I plead guilty. I used to use fear as a tool to try to seed concern in people mind when I was explaining why it is needed to use cryptography on the internet (and elsewhere as well).
The thing is, fear is an extremely powerful feeling. I think it’s rooted somewhere in the evolutionary process, I don’t think there’s species who don’t know fear (and if it were they either are sharks or have since then disappeared, eaten by things they should have fear).
And it’s not one you should use to make people do things. If you use fear to try motivate people, they will be stressed, and some of them will panic (we do not answer rationally to stress and fear) and will run away, screaming in despair, spreading the fear like an arson jumps from trees to trees and finally destroying the whole forest.
By using fear, people who will do what you’re saying, won’t do it because they feel it will improve them, they will do something because they have no choice. And if they can run away from it, they will just do it and will avoid to – for instance – use the internet.
Developing fear into people, is the best way to get the worst out of them, this is exactly the mechanism developed by fascist to gain power, and you know that since Star Wars:
Fear is the path to the darknet. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. – Yoda
And since fear is irrational, it doesn’t help people to understand how things works. That’s exactly what states (nation or corporate) are doing now with the Cyberwar, the Darknet and all the creepy stuff.
It enables the states to plant uncertainty (and doubt) in the mind of people, to make them unable to understand how things works, and then to control them (people are now afraid of opening stuff to understand how they work).
I once thought it was possible to use a little bit of fear to raise consciousness into people mind, but it’s like firing up a match in a gasoline tank, even if you’re careful, in the end, it will blow up.
Death on the internet
We were discussing the issue with @microouvert the other day – she says I’m now on the cuddle bear sides. We hear a lot of things about the NSA/GCHQ/DGSI/FSB/insert any new acronyms I might forget here, and the way they do surveillance.
We hear a lot about the surveillance (and then control, and restriction of liberties) made by GAFA members, less than the NSA thing but still. The thing is, it’s not the issue at hand.
You won’t fight spying by using fear. I’ve noted two different behaviour when trying to "warn" (and scare) people about the danger of mass surveillance. Either people go for the "Nothing to hide" stance, or they go for the "Jumping into a bunker and wait for the world’s end" stance. None of them is good.
The issue we ave to manage, and the only way we can find to dismantle the mass surveillance, is by fixing society. And you fix society by empowering people, not by giving them tool they don’t understand, and don’t know what to do with.
In most of the cases, the fact that Google, the DGSI, or your neighbour is spying on you is not a matter of life and death. Most people are not field activists, journalists, hackers, or other – sadly – risky activities to do. Most people just keep on with their life, doing the extraordinary things they doing every day. They do not need to be scared by global surveillance, they already have a lot of thing on their mind to manage.
I’m not saying that global surveillance society is not scary. It is, and it keeps me up at night. We need to fight it but we can only fight it by a social change.
I mean, I’ve looked through some toys shop recently (yeah, something about Unixmas) and there’s more and more spy tools. There’s more and more stalker apps on both Android and Apple store (while you still can’t access porn on the second). Spying your neighbors, your partners or your kids is hype, fun and cool.
This is way more worrying than the fact that NSA is spying on French citizens. The acceptance that it’s normal to invade the privacy of other is an issue. And when you protect yourself from that, you are a freak, you’re an outcast of the society.
It’s not a political change that we need. I don’t believe a political change will happen soon, and will do any good. We need a social change. We need people to empower themselves and discover that internet is a great tool to organise.
Internet isn’t about surveillance
Internet is about communication. And organisation. That’s what we need to tell to the world.
Surveillance is, basically the gathering, storage and analysis of human activities – data and metadata. This is not what internet is doing. Internet is doing one thing: packet switching, which is carrying a message from a point A to a point B.
The storage does not happens on Internet, it happens at the fringe of internet: on your computer, in some datacenters, or elsewhere. But Internet does not maintain a databases with all the packets ever created.
Internet is about communication, and organisation. It enables people to benefits of different way of organisation since it provides different way of communication, and communication is what we – social animals – are doing to thrive, live and survive.
This is the thing we need to teach to people. That they should not worry about internet because internet is not actually spying on them. It’s helping them to communicate, to organise, to reach out.
And that’s something all people are doing. Either they want to organize a family meal, a party or a riot, they are organising things. And they’re doing it using social networks, improving they’re social network. Ok it’s on facebook, twitter, Google+ or whatever spying agency tool provided to them.
What we need, is to open the eyes of the internet consumers to turn them in internet actors. What we need, is to reassure them, and guide them through the early step of understanding what is internet and how it works. What we need is disassemble the toxic memes of surveillance, cyber-insecurity and Darknet – which isn’t about encryption, but about opposing the dirty internet to the good internet.
And you can’t do that by using fear. You need to light a spark in the mind of people, not to burn them alive in fear. We don’t need "Told you so", or "Paranoiac" stance – I’m not saying that you should use some caution, just that most of people don’t need it.
So, stop saying there’s some danger on the internet. It’s a lie. There’s only IP packets on the internet. Everything else is in our society. And we need to change it.
And yes, I’m turning to the optimistic cuddle bears from the intertubes team. It will allow we to do some memetic warfare in a more efficient way.