How do we navigate this age of ‘infowars’ where we have an information overload and a 24/7 news cycle ready-to-engage-phone-addicted society? It’s a minefield swarmed with keyboard warriors and propaganda machines of various persuasions eager to infiltrate, dominate, divide, and conquer.
How can we tell truth from fiction? The age of virtual reality is knocking on our real-world doorstep and we are faced with what seems to be this inevitable social shift. The struggle for control of the dominant discourse is vital for governments and involved private entities to ensure power remains in the hands of those who stand to gain the most.
In this ‘post-truth’ society, governments are faced with the monumental challenge of controlling the plethora of information at our fingertips, and then finding ways to use it to shape our opinions. The only way for them to maintain power is to introduce more regulation, more surveillance, and more demands that will inevitably deprive people their right to privacy, freedom, and independent thought. This is happening already as the struggle for power ensues.
The arguments around misinformation and disinformation continue without resolve.
In the Covid realm, we struggle to know what to believe with competing truths backed by conflicting peer-reviewed evidence and bickering medical experts. Deceitful governments and dubious pharmaceutical companies demand our compliance and trust. This is sought by ‘manufacture of consent’ – a term coined by Walter Lippman in 1922. It is the propaganda model of communication that is still evolving today.
During the US presidential election in 2015-16, a famous ‘info’ battle took place on Facebook when the Trump propaganda machine engaged Cambridge Analytica. The company acquired data from millions of Americans to profile and target constituents. As technology continues to evolve, psychoanalytic data will shape future campaign methodologies.
With 97 per cent of businesses using data to improve their business opportunities and 76 per cent of businesses using data as an integral part of forming a business strategy, it is no wonder that data is now the most valuable resource on earth – outdoing oil. People are truly a commodity. We readily give up our private information to participate in the social media realm where we can share precious family moments and simultaneously wage war on each other. Something that was created to promote connectivity has become a weapon of division and hate.
It’s getting increasingly difficult to decipher the information we digest through the various media outlets.
The traditional idea that journalists are objective and present balanced stories is well and truly buried under a pile of bias, reeking of untruths and self-interest. To further confuse the already suspicious information consumer is the emergence of ‘deepfake’. What is deepfake you may ask? Regina Rini, Canada Research Chair in Philosophy of Moral and Social Cognition at York University, explains, ‘It’s the manipulation and fabrication of recording, audio and/or video that uses machine learning techniques to superimpose one person’s face or voice onto that of another person.’ (From New Philosopher.)
Rini says that already on Twitter she has seen a legitimate video of someone doing or saying something stupid and offensive and people are commenting, ‘Are you sure this isn’t deepfake?’ Rini believes that we will start seeing real political deepfakes in some elections. It’s a worrying trend that will undoubtedly cause chaos and confusion amongst an increasingly sceptical public.
Seeing is no longer believing.
In a world of memes, short attention spans, and fragmented minds, those wanting to shape opinions now have another weapon at their disposal in deepfake. When executed effectively, it will work for political advantage on the dominant 21st century mass media – TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
So, what does the future hold for the endless pursuit of information control and dominating discourse?
Mark Zuckerberg’s renaming of Facebook as ‘Meta’ has signalled to the world that the future of the internet is virtual reality. China’s leading tech companies such as Tencent are on this same trajectory, and venture capitalists have poured millions into developing the software that will change our world forever.
As expected, the Chinese Communist Party will have significant control over this new medium, just as they found a way to control their citizens intake of the internet. Back then we sneered at the thought that this could be achieved by any government, but China has proven that all bets are off when it comes to the powerful reach of those holding all the cards.
This new frontier of virtual reality life will change the way humans interact, connect and evolve. We will become increasingly disconnected and show little empathy or have room for intellectual debate or independent thought.
Our children are primed for this virtual world because we put devices in their hands at birth. Their future will be seen through goggle vision, transported to a world in which they will live, work, and play. The Economist reports that the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations issued a paper on the metauniverse in October and described the concept as ‘the next generation of the internet and warned of the need for laws and regulations to deal with virtual labour, economic crimes, and other issues in ‘the grey area between the virtual world and reality’.
With the concept likely to explode in the next 5 to 10 years, we once again will witness the transformation of societies driven by technological advancement. The metaverse will provide the ecosystem for authoritarian governments to operate effectively by tracking movements, monitoring conversations, applying a social credit system and digital identity schemes. Indeed, with the erosion of democracy in Western nations we are currently witnessing, this reality seems inevitable unless there is significant pushback.
Democracy is now so fractured in once nationalistic countries that free societies can no longer be called free unless given permission by their government. Maintaining and expanding control is the objective, but achieving this is more complicated than ever. It seems we need to be broken in order to mend ourselves in the visions of those who will dictate our lives. Covid has provided the perfect climate to remould a society amiable to tighter restrictions, authoritative control, and rules.
Unless independent media begins to dominate, unless there is a change in the systems of governance and the judiciary, unless democracy is restored, we will continue on this trajectory leading to a world where the government has become subservient to global organisations whose power and influence will dictate our very existence albeit in a virtual world.
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