The last chapter of Maria’s book is: Why Fascism Is Winning and its subtitle is Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate. She is the recipient of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for her courage and work standing up to President Duterte, 16th President of the Philippines who was elected to the role of the presidency on June 30, 2016 (exactly 6 months after Trump did the same thing in the United States).
Both men went to work attacking the Press. Both men claimed they, and they alone, knew what is right and wrong. Both men labeled any coverage from the press that they didn’t like as Fake News, Unreliable, Unprofessional, Untrue. Both men worked furiously to annihilate truth, facts, and reality. They knew divided we fall!
To some extend, both men succeeded beyond their wildest mad fantasies!
Duterte’s Mad War
Duterte went to war, he said, to reduce ‘crime, corruption, and illegal drug trade‘. Many cheered. In reality, he would leave a brutal, bloody legacy of dead. Official numbers account that 6,248 people were killed, but human rights groups say the number is much higher, as high as 30,000 people.
Investigations show many victims of Duterte’s war on drugs were his opponents, leftists, drug users (who needed treatment, not a bullet), and some dealers. The UN has implicated Duterte in more than 1,000 killings and disappearances of people. Police whistle blowers have told how they planted guns and drugs on these victims to frame them as involved in the drug trade. For more on these stats, please see the BBC’s June 30 article: The bloody legacy of Rodrigo Duterte.
Trump’s Mad Dash to Dictatorhood
Trump’s 4-year term is just as distributing. He knew COVID-19 did not bode well to be elected for a second term. So when the virus arrived in the United States, Trump went into deny, distort, and distract mode.
He continually played down how deadly the virus was and mocked people who wore masks. This turned a cheap, easy, commonsense public health approach of keeping people safe into a culture war.
Veteran Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward on Monday called the former President Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic a “crime” that killed more than 1 million people.
The Hill reports Woodward said: “I call it a crime, not telling the people that he had been warned that — by his national security advisers in the most vivid way, which is outlined in these tapes, the interviews with them, where they are telling him.”
This is the reason why Woodward released the tapes he recorded with Trump early in 2020 as he interviewed him for his books Rage and Peril; earlier, he wrote Fear.
As of November 23, 2022, over 1 million US citizens have died of COVID; the vast majority of these deaths occurring while Trump held office before a vaccine was available. Trump crippled the CDC and turned public health guidance into a political weapon.
I haven’t even gotten into Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021. You can read all about this in my blogs When Do We Get To Use Violence? and Free to Choose.
There Is A Big Yang to Pay When Facts Fall Prey to Authoritarian Disinformation Campaigns
Since we are on the topic of global pandemic, let’s take a look at President Xi Jinping. He has recently been elected to a historical third term. This of course is code for President for Life.
He has cozied up to Putin, imprisoned Chinese Wiegers, carried out a brutal crackdown on democracy protesters in Hong Kong, and most recently was posturing in a tense standoffs about the fate of Taiwan. Many think Taiwan could be the next Ukraine as XI Jinping lines up his ducks to make Taiwan China again.
But real life, especially nasty little viruses, don’t always go along with the next chapter of the Dictator’s Playbook. President Xi Jinping took a hardline approach to COVID when it first emerged in Wuhan, China.
Zero COVID policy worked at first and it became the main strategy of Xi. Local authorities eager to prove how loyal they are to Xi have implemented extreme lock down measures, including locking people inside their homes and whole apartment complexes.
Xi has bragged about how effective China’s Zero COVID policy has worked, while the rest of the world suffered. He didn’t put much effort into vaccination efforts other than insisting China make its own vaccine while claiming Western-made vaccine like Pfizer or Moderna would be ineffective.
“China would never do something crazy like use a COVID-19 vaccine made in the West! Heck, the Western World is falling apart… look at what happened at the US Capitol!“
Well, Xi is right about the US Capitol. We have lost our collective mind, but it is not because we have a free society and democracy (that is what he and his flying monkeys blame all the evil on).
The reason we are losing our collective mind is because our trust landscape is being destroyed by people who want to be just like him–a bully and a dictator—and digital clones, keep reading! But when you tell lies and spread disinformation to prop up your authoritarian ambitions, they tend to come back and bite you in the butt. And that is what is happening in China now.
CNN reported more than 17 protests occurring all over China, some very bloody. The deaths of people trapped inside their high rise apartment because the fire escapes had been locked due to Zero COVID lockdown measures ignited these protests but anger has been building all over China after 3 years of overzealous lockdowns. These measures are killing people too. Some have not been able to get medical care for heart attacks or other life threatening health conditions, others have committed suicide, all locked down have complained about getting rotten and substandard food or no food. This has lasted for months at a time.
Xi put himself into this very small box.
The protests are a real threat to his authority, but so too is China’s failure to create a vaccine that works. Virologists have compared China’s vaccine to Pfizer and Moderna and found it is not as effective.
Compounding the limited effect of China’s vaccine, China just has not put as much effort into vaccinating its population, relying instead on enforcing its Zero COVID policies with upmost brutalities. The result is the vast majority of China’s population are under vaccinated or not vaccinated. Nor do many individuals have immunity from a previous infection compared to the overall population.
If they let up on Zero COVID without vaccinating their population with a vaccine that works, COVID will roar through its population killing millions and while it does, it will be mutating and this could cause a BIG problem for the rest of the world, again.
If Xi relents and allows Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to be used in China, he reveals his lies about Western democracies to his people and he looks weak.
Oh what a sticky misinformation landscape Xi has created for himself!
If Disinformation Doesn’t Work, Create A Scapegoat and Attack It
This is what Putin is doing now in Russia. He is losing the war in Ukraine. He looks weak and stupid. He needs a good distraction so his citizens don’t rise up against him and who knows, perhaps they castrate the man.
After all, it is his actions, and his actions alone, that have cut the Russian people off from the rest of the world–no Facebook, no Twitter, no vacations to Paris or Italy, no McDonalds–all because of his war with Ukraine.
So what does Putin do? Putin makes being gay illegal in Russia. He calls it a sickness of democracy and the Western World. He claims Russians don’t have gay people.
Come on Putin… now you look even more stupid than before. To read more about Putin and his flying monkeys, see Ukraine Letters.
The Dictator’s Playbook
Dictators around the world and throughout history use the same tactics. They attack the truth, exaggerate threats to make people afraid, and enflame emotions to herd as many people as possible under their make-believe umbrella constructed out of their annoying, droning chant: “I and I alone can fix it.”
That is the secret spell of a dictator. This stupid chant is his top-secret, classified magic potion. This is what every dictator throughout time has ever used to manipulate the masses. It is called ignorance dust. It is what evil fairies use to make their mischief.
What they don’t say out loud is …they broke it and they made up the boogeyman who you are now afraid of!
Dictators systematically claim they represent truth, decency, and dignity while fabricating facts, fiends, and fantasies about their own greatness.
Dictators pit people against each other, then they sit and watch the carnage on TV.
PBS recently aired a miniseries on the Dictator’s Playbook. Also, this 11-page PDF summarizes a 2011 book written by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith titled: The Dictators Handbook, Why Bad Behaviour is almost always Good Politics
And if these resources aren’t enough, Dr. Mark Van Vugt wrote for Psychology Today The 7 Steps to Becoming a Dictator.
1. Expand your power base through nepotism and corruption.
2. Instigate a monopoly on the use of force to curb public protest.
3. Curry favour by providing public goods efficiently and generously.
4. Get rid of your political enemies.
5. Create and defeat a common enemy.
6. Accumulate power by manipulating the hearts and minds of your citizens.
7. Create an ideology to justify an exalted position.
You should read the article because Mark gives some very lively examples.
So, Just How Do You Stand Up to a Dictator?
Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
This brings us back to Maria Ressa. She stood up to Rodrigo Duterte and to Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook nightmare. In an interview with Dave Davies on FreshAir she said:
I wasn't the only one under attack in Rappler. And Rappler is about a hundred people. We're - we just became - we hit 10 years. We're 10 years old January this year. So my gosh, we're going to be 11 by January next year. But it's 63% women. And our median age is 23 years old. So when our younger reporters came under attack, I became far more protective of our team.
And within a short period of time, we increased our security six times, seven times, because at some point it became very clear that online violence is real-world violence. And, you know, in your introduction, you talked about the attacks of President Duterte and Facebook. I think, by 2016, I was calling for an end to impunity, impunity of Rodrigo Duterte and this brutal drug war and impunity of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. They go hand in hand. One could not have happened without the other.
DAVIES: When you started Rappler, this news service, one of the things you note is that the population of the Philippines had already become remarkably attached to digital technology. Different from a lot of places in that way, wasn’t it?
RESSA: Yeah. Look, we were the texting capital of the world before this, the SMS capital of the world. And then we became known as the social media capital of the world. And by January 2021, for six years in a row, Filipinos spent the most time online and on social media globally. A hundred percent of Filipinos on the internet today are on Facebook. Facebook literally is our internet.
DAVIES : I mean, it seems that what you were discovering was that social media platforms, like Facebook, have discovered that people respond to sharply emotional messages. And so the algorithms give them more of that – anger, hatred, resentment – which, in turn, brings more engagement, which is what their economic model is based on. And it – you observed that this was allowing people who were telling lies that were destructive and poisonous to democracy to spread faster than truth.
The interesting thing is that you actually had conversations with Facebook executives about this, right? You met with a bunch of them. Did they get it? What did they say?
RESSA: Rappler was essentially an alpha partner of Facebook. We knew Facebook in the Philippines better than Facebook did. And I went to them with the data, hoping that they would give me more data and fix it. I thought it would be an easy fix 'cause in 2016, it was alarming to see this kind of, you know, incitement of hate. In 2017, I was one of about a dozen startup founders that Mark Zuckerberg met with. And, you know, I was trying to get him to come to the Philippines to see how powerful Facebook was. And at that point, 97% of Filipinos were there. And that's what I told him. I said, you know, you really have to come 'cause 97% of Filipinos on the internet are on Facebook. So he started frowning. And I thought, OK, I must have been a little too pushy. And then, he looked at me. And he said, Maria, where are the other 3%?
RESSA: I think that was the problem, right? They were so focused on market share, their profits, their goal for the business, that they forgot to look at the social harms. I also don't think it's a coincidence that they do not tell the difference between fact and fiction. It doesn't have any business or economic benefits to doing that. So at this point, you don't even have facts. So what did they do? They outsourced it. They gave - it became a fact-checking network that was doing this. But it was never integral to the product by design. Social media divides and radicalizes, and this is what we're seeing in the world today.
DAVIES: You write that, at one point, Zuckerberg wanted Facebook to start to really focus on weeding out offensive content. And you said, you’re missing the point. It’s – the problem isn’t content; it’s distribution. What did you mean?
RESSA: Because so much of the debate centers on content when that isn't the problem. Doesn't matter if your crazy neighbor talks about a conspiracy theory. You'll still like your crazy neighbor, and you listen. But it becomes different when that's the front page of your town newspaper. Imagine, the crazy things now make it to the front page. That is what goes viral. And that's the world we live in. Doesn't matter if it's real or not as long as it captures your attention. So it is your amygdala that decides, right? If you get angry, you'll share it.
And this is the - I mean, look, there is a - E.O. Wilson, who studied emergent behavior in ants, said that our greatest crisis that we face is our Paleolithic emotions, our medieval institutions, and our godlike technology. That godlike technology manipulated us to the point that the very systems of democracy that gave rise to this is now at the verge of failure.
DAVIES: You know, at the end of the book, you kind of ask the big question, which is, what do we do about this? I mean, now that you’ve – it’s apparent how harmful and poisonous this can be for democratic institutions. You know, in the United States, I mean, tens of millions of people believe made-up stories about a stolen election despite plenty of fact-checking that has been published debunking a lot of these stories. You think you have some strategies that might be effective? I mean, this is a little complicated, but share some of these ideas with us.
RESSA: In the short term, we decided, as we were walking into our presidential elections, that we would try to figure out what a whole-of-society approach to civic engagement could look like. And we created a four-layer, facts-first pyramid - four different layers. The bottom layer are 16 news organizations - the first time news groups worked together. You know, I've been trying since 2016, but we finally all work together. And that is the supply of fact checks.
But as you know, fact checks are really boring. They don't get wide distribution on social media. So that leads to the second layer. It's called the mesh - 115, 116 different civil society groups - NGOs, human rights organizations, climate change groups were there - business, the church. The Philippines is Asia's largest Roman Catholic nation. And the goal of the mesh layer is to share those boring fact checks, but to add emotion because emotion is what moves it through distribution. And what we found when we did that was that inspiration spreads as far as anger. The third layer are academic institutions. Eight of them total that took the data from the first two and every week told Filipinos how we were being manipulated, who was winning, who was losing, what were the media narratives being seeded? And then finally, the last layer, layer four, is rule of law. It's legal organizations from the left to the right in the Philippines, from the free legal group to the integrated bar of the Philippines to the Philippine Bar Association.
They filed, in less than three months, more than 21 cases, tactical and strategic, that helped protect the three layers. It worked. We were able to - it was the most successful attempt to try to take over the center of our information ecosystem. We mapped it. But more than that, within two weeks of launching this facts-first pyramid, the Philippine government - the office of the solicitor general filed a petition at the supreme court against Rappler and our commission on elections, because we were working with them at that point. They said that fact-checking is prior restraint. They tried to stop us from fact-checking. It almost made me laugh.
DAVIES: To kind of summarize here, it sounds like what you’re proposing is that news organizations need to overcome some of their competitive instincts and work together when there is important fact-checking to be done, connect them to other organizations in a way that puts energy and emotion into it and get that out there.
RESSA: Think about it like this. Like, if you don't have integrity of facts, you cannot have integrity of elections. And ultimately, what that means is that these elections will be swayed by information warfare. I mean, you know, it's funny. Americans actually look at the midterms. And they say, well, it wasn't as bad as it could be. Death by a thousand cuts - it's still bad. And if we follow, you know, what - the trend that we're seeing, if nothing significant changes in our information ecosystem, in the way we deliver the news, we will elect more illiberal leaders democratically in 2023, in 2024.
And what they do is they crumble institutions of democracy in their own countries, like you've seen in mine. But they do more than that. They ally together globally. And what they do is, at a certain point, the geopolitical power shift globally will change. Democracy will die. That point is 2024. We must figure out what civic engagement [looks like and], what we do as citizens today, to reclaim, [and] to make sure democracy survives.
In Maria Ressa’s interview on 1A, she explained surveillance capitalism and how it enabled want-a-be dictators like Duterte and Trump to actually get elected in Free and Fair elections. Something she told Jen would never have happened pre-Facebook (and other social media era).
Here is how she explains it:
technology has degraded facts and broken our societies. I became a journalist because I believe that information is power - it’s how we get justice. The death of democracy began when journalists lost our gatekeeping powers to the technology platforms that not only abdicated responsibility for protecting us ... but also destroyed democracy by destroying the facts ... for immense profit.
Like the age of industrialization, there’s a new economic model that brought new harms, a model Shoshana Zuboff called surveillance capitalism - when our atomized personal experiences are collected by machine learning, organized by artificial intelligence - extracting our private lives for outsized corporate gain. Highly profitable micro-targeting operations are engineered to structurally undermine human will - a behavior modification system in which we are Pavlov’s dogs, experimented on in real time with disastrous consequences. This is happening to you - to all of us around the world.
Engagement based metrics of these American tech companies mean that the incentive structure of the algorithms, which is just their opinion in code implemented at a scale that we could never have imagined, is insidiously shaping our future by encouraging the worst of human behavior. Studies have shown that lies laced with anger and hate spread faster and further than facts.
Without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. Without these, we have no shared reality, no rule of law, no democracy.
In my upcoming book, the prologue I submitted last year began with the splintering of reality in Crimea in 2014. I had to revise that when Russia invaded Ukraine using the same narratives seeded then. Would that have happened if the platforms had acted 8 years ago? That is the true cost for the world.
Now these networks form a global nervous system of toxic sludge partly fueled by geopolitical power play. In 2018, we connected the information operations in the Philippines with Russian disinformation networks through websites in Canada. In 2020, Facebook took down information operations from China that were creating fake accounts for the US elections, polishing the image of the Marcoses, campaigning for Duterte’s daughter, and attacking me and Rappler. In 2021, the US and the EU called out China and Russia for Covid-19 disinformation.
We are all connected.
To read more on how to tackle this huge problem that the whole world faces, a psychological-social virus just as deadly as the Coronavirus, see her speech: The Assault on Freedom of Expression. It is jaw dropping.
No one can afford to sit on the sidelines and watch how this all plays out. Every human being alive right now has a choice to act or watch democracy fall. And if the choice is to watch, you will also watch the world fall over the Climate Cliff.
You (reading this right now)… you will be alive to watch this all happen. It is happening right now and it is going to happen faster than anyone has previously predicated.
If we don’t save democracies, we will never get around to collaborating like we have never collaborated before as a global species to solve the looming climate crises bearing down on all of us right now. These climate crises are going to push the entire human race over the Climate Cliff.
It is time to Wake Up!
And Ron DeSantis (another want-a-be dictator), go buy yourself a mask, fins, and snorkel because if Florida is where Woke Goes to Die…well, Florida ain’t going to be around after Earth’s glaciers melt… and it’s going to happen much faster than the Woke People you disparage are telling you it will happen!
Think about it. Think about it hard.
What will you say to your children and grandchildren 50 years from now when there are no more democratic countries and we fail to act on Climate Change?
What will you tell them when you did not try to stop the Putins, the Xis, the Trumps (and his flying monkeys), and the rigid old men in Iran persecuting and killing their young people?
And old men of Iran, for what? What are you killing your young people for… a strand of hair sticking out from a veil?! Come on you stupid old men… what are you going to do? Kill every young person in your country? Yes, probably you will… the ouroboros is the symbol for rigid old men clinging to their dictatorships.
And the North Koreas…well, Kim Jong Un is sitting pretty these days not collaborating with anybody not even his fellow dictators and firing off his rockets… he is the ultimate symbol for a manly male, a tough pluck... a virile coward if I ever saw one. Someone has to enjoy all the spoils he directs only to him and his loyal supporters.
Maria Ressa says we are all living in the upside-down now. Yes, the very same weird world as depicted in Stranger Things. In this world, only the ruthless get to relax in luxury. Everyone else suffers unbelievable poverty, abuse, and gets crushed under super surveillance systems created by dictators afraid of losing power.
We may be wise enough to know that Facebook is tracking us using super surveillance systems and this is pretty bad… this is where we are now. We all exist in a world of digital clones that are used against us to make huge profits for the ridiculously rich people of the world (think Elon Musk— you can be a corporate dictator too!). These are nasty little things corporations and social media platforms use to make more money by tearing truth, facts, and reality into tiny shreds. Read Maria’s book!
But the next step is not so very far away in our collective global future. The people fighting for their very lives in Ukraine RIGHT NOW know this! They know Putin will not stop if he wins Ukraine. No strongmen, no dictator, no authoritarian is ever satisfied with what they have. They always want more. That is their purpose in life. They have made themselves into monsters and the only thing they can do is devour the entire world. There are a lot of monsters alive RIGHT NOW trying to do this very thing.
The next step Maria Ressa is very clear about is the fall of democracies around the world and the rise of dictatorships ruled by the ruthless. I believe her. And guess what? There is not much room at the top. What all ruthless rulers eventually do if they last long enough is turn on the very people who put them in power. Think about it. Ruthless rulers always need a foil, a ploy, an enemy, a scapegoat. Once they kill all the obvious people, they will start in on their loyal base of followers, the very people they put to sleep using their maniacal evil fairy dust: ignorance.
This is happening NOW on our watch!
How will you explain this to your children?
How will you explain food shortages, water shortages, raging floods and fires, sunken cities, more global pandemics, and governments that won’t even allow you to hold up a blank sheet of paper to protest not being able to protest for your most basic human needs and rights?
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