Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

Tech Platforms as the Accomplices of Strongmen

-- By AikenLarisaSerzo - 9 May 2022

Liberal democracies recognize certain civil liberties: freedom of speech, expression, and of the press; and due process. We have witnessed the perversion of these rights by various regimes with the help of tech platforms. Any attempt at pushing back against strongmen requires an equal push for greater regulation of information platforms.

The growth of social media platforms, enabled the electoral strongmen to subvert democracy and weaken fundamental rights in the name of national security and stability. The opposing values of societies are being debated on various platforms, with some speech amplified by influencers and bloggers. As eloquently and comprehensively discussed by Maria Ressa, the democratization of the distribution of information relegated journalists, who used to be the gatekeepers of information, to the side. Journalists that report news with integrity are labeled as destablizers or criminals. Bloggers and content creators have taken their place. Those with the deepest pockets can hire an army of organized online trolls to saturate the platforms with their narratives. As members of the fourth estate, journalists must remain protected, abel to hold the line, in order for democracies to work.

The rise of Duterte and his successor, Marcos, further prove how effective social media content, regardless of its veracity, can shape narratives to win elections. Marcos is dominating the election polls as people are led to believe, through youtube and tiktok, that the plunder perpetrated by his family is untrue, and that his father’s violent military rule was a golden age for the Philippines.

Democracy is taking a beating around the world as electoral strongmen are rising globally. Propaganda plays a crucial role in building and maintaining their grip on power. These regimes invest heavily in its state controlled media outfits as well as in informal social media campaigns; and in blocking alternative sources of information i.e. deplatforming real journalists and suppressing dissent from citizens.

It is ironic that the rise of open online spaces and innovation, the very means which should bring people closer together, are also the tools responsible for polarization and weakening democracy. The algorithms of platforms amplify those with the loudest voices. A cited by Ressa, an MIT study shows that lies which anger the most people spread the fastest. Those with the most engagements occupy the premium spaces on our feeds. Platforms thrive on getting users to react. The more data the platform collects on users, the better data they have on our preferences, and the more effective they will be at pushing content to us, and selling information to advertisers. A perfected cycle. Hence, lies and fakes news are effective tools to upsell and cross sell products to users. The products are not limited to commercial goods but government propaganda as well. There is no incentive for platforms to fix the system. Similarly, governments and politicians have learned to game the system.

It is difficult to fight for democracy when developing countries may have been failed by neo-liberalism and the latter’s promises of progress and development. Since the rise of the Brettonwood institutions and the adoption of wide scale reforms by transitional democracies in developing countries in the 1980s, greater liberalization, privatization and globalization do not appear to have led to inclusive growth. Despite reforms made to comply with the criteria set by the World Bank, we’ve seen rising inequalities within most countries. Leaving businesses untouched eventually led to the rise of Big Tech and the platforms. They have innovated enough. It is time to reel them in. A substantial number of scholars have also propounded that development should consider not just economic gains, as initially mandated by institutions like the World Bank, but other factors too such as freedoms too.

The hypocrisy of those championing democracy, the US and the West, also helped sell strongmen. Edward Snowden exposed how the United States infringes on the privacy and due process rights of its citizens. Alternative systems in states such as China my start to look appealing: where despite the lack of rule of law and the western notions of liberty, the country’s seen exponential economic growth and the Party has enjoyed relatively high satisfaction ratings.

The failures above helped create a space for anti-democratic figures to take root. Rapid technological developments exacerbated and provided such figures to flourish. Values based on the principles of democracy and liberty are rendered superficial and useless.

Frankel describes the rise of a dual state in authoritarian regimes, where political matters are handled outside the bounds of the law and rules pursuant to the preference of those in power (the prerogative state), while commercial and private matters follow rules (i.e. the normative state). When it’s politically necessary, there is no need to make government actions even appear lawful or constitutional. This framework may be useful in understanding the development, or lack thereof, of platform and data regulation in flawed democracies. Tech platforms evolved to become crucial tools for electoral strongmen and their regimes. Hence its use and regulation in their respective jurisdictions may be shaped by those in power in ways that would suit them and perpetuate their power further.

It may not be feasible to lobby for reforms domestically as dissent may be dangerous if not futile. Governments in countries where the most powerful platforms are domiciled should take the lead in regulating these companies. This is an opportunity for the West to rehabilitate its reputation and prove that it is in a position to preach democracy. A more active content monitoring system and fact checking should be imposed on the platforms. The platforms may no longer hide behind the argument of remaining neutral; arguing for the libertarian merits of allowing all types of speech. The algorithms have been proven to favor controversial speech and untruths that would incite polarizing reactions. To make democracies work, the West must regulate platforms and thus create a space for journalists and the citizens of the rest of the world.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Webs Webs

r3 - 09 May 2022 - 08:54:39 - AikenLarisaSerzo
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM