Co-chairs Zimmer and Collins and committee members, it's my honour and privilege to testify today.
Data governance is the most important public policy issue of our time. It is cross-cutting, with economic, social and security dimensions. It requires both national policy frameworks and international coordination.
Over the past three years, Mr. Zimmer, Mr. Angus and Mr. Erskine-Smith have spearheaded a Canadian bipartisan effort to deal with data governance. I'm inspired by the seriousness and integrity they bring to the task.
My perspective is that of a capitalist and global tech entrepreneur for 30 years and counting. I'm the retired chairman and co-CEO of Research in Motion, a Canadian technology company that we scaled from an idea to $20 billion in sales. While most are familiar with the iconic BlackBerry smartphone, ours was actually a platform business that connected tens of millions of users to thousands of consumer and enterprise applications via some 600 cellular carriers in more than 150 countries. We understood how to leverage Metcalfe's law of network effects to create a category-defining company, so I'm deeply familiar with multi-sided, platform business model strategies, as well as with navigating the interface between business and public policy.
I'll start with several observations about the nature, scale and breadth of our collective challenge here.
Disinformation and fake news are just two of the many negative outcomes from unregulated attention-based business models. They cannot be addressed in isolation. They have to be tackled horizontally as part of an integrated whole. To agonize over social media's role in the proliferation of online hate, conspiracy theories, politically motivated misinformation and harassment is to miss the root and scale of the problem.
Second, social media's toxicity is not a bug—it's a feature. Technology works exactly as designed. Technology products, services and networks are not built in a vacuum. Usage patterns drive product development decisions. Behavioural scientists involved with today's platforms help design user experiences that capitalize on negative reactions, because they produce far more engagement than positive reactions.
Third, among the many valuable insights provided by whistle-blowers inside the tech industry is this quotation: “The dynamics of the attention economy are structurally set up to undermine the human will”. Democracy and markets work when people can make choices aligned with their interests. The online advertisement-driven business model subverts choice and represents a foundational threat to markets, election integrity and democracy itself.
Fourth, technology gets its power through control of data. Data at the micro-personal level gives technology unprecedented power to influence. Data is not the new oil. It's the new plutonium—amazingly powerful, dangerous when it spreads, difficult to clean up and with serious consequences when improperly used. Data deployed through next generation 5G networks is transforming passive infrastructure into veritable digital nervous systems.
Our current domestic and global institutions, rules and regulatory frameworks are not designed to deal with any of these emerging challenges. Because cyberspace knows no natural borders, digital transformation's effects cannot be hermetically sealed within national boundaries. International coordination is critical.
With these observations in mind, here are my six recommendations for your consideration.
One, eliminate tax deductibility of specific categories of online ads.
Two, ban personalized online advertising for elections.
Three, implement strict data governance regulations for political parties.
Four, provide effective whistle-blower protections.
Five, add explicit personal liability alongside corporate responsibility to affect CEO and board of director decision-making.
Six, create a new institution for like-minded nations to address digital co-operation and stability.
Technology is disrupting governance and, if left unchecked, could render liberal democracy obsolete. By displacing the print and broadcast media in influencing public opinion, technology is becoming the new fourth estate. In our system of checks and balances, this makes technology coequal with the executive, the legislative bodies and the judiciary.
When this new fourth estate declines to appear before this committee, as Silicon Valley executives are currently doing, it is symbolically asserting this aspirational coequal status, but is asserting this status and claiming its privileges without the traditions, disciplines, legitimacy or transparency that check the power of the traditional fourth estate.
The work of this international grand committee is a vital first step towards redress of this untenable current situation. As Professor Zuboff said last night, we Canadians are currently in a historic battle for the future of our democracy with a charade called Sidewalk Toronto.
I'm here to tell you that we will win that battle.
Co-Chairs Zimmer and Collins, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to address you today. My remarks will build on last night's presentations by Professor Zuboff, Professor Tworek, Ben Scott and today's by Jim.
For the 35 years I spent as an investor, I shared Silicon Valley's commitment to technology that empowers the people who use it. Beginning in 2004, however, I noticed a transformation in the culture of Silicon Valley, and over the course of a decade, customer-focused models were replaced by the relentless pursuit of global-scale monopoly and massive wealth.
As Professor Zuboff told you, Google was the first to see the economic opportunity from converting all human experience into data. Google wants to make the world more efficient. They want to eliminate user stress that results from too many choices. Now, Google knew that society would not permit a business model based on denying consumer choice and free will, so they covered their tracks. Beginning around 2012, Facebook adopted a similar strategy, later followed by Amazon, Microsoft and others.
For Google and Facebook, the business is behavioural prediction. They build a high-resolution data avatar of every consumer—a voodoo doll, if you will. They gather a tiny amount of data from user posts and queries, but the vast majority of their data comes from surveillance: web tracking, scanning emails and documents, data from apps and third parties, and ambient surveillance from such products as Alexa, Google Assistant, Sidewalk Labs and Pokémon GO.
Google and Facebook use data voodoo dolls to provide their customers, who are marketers, with perfect information about every consumer. They use the same data to manipulate consumer choices. Just as in China, behavioural manipulation is the goal.
The algorithms of Google and Facebook are tuned to keep users on site and active, preferably by pressing emotional buttons that reveal each user's true self. For most users, this means content that provokes fear or outrage. Hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy theories are catnip for these algorithms. The design of these platforms treats all content precisely the same, whether it be hard news from a reliable site, a warning about an emergency or a conspiracy theory. The platforms make no judgments: users choose, aided by algorithms that reinforce past behaviour. The result is 2.5 billion Truman Shows on Facebook, each a unique world with its own facts.
In the U.S., nearly 40% of the population identifies with at least one thing that is demonstrably false. This undermines democracy. The people at Google and Facebook are not evil. They are products of an American business culture with few rules, wherein misbehaviour seldom results in punishment. Smart people take what they can get and tell themselves they've earned it. They feel entitled. Consequences are someone else's problem.
Unlike industrial businesses, Internet platforms are highly adaptable, and this is the challenge. If you take away one opportunity, they will move on to the next one, and they are moving upmarket, getting rid of the middleman. Today they apply behavioural prediction to advertising, but they have already set their sights on transportation and financial services.
This is not an argument against undermining their advertising business, but rather a warning that it may be a Pyrrhic victory. If your goals are to protect democracy and personal liberty, you have to be bold. You have to force a radical transformation of the business model of Internet platforms. That would mean, at a minimum, banning web tracking, scanning of email and documents, third party commerce and data, and ambient surveillance. A second option would be to tax micro-targeted advertising to make it economically unattractive.
You also need to create space for alternative business models, using anti-trust law. Start-ups can happen anywhere. They can come from each of your countries.
At the end of the day, though, the most effective path to reform would be to shut down the platforms at least temporarily, as Sri Lanka did. Any country can go first. The platforms have left you no choice. The time has come to call their bluff. Companies with responsible business models will emerge overnight to fill the void.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, co-chairmen Zimmer and Collins. It's such a pleasure to be here today.
As you know, I hail from the Harvard Business School, where I am a professor emerita. More importantly, I am the author of this book on surveillance capitalism. I say that because I want you to know that any statements and conclusions I reach today are amply supported by the information and analysis in that work. I might add that my scholarly work on the digital future began in the year 1978. I'll let you do the math on that.
My remarks this morning cover some highlights of a longer written statement that I have submitted to the committee. I add for the record that I am deeply committed to the work of this very important group. That includes continuing to support your work in any way I can, off-line or in future meetings, as we engage in this world-historic challenge.
The Internet is now an essential medium of social participation, and it is owned and operated by private surveillance capital. The questions of law and regulation that this committee seeks to explore cannot be answered without a clear grasp of surveillance capitalism as a novel economic logic defined by distinct economic imperatives that compel specific practices. I don't want to repeat everything that I talked about last night. Roger has touched on some of the key issues, as has Jim, so I will skip ahead to the idea of economic imperatives.
What we see in surveillance capitalism is the unilateral claiming of private human experience, its translation into behavioural data and their fabrication into prediction products, which are sold in a new kind of marketplace that trades exclusively in human futures. When we deconstruct the competitive dynamics of these markets, we get to understand what the new imperatives are. First of all, it's scale. They need a lot of data in order to make good predictions; economies of scale. Secondly, it's scope. They need varieties of data to make good predictions. Ultimately, in the third phase of this competitive struggle, it was discovered that the most predictive data comes from actually intervening in human behaviour, intervening in the state of play, in order to have predictions that come closer and closer to actual observations so that they can guarantee outcomes to their business customers. That is how you win in human futures markets.
I'll share with you one brief quote from a data scientist that rings in everybody's ears when they hear it. He said to me, “We can engineer the context around a particular behaviour and force change that way.... We are learning how to write the music, and then we let the music make them dance.”
Friends, this is behavioural modification, systemically institutionalized on a global scale, mediated by a now-ubiquitous digital infrastructure. It began online. It travelled off-line into the real world on our telephones, our cellphones, and ultimately now we live in a world of devices, which allows this to be amplified and perpetuated. This digital architecture is growing every day. I call it the “big other”. It is at this new level of competitive intensity that it is no longer enough to automate information flows about us. The goal now is to automate us. The goal is to automate us not only as individuals, not only as small groups, but increasingly also on the scale of populations. The goal is to have surveillance capitalism's computational analysis that favours its own commercial outcomes replace democracy and governance as we know it.
In fact, at this very moment in the city of Toronto, Alphabet-owned Sidewalk Labs is spinning its own new euphemisms, which it calls “governance innovation”. This is Orwellian code for the deconstruction of local democracy in favour of Sidewalk's computational rule, which is, in the final analysis, a reincarnation of a kind of absolutist tyranny that we thought we had left behind us in the 18th century, now served with cappuccino and draped in ones and zeroes.
Surveillance capitalism assaults democracy from below and from above. From below, it is a direct assault on human autonomy and agency essential for the possibility of a democratic society. From above, it is marked by asymmetries of knowledge and power the likes of which human history has never seen.
I want to move on to the question of what is to be done, because this is what we really didn't have time to discuss very much last night, and build on Jim's excellent, excellent recommendations, all of which I agree with.
Surveillance capitalism has thrived in the absence of law, as we all know. I take that as a positive sign, because what this means is that we have not failed to rein in this rogue mutation of capitalism. The real issue is that we haven't really tried. The accompanying good news is that our societies have experience in reining in the raw excesses of a destructive capitalism. We did it to end the Gilded Age. We did it to mitigate the Great Depression. We did it in the post-war era. We did it in the seventies to save creatures, air, water, workers and consumers. We know how to do this. This is what democracy is for. It is time to do it again.
The great business historian Tom McCraw wrote a brilliant history of regulation in the 20th century, the 19th and 20th centuries. He identified several phases of regulatory regimes, starting in the late 19th century with the muckrakers and moving into the early 20th century with the progressives. Later, in the New Deal and in the early 1970s, the regulatory frameworks were run by legal minds, legal scholars and legal experts. Finally, by the late 1970s, the eighties and right down to today, it's the economists who have held sway.
But this has been a changing dynamic, and what he notes is that at the end of the day, when you look at the more than a century of regulatory issues and regulatory frameworks, the emphasis has come down on fairness and justice over narrow considerations of economic growth. McCraw asks this question: The economists' hour will not last; what is it that will come next?
I want to tell you what it is that will come next. The next great regulatory vision will be framed and implemented by you and by us. It will be elected officials, citizens and specialists, allied in the knowledge that, despite its failures and shortcomings, democracy is the one idea to emerge from the long human story that enshrines the people's right to self-governance and asserts the ideal of the sovereign individual, which is the single most powerful bulwark against tyranny. We give up these ideas at our peril, but only democracy can impose the people's interests through law and regulation.
McCraw also warns that regulators have failed when they did not adequately frame strategies appropriate to the particular industries that they were regulating. The question is, what kind of law and regulation today will be 21st-century solutions aimed at the unique 21st-century complexities of surveillance capitalism?
There are three arenas in which legislative and regulatory strategies can effectively align with the structure and consequences of surveillance capitalism.
Briefly, first, we need lawmakers to devise strategies that interrupt and in many cases outlaw surveillance capitalism's foundational mechanisms. This includes the unilateral taking of private human experience as a free source of raw material and its translation into data. It includes the extreme information asymmetries necessary for predicting human behaviour. It includes the manufacture of computational prediction products, based on the unilateral and secret capture of human experience. It includes the operation of prediction markets that trade in human futures.
Second, from the point of view of supply and demand, surveillance capitalism can be understood as a market failure. Every piece of research over the last decades has shown that when users are informed of the backstage operations of surveillance capitalism, they want no part of it. They want protection. They reject it. They want alternatives.
We need laws and regulatory frameworks designed to advantage companies that want to break with the surveillance capitalist paradigm. Forging an alternative trajectory to the digital future will require alliances of new competitors who can summon and institutionalize an alternative ecosystem. True competitors who align themselves with the actual needs of people and the norms of market democracy are likely to attract just about every person on earth as their customers.
Third, lawmakers will need to support new forms of citizen action—collective action—just as, nearly a century ago, workers won legal protection for their rights to organize, to bargain and to strike. New forms of citizen solidarity are already emerging in municipalities that seek an alternative to the Google-owned smart city future, in communities that want to resist the social costs of so-called “disruption” imposed for the sake of others' gain, and among workers who seek fair wages and reasonable security in the precarious conditions of the so-called gig economy.
Citizens need your help but you need citizens, because ultimately they will be the wind behind your wings. They will be the sea change in public opinion and public awareness that supports your political initiatives. If, together, we aim to shift the trajectory of the digital future back toward its emancipatory promise, we resurrect the possibility that the future can be a place that all of us might call home.
Co-chairmen Zimmer and Collins, I'm still in the same clothes. Good evening from Manila.
As I said early in our morning—your night last night—we here in the Philippines are a cautionary tale for you, an example of how quickly democracy crumbles and is eroded from within and how these information operations can take over the entire ecosystem and transform lies into facts. If you can make people believe that lies are facts, you can control them. Without facts, you don't have truth. Without truth, you don't have trust.
Journalists have long been the gatekeepers for facts. When we come under attack, democracy is under attack. When this situation happens, the voice with the loudest megaphone wins.
The Philippines is a petri dish for social media. As of January 2019, as We Are Social and Hootsuite have said, Filipinos spend the most time online and the most time on social media globally.
Facebook is our Internet, but as I'll show you with some of the data—you should get them handed to you—this is about introducing a virus into our information ecosystem. Over time, that virus lies, masquerading as facts. That virus takes over the body politic and you need to develop a vaccine. That's what we're in search of, and I think we do see a solution.
I've been a journalist for more than 30 years. My book, published in 2011, From Bin Laden to Facebook, looked at how this transformation, this virulent ideology of terrorism, moved from the physical world to the virtual world, and how the al Qaeda-linked group, the Abu Sayyaf here in the Philippines, actually in 2011 used YouTube to try to negotiate ransoms for the people it kidnapped.
I first began looking at social networks in this spread of the virulent ideology. While writing the book, I stumbled on the strategy for Rappler, the start-up that we created in 2012. Using social media and journalism—we embraced it, I drank the Kool-Aid—we built communities of action in a country with weak institutions and endemic corruption. If social networks are your family and friends in the physical world, social media is your family and friends on steroids—no boundaries of time and space.
Understanding information cascades was essential to the growth of Rappler. We were alpha partners of Facebook. We believed and made real social media for social change, and we grew by 100% to 300% year-on-year from the time we were founded in 2012 to 2015. Then, like in the rest of the world, 2016 happened. In May of 2016, President Duterte was elected. A month later, there was Brexit and so on and so on. That was a tipping point for the information operations in our system.
In the Philippines, the weaponization of social media began in July 2016, after President Duterte won—not coincidentally when our brutal drug war began. In a global study with 12 other research groups, we helped define patriotic trolling: online state-sponsored hate meant to pound you into silence, to incite hate against the target and to stifle dissent or criticism. One of the first targets of attack was journalists and newsgroups.
I'm going to quickly show you here the astroturfing that's typical of a three-pronged attack on a target in the Philippines.
The first step is to allege corruption. It doesn't have to be true. Just allege it. If you do it exponentially, it becomes truth. A lie told a million times is truth. Step two, for a woman, if you're a female, you will get attacked sexually. Step three is to lay the groundwork for what you want to happen, whatever that policy is.
In this case, the propaganda machine tried to trend—if you can zoom in here on what I'm showing you, hopefully you'll get this—#ArrestMariaRessa. From there, it went on to jump from the government's creator, the blogger, to a Twitter account that was used in the campaign, so whatever was used in the campaigns then became weaponized. In Tagalog, it says, [Witness spoke in Tagalog], “Call her to the Senate #ArrestMariaRessa.” Then it moves to “I can smell an arrest and possible closure of Rappler.com”. Then finally it moves to the sexual attacks: “Maybe Maria Ressa's dream is to become the ultimate porn star in a gangbang scene”—it is not.
Then finally—and this is a real person who just graduated from college—“Me to the RP government, make sure Maria Ressa gets publicly raped to death when martial law expands to Luzon. It would bring joy in my heart.” #ArrestMariaRessa was an attempt to trend this, to astroturf it. This was in May 2015. My first arrest was in February 2019.
When I was arrested...the methodology is all too familiar. You astroturf on social media, you jump laterally to co-opted traditional media, then repeat and pound top down. In the case of the attack against me and Rappler, it came from President Duterte himself during his state of the nation address in July 2017.
Social media, in 2016, began to lay down the foundation of the legal cases that were filed against us. Starting in January 2018, the government filed 11 cases and investigations against me and Rappler in a 14-month period—roughly a case a month. In about three months, I posted bail eight times. In a five-week period, I was arrested twice and detained once. My only crime is to be a journalist, to speak truth to power, to defend the press freedom that is guaranteed under our constitution.
Here's how it happened. Let me show you.
This is a database that we actually began to put together as a defence. Since we lived on social media, we were able to identify the attacks early on. We found a sock puppet network of 26 fake accounts. As journalists, we then did due diligence to make sure it was fake, and then we went and counted manually. How many accounts could it impact? From 26 fake accounts, they could impact as many as three million.
That became the basis of this database. This is over time, from January 2015 all the way to April 2017. You can basically see the same thing that's happened in the west, which is that there is a fracture line of society, and then, after the drug war began, it was pounded, literally pounded a million times, and it becomes fact. It becomes a solid line.
After this, bayaran—it translates to corrupt—was pounded so frequently that it had 1.7 million comments in a one-month period.
I want to show you the database and the very crude UX that we built for our social media team, because it shows you how the information ecosystem is interrelated. This one shows you the URLs that are controlled, or can be, by Google or YouTube. In the middle rung here, you'll see the Facebook pages that actually spread that URL. Then here, you'll see the average reposting time.
What we did for our team so they could find the difference between information operations and a real person was to actually show, after we published the propaganda series in October 2016.... When it's red, that means it's been reposted more than 10 times. We zoomed in on one account, and you can see that this is actually just the same post reposted over and over again, not just on websites but also on Facebook pages that were used in the campaign, not just that of President Duterte but also that of vice-presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos.
So what do we do? Here's the last thing I want to show you. This is data, which, when you look at it this way, actually doesn't show you much. It's just a list of Facebook pages, and then the weighted degree—in degree, out degree, and then a weighted degree. But, if you put it together, you will see this network. This is the social network that was behind the attack on our vice-president, Leni Robredo, in 2017. I think it's because these same.... It was so organized and it has been sustained. We're talking about almost three years that we've lived through this. The content creators are broken down by demographic. This account—this is where the attack began—takes care of the pseudo-intellectual, the supposed thinking class.
Next is the middle-class content creator in this account, and then we have the mass base account. From there it jumps to traditional media, but the co-opted one is the newspaper and, essentially, the chairman emeritus is the man in charge of international public relations for President Duterte. From there, it connects with state media, and then you close the link on this entire group.
By the way, at that point in time, in 2017, the Philippines and Russia inked a partnership, and we actually had state media employees in Sputnik's offices.
Finally, you close it by taking that mass base account and appointing her to head social media for the presidential palace. It's an incredible ecosystem.
Where does this go and what can we do about it? In the long term, it's education. You've heard from our other three witnesses before me about exactly some of the things that can be done. In the medium term, yes, there is media literacy, but in the short term, frankly, it's only the social media platforms that can do something immediately. We're on the front lines. We need immediate help and immediate solutions.
Rappler is one of three fact-checking partners of Facebook in the Philippines, and we do take that responsibility seriously. We don't look at the content alone. Once we check to make sure that it is a lie, we look at the network that spreads the lie. The first step is to stop a new virus from entering the ecosystem. It is whack-a-mole if you look only at the content, but when you begin to look at the networks that spread it, then you have something that you can pull out.
It's so critical to be conscious of that balance. Obviously, authoritarian governments would love Roger's recommendation—shut it down, because we don't like what they're saying. Obviously, that's not the intention here, so how do we make that distinction?
One thing I can say is that I really think we are in the midst of a sea change in this public reaction. I wonder if you're seeing this in Germany. I've been travelling all over the world, to many cities, over the last five months, continuously. With every group I talk to, I begin with one question: What are the concerns that brought you here?
In all different parts of the world and in every single group, no matter where I am, they say the same things. I ask them to shout out one word. It begins with “anxiety”, “manipulation”, “control”, “fear”, “resistance”, “democracy”, “freedom”, “rebellion”, “malaise”—the same constellation. What I've learned is that there is a sense, within our populations, that things are not right, that there is a power that is not aligned with our interests, that we don't understand it and that no one can control it.
That is beginning. With Cambridge Analytica, with Chris Wiley, our work is all making a difference. I think there is a ripeness there.
My advice would be to look to those areas where these new crystallizations are already emerging. Barcelona is one, which is based entirely on citizen solidarity. There are other cities as well that are getting on that bandwagon. There are groups of digital workers who are trying to devise digital communities and digital sovereignty.
It's about amplifying these things that are already coming up from the grassroots. The other side—and Maria was mentioning this as well—is education. We're still in a situation where every piece of peer research shows us, over and over again, that so many people simply do not understand these backstage operations. Why? Because billions of dollars have gone into designing them to keep us ignorant.
We have to break that, and we have to communicate and educate.
Thank you. I am going to speak in Spanish, if you'll allow me.
[Delegate spoke in Spanish, interpreted as follows:]
In Mexico, our present president recently participated three times in elections. Every single time he was censored in the traditional media to the point that, thanks to the social networks, we were able to communicate among citizens. This enabled democratization, so there was greater participation in Mexico in recent times.
However, we also have to face another question that has to do with the bots, as we call them—that is to say robots—so that we can diffuse trends in Twitter, Facebook, and so on that are trying now to undermine our regime. There are authors in Mexico that talk about the fourth-generation war that has to do with the diffusion in social networks.
Last weekend, we had a situation where one individual, who was part of the president's cabinet, left his post. On Twitter we started seeing that the president would name and appoint a corrupt person for the environment. They then started saying that the president was corrupt, because he wanted to appoint someone who was corrupt. That was never the idea. Yesterday, he appointed another person. Even though this was made clear, nothing happened.
How can we face this type of situation of democracy and anti-democracy that is favoured on social networks? Of course, it allows people to participate, but we also see the generation of these trends.
There's another topic that has to do with what Maria Ressa has suffered. This sexting issue for a woman is something that has to do with the international sphere, because we've known of many cases where we go to all these national entities and there's nothing to do, because essentially there is no legislation. At the same time, this transcends borders. What we have to do is go to Google. Google becomes something of a tribunal, an international court. It's very difficult to get rid of these images. We've seen suicides. We've seen people that have done terrible things because of this. What can we do at an international level? How can we work together, men and women, for this to end once and for all?
Let me first of all thank you, organizers and co-organizers, for making this meeting the event that it is today.
I've been attentive in following the precious and valuable interventions, which were all trying to convey ideas and thoughts regarding protection of personal data on the one hand and the correlation between this protection and democracy on the other, which is ultimately the core of the topic.
Needless to remind you, violating private lives is shaking, if not jeopardizing, our democratic choices. That is, the retention of personal data by certain actors, be they state actors or trade actors, renders our democracies vulnerable and subject to manipulation. Today, whether we like it or not, we all become nomophobic, to the extent that this reminds me of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. We become victims of our machines.
I have heard Shoshana speak of the failure of legislators to devise laws and enforce frameworks. Galileo once said, “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him discover it within himself.” I guess this is what we need to grasp today, more than ever before, beyond the restrictions, beyond the laws and beyond the regulations.
Don't you think—my question is directed to Shoshana—that it's an ethical question? Nobody can legislate on ethics, but what is frightening today is that the more it stays, the more it's going to be hard to handle.
How would you react to that?
This is such a wonderful question. I realize I didn't have time this morning to share this with you, but it's in my written statement.
There's a fascinating story here about a U.S. Senate subcommittee that was convened in 1971, chaired by a famous senator, Sam Ervin, who was one of the Watergate senators who defended democracy in that crisis. It was a bipartisan committee, with everyone from arch-conservative Strom Thurmond to Ted Kennedy. It was convened around the subject of behavioural modification, because behavioural modification had been imported from the Cold War into civil society and was now being used in schools, hospitals, prisons and all kinds of institutions of captive populations. Sam Ervin wrote the conclusion for this committee. He said that behavioural modification fundamentally undermines individual sovereignty and robs people of autonomy, and without individual sovereignty and without autonomy there can be no freedom, and without freedom there can be no democracy.
The outcome of four years of deliberation on that subcommittee was to eliminate all federal funding for behavioural modification programs. That was in the 1970s. I think of the 1970s as five minutes ago. Those were some of the best years of my life. It wasn't that long ago. They were talking about aiming this at these institutions, bounded organizations. Here we are in 2019 and we have global architectures of behavioural modification backed by trillions of dollars of capital. Where is the outrage? Where is the moral compass? Where is the response within us, as you say, that says, “This cannot stand.” This is inimical to everything that our societies are founded on.
I agree with you. Part of our challenge now is to get over the ideologies of the last four decades that have belittled government, that have belittled the state and that have denied regulation as an assault on freedom. The challenge is to understand, as I said before, that these companies know too much to qualify for freedom. We need to “only” democracy. Survey everything on the horizon. Only democracy means only you have the power and the capability and the tools to intervene on this process before it is too late.
I have just one tiny little comment about something that was said earlier. It won't be done in a year. I think you brought this up, Mr. Kent: the time frame. This kind of change, this kind of structural transformation, is not the work of a day or a month or a year, but it can be done in five years. Maybe in five years—certainly in the next decade—we have a horizon to shift the Titanic. We have the time and the capabilities to do that. What we need, as you've just said, is to get in touch again with our moral bearings. They are there and we should not be intimidated.