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From media control to social surveillance

22 April, 2020 · News> Global situation

The extension of confinement and production stoppages are not only accelerating recession and conflicts between countries, but also the totalitarian and authoritarian tendencies of the states, with the press applying real war censorship and ideological control on the Internet becoming the first line.

The media are in “war mode”

We are in the midst of a worldwide wave of “Covid strikes”… a wave largely invisible to the mainstream media. In most European countries the word “strike” has disappeared from the headlines and the body of news in the national press and television news. The invisibility is both conscious and blatant: when strikes manage to shut down production while waiting for job security, the media explain it as exemplary decisions by generous companies.

Not only strikes are taboo. If we want to know what the working conditions are in the Spanish countryside, we have to go to the British press, if we want to learn about the situation in the Muslim quarters in India during confinement, we have to go to the US press. To discover the incompetence of the Colombian state there is nothing like the Spanish and Argentinean press. The organization of social aid systems by the organized lumpen and the narco in Mexico, disputing the control of the territory to the state, is a central issue… of the British press and TV, to which the actual concentration camps on the basis of “zero hours” contracts and physical control of the workers dotting the countryside and the most precarious services in England are nigh invisible. Information is a weapon in the economic warfare that the European Commission has been talking about, and so countries like Turkey are setting up electronic border closures to prevent the arrival of foreign press via the Internet.

The state “oversees” public opinion

Map of the underwater cables that make Internet possible.

The acceleration of the crisis is blowing up the industry’s capacity for social control of traditional opinion. The old bromides of television sentimentality are no longer enough; tension is growing in the neighborhoods of every major city in the world, emerging in the form of diffuse violence. Governments calculate and fear what is coming. They know that the end of confinement is spreading waves of discontent from Wuhan all over China and they fear that when they ease measures the same will happen in an explosive framework of mass layoffs.

You don’t have to go to Russia to see the increased police control of networks under the banner of “fighting fake news”. It is a global phenomenon: dozens of countries are passing draconian legislation.

In Spain, the general in charge of the Guardia Civil (militarized police) answered to questions from journalists that the Guardia Civil regularly monitored information in order to “minimize the climate of criticism against the government”. The Minister of the Interior called it a “slip of the tongue”, finally recognizing that a href=”https://www.elconfidencial.com/espana/2020-04-20/bulos-coronavirus-sanchez-organo-moncloa-fake-news_2556387/”>a body dedicated to controlling and counteracting “hoaxes and lies” on the Internet depends on the same government presidency. In Germany, France and Portugal, the debate on the mandatory use of apps that label people as immunized, sick or uninfected serves to detract from the general increase in control, while in the media from neighboring countries, of course, there is already talk of a growing “digital tyranny”.

The bureaucratic response

Facial recognition and social credit will complement crowd control.

The health crisis, that daily massacre in so many countries, could only give prominence to bureaucracy. Not only because bureaucracy organizes and manages the “experts” of the state , but also because it is ultimately responsible for maintaining cohesion among the layers of the ruling class itself and controlling social dissent. And both of these fault lines are deepening with the crisis. In Spain, the judiciary has forced the government to inform it every two weeks of emergency measures. In Brazil the Supreme Court has taken the response to the Covid under its direction and the Attorney General is the main figure denouncing the divisive nature of the President’s management. Meanwhile, the judges’ association declares Bolsonaro incapable of leading the country during the pandemic and the president bails out by handing over health management to the military commanders.

The response of the bureaucracy to the increase in social tensions is always a reaffirmation of the normative, the procedural and the repressive. A close example was the response to Catalan independence in Spain once it broke the legal framework: first the ” Llarenazo“, then the ” Trial of the procés” and finally the sentence against the independentist leaders. The worldwide wave of regulations against “fake news” and the extension of individualized social control systems, from apps as mandatory identification to facial recognition on the street, bear its stamp.

Again, this is an acceleration of something that was already progressing and developing before our eyes, not something new.

The spontaneous tendency of the ruling classes is to reinforce the state, to make it increasingly authoritarian and to discipline the bourgeoisie proportionally to the extent that the conflict between classes increases in order to maintain order in its own ranks and to force the patriotic framing of the workers. Let us take Hungary or Poland as examples, but let’s not forget the Spanish “gag law”, the normalization of the state of exception and the militarization of the public space in France or the obsessive control of movements and communications in Great Britain or the USA.

“Why authoritarianism is growing uncontrollably”, 3/12/2017

Is a “digital tyranny” on its way?

Democracy today is very different from that of capitalism in its youthful era. With an accumulation in explosive development, the bourgeoisie then gave political space to its own differences of interests and allowed the organized expressions of the workers to gain freedoms and build real mass spaces of “workers’ democracy”. Today democracy is not based on the capitalism and bourgeoisie of that time, but on state capitalism. The logic of political representation no longer follows the principle of giving rise to the defense of class interests within the system. It now hinges on the ability of the opinion industry to cushion and channel expressions of discontent.

Controlling the material, economic conflicts underlying class struggle on the basis of ideology by modulating public opinion is neither easy nor sufficient in the long run when material reality contradicts the idea that by upholding the system “we can all win”. Moreover, the clearer the contradiction between universal human needs and the demands of accumulation, the more dangerous any dissent becomes… and the narrower and more intolerant democracy and the sphere of individual and collective freedoms recognized by it becomes.

Today we are at a time when the confrontation between ” saving investments or saving lives” is starkly evident. The result has been a sudden and widespread narrowing of the space for freedoms around the world. In the future, the development of tensions between states, in a framework defined by the attempts to organize a massive transfer of income from labor to capital, will further narrow the space of expression that the ruling classes will be able to allow without risk to the social order. The media, which increasingly contained less and less news and were more parochial, are going to be even more accommodating and localistic. And the famous “anonymity” and “neutrality” of the Internet will be eroded into sweetened – or privatized – versions of China and Russia. Exacerbated social and information control is here to stay.