I met up with some activists recently to discuss various issues (including TTIP and other FTAs) and what needs to be done for their new website. It was interesting and fun, as always, but something came up that I want to talk about tonight: the deep and pervasive influence of propaganda.
Propaganda relies on FUD
Someone came to join us for a little while, desiring to effect change for the better and to make a difference in our society. I took what was being said at face value because this person seems decent enough but to my dismay some of us were downright suspicious. While it's reasonable to be skeptical, being suspicious of each other's motives facilitates FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). I challenged the skeptical people to check out what they had been told and base their opinions on the things they discovered to be true. FUD requires that we don't do any thinking or fact-finding.
The goal of propaganda is to sow discord and to encourage fear and distrust of a particular individual or group(s). In this case, I think it was more about the fear of being conned out of money, etc., that was the driver but the story we were told turns out to be true according to the investigations I've made.
FUD harms our society by balkanising us into factions based on identity politics V each other and "the sheeple," whom we demonise as being uninterested in the troubles of others. As a result, it's hard to get people on side when we need to get things done because we can't work together if we can't trust each other. All successful relationships are based on trust. Propaganda works to erode that so that the only thing we trust is the source, and the only thing we believe is the screed.
There is nothing wrong with being skeptical but it's not beneficial in any way to be skeptical for the sake of it. Rather, use it as a tool to get to the bottom of the matter. That way, you create certainty and trust, and can work out solutions. Here's a real-world example: at work today I got an email in response to a request for an order requisition for a retrospective purchase order to be made to a subcontractor that had attended a job out of office hours. The manager was skeptical about the subcontractor's claims and the paperwork had no reference numbers on that she recognised. I sought verifiable information and cross-checked it so that everyone was satisfied about what had happened. The manager checked what I had said with the caller to make sure I'd got my facts straight, then paid up because we'd had proof that we owed the money.
The lesson: if we let FUD rule we distrust each other and relationships can break down. If, however, we insist on getting to the bottom of the matter by verifying the claims being made, we can quickly resolve disputes, etc.
Propaganda requires acquiescence
One of the main reasons why propaganda is successful is because it's rarely called out, and when it is called out, it's not always effective. Yesterday, the Sunday Times led with a story decrying Ed Snowden as a traitor who had endangered covert operatives and who had harmed clandestine endeavours abroad by handing sensitive information to the Chinese and the Russians or allowing them to decrypt it. The story quickly turned into a farce when Glenn Greenwald and others called them out for their egregious errors and flat out lies, causing them to retract key passages from the website, though it was already too late to take back what was printed. Today, to my vast amusement, CNN called the writer to account for the story and pretty much crucified him live on air. It's the kind of thing you watch through your fingers. Oh, and Newscorp has retaliated by using DMCA to get The Intercept's story pulled from the Google Search results via a copyright claim on a screenshot of its front cover, I kid you not. Can you say "Streisand Effect?" This is what it looks like in practice:
Needless to say, I think it's hilarious.
Dissent is essential to healthy political discourse
I'm convinced that this nonsense over Snowden is a precursor to getting the Snooper's Charter back on the table but the fact that we have so fully and completely smacked the UK Government and its media lackeys down will no doubt put it on ice. Again.
Dissent is essential to a healthy political discourse. If we're not able to disagree without being afraid of the consequences thereof we're not free. The increasingly authoritarian direction of the current administration is alarming, to say the least, and I'm glad to see it being challenged, but there's more to be done.
The key battles
The key battles at the moment are the free trade agreements CETA and TTIP, and the Reda Report on copyright reform.
The free trade agreements threaten to undermine democracy itself via ISDS processes; foreign corporate tribunals decide lawsuits by transnational companies over lost profits, regardless of the public interest, and there's no way of holding them to account. This chills the democratic process by making governments think twice about passing laws that might cause them to fall foul of trade agreements they've signed up to in case they get sued over them.
Authoritarians are keen on copyright because it's being presented as a property right, not a temporary monopoly privilege, which it actually is. It also gives them the opportunity to take down articles, etc., that they don't like via the DMCA takedown process; it's an effective censorship tool.
How we can win
Trade agreements have been successfully brought down by public agitation before: ACTA was destroyed on 04/07/2012 and TPP is currently on its knees. If we keep the pressure on, we can complete its demise. Pressure works, people. Pressure can get the Reda Report through the European Parliament to halt the ever-increasing length of copyright terms and pressure can force secretive trade agreements out into the open. We need to work together, which means we need to stop being suspicious of each other, establish the facts, and get to the bottom of any disputes so we can get them settled and build consensus. If we can do that, we can do anything.