Raise your hand if you have ever felt like you’re spending too much time on the internet?
That’s usually when you realize that every minute spent framed by a screen has been stolen from “the wider world.”
For the proprietors of the internet, evidence they’ve captured you is measured in “clicks” or “engagements,” friendly images, but less descriptive than the term one used in American football, “time of possession.”
In the real time of internet engagement there’s no way to verify the identity of anyone, much less verify the truth of what they’re telling you. Which is why the entrepreneurs of the digital marketplace value your time, why they want to stimulate, in real time, an impulse, faster than the speed of thought: a purchase, a “like.”
The logic of the one-click order is as powerful in internet politics as it is in online commerce. And there are no consumer protection laws in politics. Which is why that fatal imbalance – you know nothing about the pitcher, but the salesperson knows everything about you – can be so politically dangerous.
But, too bad, internet involvement is changing politics everywhere. Take Italy, for example. The latest national election turned the conventional political parties into brick and mortar main street businesses, headed for extinction, replaced by the on-line driven Five Star Movement and the Alliance. These web-potent groups focused their branding for the impulse buyer: the Five Stars are simply “for the people and direct democracy,” the Alliance is “against immigrants.”
The impulse that unites these often-dissonant partners in Italy’s governing coalition is “reject the establishment,” especially the “experts” who told us we were doing great even as they picked our pockets and sent us down the tubes toward compulsive rage.
Stoking anger against the Christian Democrats, the Socialists and the rest of the Italian political establishment they crushed on election day is dusty old news for the two faction leaders, Luigi Di Maio of the Five Stars, and Matteo Salvini of the Alliance, so they’ve found a new whipping boy, the President of France, Emmanuel Macron. Not long ago, Di Maio, who like Salvini is officially a deputy prime minister of the Italian government, slipped unannounced across the border to meet a leader of the yellow vest movement, a group devoted to tossing Macron from power.
This was not only a double breach of diplomacy. High government officers aren’t supposed to sneak across borders, much less meet with government opponents. It provoked a triple declaration of malign anti-Macron intent. The meeting was with a particularly radical, violence-prone representative of the fractured, unstructured “gilets jaunes” movement and it was focused on how to do politics on the internet. Finally, its secrecy was abandoned in favor of photographs posted on social media.
The stunt was a howling success, provoking Macron into recalling the French ambassador to Rome, and turning a small, if pointed political insult into an international incident. It gave DiMaio and Salvini a fresh opportunity to bully-rag Macron while stimulating the nationalist and anarchist impulses of their supporters.
It also gave evidence of how worried the French president is about a protest movement that has succeeded in making weekly headlines for the last quarter of a year.
Angela Charlton has been the Chief of Bureau for France, Benelux Nations & North Africa at The Associated Press, Inc. since May 3, 2012. Ms. Charlton had been Acting Bureau Chief in Paris since 2010. She joined the AP in 1994 as a reporter in Moscow, and moved to Kiev in 1996. She transferred to Charleston, West Virginia, in 1997, and served as an Editor on the International Desk in New York. She joined the Paris bureau in 2006, where she was a reporter, news editor and then acting bureau chief. She holds degrees in journalism and Slavic studies from New York University.