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The untenable technophobia of the Left

On hate speech, fake news, anonymity and "new" politics. A warning. Español

lead lead Own goal? Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena during celebration of the 13th UEFA Championship in Madrid, June, 2017. Alter Photos/ Press Association. All rights reservedAt least in Spain, the conservative Right tries to censor and jail as many Twitter users as it can. Fair enough. That is their goal: why would the Right not want to suppress rights and freedoms? It wouldn’t be the Right after all.

But what permits them to do this is the Left, whose conservatism and ideological dogma prevent them from embarking on a genuine upgrade and adaptation to the new –. This Left must be held responsible. In the digital age the overwhelming technophobia of the Left leads us towards disaster and unbridled repression.

Let's see.

It isn't much fun to have a neo-Nazi and xenophobic police force. As my favorite Twitter user puts it, "being a cop and a Nazi is as incompatible as being a surgeon and smoking at work". As it happens, a PRIVATE WhatsApp chat got leaked in which some policemen wrote that they wanted to kill black people and also Madrid's mayor. Not to be outdone, Madrid’s mayor, Manuela Carmena, champion of the nation's Left and the new hope of its inflexible institutionalised representatives (Podemos), declared that she will sue the policemen for hate crime.

There are various aspects of this which don’t work. But mostly, it’s a matter of greed: electoral greed, power greed and short-term greed.

Let’s take them in order:

1. Whether we like it or not, the leaked conversation is a WhatsApp chat – something even more private than a conversation in a bar. It is as private as a conversation in your home or a phone call. After so many years of fighting for the right to completely private and inviolable communications, here comes this modern Left that hasn't understood anything about the way the Internet works, asking for the police to censor the private realm. Great! You’re doing the repression job for the Right. There's no need for rightwing ideology if we have such a Left. You’re doing the repression job for the Right. There's no need for rightwing ideology if we have such a Left.

2. The outlet that leaked this information – an outlet that prides itself on being leftist – presumably takes the information from a judicial file. Once again – indeed, it has happened before to this outlet – by revealing this information, it leaves its source exposed. It happily publishes the leak, rejoicing in the prospects of the benefits such a piece of information might confer among a leftist audience, given the amazing trending topic it might trigger. They won’t be so efficient when it comes to protecting the source, the person who denounced these events – from whom they failed to ask permission or even to consult – something that would have been relatively cost-free for them – whose life is now threatened and, consequently, in need of 24-hour protection. I don’t believe you have to be a leftist to care for the protection of your sources: but it is not unusual that this Left takes advantage of a situation to become the defenders of the victims they have created.

As you all very well know, I have nothing against leaks of information which are relevant to the public – because I’m a whistleblower and a publisher myself – as long as great care is taken to avoid collateral damage and to refrain from leaving the sources defenceless by heedlessly increasing their vulnerability.

3. The officers that insulted the Mayor in a private chat are, funnily enough, municipal policemen. Thus, the Mayor is ultimately responsible for leaving the public to live and struggle with a police department whose ethics are incompatible with the Mayor’s commitment. Her job is not to denounce the events as if she was just a regular citizen, but to apologise and put protocols in place to make sure that those meant to protect us don’t walk around seeking to harm us. Her job is not to denounce the events as if she was just a regular citizen, but to... make sure that those meant to protect us don’t walk around seeking to harm us.

I have committed my life to speaking up about the Internet – the digital sphere – not as a different medium from reality but as part of reality. I’m committed to warning people that if we allow a state of emergency on the Internet, it only takes one more step to extend that to every aspect of life.

The untenable technophobia of the Left pushes us backwards in time. It leads not only to greater puritanism and an infuriating ideology of victimhood, but also to a pervasive abuse of the figure of “hate crime” to oppress and to censor on all sides. This is sweeping away freedoms of the press, satire, information and speech and even sexual freedoms.

Do we want to fight hatred? Do we want to protect those threatened systematically because of their experience of discrimination? Very much, but not like this.

Threats, insults and harassment, both in public and in private, are all crimes punishable by law. A clumsy or malicious legal interpretation of EU legislation on so-called “hate speech crimes” can kill freedom.

Given the abuse by the wealthy of crimes against personal honour – systematically employed to stop more serious crimes from being dragged out in the open – the Left should have expected to find nothing good coming via this route. But it didn’t get the message.

Because the real trap, this twisted conception of “hate speech”, was not invented by evil ministers; they have only taken advantage of it in many States like that of Spain, which has a severe democratic deficit in its value system.

“Hate speech” is a treacherous phrase: fighting against “hate speech” – where “hate” is a subordinate adjective to “speech” – means nothing other than fighting against “speech” in the first place, thereby contributing to the shrinking frame of freedom of speech, instead of fighting for an end to discrimination.

Defending freedom of speech is not only a pretty and very leftist thing to do, it is also important so that we can distinguish between what a democracy really is and what it is not. Pursuing free speech as a political and legal praxis is a characteristic of dictatorships: and this willing adherence of the Left can only send us in the opposite direction from any solutions.

Pursuing free speech as a political and legal praxis is a characteristic of dictatorships: and this willing adherence of the Left can only send us in the opposite direction from any solutions. Responding to prosecutions with an eye for an eye logic, responding to hate speech accusations with hate speech accusations, legitimates the narrative which destroys our freedom and reinforces polarization and hatred.

Legal autarchy

Spain is slowly becoming (once again) a legal autarchy, with the Minister of Interior widening the definition of hate crime as he likes in order to push the narrative which is destroying our freedoms. Meanwhile, however, the Left calls for limits to freedom of speech without any legal safeguards with its proposal of a law for LTGBI protection.

I disagree. It is by consolidating freedom of speech that those who are a minority in the ruling narrative will get to express themselves and break free of their constraints on their own. On their own, never in a supervised and victimising way thanks to the loudest voice like that of a Left that always aims to “represent” everyone, even when nobody asked them to.

This doesn’t mean avoiding head-on confrontation with oppression, but it does mean adapting the system so that it works more efficiently with the tools it has already got. As we said, there are such tools. There is no version of events in which judicial insecurity for the entire population will create a climate in which the voice of minorities and the oppressed becomes stronger. There is no version of events in which judicial insecurity for the entire population will create a climate in which the voice of minorities and the oppressed becomes stronger.We are heading towards a legal context in which one does not go on trial for the facts of a case but for one’s speech and the type of discourse. Once again, what is happening in Catalunya, with the invaluable help of a short-sighted Left permanently campaigning only to take over power, is the spearhead of what is coming.

Addictive propaganda

The last frontier of the fight for real democracy in the twenty-first century is the Internet, but not a day goes by without the Left telling us how alienating it is. Somewhere in between the advent of the digital revolution from the industrial revolution, the Left got stuck in a loop. It cannot tell the difference even if you remind them that the Gutenberg press and the mimeo were also machines and that the problem isn't the machine but the question of who owns the means of production and of life.

What's alienating is not having enough information to be able to make our own rational decisions – the Internet gives us such information (as of now). What's alienating is seeing the uni-vocal and standardised content spread by TV, political parties and governments.

Meanwhile, propaganda surges forward.

"Online" will soon mean the same as "Satan". Hate speech “online”; fake news “online”...

The Left is indulging itself in a blast of analytical euphoria when it says things like “We are trapped in the Net”, "We must be proud to live outside the Net” – as if in the times of Gutenberg people were proud of living removed from original sin, like Adam and Eve.

Shining a light over the wrong problems by criminalising the tools is just what the status-quo needs in order to hold onto the privileges that were being threatened by people's actions on and for the Internet. The dis-intermediation the Internet allows has been questioning a good deal of stuff; not only privileges but also the Left's assisting role as moral guardian.

We only need to remind those who buy into today's Left premises that it wasn't the right-wing but the left-wing who opposed women's right to vote in many parliamentary sessions throughout the world, in case women voted the “wrong" way. It's just the same here: never let people use the Internet without supervision and sensible advice, in case they start using it the "wrong" way. So the Left will even end up killing net neutrality, to the everlasting glory of the big telecom industry.

Leftist City Councils in Spain pride themselves on being the first to include "the Internet" into their "Plan of action against drugs". It seems that they don’t have the guts to include the TV as well. It won't get them as much political gain. But the fear of innovation will, you won't go wrong making good use of that.

If we demanded a minimum of scientific rigour from them, they should know that including the Internet into this plan is doubly nonsense:

1. Addictive substances can be considered as such only if one can eliminate them from one’s life without causing disorders (drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc.). Other so-called "addictions" may fall into the category of obsessive-compulsive disorders. But no doctor in his right mind would suggest to anyone to try to live without food, sex or Internet access. Trying to find any resemblance between the Internet and drugs is bogus. This assumption is a product of ignorance, pseudoscience, puritanism and other grave disorders;

2. To consider the Internet as something dangerous in itself gets us to one place only: saving the day for repression by the status quo and helping them to sustain their monopoly on framing our perceptions. To consider the Internet as something dangerous in itself gets us to one place only: saving the day for repression by the status quo and helping them to sustain their monopoly on framing our perceptions.

Fake news’ private garden

Governments, political parties, institutionalized groups and mainstream media outlets have always held the narrative monopoly on fake news; anyone can notice it when reading or listening to pieces about the topics in which she or he has some insight.

When Spain’s Foreign Minister said that the videos showing police charges during the Catalan referendum are “almost all of them fake”, he is fabricating fake news live on all state-managed channels who are boosting his message nice and loud. Et voilà! That’s how fake news has always been fabricated.

Fake news were not invented on or by the Internet; the State, its network of clients and partners and the outlets akin to the status quo enjoyed a monopoly over them. Unlike nowadays. Fake news lived longer because no one was in a position to challenge them.

When we criminalise the Internet as the creator of hate, fake news and Satan, we’re criminalising the whole Net, taking from people one of the few tools they have for the fightback.

The bad guys aren’t strictly those to be held responsible for oppressing since they are, after all, professional experts at that job. Instead, a special responsibility lies with those who keep hovering over the opposing parties in the heat of the conflict – maintaining their equidistance.

Handling with kid gloves

The Internet as we know it is in agony and must, therefore, be defended. Full stop. And I’m not being cocky about it. I’m simply stating a fact.

Of course, the Internet serves evil too; this is a tautology. We all know the devil’s everywhere. The most nitpicky will say the printing press was a good invention but made some quite dangerous books possible. Sure, one can avoid taking sides. But whoever does will ultimately be blamed for contributing to a new inquisition. We’re seeing the same stages that occurred with the Gutenberg invention: after almost 50 years since the birth of the net we now risk living through a few centuries of darkness and repression if we don’t stop the same cycle from repeating.

Those of us working to protect the Internet have been saying it for quite some time: the net isn’t just some disposable tool. It is a philosophy, a way of organizing, a battlefield, and we must defend it. The Spanish Defense Minister got this quicker than the technophobes and so she has publicly stated before the uniformed ranks of the armed forces: “the Internet is the next battlefield”. Then again, it’s clear when an army declares war that we should consider what side of the trench we’d rather be in, since there are only two: the winning and the defeated… (and, of course, the equidistant bunch.)

Incredulity after incredulity, surprise after surprise, every time that a twitter writer or satirical outlet is accused and prosecuted, the Left will contribute to transforming the Internet into a television whose users will only be allowed to use it passively and under supervision. The end of democracy in the digital age.

That’s why every time someone claims that the Internet alienates, that it’s evil and dangerous, one more child dies and one more book is burnt.

Now you know.

Thanks to EDRi volunteers

About the authors

Simona Levi, theatre director and activist. She is co-founder of the Spanish group Xnet and of 15MpaRato, a citizens' device to bring to court those responsible for the economic crisis in Spain.

Xnet (ex-EXGAE) is a group of activists who have worked since 2008 in different fields relating to online democracy, the fight against corruption and the creation of mechanisms for organised citizen participation and to constrain seats of power and institutions.  We defend a free and neutral Internet; the free circulation of culture, knowledge and information; citizen journalism and the right to know, to report and to be informed; the legal, technical and communications struggle against corruption and technopolitics, understood as the practice of networking and taking action for empowerment, for justice and for social transformation.

 

 

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