Carsten Agger on Wed, 22 May 2019 11:52:18 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> John Harris: Is India the frontline in big tech’s assault on democracy? (Guardian)

The author is complaining that "encryption would render everything conveniently impenetrable"; whether that is for the government or the platform itself is immaterial.

In fact, I'd say there is *no difference* whether communication is monitored by governments or by platforms like Google and Facebook - because information obtained and kept by the platforms can be subpoenaed, and all data held by American surveillance capitalist enterprises should be considered and treated as already in the possession of the US government.

However, without going too far into that: The author complains that encryption means citizen's conversations can't be monitored - i.e., he contends that citizens of democratic nations should be seen and treated as children that need adult supervision.

That was the part of the article that I was objecting to - and I'd like to repeat myself while clarifying a little: "There *are* problems with WhatsApp politics, but I'm not sure more surveillance (be it by governments or platforms) is the answer."



On 5/22/19 6:44 AM, Future Tense wrote:
Curious—the article doesn’t ever call for government surveillance. It does call for transparency, but the government (or government factions) is expressly called out as the source of bad actors. Transparency allows people to see how the bad actors are operating.

Making the leap that public transparency is the same as “government surveillance” is akin to saying that open source software is somehow less secure, simply because bad actors can examine the code as well....


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On Mon, May 13, 2019 at 1:51 AM, Carsten Agger <> wrote:
However, his point of view seems to be, among other things, that the
problem is that if people ("the children") are allowed to communicate in
private so the government or the platforms on behalf of the government
("the adults") can't monitor them, all kinds of havoc will ensue. What
we need is for the government to monitor us.

That's a very dangerous way of thinking. There *are* problems with
WhatsApp politics, but I'm not sure more government surveillance is the

On 5/13/19 8:54 AM, Patrice Riemens wrote:
> Nice key-word: 'hyper-politics' ...
> Original to:
> Is India the frontline in big tech’s assault on democracy?
> John Harris, The Guardian, Mon 13 May 2019
> Social media such as WhatsApp may enable voters, but encrypted
> messaging polarises them and blocks public scrutiny
> In 10 days’ time, two political dramas will reach their denouement,
> thanks to the votes of a combined total of about 1.3 billion people.
> At the heart of both will be a mess of questions about democracy in
> the online age, and how – or even if – we can act to preserve it.
> Elections to the European parliament will begin on 23 May, and offer
> an illuminating test of the rightwing populism that has swept across
> the continent. In the UK, they will mark the decisive arrival of Nigel
> Farage’s Brexit party, whose packed rallies are serving notice of a
> politics brimming with bile and rage, masterminded by people with
> plenty of campaigning nous. The same day will see the result of the
> Indian election, a watershed moment for the ruling Hindu nationalist
> prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his Bharatiya Janata party, or BJP.
> Whatever the outcomes, both contests will highlight something
> inescapable: that the politics of polarisation, anger and what
> political cliche calls “fake news” is going to be around for a long
> time to come.
> WhatsApp has more than 300 million Indian users, and it is Modi and
> his supporters who have made the most of it
> In Facebook’s European headquarters in Dublin, journalists have been
> shown the alleged wonders of the “war room” where staff are charged
> with monitoring European campaigning – in 24 languages – and somehow
> minimising hate speech and misinformation put around by “bad actors”.
> But this is as nothing compared with what is afoot in the world’s
> largest democracy, and a story centred on WhatsApp, the platform Mark
> Zuckerberg’s company acquired in 2014 for $22bn, whose messages are
> end-to-end encrypted and thus beyond the reach of would-be moderators.
> WhatsApp is thought to have more than 300 million Indian users, and
> though it is central to political campaigning on all sides, it is Modi
> and his supporters who have made the most of it. The political aspects
> of this blur into incidents of murder and violence traced to rumours
> spread via WhatsApp groups – last week, the Financial Times quoted one
> Indian political source claiming that WhatsApp was “the echo chamber
> of all unmitigated lies, fakes and crap in India”.
> When I spoke to the UK-based Indian academic Indrajit Roy last week he
> acknowledged India’s “dangerous discourse” but emphasised how the
> online world had given a voice to people who were once outsiders. He
> talked about small, regional parties live-streaming rallies in “remote
> parts of north India”; memes that satirised “how idiotic and
> self-obsessed [Modi] is”; and people using the internet to loudly ask
> why India’s caste hierarchies held them back so much. But then came
> the flipside. In that context, he said, it was perhaps not surprising
> that Modi was now leading “an elite revolt against the kind of
> advances that have happened in the past five or six decades, whether
> it’s the rights of minorities, so-called lower castes, or women”. The
> fact that he and the BJP are using the most modern means of
> communication to do so is an irony evident in the rise of
> conservatives and nationalists just about everywhere.
> This, then, is an Indian story, but it chimes with what is happening
> all over the planet. With the help of as many as 900,000 WhatsApp
> activists, the BJP has reportedly collected reams of detailed data
> about individual voters and used it to precisely target messages
> through innumerable WhatsApp groups. A huge and belligerent online
> community known as the Internet Hindus maintains a shrill conversation
> about the things that its members think are standing in the way of
> their utopia: Muslims, “libtards”, secularists. There are highly
> charged online arguments about Indian history, often led by the kind
> of propagandists who never stand for office and thus put themselves
> beyond any accountability. Thanks to the Indian equivalent of
> birtherism, there are also claims that the Nehru-Gandhi family, who
> still dominate the opposition Congress party, have been secret
> followers of Islam, a claim made with the aid of fake family trees and
> doctored photographs.
> Partly because forwarded messages contain no information about their
> original source, it is by no means clear where the division between
> formal party messaging and unauthorised material lies, so Modi and his
> people have complete deniability. They benefit, moreover, from the way
> that the online world seems to ensure that everything is ramped up and
> divided. To quote Subir Sinha, an Indian analyst of society and
> politics based at London’s School of African and Oriental Studies:
> ”You can’t just be a nationalist; you’ve got to be an
> ultra-nationalist. You can’t just be upset by Pakistan’s actions;
> you’ve got to be outraged.” He calls this “hyper-politics”, and says
> that its international lines of communication have led some to some
> remarkable things. “Tommy Robinson is extremely popular among Modi
> supporters,” he told me. “You will find mega-influencers of the Indian
> right who will approvingly post Tommy Robinson material in WhatsApp
> groups, or on Twitter.”
> Yes, the internet is still replete with possibilities of emancipation
> and pluralism, but herein lie the basic features of the global 21st
> century: disagreements that have always been there in politics, both
> democratic and otherwise, now seem to have been rendered unstoppable
> by technology. Significant parts of society are kept in a constant
> state of tension and polarisation, a state exacerbated by the
> algorithms that privilege outrage over nuance, and platforms that
> threaten to be ungovernable. Though the old-fashioned media maintains
> the pretence that electioneering is the preserve of parties, campaigns
> around elections (and referendums) are actually loose and open-ended –
> often mired in hate and division and full of allegations of corruption
> and betrayal. We are seeing the constant hardening-up of political
> tribes – religious communities, liberals, conservatives, nationalists,
> socialists, cults built around supposedly charismatic leaders – with
> victory going to the forces that can most successfully manipulate the
> online ferment.
> Modi is a dab hand at this. So are the forces behind the Brazilian
> president, Jair Bolsonaro. Important Brexiteers are expert in the same
> techniques; as evidenced by his Twitter presidency, the same is true
> of Donald Trump. On the left, too, there are clear manifestations of a
> politics transformed by the way we now communicate – not least in and
> around Corbynism, which represents both sides of the new reality:
> simultaneously the most serious threat to established thinking for
> decades and a long-overdue push against inequality and the lunacies of
> the free market, and also the focus of a shrill, all-or-nothing,
> sometimes truth-bending online discourse.
> Whether the platforms at the heart of this new world might eventually
> start to get to grips with the downsides of what they have created is
> a question obscured at present by unconvincing half-measures, and the
> kind of flimsy PR embodied by a recent WhatsApp advertising campaign
> that encouraged its users in India to “Share joy, not rumours”.
> The reality of where we are headed was perhaps highlighted only a few
> months ago, when Zuckerberg announced a new vision for Facebook, built
> around the mantra “The future is private”, and a proposal to make his
> most successful invention much more like WhatsApp – an attempt, as
> some people saw it, to start a journey towards Facebook having no
> responsibility for the content of its networks because encryption
> would render everything conveniently impenetrable. In that sense, the
> Indian experience may not be any kind of outlier but a pointer to all
> our futures. If that turns out to be true, what are we going to do
> about it?
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