Our Ghost Democracy

“Secrets are lies, sharing is caring, and privacy is theft.” – The Circle, Dave Eggers (2013)

As Putin slides to another victory and is elevated to “Vozhd” our own democracy is being exposed as never before.

The Kremlin’s message, conveyed through RT’s editor-in-chief: “Putin used to be just our president and could be replaced. Now he is our Vozhd. And we won’t let him be replaced.”

[“Vozhd” is usually reserved for Communist leaders (Stalin,Lenin) & chieftains].

We should have the greatest of contempt for Russian democracy, but ours it appears is enthrall to the dark arts of ‘ghost democracy’. Tonight Cambridge Analytica is being exposed, tomorrow it will be bust. Facebook is tanking.

Almost $20bn (£14bn) was wiped off the social network company in the first few minutes of trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange, where Facebook opened down more than 3%. By midday, the company’s share price losses had multiplied to more than $40bn, making the day its worst in more than five years.

Tonight Elizabeth Denham, Britain’s data regulator is getting a warrant to raid Cambridge Analytica and seize its servers.

Amongst a series of killer lines the Cambridge Analytica CEO says to a journalist posing as a prospective candidate:

“It doesn’t need to be true, as long as it’s believed”.

But the issue goes far beyond a dodgy PR firm (of which there are many). The question is: did the firms activities win the US election for Trump and Brexit for Leave?

As Paul Mason writes:

“Facebook let a firm called GSR scrape 50 million user profiles and sell the data to another firm, Cambridge Analytica, whose express purpose was to manipulate electoral behaviour in favour of Donald Trump. That’s the one-paragraph summary of a story that will unfold with increasing complexity this week.”

The other question that’s hanging tonight is what other political groups, private organisations and political parties (like the Conservatives) have tie to Cambridge Analytica?

Here in a brilliant piece of journalism is Channel 4 News expose of Cambridge Analytica …


The deeper question is perhaps about our own complicity in this.

We are after all part of the problem with our ambivalence to surveillance, our lazy addiction to the dopamine hit of social media and our listless obsession with the material.

The state of mesmerising propaganda being leaked out into what passes for the public-sphere often does not have a single purpose. It is as much to sow confusion and disorientation and division as much as anything else.

This is the world envisaged by Adam Curtis in Hyper Normalisation:

“On a social-media network, it’s very much like being in a heroin bubble. As a radical artist in the 1970s, you used to go and take heroin and wander through the chaos and the collapsing Lower East Side, and you felt safe. That’s very like now. You know you aren’t safe, but you feel safe because everyone is like you.”

“We sit in our offices in front of our screens in order to get the money to go out and buy stuff. Our job is really to go shopping. And the rest of the time, we sit in our offices doing complicated managerial things, and when we’re not, we’re actually watching the internet. The internet is there to keep you happy during your fake job.”

The glee with which we watch our Digital Masters being taken down should be unrivaled.

But there are other questions.

Can we re-orient ourselves to a healthy relationship with screens and social media other than being addicted and manipulated? Can networks like Facebook be controlled, regulated, or reformed – perhaps as some have suggested as public bodies? Or should we just abandon them en mass leaving them with a pile of useless data and a broken business model? Who’s for Leaving Facebook Day?

“Take back control.”

Comments (13)

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  1. Iain MacDonald says:

    I can’t see Cambridge Analytica surviving this scandal but sadly Facebook probably will. Facebook will lose some more value from their shares but over time they will recover. Far too many people accept the outrageous privacy invasion, profiling and data mining and therefore Facebook can trundle on making their billions.

    The irony isn’t lost on me that immediately after your “Take back control” there is a share this on Facebook button.

    Why on earth did Elizabeth Denham pre-announce the intention to get a warrant? Was that inexperience? Whatever the reason it gave some time for CA to delete the really incriminating stuff.

    1. You may be right Iain on the issue of the hit to Facebook.

      I’m aware of the irony of our own Facebook presence – we run a Facebook group of 17000 people and are urgently reviewing this.

      I’ve head one notion that Denham pre-announcing a ‘raid’ is a tactic to trigger people to destroy evidence, which is itself a crime, but I have no idea …

    2. Deansy says:

      ‘Why on earth did Elizabeth Denham pre-announce the intention to get a warrant? – It’s a modern-day version of ‘Shottie – the polis are coming !!’. There’s no danger the UK govt/Tories want actual evidence coming out – I’d say it’s pretty much guaranteed Cambridge Analytica’s ‘Client list’ will never be known ! !

      1. Iain MacDonald says:

        It is a complete farce. Not only was the intention pre-announced on TV, now a “High Court judge has adjourned the ICO’s application for a warrant… until Friday”. Not only has the chance been given for incriminating data to be destroyed but plenty of time for the parties concerned to abscond.

        ICO statement here:

        Fortunately, we do know who most of the CA clients were as the company couldn’t help boasting about them. See Liam O’Hare’s article from today for some of the details:

  2. Grafter says:

    “Putin slides to another victory”….”We should have the greatest contempt for Russian democracy”. Tell you what pal our “democracy” is a total sham the outcome of which manifests itself in a bunch of corrupt self seeking cretins with a 35% mandate to rule over us. You need to rewrite this drivel.

    1. Tell you what pal – you need to re-read this drivel

  3. David Allan says:

    Many are now unwittingly at the mercy of fake news, media (social and mainstream) manipulation and State Broadcasting Propaganda.

    Major votes have become exercises of mass public miss-information – 2014 Project Fear, Trump’s victory and the Brexit vote suggests the average ill-informed, disinterested apathetic voters are all to easily influenced.

    Mass participation “Democracy” is entering a dangerous new era – Having the franchise without possessing the necessary information or ability to make a reasoned judgement on how best it should be exercised.

    Does the electorate recognise or care enough to demand a reversal of this trend?

    Before it’s too late.

  4. Ottomanboi says:

    People walked innocently into the FB web. Sharing was the watchword so all that personal settings stuff ran counter to the theme. Now the ‘innocents’ know they were trading their souls for the banal, the ephemeral, the orwellian Big Brother.
    ‘the Valley’ was never about democracy, it was about making megabux.
    Sometimes those ‘innocents’ may require a well aimed kick in the head more than a ‘there, there’ comforting hug.
    Chuck the Zuck! Now.

  5. MBC says:

    The left are making a very crude analysis if they think ‘My enemy’s enemy is therefore my friend’. That has to be the stupidest and laziest political dictum of all time. Whatever else you may think of your enemy, give them credit for the occasional appearance of intelligence. They may occasionally be right about some things.

    No matter.

    They are still your enemy.

  6. w.b.robertson says:

    The folks who decry the mainstream media and place their faith in the alternative social media should now have a careful rethink. Meanwhile, so this FB filtered data was used to “manipulate” a Trump victory? Presumably similar “research” was gained and utilised by the Hillary camp? (or were they asleep?).

  7. Cymru Rydd says:

    Micro-targeting people for election purposes. Shock horror!

    This company is undoubtedly a shady outfit- but are we really to believe that the individuals targeted have no individual loci at all, and no capacity to think for themselves? Really??

    1. Pogliaghi says:

      Obama did it too, and it was then framed as hipsexycool because, well, the liberal establishment got the outcome it wanted. The right are quick to point this out, and indeed they have a point.

      But Obama was not as cut-throat. There’s still a difference between a PR agency/political consultancy and something resembling the KGB with data-mining skillz.

  8. Pogliaghi says:

    I had been saying since the Snowden leaks (although it was obvious long before then) that a distributed, peer to peer open source alternative to Facebook was needed. Well, I tried quitting Facebook and Twitter and switching to Diaspora, which was the closest thing to implement such a technology, but it was basically a left wing version of the alt right’s “Gab”. ie., full of only nutters. But the alt right are the only ones to seriously look at developing an alternate social media infrastructure in the name of complaints about censorship, legitimate (cf. Dankula) or not. Not least because most of them have no need for contact with “normies” hence, are not subject to the usual peer pressure / network effects.

    The new call for nationalizing Facebook is perhaps, more “realistic” but ultimately also completely unrealistic, and besides opens another battle front for transparency legislation to prevent the emergence of a literal digital Stasi. The network effect of the major social media platforms gives them an inertia greater than any monopoly in history, greater than the Cargenies, Rockefellers and Bells. And in late capitalism the state is far too weak to take these bulls by the horns. Yes MySpace, and many other also-rans died, but that was before the final market consolidation in the first years of this decade. Frankly it would be clever to buy Facebook stock. it will rebound.

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