Adrian Monck is the managing director of the World Economic Forum.
Do not own anything, be happy. You may have heard the phrase. It started as a screenshot, taken from the internet by an anonymous anti-Semitic account on the 4chan image board. “Own Nothing, Be Happy: Jewish World Order 2030,” read the post, which went viral among extremists.
How did a headline from years ago become a meme for the far right and a catchphrase adopted by leading conservative politicians? And what is the truth behind that headline?
The story begins in 2016 with publishing an opinion piece on the World Economic Forum Agenda website by Danish MP Ida Auken under the title “Welcome to 2030: I have nothing, I have no privacy and life has never been better”.
It was part of a series of essays intended to spark a debate on socioeconomic developments. This was the time of the rise of the “app” economy, and the editor-in-charge had previously worked for the British conservative newspaper The Telegraph. The article gained a respectable audience and lived quietly on the website for several years.
Fast forward four years to 2020. The world looked very different. A pandemic was raging and the World Economic Forum released “The Great Reboot” promote the idea of “building back better” so that economies can emerge from the pandemic in a greener and fairer way.
The pandemic magnified many social ills. the distrust in the governments and leaders that had been building before the health crisis played into the hands of fringe groups and state-sponsored actors seeking to undermine and weaken rivals. The two came together on the anonymous dark web in places like 4chan’s “politically incorrect” image board.
The board, which is not moderated at all, was also used by the operators of a Russian propaganda campaign. The intention was apparently to spread disinformation in an attempt to stir up far-right outrage on COVID-19 and perpetuate domestic extremism. The medium was often through bots that would fuel far-right conspiracy theories to communities on forums like 4chan.
Recent analysis explains how this context united the extremists”using rhetoric that trivialized National Socialism and the Holocaust.” This same far-right Holocaust-denying cohort latched onto the Great Reset, claiming that the Forum was part of a group that “orchestrated the pandemic to take control of the global economy.”
Several threads appeared in this regard. One such 4chan thread linked the pandemic and the Forum’s alleged nefarious control over the global economy to the idea that “you won’t own anything and you’ll be happy.”
It went truly viral, capturing the twisted imaginations of conspiracy and fringe groups. A neo-Nazi and white supremacist website claimed that the Great Reset was a “response to the fake coronavirus crisis” and would usher in “global communism” to ensure that “no one will be able to own anything.”
Its popularity also caused more mainstream figures to hiss the phrase while ignoring its far-right and anti-Semitic origins. Threads proliferated, the slogan “own nothing, be happy” snowballed, and even major news sites, including Fox News and Sky News Australia, adopted it.
actor and comedian russell brand spoke about it in a video that received more than 1.8 million views on Facebook. Pierre Poilievre, currently running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, used it to discredit Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, sparking a national movement.
Although Reuters fact check concluded in February 2021 that “the World Economic Forum does not have a stated goal of people having nothing and being happy by 2030,” the trolling continues.
Twitter and Facebook users, for example, have spread contents to promote the falsehood that, through the Great Reset, the Forum advances pernicious depopulation efforts. These include racist conspiracies who claim that whites are the primary target of depopulation. Bad faith actors have also attacked the Forum’s coverage of the circular economy (economic systems that aim to eliminate waste by reusing raw materials rather than throwing them away), denouncing it as a “top down agendacoming from “unelected globalists who seek to reshape the world in their image”. These are just a few examples among many.
Back in 2013, the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Report flagged misinformation as a concern, warning then that could cause “digital forest fires” in our hyperconnected world.
Today, that warning has largely been borne out. Disinformation is a serious challenge for regulators, a minefield for people looking for the facts, and a barrier for governments and organizations that want to spread important information.
The consequences of constant disinformation are dangerous. Misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines cost lives during the pandemic. Revelations about the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots reveal how misinformation about the election can threaten the foundations of democracy. Y 68 percent of Americans agrees, saying that “made-up news is detrimental to the country’s democratic system.”
Furthermore, the amount of data being generated now, which is expected to be almost quadruple by 2025It makes it easier and cheaper to use algorithms for malicious or manipulative purposes with unprecedented efficiency, speed, and reach.
“It is important to recognize that misinformation/disinformation is a tactic used to support a political strategy many times. There are a variety of ways that misinformation is circulated for political purposes. A classic example is an actor intentionally spreading false, inaccurate, or misleading information that inflicts demonstrable and significant public harm,” said Steven Feldstein, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“Another set of tactics involves trolling and harassment, probably the most common form of disinformation directed against the Forum. Trolling and bullying involves the deliberate posting of offensive content online to provoke or disrupt conversations.
The “you will own nothing and you will be happy” story is anything but trivial and offers valuable insights into how disinformation is created and why it is essential not to perpetuate its spread.
It also highlights how disinformation derails freedom of expression. At Ms. Auken’s request, the Forum removed all media surrounding her article due to the online abuse and threats she had faced. Action to prevent lies from being accepted as truth can help prevent similar situations and promote genuine freedom of expression, allowing us all to freely exchange ideas and opinions.
In a world where trolls often win, more progressive conversations like the one Ms. Auken tried to start will be tarnished.
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