Our Ghost Democracy
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.”