Another day, another horrific right-wing despot is elected to office. Today it’s Brazil.
Writing for Buzzfeed News, Ryan Broderick retraces a fairly well-worn path about how the internet became such a toxic political force. But the fact that it’s well worn doesn’t mean it isn’t worth repeating.
[Bolsonaro’s] victory tonight isn’t a surprise. He’s just one more product of the strange new forces that dictate the very fabric of our lives.
…The way the world is using their phones is almost completely dominated by a few Silicon Valley companies. The abuse that is happening is due to their inability to manage that responsibility. All of this has become so normalized in the three years since it first began to manifest that we just assume now that platforms like Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, and Twitter will exacerbate political and social instability. We expect they will be abused by ultranationalist trolls. We know they will be exploited by data firms. We wait for them to help launch the careers of populist leaders.
We have social networks implicated in lynchings, murders and attempted genocide. And it’s going to get worse before – if – it gets better. Broderick makes an important point:
In most countries, reliable publications are going behind paywalls. More services like Amazon Prime and Netflix are locking premium entertainment behind subscriptions. Which means all of this — the trolls, the abuse, the fake news, the conspiracy videos, the data leaks, the propaganda — will eventually stop being a problem for people who can afford it.
Which will most likely leave the poor, the old, and the young to fall into an information divide. This is already happening.
…There are deserts of information where normal people are algorithmically served memes, poorly aggregated news articles, and YouTube videos without any editorial oversight or regulation. Fact-checkers in Brazil complained this month ahead of the election that most voters trust what their friends and family send them on WhatsApp over what they see on TV or in newspapers.
This is one of the reasons why voting results – the election of Donald Trump, Brexit in the UK – continue to surprise some of us. It’s because we’re living in a completely different world: a world not just with different voices, but with completely different stories. £350 million a week for the NHS, lurid tales of migrant caravans, the supposed silencing of Tommy Robinson, liberals coming for your guns, feminists wanting to put all men in prison, LGBT people coming for your children.
All bollocks, of course. But plausible bollocks, convincing-sounding bollocks that isn’t questioned in the world I don’t inhabit, a world of right-wing newspapers and conservative commentators and trashy tabloids and dark money funding shady Facebook advertising.
Rather than drive the debate, traditional media is merely amplifying sections of it. Where it used to aim to educate and inform its readers, all too often it now chooses to pander to them, reinforcing the beliefs they already have.
And that brings us to here, where a pathetic caravan of migrants is seen as more dangerous than racist, anti-semitic white men shooting up synagogues, where white men sending pipe bombs is dismissed as “fake news” or a false flag operation.
As Broderick puts it in his intro:
The era of being surprised at this kind of politics is over. Now we have to live with what we’ve done.
Update: More, from Bella Caledonia (warning, some gruesome content in the linked piece):
The lack of street presence is partly explained by Bolsonaro running an almost exclusively social media campaign. He has come into conflict with election rules after it was found that an elite network of the super-rich were funding a massive fake news campaign on WhatsApp, triggering literally millions of messages to the phones of Brazilians. He has 7.5 million Facebook likes on his page, compared to 1.5 million on Haddad’s.
…The propaganda is fake. Photoshop images portray the left and progressive artists and other figures as sub-human. As social engineers who want to force all children to be gay, or some other such tropes falling under the rubric of “cultural Marxism.” This plays well with a substantial component of the Bolsonaro coalition – the Christian Right. Pastors urge huge congregations to vote for Bolsonaro to “restore dignity.”