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Digital Destruction of Democracy

The Digital Destruction of Democracy

ANYA SCHIFFRIN JANUARY 21, 2019

https://prospect.org/article/digital-destruction-democracy

Anya Schiffrin is an adjunct faculty member at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. She worked in Hanoi from 1997 to 1999 as the bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires.
Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics
By Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, & Hal Roberts
Oxford University Press
A Harvard law professor who is a well-known theorist of the digital age, Benkler and colleagues have produced an authoritative tome that includes multiple taxonomies and literature reviews as well as visualizations of the flow of disinformation.
clickbait fabricators
white supremacist and alt-right trolls
a history of the scholarship on propaganda, reminding the reader that much of the discussion began in the 1930s.
Benkler’s optimistic 2007 book, The Wealth of Networks, predicted that the Internet would bring people together and transform the way information is created and spread. Today, Benkler is far less sanguine and has become one of the foremost researchers of disinformation networks.
Fox News, BreitbartThe Daily CallerInfoWars, and Zero Hedge
As a result, mainstream journalists repeat and amplify the falsehoods even as they debunk them.
There is no clear line, they argue, between Russian propaganda, Breitbart lies, and the Trump victory. They add that Fox News is probably more influential than Facebook.
after George Soros gave a speech in January 2018 calling for regulation of the social media platforms, Facebook hired a Republican opposition research firm to shovel dirt at George Soros.
The European Union has not yet tried to regulate disinformation (although they do have codes of practice for the platforms), instead focusing on taxation, competition regulation, and protection of privacy. But Germany has strengthened its regulations regarding online hate speech, including the liability of the social media platforms.
disclosure of the sources of online political advertising.It’s a bit toothless because, just as with offshore bank accounts, it may be possible to register which U.S. entity is paying for online political advertising, but it’s impossible to know whether that entity is getting its funds from overseas. Even the Honest Ads bill was too much for Facebook to take.

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more on the issues of digital world and democracy in this IMS blog
http://blog.stcloudstate.edu/ims/2019/02/19/facebook-digital-gangsters/

Identity Politics New Tribalism and the Crisis of Democracy

Fukuyama, F. (2018). Against Identity Politics: The New Tribalism and the Crisis of Democracy. Foreign Affairs97(5), 90–114. Retrieved from http://login.libproxy.stcloudstate.edu/login?qurl=http%3a%2f%2fsearch.ebscohost.com%2flogin.aspx%3fdirect%3dtrue%26db%3dkeh%26AN%3d131527250%26site%3dehost-live%26scope%3dsite

For the most part, twentieth-century politics was defined by economic issues. On the left, politics centered on workers, trade unions, social welfare programs, and redistributive policies. The right, by contrast, was primarily interested in reducing the size of government and promoting the private sector. Politics today, however, is defined less by economic or ideological concerns than by questions of identity. Now, in many democracies, the left focuses less on creating broad economic equality and more on promoting the interests of a wide variety of marginalized groups, such as ethnic minorities, immigrants and refugees, women, and lgbt people. The right, meanwhile, has redefined its core mission as the patriotic protection of traditional national identity, which is often explicitly connected to race, ethnicity,
or religion.

Again and again, groups have come to believe that their identities—whether national, religious, ethnic, sexual, gender, or otherwise—are not receiving adequate recognition. Identity politics is no longer a minor phenomenon, playing out only in the rarified confines of university campuses or providing a backdrop to low-stakes skirmishes in “culture wars” promoted by the mass media. Instead, identity politics has become a master concept that explains much of what is going on in global affairs.

Democratic societies are fracturing into segments based on ever-narrower identities,
threatening the possibility of deliberation and collective action by society as a whole. This is a road that leads only to state breakdown and, ultimately, failure. Unless such liberal democracies can work their way back to more universal understandings of human dignity,
they will doom themselves—and the world—to continuing conflict.

But in liberal democracies, equality under the law does not result in economic or social equality. Discrimination continues to exist against a wide variety of groups, and market economies produce large inequalities of outcome.

And the proportion of white working-class children growing up in single-parent families rose from 22 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2017.

Nationalists tell the disaffected that they have always been core members of a great
nation and that foreigners, immigrants, and elites have been conspiring to hold them down.

globalization economy democracy

Caldwell, C. (April, 2017). Sending Jobs Overseas. CRB, 27(2).

http://www.claremont.org/crb/article/sending-jobs-overseas/ 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claremont_Institute

Caldwell’s book review of
Baldwin, Richard E. The Great Convergence: Information Technology and the New Globalization. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2016. not at SCSU library, available through ILL (https://mplus.mnpals.net/vufind/Record/008770850/Hold?item_id=MSU50008770850000010&id=008770850&hashKey=cff0a018a46178d4d3208ac449d86c4e#tabnav)

Globalization’s cheerleaders, from Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, made arguments from classical economics: by buying manufactured products from people overseas who made them cheaper than we did, the United States could get rich concentrating on product design, marketing, and other lucrative services. That turned out to be a mostly inaccurate description of how globalism would work in the developed world, as mainstream politicians everywhere are now discovering.

Certain skeptics, including polymath author Edward Luttwak and Harvard economist Dani Rodrik, put forward a better account. In his 1998 book Turbo-Capitalism, Luttwak gave what is still the most succinct and accurate reading of the new system’s economic consequences. “It enriches industrializing poor countries, impoverishes the semi-affluent majority in rich countries, and greatly adds to the incomes of the top 1 percent on both sides who are managing the arbitrage.”

In The Great Convergence, Richard Baldwin, an economist at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, gives us an idea why, over the past generation, globalization’s benefits have been so hard to explain and its damage so hard to diagnose.

We have had “globalization,” in the sense of far-flung trade, for centuries now.

ut around 1990, the cost of sharing information at a distance fell dramatically. Workers on complex projects no longer had to cluster in the same factory, mill town, or even country. Other factors entered in. Tariffs fell. The rise of “Global English” as a common language of business reduced the cost of moving information (albeit at an exorbitant cost in culture). “Containerization” (the use of standard-sized shipping containers across road, rail, and sea transport) made packing and shipping predictable and helped break the world’s powerful longshoremen’s unions. Active “pro-business” political reforms did the rest.

Far-flung “global value chains” replaced assembly lines. Corporations came to do some of the work of governments, because in the free-trade climate imposed by the U.S., they could play governments off against one another. Globalization is not about nations anymore. It is not about products. And the most recent elections showed that it has not been about people for a long time. No, it is about tasks.

his means a windfall for what used to be called the Third World. More than 600 million people have been pulled out of dire poverty. They can get richer by building parts of things.

The competition that globalization has created for manufacturing has driven the value-added in manufacturing down close to what we would think of as zilch. The lucrative work is in the design and the P.R.—the brainy, high-paying stuff that we still get to do.

But only a tiny fraction of people in any society is equipped to do lucrative brainwork. In all Western societies, the new formula for prosperity is inconsistent with the old formula for democracy.

One of these platitudes is that all nations gain from trade. Baldwin singles out Harvard professor and former George W. Bush Administration economic adviser Gregory Mankiw, who urged passage of the Obama Administration mega-trade deals TPP and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) on the grounds that America should “work in those industries in which we have an advantage compared with other nations, and we should import from abroad those goods that can be produced more cheaply there.”

That was a solid argument 200 years ago, when the British economist David Ricardo developed modern doctrines of trade. In practical terms, it is not always solid today. What has changed is the new mobility of knowledge. But knowledge is a special commodity. It can be reused. Several people can use it at the same time. It causes people to cluster in groups, and tends to grow where those groups have already clustered.

When surgeries involved opening the patient up like a lobster or a peapod, the doctor had to be in physical contact with a patient. New arthroscopic processes require the surgeon to guide cutting and cauterizing tools by computer. That computer did not have to be in the same room. And if it did not, why did it have to be in the same country? In 2001, a doctor in New York performed surgery on a patient in Strasbourg. In a similar way, the foreman on the American factory floor could now coordinate production processes in Mexico. Each step of the production process could now be isolated, and then offshored. This process, Baldwin writes, “broke up Team America by eroding American labor’s quasi-monopoly on using American firms’ know-how.”

To explain why the idea that all nations win from trade isn’t true any longer, Baldwin returns to his teamwork metaphor. In the old Ricardian world that most policymakers still inhabit, the international economy could be thought of as a professional sports league. Trading goods and services resembled trading players from one team to another. Neither team would carry out the deal unless it believed it to be in its own interests. Nowadays, trade is more like an arrangement by which the manager of the better team is allowed to coach the lousier one in his spare time.

Vietnam, which does low-level assembly of wire harnesses for Honda. This does not mean Vietnam has industrialized, but nations like it no longer have to.

In the work of Thomas Friedman and other boosters you find value chains described as kaleidoscopic, complex, operating in a dozen different countries. Those are rare. There is less to “global value chains” than meets the eye. Most of them, Baldwin shows, are actually regional value chains. As noted, they exist on the periphery of the United States, Europe, or Japan. In this, offshoring resembles the elaborate international transactions that Florentine bankers under the Medicis engaged in for the sole purpose of avoiding church strictures on moneylending.

One way of describing outsourcing is as a verdict on the pay structure that had arisen in the West by the 1970s: on trade unions, prevailing-wage laws, defined-benefit pension plans, long vacations, and, more generally, the power workers had accumulated against their bosses.

In 1993, during the first month of his presidency, Bill Clinton outlined some of the promise of a world in which “the average 18-year-old today will change jobs seven times in a lifetime.” How could anyone ever have believed in, tolerated, or even wished for such a thing? A person cannot productively invest the resources of his only life if he’s going to be told every five years that everything he once thought solid has melted into ait.

The more so since globalization undermines democracy, in the ways we have noted. Global value chains are extraordinarily delicate. They are vulnerable to shocks. Terrorists have discovered this. In order to work, free-trade systems must be frictionless and immune to interruption, forever. This means a program of intellectual property protection, zero tariffs, and cross-border traffic in everything, including migrants. This can be assured only in a system that is veto-proof and non-consultative—in short, undemocratic.

Sheltered from democracy, the economy of the free trade system becomes more and more a private space.

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Caldwell, C. (2014, November). Twilight of Democracy. CRB, 14(4).

Caldwell’s book review of
Fukuyama, Francis. The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. SCSU Library: https://mplus.mnpals.net/vufind/Record/007359076  Call Number: JC11 .F85 2011

http://www.claremont.org/crb/article/twilight-of-democracy/

Fukuyama’s first volume opened with China’s mandarin bureaucracy rather than the democracy of ancient Athens, shifting the methods of political science away from specifically Western intellectual genealogies and towards anthropology. Nepotism and favor-swapping are man’s basic political motivations, as Fukuyama sees it. Disciplining those impulses leads to effective government, but “repatrimonialization”—the capture of government by private interests—threatens whenever vigilance is relaxed. Fukuyama’s new volume, which describes political order since the French Revolution, extends his thinking on repatrimonialization, from the undermining of meritocratic bureaucracy in Han China through the sale of offices under France’s Henri IV to the looting of foreign aid in post-colonial Zaire. Fukuyama is convinced that the United States is on a similar path of institutional decay.

Political philosophy asks which government is best for man. Political science asks which government is best for government. Political decline, Fukuyama insists, is not the same thing as civilizational collapse.

Fukuyama is not the first to remark that wars can spur government efficiency—even if front-line soldiers are the last to benefit from it.

Relative to the smooth-running systems of northwestern Europe, American bureaucracy has been a dud, riddled with corruption from the start and resistant to reform. Patronage—favors for individual cronies and supporters—has thrived.

Clientelism is an ambiguous phenomenon: it is bread and circuses, it is race politics, it is doing favors for special classes of people. Clientelism is both more democratic and more systemically corrupting than the occasional nepotistic appointment.

why modern mass liberal democracy has developed on clientelistic lines in the U.S. and meritocratic ones in Europe. In Europe, democracy, when it came, had to adapt itself to longstanding pre-democratic institutions, and to governing elites that insisted on established codes and habits. Where strong states precede democracy (as in Germany), bureaucracies are efficient and uncorrupt. Where democracy precedes strong states (as in the United States but also Greece and Italy), government can be viewed by the public as a piñata.

Fukuyama contrasts the painstaking Japanese development of Taiwan a century ago with the mess that the U.S. Congress, “eager to impose American models of government on a society they only dimly understood,” was then making of the Philippines. It is not surprising that Fukuyama was one of the most eloquent conservative critics of the U.S. invasion of Iraq from the very beginning.

What distinguishes once-colonized Vietnam and China and uncolonized Japan and Korea from these Third World basket cases is that the East Asian lands “all possess competent, high-capacity states,” in contrast to sub-Saharan Africa, which “did not possess strong state-level institutions.”

Fukuyama does not think ethnic homogeneity is a prerequisite for successful politics

the United States “suffers from the problem of political decay in a more acute form than other democratic political systems.” It has kept the peace in a stagnant economy only by dragooning women into the workplace and showering the working and middle classes with credit.

public-sector unions have colluded with the Democratic Party to make government employment more rewarding for those who do it and less responsive to the public at large. In this sense, government is too big. But he also believes that cutting taxes on the rich in hopes of spurring economic growth has been a fool’s errand, and that the beneficiaries of deregulation, financial and otherwise, have grown to the point where they have escaped bureaucratic control altogether. In this sense, government is not big enough.

Washington, as Fukuyama sees it, is a patchwork of impotence and omnipotence—effective where it insists on its prerogatives, ineffective where it has been bought out. The unpredictable results of democratic oversight have led Americans to seek guidance in exactly the wrong place: the courts, which have both exceeded and misinterpreted their constitutional responsibilities.  the almost daily insistence of courts that they are liberating people by removing discretion from them gives American society a Soviet cast.

“Effective modern states,” he writes, “are built around technical expertise, competence, and autonomy.”

http://librev.com/index.php/2013-03-30-08-56-39/discussion/culture/3234-gartziya-i-problemite-na-klientelistkata-darzhava

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Williams, J. (2017, May). The Dumb Politics of Elite Condescension. NYT

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/05/27/opinion/sunday/the-dumb-politics-of-elite-condescension.html

the sociologists Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb call the “hidden injuries of class.” These are dramatized by a recent employment study, in which the sociologists Lauren A. Rivera and Andras Tilcsik sent 316 law firms résumés with identical and impressive work and academic credentials, but different cues about social class. The study found that men who listed hobbies like sailing and listening to classical music had a callback rate 12 times higher than those of men who signaled working-class origins, by mentioning country music, for example.

Politically, the biggest “hidden injury” is the hollowing out of the middle class in advanced industrialized countries. For two generations after World War II, working-class whites in the United States enjoyed a middle-class standard of living, only to lose it in recent decades.

The college-for-all experiment did not work. Two-thirds of Americans are not college graduates. We need to continue to make college more accessible, but we also need to improve the economic prospects of Americans without college degrees.

the United States has a well-documented dearth of workers qualified for middle-skill jobs that pay $40,000 or more a year and require some postsecondary education but not a college degree. A 2014 report by Accenture, Burning Glass Technologies and Harvard Business School found that a lack of adequate middle-skills talent affects the productivity of “47 percent of manufacturing companies, 35 percent of health care and social assistance companies, and 21 percent of retail companies.”

Skillful, a partnership among the Markle Foundation, LinkedIn and Colorado, is one initiative pointing the way. Skillful helps provide marketable skills for job seekers without college degrees and connects them with employers in need of middle-skilled workers in information technology, advanced manufacturing and health care. For more information, see my other IMS blog entries, such ashttp://blog.stcloudstate.edu/ims/2017/01/11/credly-badges-on-canvas/

social media and democracy

The biggest threat to democracy? Your social media feed

Vyacheslav PolonskiNetwork Scientist, Oxford Internet Institute
Yochai Benkler explains: “The various formats of the networked public sphere provide anyone with an outlet to speak, to inquire, to investigate, without need to access the resources of a major media organization.”
Democratic bodies are typically elected in periods of three to five years, yet citizen opinions seem to fluctuate daily and sometimes these mood swings grow to enormous proportions. When thousands of people all start tweeting about the same subject on the same day, you know that something is up. With so much dynamic and salient political diversity in the electorate, how can policy-makers ever reach a consensus that could satisfy everyone?
At the same time, it would be a grave mistake to discount the voices of the internet as something that has no connection to real political situations.
What happened in the UK was not only a political disaster, but also a vivid example of what happens when you combine the uncontrollable power of the internet with a lingering visceral feeling that ordinary people have lost control of the politics that shape their lives.

social media and democracy

Polarization as a driver of populism

People who have long entertained right-wing populist ideas, but were never confident enough to voice them openly, are now in a position to connect to like-minded others online and use the internet as a megaphone for their opinions.

The resulting echo chambers tend to amplify and reinforce our existing opinions, which is dysfunctional for a healthy democratic discourse. And while social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter generally have the power to expose us to politically diverse opinions, research suggests that the filter bubbles they sometimes create are, in fact, exacerbated by the platforms’ personalization algorithms, which are based on our social networks and our previously expressed ideas. This means that instead of creating an ideal type of a digitally mediated “public agora”, which would allow citizens to voice their concerns and share their hopes, the internet has actually increased conflict and ideological segregation between opposing views, granting a disproportionate amount of clout to the most extreme opinions.

The disintegration of the general will

In political philosophy, the very idea of democracy is based on the principal of the general will, which was proposed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century. Rousseau envisioned that a society needs to be governed by a democratic body that acts according to the imperative will of the people as a whole.

There can be no doubt that a new form of digitally mediated politics is a crucial component of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: the internet is already used for bottom-up agenda-setting, empowering citizens to speak up in a networked public sphere, and pushing the boundaries of the size, sophistication and scope of collective action. In particular, social media has changed the nature of political campaigning and will continue to play an important role in future elections and political campaigns around the world.

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more on the impact of technology on democracy in this IMS blog:

http://blog.stcloudstate.edu/ims?s=democracy

 

Center for Democracy & Technology

Big Data and Privacy

April 17, 2014

Big data has been generating big hype for a while. In January, the White House jumped into the fray, launching a big data and privacy review. CDT participated in all three public workshops convened in connection with the review and submitted written comments.

CDT’s Big Data and Privacy Comments

In our comments, we focused on three main areas: applying the Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs) to both private sector and government big data programs; exploring technical measures such as de-identification to safeguard privacy; and reforming existing privacy laws, most notably the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, to account for rapid changes in the ways that digital data is collected, stored, and used.

CDT stressed that, as entities collect more data to offer innovative products and more efficient services, they must still be guided by purpose specification, consent, security, and the other elements of the FIPPs framework.

Government and Big Data

“Strong consensus is forming that the bulk collection of phone records should end.”

-Harley Geiger

The Administration says that it will end its bulk collection of telephony metadata, although the details of what will replace it remain unsettled. Meanwhile, CDT is pointing out that the laws the government has used to justify bulk collection are not limited just to phone records. Instead, they could be used to justify collection of location data, Internet browsing history, financial records, and more. CDT has been vocal in advocating the end of all forms of bulk collection, and we endorse the USA FREEDOM Act as the best legislation to do just that.

A report from the White House review is due before the end of April, but it is expected to present more questions than answers. In this complex and unsettled space, CDT will continue to work with companies and other stakeholders to develop workable approaches that will protect privacy while pursuing the benefits promised by advanced data analytics.


Check Out CDT’s New Website

CDT has launched a totally revamped website: http://www.cdt.org. It has a fresh new look and tools that should make our content more easily accessible. Thanks to our partners at iStrategy Labs for their creative and technical efforts on the new site.

bots and disinformation

Computer-generated humans and disinformation campaigns could soon take over political debate. Last year, researchers found that 70 countries had political disinformation campaigns over two years from r/Futurology

Bots will dominate political debate, experts warn

 

 

Last year, researchers at Oxford University found that 70 countries had political disinformation campaigns over two years.
Perhaps the most notable of such campaigns was that initiated by a Russian propaganda group to influence the 2016 US election result.

he US Federal Communications Commission hosted a period in 2017 where the public could comment on its plans to repeal net neutrality. Harvard Kennedy School lecturer Bruce Schneier notes that while the agency received 22 million comments, many of them were made by fake identities.
Schneier argues that the escalating prevalence of computer-generated personas could “starve” people of democracy

 

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more on deepfake in this IMS blog
http://blog.stcloudstate.edu/ims?s=deepfake

Idolization of Technology

Narcissism and the Idolization of Technology

Marshall McLuhan , Understanding Media,

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
one of the greatest future threats to liberal democracy was society being caught unprepared by an advancing technology that changes social conditions, so that people find themselves “in a situation which they didn’t foresee and doing all sorts of things they didn’t want to do.”

while the user of media is distracted by its content, he is more susceptible to the actual agent of its influence— the medium itself. Hence, McLuhan’s most famous aphorism, “The medium is the message.”

Viewing social media through this lens, it seems obvious that it is not the content, or what is said on these very popular platforms where the true power to influence lies, rather it is in the medium itself.

information gerrymandering

Information gerrymandering in social networks skews collective decision-making

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02562-z

https://www.facebook.com/mariana.damova/posts/10221298893368558

An analysis shows that information flow between individuals in a social network can be ‘gerrymandered’ to skew perceptions of how others in the community will vote — which can alter the outcomes of elections.

The Internet has erased geographical barriers and allowed people across the globe to interact in real time around their common interests. But social media is starting to compete with, or even replace, nationally visible conversations in print and on broadcast media with ad libitum, personalized discourse on virtual social networks3. Instead of broadening their spheres of association, people gravitate towards interactions with ideologically aligned content and similarly minded individuals.

n information gerrymandering, the way in which voters are concentrated into districts is not what matters; rather, it is the way in which the connections between them are arranged (Fig. 1). Nevertheless, like geographical gerrymandering, information gerrymandering threatens ideas about proportional representation in a democracy.

Figure 1 | Social-network structure affects voters’ perceptions. In these social networks, ten individuals favour orange and eight favour blue. Each individual has four reciprocal social connections. a, In this random network, eight individuals correctly infer from their contacts’ preferences that orange is more popular, eight infer a draw and only two incorrectly infer that blue is more popular. b, When individuals largely interact with like-minded individuals, filter bubbles arise in which all individuals believe that their party is the most popular. Voting gridlock is more likely in such situations, because no one recognizes a need to compromise. c, Stewart et al.1 describe ‘information gerrymandering’, in which the network structure skews voters’ perceptions about others’ preferences. Here, two-thirds of voters mistakenly infer that blue is more popular. This is because blue proponents strategically influence a small number of orange-preferring individuals, whereas orange proponents squander their influence on like-minded individuals who have exclusively orane-preferring contacts, or on blue-preferring individuals who have enough blue-preferring contacts to remain unswayed.

deepfake

Deepfake danger: what a viral clip of Bill Hader morphing into Tom Cruise tells us

Are deepfakes a threat to democracy? The creator of a series of viral clips says he is raising awareness of their subversive potential

Elle Hunt  August 13, 2019

https://www.theguardian.com/news/shortcuts/2019/aug/13/danger-deepfakes-viral-video-bill-hader-tom-cruise

deepfakes – doctored videos fabricating apparently real footage of people – and their potential to disrupt democracy.

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more on #fakenews and audio/video in this this IMS blog
https://blog.stcloudstate.edu/ims/2017/07/15/fake-news-and-video/

http://blog.stcloudstate.edu/ims/2019/07/21/deep-fake-audio/

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