Technology Dominance & Flaws
Technology is everywhere, and it is here to stay. We depend on it now more than ever: it is our main method of communication with other people (thanks to instant messaging, emails and social networks), of keeping informed (by following news websites and blogs), and it’s becoming more and more necessary for our everyday jobs, no matter which one nor where you live.
But, of course, nothing is perfect. Depending on a small collection of digital products for our daily lives also means that it is easier to control them in order to influence us. While in recent years many efforts have been made in order to make the internet and our electronic devices safer, such as by using better cryptography technologies, flaws and security risks are constantly found and exploited, or even inserted by design, leading to consequences which may harm us in some way or another.
And sometimes the one exploiting those flaws is the government itself. Sometimes more explicitly, and sometimes more discreetly. Let’s see some of the ways that it does that.
Technologies Implemented in China
When we think of the government actively trying to influence people, China normally comes to mind. The Chinese government has gone to great lengths in order to control what reaches its citizens and what doesn’t.
The main example is the famous Great Firewall, China’s internet regulation system. It is a very automated system that is continually updated based on the government’s decrees, using methods such as blocking content based on keywords, slowing down internet traffic to servers abroad, misdirecting traffic, banning entire IP ranges, and even tracking down users that attempt to access banned content.
Another more recent technology is the social credit system, a system which tracks what each citizen does and assigns a score to them. Doing actions considered good by the government lead to higher points, and bad actions, lower points. And these points determine what the citizen will have access to, such as jobs, financing, and places they can travel to.
Fake News & Artificial Political Support
Sometimes the methods carry over from the electoral campaign. Sowing distrust and using informal and familiar methods of communication in order to convince people of a single truth, supposedly kept hidden from the public, was what made the expression “fake news” so common during the last few years. If you have enough money, you can bombard people with outrageously false information and make them believe that that is the sole truth, as long as that information confirms what they were already believing in.
And, of course, if that is not enough, there is always the possibility to feign peer pressure. Like, if a lot of people believe something, it must be true, right? So, one of the techniques which can be used to fake support for the belief is the massive use of bot accounts. They can inflate numbers in Twitter trending topics, reactions in Facebook posts and likes in Instagram posts, as well as comments and replies, effectively faking population support for opinions and policies in a way that’s hard to verify.
In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed to the world the mass surveillance program carried on by governmental agencies from multiple countries, especially the American National Security Agency, the NSA. While the leaks shocked the world and have shone a lot of light on these practices, the surveillance never stopped, and so those agencies continue to gather data from people all over the world.
The objective of collecting information is, naturally, making better informed decisions. All of that data collected into their database, is used by governments in order to figure out how to influence people and prevent undesirable outcomes. Sometimes those outcomes are terrorist attacks, but sometimes they are also honest opposition to governmental policies.
As some news channels reported, government agencies used that data in order to find targets for drone strikes, infiltrate online forums and groups in order to sow discord among its members, discredit people by spreading misinformation, among others.
While knowing this may be a bit depressing, it has also led many people into trying to combat such breaches of privacy, improving cryptography and safety practices for digital devices. Still, it will take some time before we find out if that will be enough or not.