Back A curtain of silicon (and of silence). Frederic Guerrero-Solé

A curtain of silicon (and of silence). Frederic Guerrero-Solé

Frederic Guerrero-Solé, profesor of the UPF Departament of Communication

Imatge inicial

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is again blood shed on European territory, an abominable drama that our construction of the present, based on common ground such as we are in the 21st century, deemed inconceivable. But the logic of war follows other paths. This lesson we should already have learned.

Fifteen days have sufficed to go back fifty, no, one hundred years in time. To return to the logic of the repressive state, of sanctions, of expulsion, of withdrawal and condemnation as punishment and as a form of response to social, economic and political outcry. To return to the dynamics of polarization, the destruction of bridges and the construction or reconstruction of old, almost always latent, hatred and distrust. Stereotypes are confirmed; history repeats itself.

As for the media, the logic of fear is imposed, of the hypodermic needle, fear that the individual does not know how distinguish between truth and lie, because s/he is not aware of the resources, if any, to do so. The fear that the lies of others will be believed or that one’s own will not be believed: propaganda - counter-propaganda. The War, the Second, was what inspired Davison to formulate the third-person effect: the Japanese ideological machinery in the form of leaflets dropped from the planes of future kamikazes penetrating the brains of the soldiers of the African-American battalions. A bias with a tragic behavioural outcome: censorship.

Lenin and his theory about the press now embraced by the West are back: freedom (of the press) is a weapon in the hands of your worst enemy. It must be removed, if you do not want to be removed. The Bolsheviks appropriated the monopoly of the press, of the paper, of the ink, of the letter: of the word. Impossible to print without going through countless committees and CPSU control, review, adaptation and acceptance boards, as impossible to write novels or make films. Now, paper (at last?) has disappeared, planes no longer drop leaflets, and control is via platforms, servers and IP. Gramsci's fight for hegemony in its most radically digital version.

The result is the erection of a new curtain, not of iron, but of silicon (or not only of iron, but also of silicon); a symbolic-digital partition of Europe in two, in a world already over-fragmented.

The result is the erection of a new curtain, not of iron, but of silicon (or not only of iron, but also of silicon); a symbolic-digital partition of Europe in two, in a world already over-fragmented. A loose account of events would say that it was the European countries that first banned the broadcasts of Sputnik and Russia Today, considered apparatus of the Putin state and spreaders of lies and distortions of reality and of the frameworks to interpret it. The reaction by the Russian government was immediate, with the forced closure of alternative media that did not follow the official lines, such as Ekho  Moskvy or Dozhd (TV Rain), as well limited access to certain digital platforms such as Facebook (a minor player in Russia, it must be said). It would have done so anyway, the order does not matter, there is little doubt about that; but by doing the same, Europe was heading for an escalation of increasingly severe responses in a country with a vast knowledge of this matter throughout history.

The platforms have also decided to stop providing their services to the country, in the same way as the vast majority of Western-owned multinationals. Russians no longer have Netflix, or Tik Tok, or Twitter, or Spotify, or Disney +, just as they do not have Zara or Chanel, or two of the privileged pupils of the silicon economy, Visa and Mastercard (no, it is not the return of the old dream of Soviet communism). Symbols such as McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Starbucks are also leaving Russia. Patriarch Kirill is rubbing his hands: the corrupting devil is leaving Holy Russia.

In exchange, we no longer have Russia Today, nor Pervi Kanal, among many others, and we have to go to great lengths to get access to official Russian information. We are unable to conduct a proper analysis of the contents they broadcast and how the media agenda might condition the attitudes of the Russian population. And most importantly, we no longer have the content generated by Russian users; their protest; their (hidden) opposition to the war, their denunciation of the excesses committed in their country.

The silicon curtain, which already exists and is tacitly accepted with a priori culturally distant China, is imposed as a nostalgic form of return to a (new?) world order that no longer exists, or ought no longer to exist, and revives old victims. I doubt that depriving contact by young Russians with Western culture (they have inherited the fascination for this culture from their parents and grandparents) is a solution. It is to pay for the crime of another (Putin's, his elite's, that of his desire to return to the imperial past) with a double punishment. Dostoevsky squared.

Because there is another fear, that of the regime of terror, the witch hunt, Stalin and McCarthy hand-In-hand again, in an already forever digital environment where now it is not the neighbour, the partner or the son turned hero that denounces you, but digital footprints (platforms like Instagram announce that they are to stop publishing lists of followers to protect their Russian and Ukrainian users from hypothetical reprisals). The Russian government responds with the threat of reprisals to those who spread lies, to those who use inappropriate conflict frameworks; the media shut shop, the journalists leave, distances widen and we return to stagnation, to the cold war, to managing the fear of the nuclear apocalypse. And silence returns. The silence of the friends there, who dare not even speak.

And Europe responds with the same currency, with a covert horizon of the terror regime from which we should always flee. New measures to combat foreign disinformation, manipulation and interference are being warned of, while, at microscopic level, ridiculous cultural boycotts are being applied. Despite the harshness of the conflict and the human need to find understandable forms of action, the self-fulfilling prophecy is invested in: if our actions distance them from us, they will end distancing themselves from us.

We must reflect on whether this silicon curtain is essential, beneficial, whether it reduces risks and dangers, favours a rapid resolution of the conflict, which is what we all desire. In this regard, Roskomsvoboda, a Russian NGO dedicated to protecting the rights of Internet users, warns Europe that the introduction of sanctions only assists censorship in Russia, and calls for them to be stopped.

Our freedom is not just about being offered the truth; it is also about not being deprived of knowing where the lie is.  And curtains serve to cover it up. On both sides.

And we must also reflect on whether our media have established relations of trust with society that are solid enough so that society does not doubt the veracity of its information and is, consequently, invulnerable to the lies of hypothetical intoxicating sources (bravo TV3, for the courage to include ‘the other side’!).

No, we cannot afford, we cannot tolerate a new curtain. We do not want new ideological frontiers, just as we do not want new wars or new silences. The armed conflict will end –the sooner, the better–; but there will be mutual grief, fear and distrust. We need spaces for constant dialogue and interaction, not ban athletes, influencers or scientists just for being Russian (I do not know if in this way we can save them from accusations and reprisals, it is all very complex and history is not conducive to calming us). We deserve an open digital space; to maintain networks of activism, culture and science. The logic of censorship cannot be imposed from anywhere. And this mimicry with which Western institutions act does not bode a very optimistic scenario. Our freedom is not just about being offered the truth; it is also about not being deprived of knowing where the lie is.  And curtains serve to cover it up. On both sides.



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