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On “Our democracy is more important than Facebook’s profits”


I just read a moving article.  It was heartfelt, emotionally evocative, and for someone not conversant in Russian Information Warfare, convincing.  I was sent the entire article by a close friend.  

This is my review of “Our democracy is more important than Facebook’s profits“.  

While the article contains quite a few very good points, to me the author is biased to the extreme. Lucy Battersby is the technology reporter for both The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, but she’s from Melbourne, Australia.  She’s currently on “parental leave” until mid-2018, this article may mark her return.  

I seriously like the article, but she comes off as so vehemently anti-social media, especially Google, Facebook, and Twitter that her statements are almost rabid. Not good at all.
 
A prime example of her probably wearing blinders, is one laser-focused sentence.
“Disinformation is spread by social media, and in particular, three companies; Facebook, Google (Alphabet), and Twitter.” 

This statement precludes disinformation spread by any of the other media which she later mentions: “newspapers, magazines, television[,] and radio.”  As could be witnessed in 2016, disinformation, propaganda, misinformation, and fake news was everywhere. 

It is her absolutism that poisons the article for me.  ‘Social Media is poison’. 

In the article, she asks if she is too alarmist, in stating that Facebook, Google, and Twitter are too big to control.  As a qualifier she adds:

“Disinformation poisons public debate and is a threat to democracy,” the Canadian Security Intelligence Service wrote in its recent Who Said What? The security challenges of modern disinformation report.

“There are many ways for governments and organisations to counter the threat, but there is no guarantee that even effective counter-campaigns can defeat the high volume flow of malicious communications. “

Academics and advisors are also starting to warn us in increasingly shrill voices that democracy cannot survive if citizens cannot trust the information flowing from government and about government.

I was left with the feeling that she was asking for her government (and others) to control Google, Facebook, and Twitter, but she does not make that as a statement.  I’ve shared in this blog the countless efforts to counter Russian Information Warfare and other attempts to counter disinformation, misinformation, propaganda, and fake news. No, there is no silver bullet, these efforts are nascent. But, as I learned as a young Special Forces medic, sometimes you use shotgun therapy when you don’t know what will work, you try it all.

Her one suggestion to solve the problem(s) fell short of reality. Her complaint of reduced funding for the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), however, does support her argument, but that is only one small cog in a highly complex international problem.

One could suggest the government counteract disinformation by setting up their own source of news that is legally bound to be fair and honest.

Instead, the Australian government is reducing funding to the ABC and constantly undermining it’s authority with official complaints.

One small point before I go on. ANY “information” program, regardless of its nobility of purpose, is going to be attacked by Russian propagandists as, well, propaganda. Yes, this is classic Pot Calling The Kettle Black, but even as recently as today, I read such an accusation by a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official. 

As we’ve seen, the BBC is widely regarded as a very credible news source. Other efforts, such as the US BBG’s RFE/RL and VOA, Deutsche Well, France24, and others, are not as well cited, referenced, or subscribed.  RFE and VOA, however, I implicitly trust them for professional, thoroughly researched, and unbiased news with perhaps some of the world’s best reporters.  But it is a LOT of work

Continuing, my apologies, but it appears she did not fully contemplate “how” to counter disinformation. 

  • There is no suggestion of public education to inoculate the public, teaching awareness of what makes fake news, disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda, to seek corroborating sources and other unbiased news.
  • There is no suggestion of waging legal lawfare against domestically based foreign propaganda sites.
  • There is no suggestion of working with Google, Facebook, or Twitter, in a cooperative effort to help them and to seek reassurance that they are also doing all that is possible to counter disinformation, misinformation, propaganda, and fake news.
  • There is no suggestion of a public-facing cybersecurity program to help protect civilian computers from being used as a part of a large botnet, or, worse, being zombified. 
  • There is no suggestion of a network of experts to assist and support Australia’s efforts, suggesting Australia is stranded.  
  • There is no suggestion for establishing quantifiable standards by which we can measure the disinformation, propaganda, misinformation, and fake news levied against us as well as our efforts to counter. 
  • There is no suggestion of working with Parliament, Congress, or a Rada, to form a cooperative Whole-Of-Government approach to counter foreign information warfare against our democracy.

That is just for starters.

There are just so many things missed in this article.  To me, this indicates working in a vacuum and not properly researching the issue before launching. It appears to be an emotional response, not a rational one. 

I’m going to send her a copy, I hope she reaches out to me. I’d love to work with her on this.

</end editorial>



Our democracy is more important than Facebook’s profits

By Lucy Battersby

No one realised it at the time, but in 2004 a poison was created that is now spreading through and threatening the stability of democratic countries around the world.

The poison isn’t attacking government’s directly. Instead it infects the information flowing through society to the point that citizens are confused and misled away from making proper decisions.

At its worst, this poison, this disinformation, prompts people to hunt down and hurt perceived enemies.

Disinformation is spread by social media, and in particular, three companies; Facebook, Google (Alphabet), and Twitter.

And 2004 is when Facebook launched and Google listed on the stock exchange.

It has taken 14 years to get to the point where these companies’ products are a serious risk to international stability. A Global Democracy Crisis born from a lack of regulation, much like the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

But this time instead of being too big to fail and needing government assistance, the companies threatening stability are too big to control.

Is this sounding too alarmist? Well, consider the alarm being raised by national security agencies.

“Disinformation poisons public debate and is a threat to democracy,” the Canadian Security Intelligence Service wrote in its recent Who Said What? The security challenges of modern disinformation report.

“There are many ways for governments and organisations to counter the threat, but there is no guarantee that even effective counter-campaigns can defeat the high volume flow of malicious communications. “

Academics and advisors are also starting to warn us in increasingly shrill voices that democracy cannot survive if citizens cannot trust the information flowing from government and about government.

Weak public institutions lead to tyranny and corruption and leave society wide open to foreign interference. Populist leaders, like Donald Trump, are unpredictable and make illogical decisions.

Facebook has since grown to 2.2 billion users worldwide, and Google (and its subsidiary YouTube) has taken a near-global monopoly on internet searches and online advertising.

Last year Facebook’s revenue was $US40 billion and Google’s was $US32 billion. That is largely money that advertisers decided to spend online, rather than on display advertising in other media like newspapers, magazines, television and radio. On a long bow, it is $US72 billion diverted away from subsidising journalism worldwide.

Last year Fairfax Media (which publishes The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age) signed a deal with Google that recognised the news site as a reliable and quality place to advertise. The internet giant will help sell and place ads on Fairfax’s websites, rather than post-truth sites, in a deal could be worth tens of millions of dollars to the Australian publisher.

Does someone need to decide that peace and stability are more important than shareholder returns for Facebook, Google?

Along with taking the revenue of traditional newsrooms, these online companies profit from spreading disinformation and hosting websites publishing post-truth politics.

When Russia bought hundreds of Facebook posts in the lead up to the 2016 US election the ads did not argue for any particular ideology. Instead they were designed to push opinions further away from the middle. The ads were trying to make someone who was just a little about angry about an issue irate enough to take to the streets or go to a meeting.

“The disinformation campaign carried out by the Kremlin…is a direct descendent of the KGB’s ‘active measures’, increased in volume, speed and potency by modern technology. Its purpose is to control public opinion in Russia, and undermine Western democracies by creating division within targeted groups,’’ the Canadians warn.

With newsrooms around the country just a shadow of what they once were, keeping citizens informed and engaged in mainstream news cycle is harder than ever.

One could suggest the government counteract disinformation by setting up their own source of news that is legally bound to be fair and honest.

Instead, the Australian government is reducing funding to the ABC and constantly undermining it’s authority with official complaints.

As public elections are being held around the world stories are coming out about authorities and institutions working hard to counteract disinformation. In Brazil, in Italy, in the United States and soon it will be in Australia too.

Because no one yet knows what the antidote for this disinformation is. Is there a way to kill all the troll farms and fake news factories? Or does someone need to decide that peace and stability are more important than shareholder returns for Facebook, Google or Twitter?

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/business/companies/our-democracy-is-more-important-than-facebook-s-profits-20180613-p4zl52.html

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