Much of our professional and social lives are conducted through relatively small screens and the more important our interactions through these screens become to us the more effort we should, as a society, invest in making the interactions as efficient and powerful as possible.
The Threat : Vastness, War & Centrality
We are facing continuous increase in what some call information overload, which makes it harder to stay on top of our professional game because of the sheer volume of new information to go though to evaluate and contextualise and to use. The vastness becomes harder to navigate.
Social Media Fake News
We see our social media interactions as a diversion, a pleasant distraction from our mentally taxing online work and this is where our freedoms are actively being curtailed. The word ‘freedom’ is casually thrown around by many and often stands undefined but what I am referring to is specifically the freedom of thought where we have practical access to different perspectives to make up our own minds so that we are neither brainwashed by someone else nor simply passengers of our own prejudice and ignorance.
The ‘warring factions’ include domestic and foreign actors who use deliberately fake news to achieve rifts in their perceived enemy’s ranks. They do this by fostering and exaggerating divisions through presenting the views of one group to anther in caricature light and therefore increasing the perceived distance: “If this is what the other guys are like, then they are crazy!”. They also make the points of the group you agree with stronger, “it’s not correct but it illustrates a point!” causing you to share the fake news as well. The effect of this is to make the sides feel further and further apart.
This is further amplified by the planting of false stories in traditional news media which will sow confusion in the first round and a discrediting of the media in general next. Timothy Snyder (2018) discusses this in detail of how the Russians started this tactic in Ukraine and further refined it in the US.
Information Processing Centralisation
Yuval Noah Harari writes that “In the late twentieth century democracies usually outperformed dictatorships because democracies were better at data processing”. His illustrative example is how the top down approach of the Soviet Union could not compete with the freer market of the United States–an open market has many more points of decision than a top-down economy. Our cause for concern however, is how the technologies have flipped the information processing balance away from the power of many small processors each with small amounts of data to large data processing centres with centralised massive amounts of data. In other words, the struggle to maintain democracies is not just a struggle against external threats but also internal, structural change.
“They can take our freedom”
The information war we are living through, of active bad actors and the silent inertia of power accumulating centrally, is not a war against any particular political party or government; It is a war against the fundamental idea of liberal democracy. This is not a war simply of abstract ideas, it is a war of capabilities, of power–a war where the fundamental issue is one of freedom of thought and freedom of action–we are under attack from those who wish more power to a specific ideology or a specific political class. To fight for the liberty of the citizen it will not be enough to protect the citizen from without, the citizens must be armed with much more powerful means through which they can interact with their information, their thoughts and each other, in an increasingly vast and hostile digital information environment.
The internet is a powerful medium for not only communicating information but also for disinformation. The means through which we can interact with the information will to a large extent determine how deep our shallow this interaction and the resulting understanding will be.