[ANALYSIS] How a blog about “owning nothing and being happy” became the center of a misinformation campaign

Have nothing, be happy. You may have heard the phrase. It started life as a screenshot, scraped from the internet by an anonymous anti-Semitic account on the 4chan image board. “Own Nothing, Be Happy – Jewish World Order 2030,” said the post, which has gone viral among extremists.

How did an anonymous anti-Semitic account turn a years-old headline into a meme for the far right and a catchphrase picked up by mainstream conservative politicians? And what is the truth behind this title “have nothing and be happy”?

The story begins in 2016, with the publication of an opinion piece on the World Economic Forum’s Agenda website by Danish MP Ida Auken, “Welcome to 2030: I own nothing, I don’t have no privacy and life has never been better.” This is the reference of a video on social networks titled “8 predictions for the world in 2030”.

It was part of a series of essays intended to spark debate on socio-economic developments – it was the era of the booming “app” economy, and the editor – barely radical – had previously worked for the British Conservative Party. Telegraph. The piece gained a respectable readership and lived quietly on the Forum’s website for several years. Video sped up 9,900 reactions and 766,000 views on Facebook.

Fast forward four years to 2020. The world was very different. A global pandemic was raging and the World Economic Forum launched “The Great Reset,” promote the idea of ​​“building back better” after the pandemic so that economies can emerge greener and fairer after COVID-19.

The pandemic has amplified many societal ills. The mistrust in the governments and rulers that had been put in place before played into the hands of fringe groups and state-sponsored actors seeking to undermine and weaken their rivals. The two reunited on the anonymous dark web in places like 4chan’s “politically incorrect” picture board.

The painting, which is absolutely unmoderated, was also used by the operators of a Russian propaganda campaign, active since 2014. The intention was apparently to spread disinformation with the aim of arouse far-right outrage on COVID-19 and perpetuating domestic extremism. The means were often via robots allegedly pushing a far-right conspiracy theory to communities on forums such as 4chan.

Recent analysis explains how this context has brought extremists together”using rhetoric that trivializes National Socialism and the Holocaust.” This same far-right, Holocaust-denying cohort clung to “The Great Reset,” claiming the Forum was part of a group that “orchestrated the pandemic to take control of the global economy.”

A number of threads have popped up in this vein, dedicated to the Great Reset. One such 4chan thread connected the pandemic, the Forum’s alleged infamous control over the global economy, and the idea that “you will own nothing and be happy.”

It went truly viral, capturing the warped imaginations of conspiratorial and fringe groups. A neo-Nazi and white supremacist website claimed the Great Reset was a “response to the fake coronavirus crisis” and would usher in “world communism” to ensure that “no one will be able to own anything”.

Its popularity has also seen more and more mainstream figures “hissing” the phrase while ignoring its anti-Semitic and far-right origins. Threads proliferated, the slogan “own nothing be happy” snowballed, and even more mainstream news sites, including Fox News, Sky News Australia and GB News, adopted it.

Russell Brand talked about it in a video that received more than 1.8 million views on Facebook.

Pierre Polièvre, a Canadian MP who was the former minister for democratic reform, used it to discredit Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, sparking a national movement.

The campaign also infected the Dutch political landscape, long targeted by Russian disinformation actors.

In the Netherlands alone, in June 2020, there were an average of 1.5 posts per day mentioning the “Great Reset” among Dutch-speaking communities on Facebook. By October, that figure had risen to an average of 6.3 posts per day, and by December, that figure had more than doubled to 13.6 posts per day.

In January 2021, the numbers doubled again with an average of 28 posts per day.

Fact check by Reuters concluded in February 2021, “The World Economic Forum does not have a stated goal that people will ‘have nothing and be happy’ by 2030.”

But the trolling continues.

Trolls on Twitter and Facebook, for example, have spread contents to promote the lie that through the Great Reset the World Economic Forum is advancing pernicious depopulation efforts. These include racist conspiracies who claim that whites are the main target of depopulation. Bad faith actors have also targeted the Forum’s coverage of the circular economy (economic systems that aim to eliminate waste by reusing raw materials rather than disposing of them), decrying it as a “descending agendafrom “unelected globalists seeking to reshape the world in their image.” These are just a few examples among many others.

As early as 2013, the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Report flagged misinformation as a concern, warning that misinformation could spark ‘digital wildfires’ in our hyper-connected world.

Today, this warning has largely been confirmed. Disinformation is a serious challenge for regulators, a minefield for individuals seeking the facts, and an obstacle for governments and organizations wishing to disseminate important information.

The consequences of relentless misinformation are dangerous. Misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines cost lives during the pandemic. Revelations around the 2021 Capitol Hill riot reveal how misinformation around the election can threaten the foundations of democracy. 68% of Americans agree, saying that “invented news is detrimental to the democratic system of the country”.

In addition, the amount of data now generated, which is expected to reach almost quadruple by 2025makes it easier and cheaper to use algorithms for malicious or manipulative purposes with unprecedented efficiency, speed and reach.

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“It is important to recognize that misinformation/disinformation is a tactic used to support an often political strategy. Bad information circulates in various ways 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 misinformation directed at the Forum. Trolling and harassment involve the deliberate posting of offensive content online in order to provoke or disrupt conversations. »

The story of “You shall own nothing and be happy” is anything but trivial and offers valuable insight into how misinformation is created and why it is essential not to perpetuate its spread.

It also highlights how misinformation derails free speech. At Ida Auken’s request, the Forum removed all media around her piece due to the abuse and threats she had faced online. Acting to prevent lies from being accepted as truth can help avoid similar situations and promote genuine freedom of expression, allowing all of us to freely exchange ideas and opinions.

In a world where trolls win, more forward-thinking conversations like the one Auken tried to initiate will be tarnished. – Rappler.com

Adrian Monck is Managing Director of the World Economic Forum.

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