The funny thing about democratic knowledge

The Chinese government has been angry about the Summit for Democracy since it was first announced. In the lead-up to the December event, China’s state-related accounts and outlets have waged a coordinated effort to redefine democracy’s in a way that normalises the Chinese Communist Party.

This report from Recorded Future, China’s Narrative War on Democracy teases out the cross platform effort by the CCP.

The report states: “This influence operation highlights classic examples of narrative warfare (the fight over the meaning of information and identity) and is being used strategically by the CCP in an attempt to redefine what the world thinks about democracy and sway people towards viewing China not as an autocratic, authoritarian regime, but as a beloved socialist democracy that puts its people first.”

For more on the Summit for Democracy: listen here.

Recorded Future found over 8,470 mentions of “what is #democracy?” online in the first half of December with the content originating from China’s propaganda ecosystem.

That is a lot of information.

But it’s not enough to dislodge the knowledge citizens of democracy have of their own system of government as well as that of China’s. In fact, the democratic knowledge, the knotted and complex clusters of shared information, history, experience, make it hard to accept the fanciful notion that China is a democracy.

Perhaps for that reason, Recorded Future author Charity Wright wrote: “Despite widespread amplification of this influence campaign, the individual posts on mainstream social media platforms have received minimal engagement and strong counterarguments against the idea of China being a democracy.”

When I read forensic reports written on narrative offensives, I wonder why we pay so much attention to the measurable volumes of information and content, and not the meaning that the information supports? Could it be because we mistakenly think of information security and influence campaigns as a subset of cyber security? We discuss them in the technical language of cyber campaigns, while standing back from the central power of these narratives: the competition over meanings which is the nature of the social media interaction.

The Recorded Future report states the CCP’s campaign’s “effectiveness…is difficult to assess.”

Certainly, the power of arguments can be difficult to measure, too.

Yet arguments function at the level of meaning, which can give direction and encouragement to the public. Arguments help people order and shape facts (and information) in their heads. They are the next-level of complexity, over information, and individual facts.

So when the CCP comes along with a campaign, citizens with facts organised to defend their political system become more resistant to the sham arguments of authoritarians. The formulation and promotion and publicising of “strong counterarguments” made in the battlefield of meaning could be more effective than an engineered approach.

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