The unholy trinity
Evgeny Morozov refers to these three afflictions together as the Trinity of Authoritarianism. Each strengthens the effectiveness of the others when deployed by Authoritarian governments, institutions and individuals. We find ourselves now at a crucial juncture in the West teetering over an abyss as increasing numbers of us are subject to the Trinity of Authoritarianism imposed by institutions captured by Post Modern delusions and regressive politics.
The digital and networking technologies that are now ubiquitous initially augured a new found freedom of expression when wider adoption began in the late nineteen nineties. However, where they gave individuals broadcast platforms with one hand, and an effective escape from brute censorship, they weakened resistance to surveillance and propaganda with the other.
Authoritarian censorship adapted, though it was slow to do so, to the wild west of the internet hinterlands. We see the former's apex in the majority of social media interaction channelled through a handful of portals that have, like their institutional forbears in government, media and education before them fallen to entryism by regressive forces. Where there were once an astronomical multitude of local venues to converse and share information freely and with little fear, now there are a few citadels, with thick walls and enclosed, monitored spaces.
There is of course no compulsion to remain within their walls, however the wily authoritarians are fully aware of the power of what Jaron Lanier refers to as 'punishing network effects'. Once a particular volume of friends and family are safely ensconsced within, their time, attention and networking capacity is monopolised by The Citadel. To leave its insidious network is to suffer the digital equivalent of exile from one's kith and kin. This effect is multiplied yet further for celebrities and narcissists for whom sheer numbers of followers and their sycophantic approval is now as essential as daily food and water.
The courageous who remain within the walls and continue their defiance on the other hand are subject to increasingly consequential Kafka traps. The definition of "Hate Crimes" widens annually like a yawning abyss, a creeping relativism ensures those using their real identities continually self-censor and now, almost unbelievably, Western police forces have entire sections dedicated to pursuing and punishing WrongThink on social media. Those with too large a network (or in Twitter's case, the asynchronous following) are banned or muted. The little people are arrested and charged or simply silenced out of fear, as was the intention.
Privacy isn't what it once was
Several famous technologists have averred that "privacy is dead" and if you dislike this possibility you are patronisingly instructed that you are naive and should just "get over it". Privacy, as they mean it, is now a matter of privilege. It is expensive one way or the other. Elites can buy it of course - they can afford to live remote physical lives and pay others to carefully steward their digital exhaust. If all else fails they have legal recourse to which the proles are largely excluded. There is no super-injuction to be had against the regressive hordes when they utter their specious curses and attempt to condemn their victims to ignominity at best and often - too often - complete career ruin through arrest or unemployment.
'First-order' privacy is usually what people think of when this issue is discussed. In ethical and legal terms one still has relatively strong protections against corporate or government transgressions. Datasets containing your identifying characteristics, medical records and so on are subject to strict control. Academic researchers who seek to link any two of these datasets must jump through a marathon of hoops. In today's world of Googlezon and TwitBook however, they barely matter.
'Second order' data - and your almost complete lack of privacy within its domain - is 'the new oil' of the information economy. And not only were many of you asked repeatedly whether you wanted this or not, many of you also grabbed the opportunity with both hands and happily vomited your digital exhaust into the ether. As of the latest figures in 2016, Facebook has 1.71 billion active monthly users. A dataset on human behaviour of this bredth and depth is unknown in human history. Combined with blisteringly fast and cheap computing power and sensors (facebook users continually provide updates on the whereabouts and appearance of themselves, friends and family), its predictive capabilities are colossal. Facebook sits upon the world's single most valuable database. And they couldn't have done it without you. They now surveil enough (with direct compliance by and consent of their users) and can establish sufficiently accurate patterns never perceivable before in grouped human behaviours that they have a direct roadmap to your soul and the means to manipulate you insidiously and incessantly.
And do you know what you know?
By its very nature, our digital wonderland provides freedoms of expression and communication that are easily subverted for regressive and post-modern ends. This occurs in respect of both its virtual (and thus seemingly unreal) medium and its sheer volume of content.
The prospect of ideological (and epistemological) bunkers forming that stymie the extremely valuable serendipity and collisions of perspectives available online remains very real and its bemoaning by technological pessimists somewhat justified. However, only a mild effort is required to push out of the digital comfort zone and seek out or welcome novel interactions.
The problem is that the meeting places are now concentrated within The Citadels. And as the post-modern / post-normal approach is increasingly the norm within Institutions whose covenant was originally one of truth seeking, preservation and telling (education, media), a catastrophic inability to reason is now drilled deeply into the Millennial generation onwards. You have likely already experienced this directly yourself. An online interlocutor engages with you, wearing their Bachelor's Degree like a virtual badge of authority. Their utterly specious reasoning is beyond shocking - it is nothing short of stunning. The childlike gambits often devolving to popularity contests or pious displays of virtue-signaling and a truly impressive capacity to believe their own bullshit, forgetting it was wilfully propagated as bullshit in the first place.
In many important respects, The Citadels have supplanted The Institutions as the epistemological workhouses. It matters not to them whether the bulk of their users can't reason their way out of a paper bag, nor whether the sharper users opt to leave because of this or due to the increasingly draconian speech-codes enforced by The Citadels. For they have everything they need. Viewing the wide vistas of human interaction they can rumble the true hearts of their users, irrespective of what these witless participants say or think they know, as easily as a parent outwits the toddler's earliest machinations and attempts at manipulation. Are you sure you know what you know? And was it decided by popularity or virtue-signaling olympics on social media?