Are we heading to a new wave of “religious” wars based on broken cognitive space?
We are in the 1610 in Europe. In a small country church, one of the wealthier peasants suddenly stands up during the sermon: “This is bollocks! It´s simply all lie, what the mainstream church teaches. There is a completely different stuff in the Bible.I learned to read just a year ago, I can tell!”
This is how I envisioned the first epistemological crisis in our history, which forced the population into separate perceptual universes.
After the invention of a process for mass-producing movable type and the use of oil-based ink for printing books, everything changes. Mainly the paradigm of information distribution.
The Bible in Europe can suddenly be interpreted by anyone who learned how to read letters. No one demands authority, knowledge and context anymore. Everyone can buy their own Bible and interpret it their own way. Who would listen to scholars in robes who have studied it for hundreds of years? Mine is the truth! Not theirs, our truth! Less than one hundred years have passed since the publication of the first printed Bible, and devastating religious wars will break out in Europe.
Tempus fugit. We have the first third of the twenty-first century. Eternity has passed since the first Internet enthusiasts began communicating in chats across the planet and the data speed was so slow that they had to wait for each character to appear somewhere overseas. The joy of the first radio amateurs, scientists and technology enthusiasts had no limits when the Internet became a civilian project and enabled the start of a communication revolution, the disruptive effects of which no one doubted.
Do you miss that time? Just a little? Back then, the media was called “mass media” and chased “mass audience” to find the largest possible group to watch their programs stuffed with advertising. Then, based on an audience survey, media marketers increased the proportion of what people liked. And it was the pure amusement, not the information, what was the most successful ingredient of the broadcast. Evening news became just a train to the station Advertising.
Whoever wanted to enter this information universe and shape public opinion had to get all television and radio stations to pay attention to the same subject, whether with the ethically questionable assistance of massive advertising or using the methods of good old Public Relations, whatever that means.
Then the volume of our data flow began to increase. The incredible data storage capacity we all produce online on a daily basis has enabled extensive AI analysis and insight into the planet’s complex business and social relationships. Joan Donovan, my favourite expert on communication and misinformation at Harvard Kennedy School, often jokes that free internet died when someone figured out how to pay for pizza online.
Suddenly, everyone became a journalist thanks to Google! Wikipedia has replaced libraries, at least in the better case. In the worst case, Instagram celebrities rose to the place of scientists and libraries. In a world where everyone can be an information authority, a journalist and an expert, singers and far-right influencers suddenly lead us in assessing the coronavirus situation, the US election result or the global warming issues. It is only logical that in a world known through celebrities as an information authority, the strongest state in the World elected a less educated attention grabber, in a firework of wrestling style punch campaign. Not to mention the BigData theft.
Along with relying on science and more educated information authorities, we have given up on an important function of our brain — reading. After the year 2000, new audiovisual and memetic media began to crowd out the press, especially the high-quality one, whose journalistic work requires a lot of money. The young generation has grown up with the predominant form of interactive audiovisual communication in the cradle, and we older ones are just helplessly watching how Plandemic videos on Youtube subdue our less literary neighbours, who no longer read anything that is not capital letters and longer than 7 words.
The old “defence and survival functions” of our brain have awakened to extraordinary activity, and the neocortex, evolved for centuries toward reading, critical thinking, and proof, is an unwelcome guest in the world of algorithmic campaigns for ordered behavioural change. It interferes with demanding evidence, references, facts and other junk that our civilization began to bury when it was enchanted by the first New Age authors.
The world of dusty Cartesian lessons has simply gone out of style. Today no one, not even the most educated people, verifies information on the internet. There is no time for that. Instead of a lengthy journey of proving and refuting hypotheses that brought our Western civilization to the technological and democratic peak of this planet, we plunged into the rabbit hole of “premonition” and instinctive heuristics.
Facebook — the largest mainstream media in the world
Let´s be honest: It is how it is. Facebook is the dominant and mainstream distributor of information on the planet. His business model has gradually converged from connecting people through connecting users with content creators and finally to connecting content creators with mining and analyzing huge volumes of personal and psychological data. The latter, a service that Facebook sells, is the world’s most lucrative business. Thanks to this, Facebook and Alphabet (the company that owns Google and Youtube) have become a global oligopoly of information distribution. They devoured the entire advertising market and destroyed thousands of small newspapers, regional radio and television stations, Internet journals and print magazines. These media, in order to survive in the dwindling territory of the advertising market, often became the prey of political predators — oligarchs, who keep holding them because of political influence.
These media used to employ journalists, who had to study orientation in the information maze, verification of facts, separation of grain from the chaff, understanding of the world context of events, for 4 years or even more. Come on, you don’t need any of that on Facebook! The algorithm allows you to see only what you like best. And who would like to read boring scientists and old school politicians if Angelina Reagan Turner explains it so nicely, and shows her red lips or boobs to the lonely and thirsty ones?
A war without a single shot is digging us the hole
They are coming: Those we don’t know much about. Military strategists in the service of private companies.
It would be foolish not to take advantage of situations where you can change the behaviour and decisions of the target population using the algorithm of search engines and social networks. The chance was simply offered on a silver platter. Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica said in his presentation that they are able to find hidden human demons. And he really meant it. (It was this sentence that inspired me to write my last thriller Feed the Demons.)
Artificial intelligence, which digs into billions of data points, can find surprising similarities and analyze them with such precision that it takes your breath away. It can recognize things that you would not reveal to your own partner. And target you with communication that someone orders. In a closed information space, where you have no one to consult with, because the experts are housed in bubbles that the algorithm does not show you. Instead, he will show you what Angelina or your classmate thinks about the international crisis in the South China Sea. The algorithm thinks that you need their opinion most of all. And so it will include them in your newsfeed.
The paradox is that thanks to the new business model of social networks and search engines, any content creator can order an analytical database of target groups sorted by any categories and base the communication on human behavioural weaknesses. And guess who is the most interesting group for information warriors today, whether they are Russians, Chinese or a private warlord? Yes, the followers of magical thinking.
It is the type of people who are “suspicious of connections” everywhere, which allows information campaigners the greatest virality, the greatest sharing, the most instinctive reactions based on the old part of our brain. Descartes is dead, long live Angelina, Q and Jordan Peterson. We always knew there had to be something to what they say!
And so, first of all, soothsayers, celebrities and influencers of all kinds took on the vacant position of science and journalists. The design and business model of social networks directly require everyone to lock themselves in the information universe where they feel best and dig deeper and deeper into it. You won’t find two people in the world today who consume the same news.
Divide et Impera
Such a configured, divided and spontaneously radicalized information environment is very permeable for military information actions. This is also proved by the analyzes of the NATO subcontractor Semantic Visions, which deals with data analysis of the disinformation space. The coronavirus crisis has logically opened up space to increase the chances of confusing the population, denying all risks and escalating the health crisis. You don’t need any boots on the ground or ammunition. You need data, behavioural psychology, and a few Active Measures behind the scenes. The target population will do the work for you and undermine its own health and economy.
In 2016, President Putin’s cybernetics adviser Andrei Krutskikh said a sentence that David Ignatius from the Washington post captured at a professional cyber conference: “I’m warning you: We are at the verge of having ‘something’ in the information arena, which will allow us to talk to the Americans as equals.”
The technologies we have created in the West through exact thinking and technological dominance now control the distribution of information across the planet. And they are for sale. As Lenin said: The capitalists will also sell us the rope on which we hang them…
Alexandra Alvarová is a publicist and author of books on the information war Industry of Lies (2017) and Feeding the Demons (2020), she specializes in communication, media theory and propaganda research. She lives in Vancouver, Canada.