Russian tinkering in American politics is only the tiniest, insignificant tip of the iceberg that is the corruption called the American political system these days. We saw a tiny fleck of 21st Century right wing political corruption in the Harper team’s robo calls trying to confuse selected voters into believing their polling place had moved. But that was a most distant and almost insignificant reflection of the ubiquitous malfeasance that is right wing politics in the United States—but spreading like wild fire before Santa Ana winds on a sweltering California late summer day.

It is no longer appropriate to say there is rot in the American political system– like an apple in late winter that has a brown spot. American democratic ideals–which once dazzled humanity’s dreams of governance by, for and of the people–have been almost entirely corrupted by social media and massive computational capacity wedded to the enormous amount of money that corporate interests and the colossally wealthy are willing/anxious to spend on dismantling all but the pretense of Democracy.

Where we hear the term voter suppression and think of efforts to make voting more difficult–like: requiring more identification than a particular(disadvantaged) group or class of people is likely to have, or limiting the number of polls in some areas so people likely to vote for less than far right candidate will become discouraged at the line ups and go home without voting, or rigging the ballots so that what is clearly a vote for a particular candidate is not counted, i.e.: hanging chads—that kind of obvious and limited voter suppression dulls to insignificance compared to the massive and sophisticated voter suppression made possible by the simple if…then; if not..then algorithm that seems so innocuous when google employs it to understand even our most wide-ranging and personal questions.

It has been widely reported that the low voter turnout in the American election was due to voter disillusionment with all possible choices but more detailed research is pointing to another, more troubling, reason for the low turnout and for the Republican win; VOTER SUPPRESSION. We’re not talking about the obvious, crude manipulation of voting places and rigged ballots, but truly sinister Big Brother styled manipulation where bots (e-scripts that mine social media to, first of all generate fake social media posts that look like they come from a real human being, and to, secondarily, identify how individuals might vote based on what they are overtly saying or—if that doesn’t give a clear indication of how an individual will vote—on key words scavenged from their conversations/posts/sites visited on social media. Once someone has been identified as possibly not voting for the political party sponsoring the bot, the bot really digs in exposing the target to varying levels of “information”—mostly fake. If that doesn’t change the persons view point (all bot monitored repeatedly) then that person’s social media connection is subjected to a barrage of fake news—again based on bot determined vulnerabilities of the voter’s/citizen’s perceptions.

If a continuous harangue of disinformation doesn’t seem to cause a shift in political leaning, then the bot calls in a second line of bots that specialize in trying to discourage a target from voting at all. Such discouragements can include personal attacks or challenge the target to feel discouraged with all politics, etc; anything to keep that particular person away from the voting booth. If all that fails then the bot calls in the voting day bots to try to feed false information about voting places or the length of lineups or misinformation about traffic tie-ups—anything to keep that particular target from getting to the ballot box. Wow, 1984 seemed so horrendous to contemplate but the power of blending social media and computational power in 2017 makes 1984 manipulative techniques look like child’s play in comparison.

Now bots on social media are not the only manipulation techniques in the last American election. Miss-delivered ballots, lost ballots before and after being marked by a voter, computer “errors,” election officials that barred observers at the vote count, etc were all deployed in the last American election. There was simply no available/known tactics to manipulate the vote that weren’t employed on polling day. Consider the bias of corporations that created, installed and “maintained” the voting machines and it seems impossible to believe the reported voted represented—in any way—the will and intention of the American people. Once again the Russians are accused of doing what the Americans have already mastered!

Given the ever increasing power of computer programs, the mushrooming use of social media as a tool of social and political manipulation and the vast money being spent on doing just that, what can possibly be done that might help to defend our precious democracy and preserve the right to real information on which to base our independent decision making? Well one thing we can do is to simply give to our most trusted political party—not just at election time, but all the time. Between elections is when progressive political parties rebuild and reinvigorate their communication skills with those who share the vision of a more just, equitable and sustainable world.

And, yes, we need, we desperately need to get control over the manipulative power of bots to disguise/ obliterate real information about every aspect of our lives. Our political leaders are clearly not going to lead the way in turning back the tsunami of spying and fake information(institutionalized lying for political and economic gain) that is washing every bit of trust and integrity that there ever was in our sources of information. Clearly we need a whole new standard of “freedom to access accurate information.” Some of the move to less spying and more accurate information can be done with legislation–especially around what bots can and cannot do. But, it is also up to us. We can choose to live more genuine lives and to demand more honest reporting by our sources of information. We can contribute and help spread The Word (pun intended) and we can look to reliable, progressive news at sites like Tidechange.ca, Thetyee.ca, Commondreams.org. I am sure there are other trusted progressive news sources and I hope readers will help to grow the list of such sites which I will publish on this blog as soon as the list reaches 10 and I will continue to update the list as suggested sites and publications come in.

And as I said in a previous post Conversations for a Better World, “We can begin to make the switch to a slower, less consumptive, more caring, more meaningful, more genuine life that enhances our sense of connection to our planet and its peoples by simply spending more time talking to each other—real talking like face to face conversations rather than the rhetorical snippets of e-conversation which is social media. And, here is an easy to miss, important point; these paradigm shifting conversations don’t have to be—many times shouldn’t be—meaning heavy, political declarations of what should be.”
“The magic in this is that in just talking sincerely about our lives, just in establishing the one on one, spoken, listening exchanges of our common humanity, just allowing the metamessaging of our “hi how are you” conversations to reflect the fact we do share a deeply felt sense of common humanity/community; we really are not isolated monads with no greater meaning to our lives than to use others for personal gain and to use up our Earth–in those simple ‘hi how are you?’ conversations we can begin the rebuilding of a genuine, just, caring, sustaining and sustainable world.”

What do you think?

Norm Reynolds