Social networks, blessed or cursed?

By: Gabriel Guerra Castellanos
President of War Castellanos and Associates.
13, January, 2021.

The year 2010 was coming to an end and we looked with amazement at what was happening in the streets and squares of Tunisia, first, then Egypt, and little by little what looked like a kind of inverted crescent on the map: the Arab world was discovering the fragility of its authoritarian and despotic regimes, societies and citizens woke up, hope was reborn.

The Arab Spring was rather short, because dictators and tyrants soon returned, as in the case of Egypt, and some never left, as in the case of Syria, but the message that the whole world was left with was that of power not only of society, but of social networks and messaging applications, which were extremely useful both for the dissemination of news and for social mobilization, evading the controls of police states in which censorship prevented any approach to reality .

Ten years and a month later, those same networks and messaging services became essential elements for the biggest assault on the democratic institutions of the United States of America since, in 1812, British troops attacked the seat of the Legislative Power, the Capitol . A mob made up of uncountable thousands of citizens sympathetic to the still President Donald Trump pounced in defense of his supposed victory, easily overcoming the few barriers in their path and coming within a trice of literally having legislators in their hands.

Unexpected? unimaginable? Well, notice that no, dear readers. The call and much of the organization of the march/assault took place openly, through several of the social networks that just a decade before had been the “architects” of the democratizing wave and that have now become tools of sedition. Days before, several traditional media, including the Washington Post, had raised their voices to warn of the nefarious intentions and preparations. Local and federal authorities did little or nothing to stop it.

But the events of January 6 were nothing more than the logical and inevitable culmination of years and years of propaganda and lies circulating on social media. From the absurd rumors about the birthplace and religion of Barack Obama to the deviant theories of groups like QAnon, from the aggressions of Trump's first campaign to the falsehoods to distort the vote in the second, the networks were a vehicle, platform, megaphone for the largest experiment in mass deception since the times of European nazi-fascism.

Too late, like someone who comes to plug the proverbial well, Twitter and Facebook closed the accounts of President Trump and several thousand spreaders of lies, after having succeeded for years. Late too, Amazon decided to remove the far-right network Parler, which was intended to be an alternative to Twitter, from its servers.

Many applauded, forgetting the complicity by omission of the large consortiums. But they do not take into account that in addition to being late, these actions will be useless, because the extremists have had plenty of time to connect, to set up alternative options on the Internet, or to go to the clandestine world of the network, the Dark Web, which makes them honor to his name.

If keeping them in sight the authorities could not stop them, what will happen now that they go underground? How will the self-victimization narrative of Trump and his supporters be countered?

I am very afraid that January 6 will have been just a warning of what is to come.

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