Say it with me: Robots. Are. Not. People.
The Putinbots who were preemptively shut down in France leading up to Sunday’s election are really “unhappy” about France trampling all over their “rights” — like liberté, égalité and fraternité.
Fake people, visually represented by pillaged photos of actual people from the internet or sometimes cartoons or Twitter “eggs” — all created for the purpose of legitimizing and amplifying propaganda — are whining about their rights. “They” wanted to spread fake news and unleash the hacked emails from the campaign of Emmanuel Macron, France’s president-elect, but were shut down. Injuste!
“Amy Mek,” the Twitter profile I wrote about in March, is among the outraged.
Amy is having a fit about her Twitter account getting shut down in France, enlisting her claque of fellow fake accounts to amplify her outrage. (However, the account continues to spread racist hate and lies carte blanche in the U.S.) To no one’s surprise, Amy and her pals recently took up French politics, going all in for Marine Le Pen.
So much interest, in fact, that Amy was tweeting about the French election like a turnt-up Russian cuckoo clock — until she was silenced.
France shut down her Twitter account like Russian Velveeta served up on a warm baguette. French officials warned the media and the public to not spread the hacked information against Macron. As in, if you do, you are breaking the law. And Facebook, on its own initiative, upped its game and took action against 30,000 propaganda accounts in France.
So why does France have no problem shutting down interference in its election while we just roll right over?
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meddling in our election was a teachable moment for other countries. The Netherlands took no chances in its recent election and resorted to paper ballots. France had also seen what was in Putin’s bag of tricks and took precautions.
But France also didn’t worry over whether it might be tiptoeing onto someone’s rights by making and enforcing some ground rules. The country demanded restraint and meant it. France also had no problem asking Twitter to take action against accounts that violate its laws. In fact, France is one the top countries that requests Twitter take action on accounts. (See for yourself in this handy-dandy “transparency report,” which uses some fancy graphics and spreadsheets to show where Twitter shut things down.)
An estimated 19 percent of election-related Twitter traffic leading up to November’s U.S. Presidential Election was propaganda, including amplified fake news stories like “Pizzagate” — weaponized “information” designed to elect Donald Trump.
So before we decide everyone’s rights are getting trampled on with requests for standards, let’s get some perspective …
French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ideas about freedom and autonomy helped inspire the French Revolution and helped lead to modern, inadequate, imperfect and messy democracies with elections and free speech. But I’m pretty sure that when Rousseau spoke of “the consent of the governed,” he wasn’t including robots programmed by Putin’s minions.
Modern French philosopher Jean Baudrillard said increasing use of symbols would ultimately destroy truth, calling it “the precession of the simulacra.” Basically, Baudrillard would say that, up until last week, Putin was laughing at how he was going to manipulate the French election — just like he did in the U.S. — by amplifying propaganda through obviously fake “people” mirroring each other via the internet.
But wait a minute: France practically invented modern democracy. And more recently, French philosophers have spent a disproportionate amount of time contemplating what’s real, what’s fake and how power is yielded. So how did France react to this insult?
France said to Putin, “We see you.”
For Americans who — like me — treasure our First Amendment and have a knee-jerk reaction to efforts that limit free speech, consider this: Robots. Are. Not. People. They are pieces of a propaganda machine.
The robots are programmed to destabilize nations and weaken everyone’s rights and make him more powerful. And if this is the case, aren’t actual people — citizens, political leaders, those who actually operate social media companies — obligated to intervene? Start with acknowledging how Putin plays the game: exploiting our best instincts — openness and liberty — to sow dissent and destabilize our nations.
Perhaps we can follow France’s lead by seeing clearly and shutting this interference down. N’est-ce pas?
Maureen Erwin is a Bay Area political consultant. Most recently she led Sonoma County’s Measure M, which will create the largest GMO-free growing zone in the U.S.