How disinformation is derailing free speech – Universities



Adrian Monk

Davos, Switzerland ●
Mon 1 Aug 2022

disinformation, WEF, Trolls, Facebook, circular-economy, pandemic, algorithm, freedom of expression, Twitter

Have nothing, be happy. You may have heard the phrase. It started life as a screenshot, scraped from the internet by an anonymous anti-Semitic account on the 4chan image board. “Own Nothing, Be Happy – Jewish World Order 2030,” said the post, which has gone viral among extremists.

How did an anonymous anti-Semitic account turn a years-old headline into a meme for the far right and a catchphrase picked up by mainstream conservative politicians? And what is the truth behind this title “have nothing and be happy”?

The story begins in 2016, with the publication of an opinion piece on the World Economic Forum’s Agenda site by Danish MP Ida Auken, “Welcome to 2030: I own nothing, I have no privacy and life has never been better”. This is the reference of a video on social networks titled “8 predictions for the world in 2030”.

It was part of a series of essays intended to spark debate on socio-economic developments – it was the era of the booming “app” economy, and the editor – barely radical – had previously worked for the British Conservative Party. Telegraph. The piece gained a respectable readership and lived quietly on the Forum’s website for several years. The video garnered 9,900 reactions and 766,000 views on Facebook.

Fast forward four years to 2020. The world was very different. A global pandemic was raging and the WEF launched “The Great Reset”, promoting the idea of ​​”building back better” after the pandemic so that economies could emerge greener and fairer after COVID-19.

The pandemic has amplified many societal ills. The mistrust of governments and leaders that had grown before then played into the hands of fringe groups and state-sponsored actors who seek to undermine and weaken their rivals. The two reunited on the anonymous dark web in places like 4chan’s “politically incorrect” picture board.

The board, which is completely unmoderated, was also made up of operators of a Russian propaganda campaign, which has been active since 2014. the far right over COVID-19 and perpetuating national extremism. The means were often via bots pushing a far-right conspiracy theory to communities on forums such as 4chan.

A recent analysis explains how this context brought extremists together “using rhetoric that trivialized National Socialism and the Holocaust.” This same far-right, Holocaust-denying cohort clung to “The Great Reset,” claiming the WEF was part of a group that “orchestrated the pandemic to take control of the global economy.”

A number of threads have popped up in this vein, dedicated to the Great Reset. One such 4chan thread connected the pandemic, the Forum’s alleged infamous control over the global economy, and the idea that “you will own nothing and be happy.”

It went truly viral, capturing the warped imaginations of conspiratorial and fringe groups. A neo-Nazi and white supremacist website claimed the Great Reset was a “response to the fake coronavirus crisis” and would usher in “world communism” to ensure that “no one will be able to own anything”.

Its popularity has also seen more and more mainstream figures “hissing” the phrase while ignoring its anti-Semitic and far-right origins. Threads proliferated, the slogan “own nothing be happy” snowballed, and even more mainstream news sites, including Fox News, Sky News Australia and GB News, adopted it.

Pierre Polièvre, a Canadian MP who was the former minister for democratic reform, used it to discredit Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, sparking a national movement.

The campaign has also infected the Dutch political landscape, long targeted by Russian disinformation actors.

In the Netherlands alone, in June 2020, there were an average of 1.5 posts per day mentioning the “Great Reset” among Dutch-speaking communities on Facebook. By October, that figure had risen to an average of 6.3 posts per day, and by December, that figure had more than doubled to 13.6 posts per day.

In January 2021, the numbers doubled again with an average of 28 posts per day.

Trolls on Twitter and Facebook, for example, have been spreading doctored content to promote the lie that thanks to the Great Reset the WEF is making progress. pernicious depopulation efforts. These include racist conspiracies that claim white people are the main target of depopulation. Bad faith actors have also targeted the Forum’s coverage of the circular economy (economic systems that aim to eliminate waste by reusing raw materials rather than disposing of them), decrying it as a “top-down agenda” coming from “unelected globalists seeking to reshape the world in their own image”. These are just a few of many examples.

From 2013, the annual report of the WEF Global Risks Report flagged misinformation as a concern, warning that misinformation could spark “digital wildfires” in our hyper-connected world.

Today, this warning has largely been confirmed. Disinformation is a serious challenge for regulators, a minefield for individuals seeking the facts, and an obstacle for governments and organizations wishing to disseminate important information.

The consequences of continued misinformation are dangerous. Misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines is costing lives during the pandemic. The revelations around the 2021 Capitol Hill riot reveal how misinformation around elections can threaten the foundations of democracy. 68% of Americans agree, saying that “made-up news is harmful to the country’s democratic system.”

Moreover, the amount of data now generated, which is expected to nearly quadruple by 2025, makes it easier and cheaper to use algorithms for malicious or manipulative purposes with unprecedented efficiency, speed and reach.

“It is important to recognize that misinformation/disinformation is a tactic used to support an often political strategy. Bad information circulates in various ways for political purposes. A classic example is an actor intentionally spreading false, inaccurate, or misleading information that inflicts demonstrable and significant public harm,” said Steven Feldstein, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The story of “You shall own nothing and be happy” is anything but trivial and offers valuable insights into how misinformation is created and why it is essential not to perpetuate its spread.

It also highlights how misinformation derails free speech. At Auken’s request, the WEF removed all media surrounding her article due to the abuse and threats she had faced online. Acting to prevent lies from being accepted as truth can help avoid similar situations and promote genuine freedom of expression, allowing all of us to freely exchange ideas and opinions.

In a world where trolls win, more forward-thinking conversations like the one Auken tried to initiate will be tarnished.


The writer is managing director of the World Economic Forum.

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