Thursday 3 January 2019

10 Tips to Protect Yourself from Creeping Fascism in 2019

Freedom House has released its annual "Freedom on the Net" report, and the results were not encouraging. What it found was a rise in what it calls "digital authoritarianism," a trend in line with the general drift towards authoritarianism across the globe.

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in the world's fourth largest democracy today, is the latest in a line of "elected" leaders with autocratic tendencies that include those from some of the world's formerly greatest champions of democracy. Nearly all of these electoral campaigns have included the use of social media to spread propaganda and hatred. He has, after only hours in office, targeted minorities and is purging government contractors who don't share his far right extremist ideology. It will only get worse.

Bolsonaro used WhatsApp extensively during the campaign. A study of 100,000 WhatsApp messages paid for by the Bolsonaro campaign showed that more than half were lies. No matter the country, the deceptive messages are the same. Demonize your opponents. Blame the left for the world's problems. Equate minorities with terrorism. Use religion as a prop. Bolsonaro did all of this. He even accused George Soros of trying to interfere in the campaign, a favorite dog whistle of the American and European far right.

Autocrats have various measures to repress internet freedom. They use "fake news" as an excuse to curb internet freedom and silence their opponents. Sometimes they even jail their critics under this ruse. Egypt, always creative when it comes to new ways to oppress its citizens, passed a law over the summer that requires all social media users with over 5000 followers to obtain a media license. (It should be noted here that Egypt has the third highest number of journalists in prison.) Forcing websites to register with the government has become commonplace in oppressive countries, too.

Meanwhile, government accountability, an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, internet freedom, and the right to collective bargaining, hallmarks of democracy and human rights, are all under attack in democracies everywhere.

Autocrats across the globe have succeeded in scapegoating minorities, immigrants and refugees, leftists, workers parties and trade unions, journalists, atheists, feminists, LGBT, Jews and Muslims, and "the elite" (an attack on intellectuals and entertainers while conveniently excluding corporate executives), for deteriorating living standards that are, in fact, the result of neoliberal policies. Somehow, the world has eaten it up.

George Satayana once said, "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it." The world nearly destroyed itself not even a century ago, yet here we are, facing the same dangers that brought human civilization to its knees to face the proverbial firing squad.

Here are ten ways to fight creeping fascism:

1. Read a history book. Read many, from the classics to modernity. Learn from the mistakes of history, which repeats itself over and over and over again because people don't learn about the past.

2. When finished reading those books, lend them to your friends and family, so they, too, may educate themselves.

3. Learn how to spot propaganda. Fake news is one kind of propaganda. Slogans, flags, and political rallies are also propaganda. Be wary of state or party sponsored television channels such as RT, PressTV, or Fox that report "news" that benefits one side only or demonizes the opposition. If an article or news report demonizes an entire group of people, it's propaganda.

4. Say no to belief in conspiracy theories. Social media has given rise to a whole new level of insanity when it comes to what people will believe.

5. Recognize that the threat of fascism is real. Too often, people say, "it can't happen here." It can. It does. It is, in Brazil, in Turkey, in the United States and Hungary and Philippines and Poland and India and across the whole world.

6. Vote if you can, but be informed. Ignore candidates who dehumanize others, use racism or bigotry to stoke fears, or talk about overriding constitutional laws that they don't like. These kind of social issues are a mask for policies that benefit the candidates and their friends, not the country. It's propaganda. Don't fall for it.

7. Don't be afraid. Standing up for what is right takes courage, effort, and sacrifice.

8. Trust journalists. The reason autocrats demonize journalists is that they are the gatekeepers of truth. They report reality. But you also have to be able to tell the difference between a journalist, an opinion columnist, and a talking head who is hired to say the news on air but has no real journalistic background.

9. Follow fact-checking organizations or projects to combat fake news like "Fato or Fake" or Comprova, two Brazilian groups consisting of people with the training and backgrounds to vet news stories, investigate claims, and set the record straight. Beware of fake fact-checking groups and fake election monitoring groups.

10. Be smart online. Use SumRando VPN and Messenger for online anonymity so no one can see what you do online. We live in dangerous times. Spying on people is big business. Governments with bad intentions can see what you say and who you say it to. VPN encryption provides a layer of protection against prying eyes, and our secure messenger app makes your communication secret. It even allows you to set self-destruct messages and destroy the messages you sent to other phones.

Update: Further reading on the Bolsonaro campaign: 

WhatsApp itself wasn't paid, but the administrators and the bots were paid for by the campaign. Those groups spreading the propaganda weren't his followers. They were automated bots. Truly fake news.

Of the top 50 images circulated by 347 WhatsApp groups during the election campaign, only 4 were real.

Then there is the problem with the purchase of personal data so the campaign could spam people with the propaganda. Another expense paid for by the campaign.

Not to mention the pro-Bolsonaro businesses who were on board with buying millions of dollars worth of mass text messages that led to WhatsApp taking legal action against the companies and to the banning of 100,000 WhatsApp accounts, including Bolsonaro’s son.

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