The Internet: A Suburb Ignored by the Left

By Rosa Miriam Elizalde on July 25, 2019

About a year ago, 105 political organizations from Latin America and the Caribbean and 139 leaders of the region linked to the Sao Paulo Forum were studied in Twitter by Cuba’s University of Informatics Sciences. A chart proved that relations between them barely exists or are very weak, if there is a relationship at all.

This is bad news, though not surprising. The Left has been slowly adapting to the codes of the press, radio broadcast and television but the liquid reality of the Internet is slipping through its fingers. The behavior of new political subjects is not understood or it is underestimated in times when the Net has made it possible to gather people who had been banned from speaking publicly, as good or bad as that can be.

The Internet has the potential to provide a starting point for a change of the political discourse. The process seems to have started in the eighties when the university and citizens’ initiatives gave it a decentralized, horizontal and open nature. But now there has been a sharp turn to the right, with some exceptions, strengthened by the structure of the Net itself, highly centralized, where the decisions of what should be read, consumed and what should be debated is in the hands of a few.

A survey conducted by the University of Oxford yielded evidence that the rightist Alternative für Deutschland in Germany has more traffic in Twitter than any other German party and many of its followers do not hide their worship for Hitler. Similar processes are taking place in half of Europe. Following World War II and prior to the existence of social platforms, no Nazi would have dared to declare in a public square what he was; those who proclaim to be against vaccines or those who defend the notion that Earth is flat would not have done it either.

It seems like we are moving to a moment of barbarism with gathering capacity and above all organizational capacity towards the Wild West of social media places, all of them subject to advertising logics, manipulation of emotions and opaque algorithms. In those zones of symbolic anger and violence, the political subject is replaced by the industry of online slander.

Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in California, Dr. Robert Epstein has documented that about 25% of national elections worldwide are decided today by Google. Together with Ronald E. Robertson, they coined the phrase Search engine manipulation effect to explain the change of mind in undecided voters according to the results provided by the search engine. Up to 80 percent of voters may change their preferences in some demographic groups, Epstein and Robertson explained.

During the 2018 presidential elections in Brazil, the perfect combination of the extensive use of the social media and a campaign full of fake news granted a broad victory to Jair Bolsonaro. Brazilians however did not vote the chauvinist and homophobic candidate because they consumed fake news through Whatsapp or Facebook but because they believed in fake news as they shared Bolsonaro’s ideology. This difference should not be obviated. The same thing happened with Donald Trump in 2016. People are not searching for news to get informed but to confirm their own opinions. This is why most of Trump’s voters seek information only through Fox News. They find a discursive coincidence, a confirmation, complementarily between what they believe and what Trump is saying then confirmed by a media outlet, according to Catalan sociologist Manuel Castells in one of his recent lectures.

The right wing is an active member, operating and constituting itself in the Net. While the Internet is a suburb we know exists but we never visit it. Even worse is that we use it only to tell instead of dialoguing and persuading. Thr Left will be lost in the new territories where over 70 percent of the youth between 16 and 30 years of age in Latin America have their first contact with information. The Internet’s average penetration in the region is 13 points above the global, with 67 percent. The number of users meanwhile increases to almost 440 million. We are the continent with more time dedicated to Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, and Youtube than any other.

If citizens are in those territories, there is politics —mostly rightist but politics—  which cannot be led except through moral and ethical criticism regardless of the fact that we are on the right side of history. Like it or not, digital social platforms are a major aspect in the public life and a space of struggle which demands versatile, highly complex and persistent responses.

The 25th edition of the Sao Paulo Forum has begun in Caracas, Venezuela, with communication systems added not long ago as a new aspect among its main discussions. We need better connected leaders and movements among themselves if we want the Net to move to the Left and to express overwhelmingly itself against injustice, abandonment, boredom, and apathy. So as to have democracy instead of dunghill as Paco Ignacio Taibo ll said a few days ago. And for it to happen once and for all.

Source: La Jornada, translation Resumen Latinoamericano. North Ameica bureau