Fascism arises as a result of certain conditions. These are not limited by being ‘a long time ago’. Suggest this to anyone happy with the current political environment of Britain and the USA and they will look at you as though you are an academic who is out of touch with both popular opinion, and the ‘revolution’ of the underdog that has created the new order.
Fascism can and needs to be simply defined so that our children and grandchildren, who are not close enough to the societal memories of the second world war, can be equipped to spot its festering signature.
Fascism begins with populism. We are reminded by a usually charismatic would be leader that the system is corrupt and that we – our undervalued group in society – are being deprived of our rights by an alien minority. There has to be a minority that can bear the brunt of our group’s revenge.
Fascism believes that things can be black and white; and that any wisdom to the contrary is part of the mind-fog generated by the intellectual experts who have created the ethos of the governing elite – who themselves are, of course, corrupt, liberal or not.
Once elected, fascism uses its initial popularity to shut down or obfuscate the mechanisms of opposition using one or more forms of brutality. Increasingly, this brutality is of the mind. As long as it can continue repeating its ‘you’ve been robbed’ message, it knows it will get enough time to silence the truth. Truth and facts are always the first target of this form of mental derangement made politics.
Appearing to strengthen the society in which it grows, such twisting of the real begins to weaken the country it infests, leaving it vulnerable to international forces who are less concerned with violence of the mind and more free to use outright military force. Defending the country from real war is anything but simplistic.
Mussolini, the leader of Italy during the second world war, was a classic fascist. He rose to prominence and control of Italy using all the above techniques. His thugs silenced opposition. He was a charismatic man with an intense appetite for both food and sex, and is reported to have ‘needed’ several women a day. Recognising that, by itself, Italy could not be strong enough, militarily, he sided with Nazi Germany, which eventually ate him.
At the end of the war, he fled and was arrested, in Sicily, when a mob presented him, freshly beaten up, to a mid-ranking British officer who was part of the Allies’ liberation force and had wandered into a town square. That man, ironically enough, was Alan Whicker, who went on to become an internationally-respected television journalist, gaining his own notoriety by interviewing several of the world’s most powerful dictators – at a time when to do so would normally have result in your death.
In the first post in this series, I described how a Facebook page was used as a mechanism to present me with a deliberately misleading advert that was targeted at a certain group of voters, just prior to the UK’s Referendum in June 2016. Further research and the publishing by several UK newspapers of the larger process of which my incident was a tiny part showed that there had actually been hundreds of different ‘messages’ used by the campaign, which was a key part of Leave.eu’s successful strategy to take Britain out of the EU, backed by the right wing of the Conservative Party and the extreme right UKIP. Each of those – millions of adverts – had been targeted specifically at people ‘tagged’ as potentially swing voters – the target group where the power lies in any democratic election.
The identification of this group, including (incorrectly) me, was derived by a highly sophisticated system of data analytics created by a UK company, Cambridge Analytica (CA), in which American hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer now has a major interest. During the recent US elections, Mercer and his data-mining technology switched from Ted Cruz’s campaign to back Donald Trump’s when the former began to falter. They were said to have a significant effect on the election’s result.
There is nothing illegal about data mining, nor, currently are there limitations on the use of such data during elections, though that is now being challenged. Wikipedia’s entry on the US arm of Cambridge Analytica includes its referenced competence in military disinformation campaigns, social branding and voter targeting.
Again, there is nothing illegal about these operations, but they don’t work in isolation.
To carry out such penetrative campaigns you need to have data to feed the data-mining algorithms. Recent developments, seemingly originating in work carried out at Cambridge University, revolved around how to infer character and voting intentions from social media data and are summed up in Wikipedia’s entry on this topic, which states that Cambridge Analytica is using psychological data derived from millions of Facebook entries. Elsewhere, the same source says that research at Cambridge has shown to how easy it is to infer voting intentions from a relatively small number of posts.
The history of these events, and the technology behind them are summarised by the Guardian in this article.
Those are our Facebook posts, shared with our friends. Are our simple communications being used, without our permission, for such data mining? It make take governmental intervention to uncover the scale of this, but, thankfully, this is now being initiated, at least in the UK.
We may also need some geniuses on the side of the people, as well.
This is technology that is changing how we are governed and what agenda is used to appeal to the ‘underdogs’ in a society, sweeping aside shared values that have maintained peace and relative harmony since we emerged from the smouldering ruins of the major wars of the last century.
Prompted by reports of this in the Guardian, (one of the newspapers banned from the recent White House briefing, along with the BBC, CNN and several US Newspapers) there is now an official investigation by the UK’s privacy watchdog. But it has come too late to alter the populist course on which we now seem to be set.
Facebook has recently said it will review the use of such data and that it is opposed to political manipulation using its information as a basis. But, be careful next time you’re tempted to respond to ‘What kind of archangel are you?’ on your favourite social media… you never know who has paid to gather that data and is processing it to find out much more about you than you thought you were revealing…
Next week, in the final part of this series, I will step back and examine the underlying forces, political and psychological, that have caught us, unprepared, for the use of this data on a massive scale.
Continued in Part Three
Original content©Copyright Stephen Tanham 2017