"... social media companies influence how people think and behave without them even being aware of it. This has far-reaching adverse consequences on the functioning of democracy, particularly on the integrity of elections ... The power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies. It takes a real effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called ‘the freedom of mind’. There is a possibility that once lost, people who grow up in the digital age will have difficulty in regaining it." ... Soros warned of an “even more alarming prospect” on the horizon if data-rich internet companies ... paired their corporate surveillance systems with state-sponsored surveillance – a trend that’s already emerging in places such as the Philippines. “This may well result in a web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even Aldous Huxley or George Orwell could have imagined,” he said. The companies, which he described as “ever more powerful monopolies” are unlikely to change their behaviour without regulation ... “Their days are numbered.” (Guardian)It may be though odd that a blogger who's enjoyed a decade of freedom to spout anything that comes into his mind, would contemplate reining it all back. And of course plenty would argue the dead-tree press and the Beeb et al have long enjoyed mind-warping powers in the hands of an unelected few. But a glance at what goes on in FB and Twitter - not to mention following the Grauniad's link to this appalling story, makes it all too easy to imagine what's coming down the line for us all.
I refer, of course, to the next general election. Momentum wiped the floor with the Tory party on social media last year; and right from the start, that organisation nurtured a tech group with exactly this in mind. Recall how, way back in 1997 when John Major enjoyed a couple of good days on the campaign trail and Labour was having a quite needless attack of nerves, Blair solemnly wheeled out his Big Lie (that the Tories were going to scrap the state pension). In 2022 or whenever, Momentum is primed to deluge the young and the gullible with endlessly re-tweeted (and disavowable) fake news on a scale we can hardly comprehend. We can easily predict that ordinary Tories will be driven off the streets, in the sense that no humble campaign volunteer will feel able to knock on doors or put posters in their windows in any but the safest rural constituencies. Again, this is exactly the effect malicious leftists are planning.
Free speech is precious beyond compare, and I restate the self-interested blogger's point I made above. But free speech is nowhere an unqualified right: it is well understood that it is trumped by considerations of potential irreparable harm. On top of proscriptions against slander and crying 'fire' in crowded theatres, there is the altogether more subtle issue of how, in a courtroom, the judge tightly polices what may and may not be said, utterance by utterance. Somewhere between the ultra-close supervision of the courtroom and the absolute malign anarchy being hatched for the next GE, lies a balance desperately difficult to draw, but seriously in need of being drawn - and soon.
We said we'd be posting again on issues arising from the Chinese mass-surveillance scheme - and here's another on that broad and vital theme. What do we think?