The rights and big tech

Image: Karolina Grabowska


Today, post-truth is sought in the bubbles of resentment that uncovered the sewer

No Dictionnaire de philosophie politique, organized by Philippe Raynaud and Stéphane Rials, the entry “Human rights” emphasizes that the notion of rights is inseparable from belonging to the community, which transfers to the individual a recognition as a moral person with the right to have rights. There are two ways to approach the question. The former refers to a metaphysics of human nature, under a biblical divinity that lists objective (natural) rights. In the Christian tradition, rights come from the creator who made the creature in his image and likeness. Hence, the right to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness can be deduced. Considerable progress in comparison with the dark millennium of the Middle Ages in which servants had only duties, and no prerogatives.

The secular arm of modernity, however, conceived another form of rights from the secular State. Subjective (non-natural) rights legitimized freedom of conscience to investigate truth with unofficial confessions and non-religious, atheistic, or agnostic attitudes. The cruel inquisitorial bonfire of the immolation of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), accused of heresy, was extinguished.

The seventeenth century inaugurated the fraternization of individuals with disparate thoughts and beliefs. The climate of tolerance and civility is an achievement among the gray tones of irrationalism. Let's see how the rights that deepen democracy, threatened by the big tech.

Human rights

Modernly, autonomy is the keyword to apprehend the human rights revolution. The discovery of autonomism underpins the fight for the legalization of abortion (“my body, my rules”, preach the feminists) and the different expressions of sexuality (“each one knows the pain and delight of being who one is”, sings the son by Dona Canô). All according to the sacred rule: the freedom of one ends where the freedom of another begins. It is the function of the State to maintain respect for the basic norm.

The autonomist precept guided the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved by the United Nations Assembly on December 10, 1948, in Paris. In the UDHR, individual rights encompass freedom of movement, security, care for privacy, fair trial, assembly and association and, not to mention that we are not talking about flowers, the right to property.

With the expansion of industrial society, inequalities were accentuated and gave rise to movements for social rights. This second generation of rights made it possible to enjoy the rights of the first generation and is at the origin of the Welfare State, built in Europe by redistributive policies in favor of egalitarianism. Social rights met the demand for material means to address the injustices that hovered over work and make the exercise of elementary freedoms viable.

The third generation of questions covered cultural and political rights. Culturally, identity fears of “minorities” reactualized the fear of hostile majorities by the memory of the Catholic Church's persecution of heretics, of colonialism's abuse of original inhabitants, of supremacist slavery for 350 years of Afro-Brazilians, of misogyny, of homophobia, of invisibility of people with disabilities and the abandonment of vulnerable people. The protection of cults, customs, languages ​​and ways of life was translated into anti-colonialist struggles to reject European ethnocentrism.

Political rights prevented the dignity of the Homo sapiens become an appendix of consumption and spectacle, on the walk between shop windows that are indifferent to subjects of relevant interest to the polis. The three generations of rights, bequeathed by TH Marshall's emblematic study, are encompassed in the theoretical construct of human rights: criteria, par excellence, for classifying a nation in the category of the democratic State of law; or for its insertion in the figure of the State of exception.

Some considered replacing autonomy with humanitarianism to condemn torture, for example. But the paradigm shift would separate the rights of individuals, including not being tortured, from the political praxis for intervention in the public sphere. As taught by Immanuel Kant, the autonomy implies giving the subject-legislator the supreme capacity to make laws that he himself will obey, which presupposes a free act. The emphasis is on the rights of active citizens in the space of the commons.

Heteronomy, in contrast, confronts autonomy with socioeconomic pressures from outside minds and hearts. Adopted in 1970-1980, the ideology of monetarism nourishes the civilizational setback that broke the indicator compass of the affirmative socialization of rights. On the contrary, it characterized the permanent disrespect for rights and the erosion of the institutions that underpin the Republics, in contemporary times. Deindustrializing thus rhymed with desocializing and excluding.

With the economy shielded by anti-politics, neoliberalism hinders the realization of rights. At the expense of the governability of those elected by popular sovereignty, the globalization of the capital market opposed rights to democratic sociability and the socio-economic vector of material solidarity. Wasted the chance to equalize opportunities and results. Not to mention the fury of neo-fascism against the expanded concept of human rights and democracy itself.

against the fake news

At the III World Forum on Human Rights (Buenos Aires, 2023), which discussed successful experiences in the North and South hemispheres to alleviate inequalities and leverage social inclusion, the President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights praised the timely initiative of the Lula government to expand the debate on the regulation of big tech at the international level and, at the post-destruction domestic level, by targeting restorative themes such as the following: (a) social, by focusing on hunger, housing, unemployment; (b) economic, by linking development and sustainability; (c) cultural, by praising the rights of native peoples and gender and racial equality and; (d) environmental, by defending the preservation of the Amazon and investments in clean energy.

Social networks have democratized freedom of expression. Positive. But they also undermined confidence in democracy in election processes with misinformation. Negative. The “Twitter elections” sanctioned Donald Trump in the United States (2016). The “WhatsApp elections” anointed Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil (2018). With digital waves, both rose in the polls in the style of the campaign of the Brexit in England, that is, trampling the right of citizenship to correct information. With analogical practices, progressives did not have the know-how to build barriers to waves; they lacked knowledge. Technical preparation is essential to face the infocracy, which Byung-Chul Han defines as “information capitalism that develops into surveillance capitalism and degrades human beings into cattle, data-consuming animals.”

As big tech have to control the spread of the phenomenon, as opposed to ringing the anarcholiberal bell that the internet is beyond good and evil. If they do not create containment devices, nation states need to do so to safeguard democracy. It is up to business corporations to carry out transnational self-regulation to avoid the spraying of isolated regulations. When mega-companies canceled uninformative videos from the web, the extreme right judged it to be censorship. “We are on the way to a massive amputation of the system of public and individual freedoms, the prospect of disgrace is close”, quickly dramatized the jus esperniandi.

Today, post-truth is sought in the bubbles of resentment that uncovered the sewer. For Umberto Eco, “the internet has promoted the village idiot to the bearer of the 'truth' (sic)”, to the applause of the “legion of imbeciles” who have lost the shame of listing nonsense and conspiratorial machinations, behind the screen of a cell phone. Les betes humaines build parallel realities. In the madhouse, where everyone feels like a Napoleon in a straitjacket, the mention of human rights identifies the guarantors of constitutionalism, enemies of punitivists who make the end of the presumption of innocence an instrument of justice. Like the lapwing, hallucinated chirp in a place far from the nest. They shoot hate, here, with the intention of killing democracy, there, around the next corner.

The networks were captured with the methodical objective of distorting and manipulating the understanding of internet users, records Patrícia Campos Mello, in The hate machine: notes from a reporter on fake news and digital violence. “It is not possible to accept bovinely that the regulation of the giants (Facebook / WhatsApp, Twitter, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Google) will end the free internet. It is necessary to discuss with care and wide participation of civil society how to conceptualize what fake news is and punish those who finance and spread it”, emphasizes the journalist, who suffered slander for longer than the “two minutes of hate” to which she suffered referred to George Orwell in the dystopian 1984.

The Secretariat for Digital Policies of the federal administration advocates changes to article 19 of the Civil Rights Framework for the Internet, which exempts platforms from liability for damages resulting from content generated by third parties, unless there is a court order for the removal of content. The beginning looks very auspicious. If the means are essential to the ends in the materialization of rights, the regulation accompanied by the rapid attribution of the negligence of the platforms is crucial, in the clash that unfolds between democracy and totalitarianism, in the surprising XNUMXst century. The great messengers of new technologies violate countless dimensions of human rights.

Without material means, rights are buried, either by dissimulators to deceive gullible people (hypocritical mode), or by deceivers who have the nerve to show their malevolent intentions (cynical mode). In a failed act, Benito Mussolini in the 1920s chose a symbol of the lie, Pinocchio, to spread the ideas of jerico of Italian fascism. The sputum from Barra da Tijuca that pilfered millionaire jewels from the Union, and militates for the continuous propagation of fake news, has as an allegory the anti-hero of Portuguese folklore, Pedro Malasartes, the fool of bad arts. The solution lies in platforms that protect rights and curb the use and abuse of falsehoods.

* Luiz Marques is a professor of political science at UFRGS. He was Rio Grande do Sul's state secretary of culture in the Olívio Dutra government.

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