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Freedom in the digital age

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It’s ironic that the more the governments try to close their grip over the minds of the public, the more it begins to slip. From domestic turmoil, rising populist sentiment, and even just economic conditions, people are increasingly feeling a need to have a concrete impact on state policy. Instead of simply leaving it to their managerial handlers, motivated people are working to educate themselves and take action on a wide variety of topics.

This is incredibly dangerous to ‘Our Democracy’ and those who benefit from how it functions. The greatest fear of those responsible for overseeing the system is that over time, people’s actions can actually tip the balance of power away from the delicately constructed ‘pay to play’ dynamics built within it. If the public manages to wrestle political power away from lobbies, corporate powers, other ‘stakeholders’, the less power politicians have to auction to the highest bidder.

For government officials who perceive their job to be managing the public, rather than serving them. This is an urgent and pressing crisis. To overcome this a phenomenal amount of research has gone into tracking and identifying how information spreads online, with a huge amount of help from Big Tech no doubt. That was only the first step in then refining information control measures to protect the public from their desire to enact meaningful reform.

A wide variety of methods were attempted in “digital public spaces”, such as social media, forums, and even video games. Such methods included shadow-banning which is when one is banned from being seen without any clear indication, or more overt methods like banning individual accounts that gained traction. Eventually it became clear that the only way to truly fortify the public from their own ideas was to start leveraging financial control.

‘De-monetized’ is now a well-known term online for when an individual or even company are restricted from receiving funds through a particular platform. This is a double-hitter when it comes to chilling effects on free expression. Not only are those who are impacted potentially forced to shut down operations, but their opposition has more space to grow louder and bolder. Financial de-platforming for political reasons is a very potent tool that has an impact that shouldn’t be underestimated.

As effective as these methods can be, they ultimately rely on people deriving their world views from the parasocial hell that is corporate social media. Independent web sites, and personal communications have been largely but not entirely unaffected by these measures. This has created a lot of room for those who are motivated enough to begin the work of seriously making a difference. While this may seem like such a minor or trivial thing, but it’s actually far from it. It’s crucial to understand that when it comes to the ability to broker political power to ‘stakeholders’ any real opposition has the capacity to spin out-of-control, especially in our highly-connected yet-not-entirely-controlled environment.

Breaking In

Because even private dissent and private thoughts are intolerable, and independent web sites and social media are just too much to bear, governments feel the pressure to take drastic action. In what is only the latest assault on people’s fundamental natural rights, governments of the world want to break into your home. Not yet literally, nor physically, but they want to have unimpeded insight into the communications between you and your closest contacts. Dinner table talk just isn’t the same with a government agent sitting next to you.

End-to-end encrypted communication outside corporate networks is something those who wish to have total control over information can not tolerate. This is true of any encryption for the most part. From the beginning of the crypto wars governments have always attempted to undermine the public’s privacy even at the expense of security. If you listen to this discussion, on the history of encryption, you’ll learn not only was privacy in the digital realm a very hard-won fight, it’s even more important than ever.

European Union Strikes

The European Union is taking bold action against people’s private communications. Ironically, while they support many initiatives that can support people’s digital autonomy, they are moving fast to undermine it from the top-down. Previously they’ve proposed back-dooring all online web traffic, but another proposal aims to directly attack private communication with mandated client-side-scanning for illegal material.

While fighting CSAM and its distribution is a desirable and noble goal, this step ultimately is prone to staggering scope creep without any guarantees of accountability or transparency. In situations where people are given obscene one-sided power over others you will always inevitably see abuses. In case you had doubts, EU ministers have already moved to exempt themselves from the measure. Thankfully, the vote for the legislation seems to be postponed, for now. This is a great indication that being vigilant and being proactive can create tangibly beneficial results.

A World-Wide Push

It seems as no coincidence, that 2024 marked the year in which the most people voted globally, is also marked as a year with an immense world-wide push for internet regulation. It’s not only ironic but highly demonstrative of how inter-twined the balance of power in nominally democratic countries is with online participation.

Notably, Many internet censorship bills have been making progress in North America and throughout the world. In addition to online ID or age verification laws, more aggressive legislation against various forms of speech is also being proposed in many jurisdictions. Undeniably, these restrictions and impositions create many chilling effects.

This is a delicate game for those who wish to maintain control. While getting large tech corporations to censor or promote content is effective, the more people who break away to independent alternatives make it exponentially harder. As more and more people truly learn to use technology as an effective tool, rather than a self-curated mind-prison, the more impossible information control becomes. Those who wish to push for meaningful change, transparency, and accountability need to skill-up and adapt without falling into the many well-laid traps.

A Chance for Change

All this, motivated the creation of a beehive called Canadian Cyber Freedom at cyberfreedom.ca. It’s intended to be a resource, but also a collaborative environment for Canadians to learn new ways for citizens to engage on political issues. The purpose of the project is to demonstrate that with a small amount of technical knowledge, activists can greatly enhance their efforts.

Very often legislation comes out before the public gets a chance to understand the issues, much less make fair judgement on them. In most countries, giving the public a close look at legislation that impacts their lives is likely enough to motivate real pushback. With the pace that legislative bodies have to work at, a relatively tiny amount of activists could assemble resources that can adapt and move faster than legislation itself.

Canadian Cyber Freedom

Help build a resource for Canadians

The best way for citizens to move the needle against troubling legislation is for activists to effectively and fairly educate the public. Very often, debates over political issues become needlessly divisive. The way to resolve this is to find ways to collaborate on educating the public on not just the legislation itself, but also the wider issues. The more polished the collected information can become, the more opportunities towards bringing people on-board.

This requires trusting the recipients of the information a bit. Instead of merely relying on a single emotionally charged opinion piece, sharing the entire picture, warts and all will ultimately lead to better decisions and more rational opposition. Canadian Cyber Freedom is just an example, that I hope eventually becomes a meaningful resource. But there are many ways for groups interested on a wide variety of issues to adopt the same pattern to tackle other issues.

Taking On Online Harms Directly

While I am wholeheartedly opposed to giving governments and corporations more control over people’s ability to dissent, I am not ignorant of many serious online threats to individuals and especially children. It is understandable that many who recognize these dangers urgently want change that is far too long overdue. Having government ‘child-proof’ the Internet is just as irrational and likely to backfire as leaving everything on the shoulders of parents. It’s not about ‘striking a balance’ but rather about understanding that the problem is far bigger than just small parameters.

Online spaces don’t exist in a vacuum, they’re a part of our human society. As things become challenging and confusing in life, there is an incredible draw to retreat to online spaces that feel cozier than the rest of the world.
Leading to all kinds of problems:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Depression
  • Over-eating
  • Escapism
  • Political extremism / radicalization

Sounds a lot like a millennial doesn’t it? Many of us are internet-addicted for a variety of reasons. Many of these problems aren’t new, and likely won’t be going away anytime soon. Some appear to have gotten much worse.

Is the Internet safe for children?

Every aspect of people’s lives is becoming increasingly intertwined with online services and a wide variety of online interactions. This alone is a serious reason to take a look at a much broader picture. If even a small fraction of people only get their interactions with other human beings mediated by online services, (or even worse …AI-enabled ones) this alone can compound into a serious crisis of loneliness and despair for those people. Just as the problems have increased, so has the damage. Is it not fair to say that nobody could be prepared for having most of their socialization pushed online? While the Covid Crisis is a notable event, in this respect it was a mere escalation of an existing trend. Having compassion for those suffering from a wide variety of impacts is a necessary step towards lasting change.

Placing a larger emphasis on real-life personal interactions is of utmost importance. Quite tragically it seems we are completely forgetting that children need a safe and nurturing environment in the real world. We are all under constant threat to online surveillance and addictive gamified interactions, which can only cause problems in the long run. With this in mind, I don’t believe that all online interactions and systems are equal. Raising maximizing the quality of use for devices and systems, while minimizing dangers from less ideal services is the optimal path for everyone.

Clearly, resolving this goes far beyond a bit of legislation and hearings. To the degree those blunt instruments can be useful, there’s always more direct action people can take in their lives to make a meaningful difference. The first step involves getting a serious sober grasp of the problems. On that, a great starting point would be the work of Catherine Knibbs. Catherine has written many books on the subject and has worked extensively as a child therapist seeing these troubles up-close. Online Harms and Cybertrauma is necessary reading for any online user, in my opinion. You can also check out her YouTube channel or Instagram account and share particularly useful videos or ideas with those around you.

It is extremely important for those who truly care about improving online safety have a strong understanding of these issues. Not only for its own sake, but also so that we can all have serious, reasoned discussions about addressing the root causes of these problems. Problems don’t go away merely because we don’t approve of popular solutions, there are many who are already in great pain who need care. Instead of allowing tragedy to be exploited for political power, we can all work towards setting proper boundaries at all levels of society. A lot more can be accomplished through compassion and education than scoring cheap political ‘wins’.

Gabriel

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Published: Jun 26 2024
Tags: ChatControl Government Censorship Surveillance Youth Digital ID

The Ugliness of War and Technocracy

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For those interested in preserving our nations, free markets, culture, or even basic human rights, we are in an outright harrowing time. Many of these challenges are direct physical assaults like warfare, but there is also a wide variety of abstract dangers. Such as censorship, surveillance, economic warfare, or disaster capitalism. Governments battle against their people for control over policy, and against mega-corporations for control over the public. Families, communities, even entire nations are stuck in the crossfire of larger plans without clear allies to depend on.

The EU Plan to Reshape the Internet Forever

Feb 25 2024 Gabriel

The world wide web is no stranger to government control. The Internet itself was created by the US Military, and governments across the world have subsidized Internet infrastructure in all kinds of ways. Many factors, such as the economies of scale, and sheer workforce size give large organizations an immense advantage when it comes to shaping the future of cyberspace. Just as individuals struggle with troubles relating to digital privacy & security, so do large organizations and governments.

The EU Cyberwar on People & the Web

Nov 06 2023 Gabriel

The largest institutions from governments, alliances, and multi-national corporations are all wrestling for control over total digital dominance of the public. Your own access to information, and control over your data are both important objectives to these organizations. This battle over people’s digital lives is not without it’s consequences. There are disastrous possibilities if any group manages to secure surveillance and/or control over everyone’s online communications, transactions, and information. This problem isn’t new.


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