Digital Propaganda

Yes, we do become worried. It has been three years now that so much of what one deemed to be done with a long time ago is back on the table. Are good people traitors because they welcome others in their country? There is a term now in Germany, of all places, called „Gutmenschentum“ that literally translates into something like „good peopledom“ but, as it seems typical for our populist times, conveys to quite the opposite. Yet, rather than just reversing the actual meaning of the words  (i.e. „Equal Opportunity“), it turns virtue into menace, good into bad. It really stands for „those of you who despicably want to treat everyone the same, let alone welcome foreigners or even refugees“.

Much like Albert Einstein predicted in Berlin in 1930 that radio broadcasting will lead to true democracy and world peace only to find out otherwise a few years later, many parallels to modern day media have been drawn. Arguments based on false claims, wrong accusations, reversing cause and outcome or simply swapping offender and victim was an integral part of the Nazi’s success. They fully controlled the media, then consisting of newspapers, movies and of course the all new and exciting radio, giving them the ability to spin absolutely everything the way they wanted. Remember when on September 1st in 1939, Poland started the war and Germany merely shot back as of 5:45am?

After the third Reich, mass media in Germany was carefully reorganized and a supervisory body put in place to oversee it. It was evident that the total control of the media was key to the Nazi’s success. Hence Radio and TV broadcasting was decentralized, trying to make it harder for fascists to hijack it again. While guaranteeing access for all relevant groups, news must be truthful and unbiased. Free speech is paramount, at the same time establishing ground rules of journalism, such as: You may print or broadcast whatever you like, only it has to be true.

That along with few other things has worked well to prevent extremist propaganda in classical mass media for some 70 years now. But here lies the Problem: Social Media is not part of that. The former has found its way back into the the most valued innovation of our times. Everyone can upload whatever they like, only in very few cases will there be consequences, should it be possible to track down who posted it.

The revolutionary approach of the global village, the total and global freedom of speech that made the internet and social media what it is today has been taken hostage. Back in the day, the online world relied on and could only exist with people meaning well. Most if not all its technologies and infrastructure was built by idealistic volunteers and companies wanting to, please excuse the worn out phrase „make this world a better place“.

That of course could not go on forever. It may have dawned to everyone by now that the billionaire companies are about little else than, who could have guessed it,  their billions. It seems only natural that after total commercialization follows total and utterly unethical manipulation. Elections are won with just that. The internet does not have any means against it. As open as it seemed for, and as synonymous as it was with everything good in this world, it has – and this may sound harsh – become the new home of fascism.

What can we do? Make people more aware? Teach them competence in media perception? Not going to work. Younger generations treat social media as their prime source of information. Many of them it seems, just wouldn’t consume information if it wasn’t for smartphones and the internet. Few people adhere to a change of culture, where deleting all social media supposedly increases happiness by some 10%.

Filter, partially lock out, automatically control the internet? Unthinkable politically, technically and ethically. We’re not China. So what else? How about: using what’s there. Not new regulations, only the ones that are in place and have worked for so many decades. Have supervisory bodies oversee the big players in social media. Require identification prior to uploading or posting. European lawmakers: Your call.

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