by Julius WiedemannJan 25, 2022
The times for naivety might have ended. The ones who think they can control public opinion or other people's actions and convince others with foolish ideas should take this note: technology is ruthless, and the new generation knows that manipulating images, messages, videos, news, or posts, should not be accepted anymore. The reason why we now have a QR code attached to documents or, for example, to a vaccination certificate is simply because we need a proof that a signed document is actually signed and issued by a credible institution. Not long ago, everything you needed was a signature of someone. But not anymore. Maybe, the most powerful transparency aspect digital technology gives us, is the possibility to trace back everything we do. When a post is taken offline, it has been photographed already installed by someone who can actually tell a good story, not only about the post itself, but also about the reason why the post was taken offline and deleted. The French author of the book Culture Code, Clotaire Rapaille, tells in his book that content is relevant, but that context is everything. The information we need to tell true stories need to be related to context of how things operate in the background. And this is where technology is the greatest ally of people doing the right things. The fact that we can confirm the veracity of things is what makes the difference between truth and lies. And institutions and governments need to get used to that.
The death of naivety is, as far as I can see, for the good. Neither sentimental black male nor beautiful images can convince people of the stories that do not connect the dots. The environmental movement is within that hall of complicated issues where the confrontation between scientific data and bonkers ideas are conflated. The QAnon movement is another one. Very often, believing and spreading unreasonable ideas have only to do with the confirmation bias that have been there for some time. What people need very often is just a reason and an unquestioned argument to be able to articulate nonsensical ideas to a group of peers that think alike. Finding people that agree and concur with you is easy. But intelligent and reasonable people do exactly the opposite. They search for criticism and territories that are unexplored so that their ideas can be questioned. Not being afraid of those uncharted waters is what makes us strong and more able to evolve.
The level of accountability and transparency imposed by digital means have taken the ideas of a more open digital world from a purely philosophical speculation to an everyday habit of compliance. And this is for the good. Sooner or later the biggest issues of our society come to the surface and need to be deeply discussed. From privacy at Facebook to unions at Amazon, from sexual harassment in the movie industry to gender related salary gaps at the BBC.
When things come to our attention, we should be observant of the difference between something having space in the media and something being relevant. Again, facts matter. Most people who cause trouble and invade our minds with insidious ideas are not the majority. They are part of small group of people who are able to make a lot of noise by spreading messages quite quickly and by taking hostage the minds of insecure people. We are better than that. And we are better now because we are equipped with access to knowledge and sources that we never had before. I am certainly taking a positive tone on very complex issues. But if you look at how we can compare our opinions, and other people’s opinions with a large amount of literature and different sources, we are going through a period of independence unheard of before.
The term propaganda became famous during the Second World War with the Nazi apparatus to convince the German population to adhere to absurd ideas, which we now know has led to the biggest disaster of the 20th century. A lot of people in my generation complain about the lack of commitment younger generations have related to work. Maybe, what this younger generation has learned is that they cannot commit to institutions if there’s no commitment to a fully open relationship. The means for really verifiable information during the periods that led to the Second World War (and many other periods) and also during the war itself, were very sketchy. Manipulation, even though still in place today, was much harder to detect previously, I would claim. And a younger generation is in forcing it with their resolutions.
The current case of the Chinese professional tennis player Peng Shuai, and her claims about the sexual assault she allegedly suffered is a stark call for governments to pay attention to how self-correcting tools have naturally come into play to reorganise and reconfigure pressure methods so that humanist values are put into place. After accusing the senior leader of the communist party, her posts were taken down within 30 minutes, and she disappeared. But, through the pressure of public opinion, the WTA has already declared that they are willing to lose money in tournaments in China before they see the issue resolved, and now governments are joining to make sure Peng Shuai is found and is doing well. The Chinese government has tried to use its media arm and has issued news, including photos and videos, who supposedly are sure that the tennis player is doing well. But the world is not that naïve anymore. And it shouldn’t be. Questions need to be answered, and they need to be answered by adults with adult arguments. The age of naivety is gone. And is gone for good.
Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.