By Bimal Rathnayake –
I think Fact-checking and proving what is correct and what is incorrect, and what is said and what is not said is an important aspect of strengthening democracy in the society. The industry of misinformation and industry of fake information has been expanding at the speed of light. On the other hand, it helps to protect the individuals, their loved ones, and their organizations from vile attacks, discriminations, losing their basic, political, social rights, etc. And, fact-checking will expand the horizons of the democracy and protect individuals’ privacy rights, also.
I’m talking here with my own experience, as a political activist, I’m one of the most victimized persons from false propaganda and fake news. Here I’ll tell you one recent experience I faced. I think some of you are aware that they have been building a false image on me, that I own many BMW cars, which is a 100 % lie. Recently, a fake post went viral that my wife and daughter met with an accident when they were driving a BMW car. They even had published the photos with a very convincing text. So, we got dozens of phone calls to me and my mother and home.
The funny thing was after two days the Officer in Charge of our area had called my home and had asked my mother about this so-called accident. She had said nothing had happened. Then he had said the police Head Quarter related to media, had asked him to check the authenticity of the post. This fake post was first published on a page called accident.lk, which I think is run by the government or groups connected to the police itself.
So they initiated the fake post. How powerful it was is their own chief also getting caught of their own fake news and asked to check whether it is true. So, I am used to this. But you see, the pressure they build on our relatives and loved ones is unnecessary harassment.
As a person who speaks against racism, this fake posts propaganda has built a very dark picture about me among a particular ethnic group. I think I won’t be able to clear that false image on me during my lifetime even.
But I would like to bring this discussion to a deeper level. Because your institute has a very important word in its name called “CITIZEN”! I think these fake posts are only the smoke. Our task is to find the fire!
I know people who create and publish these fake and mud posts are just digital workers. They are paid for their work. For example, they may have allocated twenty five workers to monitor Comrade Anura, maybe ten for Comrade Handun, ten for me likewise.
They are like digital Snipers; you know snipers closely monitor their target 24, 7. These digital workers are monitoring us. So they know the vocabulary, pattern of speech, main arguments, behaviors, possible weaknesses of the target etc. Then they make or edit their false posts according to the aims and goals they are given. (You know these sniper people are dangerous, but sometimes they change the camp also. Because when you monitor a person for months, if that person is relatively a genuine guy and tries to be true to his words, the sniper starts to love him and respect him. Then he develops to a level that he cannot do any harm to the target. So not in the military, but within the digital snipers’ field also this happens. It is a side story)
So, they have many fake pages, sites, accounts, so by reporting these kinds of made-up posts they won’t lose their jobs. And we think some of them don’t have any personnel issues with us. They are merely paid digital workers.
But let’s talk about who are the masters of these digital workers.
a) What do they do using these workers and social and mainstream media and public space?
b) How do they do this?
c) Who are their masters?
What do they do?
* they create false consciousness among masses
* they manufacture the consent by force and undemocratic ways
* they regimentize the minds of the masses
How do they do it?
* by illegal data mining from the account holders most of the time with a collaboration of social media companies
* Micro Targeting
* Using fake logouts
* Using secret filters
* Applying all kinds of algorithms that aren’t ever accredited anywhere
Who are the Masters?
* Big Companies
* Big Political parties
* Big civil organizations and Wealthy Individuals
Creating false consciousness among masses
I would like to mention here one main example, which is the case of Cambridge Analytica. The book Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America is written by the brainchild of Cambridge Analytica Christopher Wylle. He has proved here and in the US senate committee also that in 2016, Trump campaign funder and a neo con Steve Banon, established CA by funding more than 20m dollars, to get the access to collect 87 million profiles of US Face book users with the help of Face Book Company. By using all tools mentioned above such as micro targeting, illegal data mining and many, gathered the information and ran a massive campaign to make false consciousness among the white people that their way of living is in danger because of the Latinos and blacks, immigrants, gays, environmentalists “wanda kottu”,”wanda bras” (infertility causing food and clothing) and Dr Shafi Shihabdeen, who was arrested over false charges of alleged sterilization.
Manufacturing the consent
“Trump is the saviour!”
Regimentation of minds
Racism, xenophobia, anti-LGBTQ propaganda, Chinese are coming…etc
(SL version, SL would be a Muslim country, 50 % all kids below 5 years are Muslims, Electric chair, Dr Shafis case was the climax, claiming 4000 Sinhala Buddhist mothers sterilized!)
So it would be best if you had some practical implementations also to thrive the project you operate. Bodu Bala Sena, Saharan, Ravana Balaya etc. And you pay them and task them with some actions. In the USA, there were Ku Klux Klan and patriotic boys and all these kinds of thug groups to implement the things among the citizens while the main project targets the netizens.
By doing this, you create a huge dose of racism against each other.
Here you can see almost the same tactics used in the USA, SL and if you study you will know in Brexit, in Hungary, In Brazil and many other places. This false manufacturing of facts is not the work of digital workers but by the Big business and Big political parties with the direct collaboration of the Social media companies.
So here you can find a Christopher Wyllie has used Sri Lanka also. He used a Sri Lankan to fool CA directors in his struggle to sue Cambridge Analytica. He explained here why he chose Sri Lanka as a country.
He says “the labyrinthine nature of Sri Lankan politics and history made it easier to create a fake political scenario loosely based in reality.”
I wonder whether it was Christopher who gave the idea of Kealniye Nagaloke Naya to Dilith!
So we think these fake posts are not products of naughty teenagers but by big business and big political people.
And, in the future, they have to expand their misinformation and fake posts industry because they are going to rule the country not by developing the economy, not by making ethnic harmony, not by protecting nature, not by eradicating social injustices. It is a rule for the elite by the elite! So then, you need to make false consciousness among the masses to deviate them, distract them from their primary and fundamental issues,
So the misinformation will be a big industry, and fact-checking also will be a big necessity. And, the biggest problem will be these social media companies cooperating with these dark forces.
We think that this fact-checking should penetrate the smoke to find the real furnace. Therefore, we need Srilankan Snowdens,Srilankan Mannings etc.There should be local progressive digital activists clubs or groups with the technical capacity and social-political understanding, how to fight against these monsters of big capital and big politics in favour of strengthening the rights of the Citizens!
It is unfortunate to see that these super technologies, which can be used to make a better world for every species in the planet, have been hijacked by a tiny minority of big people just to serve their interests while destroying the entire future of the people.
So, let us work for a more democratic social media practice.
Let us encourage youngsters to make progressive digital workers unions or clubs!
I wish all the courage and the vision to Citizen Fact Check to
Check the Facts of the smoke as well as the facts about the Fire!
*Speech by former MP Bimal Rathnayake at the opening ceremony of Citizen Fact Check institute on April 2nd 2020