Power thrives on influencing us. Oh! But it does not like to be watched-over and scrutinized. (Gabriel Fernandez)

Written by schuftan@gmai.com   
Saturday, 08 May 2021 20:32

Human rights: Food for manipulating a thought  ‘HR and the media/data monopoly’


Human Rights Reader 576




[TLDR (too long didn’t read): This Reader is about how human rights are affected by the past and current infamous situation of both media control and data harvesting. For a quick overview, just read the bolded text].


-We often look at ethics like a list of things we ought not do. But, actually, ethics is about the principles that orient us towards that that we want to achieve. With our decisions often emanating from our exposure to the internet, we do not realize that we are backing forms of power that are eventually turning against us. An example of this is what is called ‘vigilance capitalism’, i.e., the massive harvesting and marketing of data that leave us unprotected vis-à-vis the economic powers that be.


Dorian already had it right in 1890


-There is hardly any public for literature these days.


1. At best, people read ‘stuff’ (in the internet). As a consequence, your average ‘Joe’ knows the price of everything --and the value of nothing. So many do not realize that we live in an age when unnecessary things (and information) are our only daily necessities. We have become this public, have we not? …And we take pains to over-educate ourselves. We fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place. The thoroughly informed man has become the modern ideal. But so much of what we are bombarded with is priced above its proper value. (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray)


2. What Dorian could not foresee though is that we live in a ‘modern times feudalism’ very far removed from the freedom and the equality promised by the new technologies. A mask of a rhetoric of progress and innovation hides the old whip of domination and human rights (HR) violations. The new technologies deliver the contrary of what they promise. The digitalization of the world has not taken us to universal human progress, but to a gigantic regression in so many realms such as the restoration of monopolies, political dependency and manipulation and privileges in the new economy.* (Cedric Durand)

*: If in the old Europe and in the great America they are proud of one virtue, it is that of candidly believing their own propaganda in the new economy. We are such good publicists that we deceive ourselves about it.  (Anibal Malvar)


So, immersed in this manipulation and propaganda, is the truth dying? (Ignacio Ramonet)

3. If everyone of us/them has their own truth, what is the real truth? Is it perhaps that what Donald Trump said, i.e., that truth is relative? True? These days, the state not only sells us its truth; it also keeps an eye on us. But, mind you, giant corporations also do (think Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon...). They know more about us than we ourselves do…


4. The problem is not vigilance-in-general, but the massive ongoing clandestine vigilance (and you thought nobody reads your confidential emails and postings…) Let nobody believe that the changes that have led to this will not have consequences for HR and for the very organization of our societies, as well as for its political structures as we have known them till now. The future is very longwinded and the changes in this domain have only just began. An effective democratization of information systems is way overdue. (…an ideal and to a certain degree a dream!).


5. But beware, what is today branded as the democratization of the internet has led to nothing but an uncontrolled and chaotic proliferation of messages that add to a deafening noise. More than a new frontier, the internet and cyberspace are our new ‘territory’. I do not think there is a way back. The public must understand that this state of affairs is ultimately leading to the centralization of the internet with greater and greater control and vigilance by the Googles, Apples, Facebooks and Amazons. There are no exceptions --wither our children and wither HR.


6. It is also true that social networks have expanded the freedom of expression but, at the same time, this has infinitely multiplied the capacity of manipulation of the minds and the vigilance of citizens.** (Who in the public interest social media has anything near the unbridled financial power of the corporations to be winning this battle?) The holders of the monopolized public communications space abhor and fight the launching of any new technology that threatens to democratize communications and thus hurts their vested interests.

**: The new social media hide discourses that can prey on those digitally illiterate. This is helped by the brevity and speed of the messages being posted. (Victor Toledo)


7. Moreover, any of the ‘Big Data’ actors that does not want to be left behind must stay active in the centrally controlled space of the data/communications world. There is a ‘media Darwinism’ at play here; the medium that does not adapt to the new media/data ecosystem will disappear. (I. Ramonet)


8. Take the press: The press ought to be a mirror of the dominant perceptions and criteria of a society. Right? Well, but it has gone into alliance with the neoliberal system and also promotes staunch individualism. In an effort to adapt to the media ecosystem, the press has become associated with the obsession for security so that it spreads social discrimination, xenophobia and the criminalization of immigrants --all ignoring HR. So I ask: What must the press do?*** First and foremost, it must assume true and universal ethical standards in its coverage of news --and this means having HR as one of its axes. …wish us luck! (Gustavo Gonzalez)

***: How far we are for the written press, for example, to consider and concentrate on qualities such as: the quality of writing, the brilliancy of the story line, the originality of the topics covered, the accuracy of the testimony, the intelligence of the analysis and the guarantee of the verified truth. (I. Ramonet) (…another ideal and to a certain degree a dream!).


9. So, communications have become a space where a neoliberal language sells us concepts of liberty and rights that are not such, because they not even promote free speech and/or a fair competition. The right to information is a HR centered around pluralism --including the right of minority peoples and groups to have their own media of communication, in their own languages, with access to radiofrequencies and forbidding their marketization. The law ought to forbid private (and state) media monopolies particularly protecting the public from fake news. Pre-censorship must be abolished and an ethical monitoring of the media (mainstream and social) must be an essential part of a democratic communication. Full protection of those working on communications is an additional requirement. (G. Gonzalez) (…yet another ideal and to a certain degree a dream!)


How to move from ideals and dreams to action here?

10. We cannot allow that the day arrives when the cookies from the computer of our grandchildren know more about what interests them than their teachers do. Parents have to understand that a student that leaves the house with her/his cellphone to search for Pokemon cannot apprehend equally that that he/she has learned in her/his free time when playing hopscotch. There are notable differences here in the cognitive possibilities of their and our brains --possibilities that are key for any true ‘food for thought’ and action. (Francisco Menchén Bellón)


11. Networks and platforms have changed us all --I include myself among the first and most dependent on them; am I their prisoner…? Networks have made us their merchandise and their serfs. We have already passed the point of no return; money is made using the networks; goods are hardly exchanged not using these networks; now they are considered needed and, every day that passes, we will be more dependent on them… We invented the concept of globalization and its main support are commercial and financial networks. Only very few networks ask that we show we are not machines --showing how many cowards, fanatics and idiots hide behind the anonymity networks allow. So many people hide hatred and rancor behind their innocent faces and are not interested in informing themselves elsewhere. (Esteban Valenti)


12. There is actually no law that can prevent and sanction all of this. Clearly, a revolt is needed, an intellectual and cultural uprising. It is time for us to protect ourselves from the profiteers behind development work (‘the lords of poverty’). We ought not let ourselves be forever trapped in these networks; it would herald the irreversible demise of our civilization. (E. Valenti)


13. You and me, as representatives of the disenchanted actors, we have the duty to give ultimate HR questions a progressive realization horizon. The role of setting a horizon is simply to force us to move-on and go ahead. Let us be the custodians and preservers of the memory of the Universal Declaration of HR utopia. Let this become the political terrain of our struggle and confrontation with the economic and institutional powerful minorities, in the quest, not for a new human parenthesis, but for a new horizon --not necessarily a ‘pre-cooked’ answer. (G. Tognoni, A. Macchia)


As you see, I do not have a better answer to the question above.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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All Readers are available at www.claudioschuftan.com



Reflections on a not unrelated topic:

-I do not know about you, but how many webinars have you attended in the last year? And what do we have to show-for from them in terms of action? Are we not talking mostly among intellectuals and mostly talking to the converts? …and not only talking, but repeatedly talking around the same analyses and similar suggestions? Am I being a cynic?

-Are we perhaps deceiving ourselves thinking that we have the right (or left…?) solutions since we are talking to ‘insiders’? What does throwing webinars at our problems achieve/do to actions needed ‘outside’? Do not many of the liberal views we ventilate in webinars rarely serve the ultimate interests of those rendered poor? Do we really ‘represent them’? …What will you and I do differently come next Monday morning?

-Who will be/are the doers that will ultimately change things around? us? If not us, who should we be webinaring with ...to learn from their non-scholar/reality-rooted analyses and suggestions for action? Does the real energy to find workable solutions not ultimately only come from the oppressed themselves?

[Note: I do not even want to start to talk about what is achieved by the dozens of petitions we are asked to sign that are sent to governments, agencies, individuals, decision makers… and that end up in their inboxes to die a quiet death].


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