Blinken: Unity of purpose vital to combat digital authoritarianism

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US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget at the U.S. Capitol on April 26, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bonnie Cash-Pool/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on the Fiscal Year 2023 Budget at the U.S. Capitol on April 26, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bonnie Cash-Pool/Getty Images)

In an interview with Rappler CEO and Nobel Peace Laureate Maria Ressa, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the importance of likeminded governments, independent media, civil society organizations, and other individuals who support the cause to actively push back against the rise of digital authoritarianism.

In a perfectly democratic and competitive society, access to information is democratized, journalists are free to do their job without the threat of censorship and lawsuits, and governments and other powerful forces within a society doesn’t abuse the democratized access to information for their own personal interest.

But the exact opposite is what’s happening not just in the Philippines, but in many different parts of the world. And this the problem that the RightsCon – the world’s leading summit on human rights in the digital age – seeks to resolve. From June 6 to June 10, the conference aims to discuss and build safeguards that journalists and other civil-society organizations can avail to counter the epidemic of misinformation and disininformation.

‘Freedom Online Coalition’

The United States, Blinken said, is determined to make significant headways in the fight against digital authoritarianism when it takes over the chairpersonship of the Freedom Online Coalition next year.

“We want to make it a center of action for ensuring a free and open digital future,” he said.

For instance, he laid down some concrete steps on what we all can do about the abuse of this technology and demand accountability from these tech platforms who, without any hostility, took over the regulatory work of journalists when it comes to access to information.

“One is to start by calling things out,” Blinken said. He said that they also have plans to give “anti-censorship technology” in order to help independent media and other CSOs regulate the spread of disinformation. He also talks about regulating exports of surveillance technology so that repressive governments can’t use these to spy on their people.

“We need to build these coalitions to make sure that we identify where technology should not go because it’s being misused, and then work together to make sure that it doesn’t get there,” Blinken added.

Disinformation as a weapon of war

While Blinken said that he still believes that the democratization is a good thing overall, authoritarian governments can’t help but use this as a “weapon of war” to justify their aggression. He used as an example Russia’s inital annexation of Ukraine in 2014, and how they used whatever they learned from here when Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

“Being able to do that and to bring to the world everything that we were seeing about the planned Russian aggression and to lay out exactly the steps they were likely to take, and which unfortunately they did, I think has done a profound service to making sure that credible information is what carries the day and disinformation is undermined,” Blinken said.

Ressa stressed a quote that without a rule of law in the virtual world, there can be no rule of law in the physical world, in which Blinken agreed. He also shared a vision for the future that will guide a smart use of the internet – through the Declaration for the Future of the Internet, with some 60 countries signing on it.

“I think everyone present today is at the heart of this effort – civil society, NGOs, the private sector, independent media working together, holding governments to account, and then ideally, all of us joining forces,” Blinken said.

“When you put all that together, it’s a very powerful force, and it’s once that I am convinced can carry the day in making sure that the future of technology and the future of the internet is one that actually advances freedom, that advances democratic principles, and that makes sure that together, we can build a future that reflects the value we share,” he added.

Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments in politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. The views expressed are his own.

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