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Defend Your Own Mind !

Defend Your Own Mind !
December 20
14:58 2019

“I am sure what the Americans have come to tell me, they have also gone to tell the Leader of the Opposition, and that is this, that they are not going to look kindly, after what happened with Panama and the Dominican Republic, on China poaching on any small country that is located in what the Americans, when it pleases them, call their backyard.”

— Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s statement in the House of Representative, August 21, 2019.

Someone has been subjecting the Belizean people to a social media propaganda campaign designed to turn public opinion against the Chinese people. And no one in officialdom seems to care.

Recently we have seen a number of fake Facebook pages emerged which used the names of legitimate news outlets in Belize. The owners of these pages have been posting a lot of “fake news” so as to confuse and mislead the Belizean people. Most of the posts are anti-Chinese in nature. The propaganda campaign does not appear to have the sophistication that would cause one to point to a state actor. But it could be that the malleable Belizean population does not require sophistication.
So who is trying to shape Belizean public opinion about the Chinese and why?

The timing of the anti-Chinese propaganda campaign is suspicious because it started soon after a delegation of prominent PUPs led by the Honorable Kareem Musa went on an unofficial visit to China. Musa et al’s visit would spark controversy in Belize as many began to publicly question whether or not a new PUP government would revisit Belize’s thirty plus years of diplomatic support for Taiwan.

China has been making inroads in the Latin America and Caribbean region with several countries including Panama and the Dominican Republic realigning their strategic geopolitical position by defecting from Taiwan and supporting China, much to the chagrin of the Americans. The Americans, according to Mr. Barrow sounded a warning about Belize/China relations.

In 2016 the United States alleged that operatives of the Russia government interfered in their presidential elections in an attempt to destroy Hilary Clinton’s chance of winning. President Trump has been under a sustained assault over his position which counters the narrative put out by America’s intelligence community that the interference was ordered by President Putin himself.

Social media, as with all forms of human communications, can be a powerful force for good, but it can also be used for nefarious purposes. Unlike the “established” media houses online news outlets can hide in plain sight. The Russians reportedly created tens of thousands of fake profiles to spread false and damaging information about the Clinton campaign and to shape perceptions among the American people in favor of Trump.

The discovery of Russian interference led to a serious diplomatic spat between the two countries and to a number of investigations. Several high profile persons close to President Trump were imprisoned as a result of those investigations. The head of Facebook, one of the tools of the interference, was summoned to the US capital to explain why they did nothing to thwart the Russians. The Americans did not take too kindly to external influences on its electoral processes.

What has been happening in Belize is nowhere near to what happened in the US. But the Belizean people should defend their own minds because the government has no intention of doing it for you. There are too many falsehoods on social media and more and more our people are becoming gullible and quick to share negative content. It is this vulnerability that those behind the anti-Chinese propaganda are hoping to exploit. But to what end?

It is not only in Belize that we have seen such vulnerability exploited. In 2018 there were a number of mob lynchings in India fueled by public fears which were stoked by false information shared via WhatsApp. According to the BBC, it got so bad that the Indian government got involved and demanded that WhatsApp do something and not stand by as “mute spectator.”

Resulting from heavy government pressure, including threats of legal action, WhatsApp amended its services in India. Whereas WhatsApp chat groups can consist of up to 256 members, in India “a single person would be able to forward one message only five times” according to the BBC. The effort at text limiting does not prevent onward sharing of the same messages and demands on WhatsApp to prevent forwarding has fallen on barren ground.

Despite all the stories we have heard from across the globe the government of Belize has not done a thing to hold those responsible for cybercrimes responsible. Since 2010 we have heard talks about laws to address cybercrimes – nine years on still nothing on the books. Even when there are discussions about cyber laws the focus seems to be limited to cyberbullying and the sharing of nude images.

Belize must understand that cyber threats are real and that if they are not guarded against they can impact on our national security. Social media is filled with people who are trying to shape your perceptions on any number of issues and in an unending number of ways.

The church, the politicians, the NGOs and the marketers are all online trying to shape your mind. You alone have the duty to defend your mind beloved. You alone!

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