and familial recrimination of the last three years.  Covid's invisibility amounts to an ever-present silent threat and has provoked untold levels of fear and superstition since it escaped from the lab first appeared on the scene.  Since we couldn't see Covid, suspicion and finger pointing among the fearful grew like a particularly virulent cancer.  

It turns out that stoicism and courage have been in painfully short supply during the pandemic, but we can't really blame that on the supply chain.

And in an unexpected twist that rivals the surprises in an O. Henry story, not only was the virus itself invisible, but the healthcare bureaucracy has done what it can to ensure that both its origin and the full effects of the vaccines were invisible as well. The bureaucrats have done their utmost to keep this data tightly under wraps and away from the otherwise purifying effects of sunlight.  

Why, a person could almost be forgiven for wondering if government healthcare bureaucrats think of their neighbors as nothing more than human livestock clientele for pharmaceutical companies. When all along, (who would have thought it?) we have really been image bearers of God himself.

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