Saturday, April 07, 2018

Democracy and social media


By Daphne Liddle

THE CAMBRIDGE Analytica scandal burst into the headlines a couple of weeks ago, causing much alarm that Facebook – and possibly other forms of social media – are being mined for massive amounts of personal data on all users, their best friends and their cats, in order to exert undue influence on millions of people on what they buy and who they vote for.
The result has been an outcry from some bourgeois neo-liberal sources claiming that this manipulation has undermined the validity of all election and referendum results that they do not like – including Brexit – and a call for a new referendum on the issue. But how can they guarantee that a future referendum would not also be manipulated?
The ruling class in Britain has been bitterly divided over European Union (EU) membership with rich and powerful lobbies on both sides, who have lied to us and tried to manipulate us.
We Marxist-Leninists are well aware that bourgeois democracy has always been a battlefield of vested interests to sway the voting public and that it has always been corrupt, since the days when the monarch sold monopolies to his favourite venture capitalists, to the right to vote being tied to landownership, and in modern times to the demonisation of left-wing politicians and trade unionists such as Red Ken, Red Robbo, Frank Cousins and many others.
The Murdoch newspapers, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express have always made up rubbish smears about the left-wing leaders and have had some influence over many voters, including from the working class. There is no other way the Tories could ever have been voted into power. Lately these press barons have been losing their influence as many voters now turn to the internet for their news.
The point is that it is impossible to find a truly free and fair election without lies, corruption and manipulation. That is the nature of bourgeois democracy. It is still better than feudalism or fascism but the Liberal Democrats cannot claim innocence. Remember how many Labour supporters in 2010, disillusioned with Blairism, were charmed and manipulated to vote Lib-Dem by papers such as the Guardian and Independent, and so brought David Cameron and his callous austerity policies to power. And the Lib-Dem leaders were happy to go along with this, including the betrayal of the NHS in the 2012 Health and Social Care Act. If we are going to have a new referendum on Brexit will the Lib-Dems allow us a referendum to reverse that Health and Social Care Act? I think the outcome would be a lot more certain.
But the new, social-media-based ways of manipulation are supposed to be much more dangerous, because the data that they mine on us all allows them to direct advertising and adverts disguised as messages from friends that are tailored to strike a personal sympathetic chord with us.
That is why such data nowadays is valued so much by businesses – detailed knowledge of our personae has become a commodity. If you are known to be over a certain age when you go online you will be bombarded with adverts for funeral plans and mobility aids. Whenever you buy something online, such as shoes, you will be bombarded by adverts for shoes for a few weeks. Not terribly sophisticated. These sorts of adverts may influence some people but people on a tight budget – as most of the population is now – will ignore them unless they actually need a new pair of shoes or whatever.
The other aim of the ruling class in general is to keep the working class in debt and therefore more insecure and compliable. This works up to the point where they have got nothing to lose any more and mass compliance gives way to mass anger.
The New Communist Party has long recognised the role that mass data gathering plays in the bourgeois state’s attempts to control us, on behalf of the giant companies that want to sell us stuff and austerity policies.

Our 2015 Congress Document says: 

“Information technology is becoming the tool used by the ruling class to micromanage our political and economic activity. But this technology can be a two-sided weapon. The working class can also use it to exchange information instantly, to educate, agitate and organise more effectively.
“The accelerating advance towards fascism is not a response to any current threat from the organised working class, though it may to some extent be in anticipation that such a threat might arise in the future.
“We must resist this advancing fascism and prevent it becoming more established. The organised working class is our chief defence. The proto-fascist state, with its giant databases and close monitoring and control of the population, will be complex to administer and require an army of civil servants – who may be employed by the Government or by private agencies.
“Currently trade union membership is highest within the public sector. Non-compliance by those members of the working class expected to administer the system – and by the population in general – will make it difficult if not impossible for the ruling elite to establish the level of control they seek. Many sections of the bourgeoisie will also be oppressed by this system and there will be scope for class alliances to oppose fascism, though we must remember in this context that the working class is strongest, most reliable and should lead the alliance.”

In the realm of politics, the majority of people have fairly set views and are most likely to befriend people with similar views. It is comforting to discover you are not the only person who thinks the way that you do.
The percentage of ‘don’t knows’ and waverers is low, but these are the main targets of those who would use this sort of data to try to manipulate the way people vote – and in an election, this can make a critical difference.
But the ‘don’t knows’ do learn with time and experience, as did the progressives who voted Lib-Dem in 2010.
Demonisation campaigns are still being waged but most of the public have grown cynical. Recently Jeremy Corbyn was accused of selling information, including what Margaret Thatcher had for breakfast, in the 1980s to Soviet spies.
The accuser was Jan Sarkocy, an intelligence officer at the Czech embassy in Kensington during the ‘80s and a man who would have known his claims were preposterous. He went on with further, even more preposterous claims to have been the organiser of Live Aid concerts. But the right-wing press and Ben Bradley, the Tory MP for Mansfield in Nottinghamshire, fell hook, line and sinker for Sarkocy’s fairy tale and ended up having to pay a large sum of money negotiated by Corbyn’s lawyers, to a charity of Corbyn’s choice – a food bank in Mansfield. Corbyn’s status in the polls rose as a result of this. Smear campaigns can backfire.
The smear campaigns against Jeremy Corbyn concerning anti-Semitism in the Labour Party are potentially more damaging because real anti-Semitism is a real danger and it can creep in insidiously, as a form of Strasserism (‘left-wing’ Nazism) that claims to oppose capitalism and the power and wealth of bankers and presents itself as a form of socialism. Then, flying in the face of reality, claims that capitalism and banking are controlled by Jews.
This deception has served the agents of western imperialism in trying to lead na├»ve left-wingers astray. It is often dished up with bizarre conspiracy theories that sound plausible and suitably shocking but do not hold up in the light of logic. But they all lead down the path of blaming “the Jews” for being behind everything bad – along with communists and Freemasons.
But the current witch hunt against leading progressives in the labour movement with allegations of anti-Semitism based on these comrades’ standing up for Palestinian human rights is obscene. The falsity of this witch-hunt is shown up by most of its victims being Jews themselves. There are far more Jews being persecuted by the witch-hunters than by the pro-Palestinian lobby.
The right-wing media are supporting the witch-hunt to the hilt as part of their full-time programme of trying to destroy Jeremy Corbyn and his growing numbers of supporters. Corbyn cannot win by trying to appease them. The more concessions he makes by allowing pro-Palestinians to be hounded out of the party the more the witch-hunters will demand until the Labour Party is destroyed, which is their real aim.
The antidote to the Strasserites and the witch-hunters is Marxist-Leninist education and a proper understanding of the true history and nature of capitalism, the class struggle and the dialectical nature of change. This needs to be disseminated as widely as possible and the internet is one of the many ways of spreading this education.
The scandals around Cambridge Analytica should not discourage us from using the internet as fully as possible. That would be like refusing to use paper and printing because the class enemy also uses these tools.
Take all reasonable precautions to guard your personal data, but be aware that the intelligence and marketing agents of the ruling class will almost certainly find a way of accessing your data and try to sell you diversions from socialism as well as shoes. Just don’t put anything online, on your computer or on your mobile phone or tablet that you would rather they did not know.
We are the agents of the working class and we can use the internet to organise and educate against them and we will prevail, not just because we outnumber them many times over but also because our message is genuine – it is borne out by the everyday life experiences of workers throughout the world. And in the end the lies and smears fall down in the face of the experience of increasing hardship of the many under the rule of the greedy few.

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