The Counterforce: Where They Attack, We Defend
You are being targeted. The target is your emotions…the negative ones: fear, rage,depression,disgust. Besides the immediate individual impact, they spill over and have a corrosive effect on our relationships with family and friends. They makes us less effective.
But that’s just a means to an end. In a very real sense, we’re collateral damage.
While the attack is on the individual, the target is the collective. The aim is to erode the balanced mechanisms of our democratic society with its preconditions of free discussion, compromise, and the assumption that there is a common welfare.
We need to defend politically, culturally, and, also, individually.
Political : A Legislative First Step
To get a grasp on this we need some immediate transparency.
We currently have the right to see our credit data and when it is used. It is no less vital to know when some enterprise is selling our stats to advertisers. We need the ability to find out ‘what they have on us’ and how they’re using it …particularly since it seems pretty easy for anyone, no matter how fucked up their purpose, to purchase ad space embedded in our social stream.
Making this information available to each of us individually would be the most effective engine of change. We could see how and why we were targeted and by whom. It would have the advantage letting us take subsequent steps from an informed position.
There’s Legislation in Europe that does this but not in the US.
California, Massachusetts, or New York might be great places to start but I’ve noticed South Dakota and other Midwestern states can go full maverick at any point. Let’s race!
Strengthen the Tribe; Build Bridges
Since the enemy’s key attack point is where they see our most significant vulnerability and they’re primarily attacking solidarity…trying to dissolve the type of social cohesion that leads us to seek broad collective solutions…that is where we defend.
First we can take the easy step of defending by strengthening the tribe to buffer it against future fractures. Take the time to cultivate your real world connection with friends and family. We’re a tribal species. This part is essential to our cultural, collective, and individual health and it is the antidote to letting ourselves be driven into isolated hopelessness and become ineffective cultural and political actors.
Then comes the hard part: building bridges. This requires us to assume common ground with folks where that assumption can seem a stretch. Yet there are folks of decent intent on all sides of most issues and, important to note, while the most extreme examples of a position are the most visible, they’re not the most numerous.
70% of the folks on any particular ‘side’ have a nuanced and rational position that is open to dialog, and an instinct to meet folks halfway. The concept of ‘sides’ is in itself non-helpful. Most folks likely agree with you on other significant political and cultural issues even if they go another route on some. (We might want to save putting effort into the other 30% until a bit down the road:-).
Let’s make a pact to assume we’re all good guys until we’ve figured out a way to frustrate the enemy. They want us at each other throats. Once we’ve got that out of the way we can go back to being amazed at how misguided everyone else is.
Here’s an inspiring example of dialog under adverse conditions and a pointer to a context wider than our differences.
Personal: Self Care
Manage Time and Attention
The social media post or news item that disgusts, outrages, or depresses you might be designed to do precisely that. In fact, it probably is, whether the intent is your demoralization or simply getting clicks. Awareness of that can help. It is likely going forward that the more effective you are, the more you’ll be a target.
Here and in the point below, disrupt your initial reaction. Disconnect, take a walk, sit zazen, wait 24 hours before hitting send…then act.
The articles in section 2 above give pointers. Here’s another resource:
Time Well Spent
Time Well Spent is a movement to transform the race for attention so it aligns with our best interests.
Fight…as a Discipline.
It’s like getting in 20 minutes of walking a day. A small amount of effort, consistently applied has a significant impact. Pick your focus and give it consistent attention. It’s good for you.
Forgo Outrage: It’s Been Eaten by the Grey Goo!
Everyone loves outrage. Heck, I love outrage. The Right uses it as motor. The Left likes a good wallow. Without getting into ego, politics, and contaminated emotion, I think we need to give it up. It hurts us as it pretends to provide value. We are more manipulable but not more politically effective. It dissolves opportunities for common ground, and erodes dialog.
Spreading awareness of the manipulation around us is critical. It is a first step towards a movement that can grow to stop this effort to pit Americans against each other and unravel our democracy.
There’s a baked in irony. The fight against this clear danger can provide a focus to bring us together rather than further divide us!
Much thanks to everyone who read and commented on this essay as I prepared it for publication!
This essay is dedicated to some of the only people that ended up being proved correct during the weird politics of the 60s/70s: emaciated, TV addicted, acid eating, speed freaks hippies. They sounded nuts but reality caught up as the rest of us learned that COINTELPRO had been disrupting neighborhood food coops with ‘armed revolutionaries’, had been setting up the Black Panthers for death and organizational collapse, that Viet Nam reports were falsified, that Nixon was engaged in wide ranging criminal conspiracy and on and on.
Granted they, also, claimed Spiro Agnew was one of our Reptile Overlords in disguise…but no one can be right all the time.
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.
Further reading — General References and Useful Articles
There’s been a lot of in-depth coverage of the hows, whys, and background of the current situation. Here’s a useful selection of different angles.
The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine
There’s a new automated propaganda machine driving global politics. How it works and what it will mean for the future…
This is a propaganda machine. It’s targeting people individually to recruit them to an idea. It’s a level of social engineering that I’ve never seen before. They’re capturing people and then keeping them on an emotional leash and never letting them go,” said professor Jonathan Albright.
From Russia, With Lies: Soviet-Style Disinformation And The Culture War That Helped Spread It
Russia has taken advantage of the divisions within American culture
A hundred year long view of the situation.
During the 1970’s Yuri Andropov, then the director of the KGB, led a campaign to seed the Muslim world with anti-American and anti-Jewish propaganda.
“Andropov commissioned the first Arabic translation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian-forged 1905 propaganda book that alleged Jews were plotting to take over Europe — and were being aided by the United States.”
Deep dive on the hacking companies and tech
The conclusion: While this set of “fake news” sites might not have the sheer quantity of ad tech that, say, the Alexa 500 have, the behavioral targeting and identity resolution technologies associated with many of these conspiracy, hyper-partisan, and propaganda sites are as sophisticated as it gets.
An even deeper dive using IBM Watson to analyze Twitter accounts and hashtags.
The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked
“The connectivity that is the heart of globalisation can be exploited by states with hostile intent to further their…
A seriously non-optimistic view of the situation.
A shadowy global operation involving big data, billionaire friends of Trump and the disparate forces of the Leave campaign influenced the result of the EU referendum. As Britain heads to the polls again, is our electoral process still fit for purpose?
Confronting a Nightmare for Democracy
Personal Data, Personalized Media and Weaponized Propaganda
Another cheerful assessment.
RT, Sputnik and Russia’s New Theory of War
One morning in January 2016, Martin Steltner showed up at his office in the state courthouse building in western Berlin…
New York Times does its typical deep look at the issue starting with a fake news case in Berlin.
The Lisa case, as it is now known, was an early strike in a new information war Russia is waging against the West. In the months that followed, politicians perceived by the Russian government as hostile to its interests would find themselves caught up in media storms that, in their broad contours, resembled the one that gathered around Merkel. They often involved conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods — sometimes with a tenuous connection to fact, as in the Lisa case, sometimes with no connection at all — amplified until they broke through into domestic politics.
This is segmented and slightly bowdlerized version of the original one-piece article published here.
I’ve decided if I was going to write I might as well seek readers. I’m replacing my old system (spam everyone I know) with a mailing list. You can sign up for that below. I’ll let you know when I publish something.