Ideology and political culture in the digital age

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By WÉCIO PINHEIRO ARAÚJO*

The phenomenon of fake news and its impact in contemporary Brazil

“The specialization of world images takes place in the world of the autonomized image, in which the liar has lied to himself” (Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle).

Marx and Engels wrote about 150 years ago an accurate passage about modernity: “All that is solid melts into air”. We have arrived at the moment that allows us to update them, namely: everything that is solid breaks down into pixels and algorithms. Keeping due historical proportions, had it not been written in the XNUMXth century, this famous excerpt from the Communist Party Manifesto could serve to illustrate the digital age.

However, to understand this necessary update, we need to start with the fact that in this XNUMXst century, so deep is the stage of integration between biological life and artificial life in the digital age, that it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish where being ends. human and where the machine begins (and vice versa), especially with regard to the ways in which individuals experience the content of what they recognize as real in the experience of life in society. In this context, the relationship between ideology, political culture and technology presents itself under the sign of a contradiction in process, established between content and form. My objective in this essay is precisely to explain and analyze, albeit introductoryly, this contradiction.

It is necessary to start by understanding how, through the evolution of informatics, the machine has become pervasive. This term comes from the English pervasive and translates the concept of ubiquitous computing, formulated by scientist Mark Weiser in the 1990s, to describe a situation in which the computer is embedded in the environment imperceptibly to the user. Therefore, ubiquity means saying that something is omnipresent to the point that we experience it in a way that we don't even notice it.

This is only possible thanks to the computational algorithm, which is nothing more than a logical recipe that tells how a computer program or an artificial intelligence system must perform a task in order to imitate and/or interact with human behavior, as if it was an idea with a life of its own that, through a digitized imagery language, becomes capable of catalyzing and amplifying, not only discourses, but human desires, affections and convictions involving the most diverse ideological spectrums.

According to Martha Gabriel (2018, p. 216), “in terms of appearance, artificial intelligences can be robots, bots, androids and cyborgs (hybrids). Also according to the aforementioned author, “bot is the nickname for “software robot”, that is, a robot without a physical body” (GABRIEL, 2018, p. 313). In short, they are computer programs that perform automatic tasks. We can say that they are invisible robots that perform tasks in order to imitate human consciousness and intelligence. Gabriel points out that depending on the environment, manner and objectives according to which they act, they are divided into at least types: (i) internet bots, involving everything from Google search engines to bots malicious agents capable of collecting information without authorization, copying websites entirely, installing viruses and or so-called bots zombies, able to hijack computers to send spam or generate cyberattacks; (ii) Chatbots, able to virtually converse in natural language, allowing interaction and access between machines and humans in a highly pervasive way, as they become more and more sophisticated in imitating naturally human behavior and languages.

(Iii) Botnets, when a network of bots power a set of connected Internet devices, each running one or more bots (GABRIEL, 2018, p. 315-316); iv) RPA (Robotic Process Automation), “Robotic Process Automation” – this category of bots, along with that of chatbots, is the one that grows the most in adoption in organizations in the world. RPA are bots of process execution, which allow to automate all types of repetitive activities. It is the same process that happened in manufacturing in the last century with the introduction of robots that started to perform and automate physical activities – only now, the automation that RPA brings performs and automates intellectual tasks (GABRIEL, 2018, p. 316- 317).

And finally: (v) Androids, “robots that have human forms (humanoids) or synthetic organisms designed to look and act like humans” (GABRIEL, 2018, p. 318). In this context, the so-called social bots, which basically consist of automated accounts on digital social networks. They are robots without tangible materiality, as they dispense with a physical body in their performance. From the point of view of the result, this process, in its range of possibilities, materializes in actions and reactions triggered in the digital environment online, so that they include not only discursive practices, but above all the imitation of human behavior in a way that is increasingly similar to people of flesh and blood.

This is so common that, some time ago, most portals and companies began to demand that, in order to complete a registration, access or any commercial transaction on the internet, people need to confirm that they are not robots; that is, we have reached the point where people have to prove that they are people, such is the level of automated digitization that acquires the experience of social life under the algorithmic management of the artificial intelligence established through the technology of robot software. Together with the algorithm, digitalization is the process through which an analogue data or signal is transformed into a digital code.

Our analysis now reaches the point where it is possible to briefly introduce its fundamental argument as social criticism from the perspective of the dialectic of totality: we have arrived at the moment in which the process of algorithmic digitalization involves the dimensions of content and form immanent to the formation (and deformation) of the modern subject, producing profound determinations for the ways of being that constitute social life, that is, we experience the automated digitization of both the objective content of social relations and the subjective ways in which individuals experience this content throughout their life experience in society.

From the point of view of the process, from the inside out, the technological factor digitizes social production and reproduction under capitalist domination. This movement carries two crucial aspects for its critical demystification: on the one hand, an imagery language that, as a rule, not only addresses or reaches, but surrounds and fills everything and everyone under the logic of the spectacle, which aims only at fleeting and light feeling that does not allow to assimilate anything in depth and pushes away critical thinking, creating ideological bubbles in the form of local, regional or even global villages; and on the other, the deepening of the commodity fetish under the social domination of the logic of capitalist value above any cultural or ethical-political values ​​guided by the democratic logic of social citizenship and plurality. Finally, from the point of view of the result, those two neuralgic aspects do great service to the ideological seam established in recent years, between, on the one hand, neoliberalism as a political rationality, and on the other, a reactionary neoconservatism with a neofascist tendency.

Algorithmic digitization is not just a secondary technological expression, but it is a process that points to the production and reproduction of what individuals recognize as real in social experience and, therefore, determines from within the process of formation of these in social and political subjects in life in society. The digital algorithm not only surrounds and envelops people's lives, but also fills them by modeling both their subjectivity and their objective conditions. The pervasive character of digital technology is decisive in this process in which the individual embarks on algorithmic management in a way that digitization shapes and deforms him in an omnipresent and invisible way in his way of being.

It is a new form of materiality of the human being as a social being, which is expressed directly linked to the way in which consciousness subjectively experiences the objective content of its reality in a digitalized way, whether in politics, production, consumption, communication etc. We then arrive at the contradiction that forms the modern subject, which, updated for the digital age, is established between, on the one hand, the content of social relations and, on the other, the ways of subjectively experiencing this content in the constitution of social experience. This experience is defined in and by the social experience in which this contradiction emerges and reveals itself to be precisely determined by the relationship between ideology and technology, in order to produce important determinations for the political culture of a digitized and imagetic fetish society – as we can better understand from here .

Criticism of technology should not be condemnatory, after all, since discovering fire or inventing agriculture, human beings have followed a path of irreversible inertia governed by the development of the work process. However, the contradiction lies in the fact that since the most remote times, despite undeniably improving and expanding our vital powers in a revolutionary way as an extension of the human being produced from the work process, technology also tends to ideologically favor the social domination, which in the present time, read: capitalist.

In the digital age of this XNUMXst century, in its ubiquity, as it forms a political culture that pushes away critical thinking more than it promotes it among the masses (and this is a central point for our reflection), it makes the pure positivity of the enchantment and the naturalization of what is not natural, but, on the contrary, is socially constructed, and for this reason, it produces contradictions that hide its ruses through the same elements from which it reveals itself.

In this dialectic between the old (analog) and the new (digital), we reach the moment that I call the technological awakening of ideology, and which can be summarized as follows: human reality, through its algorithmic digitization, acquires new expressions in the forms subjective aspects of consciousness experiencing, through ideas and their materialization in discourses and social practices, its objective content in the constitution of what individuals recognize as real.

This process forms and deforms these individuals as social and political subjects in the alienated and alienating context of capitalist society. This happens under determinations that appear, for better or for worse, throughout all the contents and forms that define social relations, from the factory floor to traffic, the living room, the office, the mall, the classroom and the electronic ballot box – for this reason it is very important to avoid both technological determinism and also incurring a solely condemnatory criticism of technology; after all, beyond the Manichaeisms, the issue is much more complex. In this context, it is essential to talk a little more about the issue of ideology, so that it allows us to think about the current stage of development of capitalist society in the digital age of the XNUMXst century.

In this direction, we can highlight the general conception about the ideology found in the analysis of Adorno and Horkheimer in Dialectic of Enlightenment (1985), as well as some formulations by film critic Bill Nichols, found in the work ideology and the image (1981), together with the French philosopher Guy Debord in the work society of the spectacle (1997), and also the living exponent of the Frankfurt School, Christoph Türcke, from whom I highlight the work entitled excited society (2014). In this scope, we find the importance that the question of image and technology acquires in the debate of ideology and politics, and how this brings new elements to the historically accumulated debate, especially in times of Industry 4.0 and the algorithmic digitization of social life as a all.

In my view, it is a matter of incorporating ideology into the critical formulation of an ontology of the subject in the digital image era, in order to extract from it a critical theory worthy of the political culture of our time. However, to better understand this relationship between ideology and image in the formation of political culture, I formulate the following reading key: in an era in which the algorithmic digitization of ways of experiencing the content of social relations predominates, ideas appear as an enormous collection of images – see below.

The relationship between ideology and image has its main turning point in the 1960th century, in a situation in which ideology seemed to have come to an end after the crisis of political discourses and ideological currents that dominated political disputes until the first half of the XNUMXth century. XX. This led the sociologist Daniel Bell, in XNUMX, to rashly state in his book, right from the title, The End of Ideology (1980). However, a little before Bell, still in 1947, in The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1985), Adorno and Horkeimer will argue that ideology is increasingly emptied of meaning and turned towards an operational language in the world of images, but this in no way means its end or its weakening.

Quite the contrary, while in the past, ideology occurred mainly through discourses, narratives and argumentative principles about how reality was and how it should be (liberalism, socialism, Marxism, etc.); With the arrival of increasingly sophisticated technologies for reproducing reality in sounds and images, ideology began to have as its object the very experience of reality directly in the imagery ways in which it can be experienced. According to Adorno and Horkheimer, the technological capacity of cultural industry vehicles to produce their version of reality transformed this version into “The Reality”. This process, to a large extent, would have made argumentative logic superfluous, and thus, through the image, the real becomes “ideological” and ideology becomes the real itself, as if it had really disappeared. In this direction, the contradiction lies in the fact that the image becomes the social form and the main passageway for the subject to experience reality in an ideological way, although apparently devoid of ideology. This becomes decisive in the formation of the political culture of our time.

In turn, in digitized capitalist society, we are experiencing advanced stages of technological projection of the interaction between reality and consciousness, through which social life is increasingly subjugated to the logic of merchandise as sensation and imagetic spectacle as new forms of ideology, as analyzed by Guy Debord and Christorph Türcke; and also Bill Nicohls on filmmaking.

In the digital age, technologies such as touch reshape, at the surface and at the fingertips, the practical and everyday experience of what is socially recognized as real in the form of a sensitive and unquestionable imagery certainty, through the touch that unites the individual to the screen as a single thing, making it to an imagetic extension of your being. A new social collectivity emerges that expresses itself as a whole of digitally connected brains that form a virtual nervous system globalized by the passivity of the individual. online connected through eminently imagery links. Here is the field of digitized subjectivity and its ideological diatribes.

 

The phenomenon of fake news and its impact

An emblematic and very relevant example of how the current stage of technological development ideologically favors social domination can be found in the harmful phenomenon of fake news – term in English to say “fake news” produced and broadcast digitally. The question I come to analyze here is the following: fake news became an important conduit for ideological passage of political alienation, so that social reality is experienced in a digitally naturalized way, making numbness prevail over any possibility, however minimal, of a critical conscience and more committed to some ethical notion of true.

In this direction, we can start the analysis from the following argument: in the age of algorithmic digitization, the virtual is experienced as real. This process produces serious political determinations from the fake news, as the lie easily imposes itself as a “truth” that encompasses its own falsity at a speed never conceived in the old analogue world and offline. Therefore, I propose the following reading key: it is necessary to think about the problem of fake news, not as an isolated phenomenon, but as a political culture immanent to the formation of the subject in the experience of life in society in the digital age. In this context, I highlight three determinations that define cyberspace as fertile ground for the proliferation of fake news:

(i) The real asserts itself for consciousness being experienced, as a rule, by the sensationalism of digital immediacy and its viral replication from an imagery language established through an uninterrupted flood of visual stimuli in this society of the spectacle . Individuals become screen-subjects, that is, appendices to their hand-screens, better known as smartphones, in other words, the subject-screen is the non-subject;

(ii) Political reality is culturally established through digital content that is experienced under its own logic that does not allow for any rational counterpoint. It goes far beyond the mere production of “fake news”. A political culture emerges, established as a mode of production of irrational, unilateral and ad hominem, that is, as a rule, the political dispute is carried out through personal attacks, under the micro-fascist logic of “us against them” or “good against evil”. the production of fake news proves to be much more than falsification, in fact, it is the production of an alternative reality that culturally includes its own parameters and rituals of truth, hence its ability to dispense with per se, any possibility of counterpoint;

(iii) Critical reason founders abandoned somewhere in this cultural abyss established between, on the one hand, the facts in their plurality of narratives and, on the other, the unilateral way in which these are subjectively experienced by individuals oriented solely to the political culture of the fake news.

In everyday life, this technological awakening of ideology is established through a way of being determined by the frantic search for new imagery stimuli. As philosophers Guy Debord (1997) and Christoph Türcke (2014) warned us, this society of spectacle and sensation is defined by immediate satisfaction from the bombardment of striking images, which attract and arrest people's perception. Everyone is peppered with information at a relentless pace that doesn't allow for the slightest reflection. People go numb having their lives defined as an un-life automated by algorithms.

After all, according to Martha Gabriel, in her book Me, you and the robots (2018), in just 60 seconds on the internet, 156 million emails are sent, almost 7 million photos are shared on Snapchat, more than 29 million messages are exchanged by WhatsApp, 350 tweets are sent out and almost 900 logins take place on Facebook – these are data from 2018.

Among some examples of greater repercussion of fake news, we can mention the election of Donald Trump in the USA, or even, to have an idea that this is not something restricted to the West, we have the example of a terrible situation that occurred in India, the largest market in the Whatsapp, with approximately 200 million Indian users, and where the circulation of false news provoked a wave of lynchings resulting in 18 deaths between April and July 2018. According to an article published by Folha de São Paulo, in August of that same year, the police say that it is difficult to convince people that it is fake news, and more and more cases such as that of the young Shantadevi Nath, who was killed by a mob that, based on fake news, believed that she was a kidnapper of children. Also a boy named Kaalu, who was looking for a job, ended up being killed after being pointed out as a kidnapper by a video that circulated in the Whatsapp. Even an Indian government official, tasked with going to villages to disperse rumors spread through social networks, was lynched to death in the state of Tipura, in the northeast region of the country.

In Brazil, it was with the pages of the powerful social network called Facebook, that “new right” movements led the campaign for the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, creating channels of communication with the population. This movement began to explore and feed its followers, both with news from the alternative press, and with new ways of channeling and amplifying the ideological values ​​of the extreme right in its political campaigns, under a social movement strongly marked by the logic of fake news.

Also in the movement of truck drivers in May 2018 in Brazil, according to Folha de São Paulo (2018b), the thousands of groups of Whatsapp created during the two weeks of the drivers' strike were able to carry out a quick, dispersed and comprehensive mobilization as never seen before, strongly marked by the spread of false news. After mobilization, these groups became a kind of communicational legacy coveted by several candidates in the 2018 Brazilian elections, which also revealed that this public was, to a large extent, aligned with the campaign of the retired captain of the Brazilian army and main representative of the neo-fascist revival in the Brazilian political scene.

 

Fake news as production of reality

Phenomena such as fake news operate not only in the falsification of reality, it is much more complex, since it is a way of producing reality. To the fake news produce content that will be experienced as the only reality by many individuals. The political determination lies in the fact that all of this implies real and concrete consequences from the relationships established between, on the one hand, the content of social life and, on the other, the way in which this content is socially and politically experienced, in a way that which ideologically favors the rise of this mass neo-fascism.

The political fate of countries or the private lives of people suffer violent and devastating effects from this phenomenon, which initially consists of the digital dissemination of false news, but which, throughout the process, acquires an effective condition that comes to be recognized and experienced by people as a culture own and the only way of being that guides what these people recognize as real in social networks. All this under the logic of sensation, determined by the dynamics of viralization of self-evident and indisputable truths. In politics, this process of viralization consists of a digitized expression of the replacement of democratic and plural reason, by the micro-fascist logic of “us against them”, of the ad hominem.

The lie that goes viral is established from what defines authoritarian thought itself as conduct categorically contrary to an ethics of plurality and rationality in politics. As the philosopher Theodor Adorno described it, when analyzing the pattern of fascist propaganda: “The overwhelming majority of the statements of the agitators are directed ad hominem. They are based more on psychological calculations than on the intention of gaining followers through the rational expression of rational goals” (ADORNO, 2018).

The phenomenon of fake news is one of the most serious expressions of the digital era for the political culture of the XNUMXst century, since this digitized and algorithmic version of the lie experienced as truth, forms in people their own rituals of truth, modeling subjectivities and ideologically conducting conduct in a way that death threat to democracy. With the global connectivity of the internet, a lie, in its fictitious virtuality, after going viral, starts to be experienced as truth, becoming capable of producing concrete effects, but no longer knowing spatial or temporal limits, as happened in the old linear world and Aristotelian.

In short, people's destiny becomes determined by the virtuality of fiction experienced as real, and life in society from a democratic ethical-political perspective escalates to a neo-archaic stage of the passions arising from hatred as a way of experiencing politics. There is no place for reason and plurality in the world of fake news, as civilized dialogue is replaced by the microfascist dynamic of the hysterical blindness of “us against them”.

 

Democracy as culture on the street and in the digital world

The virtual flow of digital media in environments such as facebook, whatsapp, twitter, among others, has been operating ideologically in order to channel the civil and authoritarian ideological background arising from the Brazilian micro-fascist social formation itself to then amplify this political mentality in order to make it viral. This process directly contributes to the advancement of the neo-fascist wave channeled by Bolsonarism.

The link between fake news and Brazilian neo-fascism is real and produces concrete political implications, despite having the virtuality of the cybersphere as its main conduit for ideological proliferation. See the current case of the investigation of fake news and its connection, for example, with the so-called “hate office” in Brazilian politics. We have arrived at the moment when the field of digital strategies and tactics gains centrality in the political arena, in which the neo-fascist right has initially demonstrated to be much more familiar than the left. Ultimately, this whole situation shows us that democracy itself was not prepared for the digital age, precisely because it was not built as a culture in Brazil, but only as a government regime. It is urgent to think and act to build democracy as a culture in the digital age; A “citizen constitution” is not enough if we do not live in a society capable of forming citizens under a democratic culture on the street and on social networks.

Finally, in all these examples I mentioned, it happens that the ideology form acts determined by a mediation that is in its genetic code, but which is expressed updated in the XNUMXst century under the determination of bits and digital algorithms, namely: the fact that that, in the relationship between the content of what is produced and the way this content is experienced by individuals in the social experience, a way of being based only on the immediate and on the naturalization of the appearance materialized in the digital image (photos, videos, memes, etc.) under algorithmic management.

Even more than before, the rationality based on the history and social formation of the phenomena that determine the life of a society is dispensed with; everything is experienced only by the immediate and ephemeral satisfaction of the here and now digitized in the era of the imagetic spectacle, culturally conditioned by the logic of the frantic shooting of images capable of magnetizing attention through the eye-catching.

Reason or a critical analysis of the facts is no longer important, what matters is the sensation while frantically searching for new stimuli on social networks. The question is posed in the form of a herculean political challenge from which we cannot escape: how to rescue a way to build democracy, not only as a government regime, but above all as a culture in the digital age?

*Wécio Pinheiro Araujo Professor of Philosophy at the Federal University of Paraíba (UFPB).

 

References


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