Future

Currency And All: The Facebook State Is A Menace To Democracy

Though seductive as pure financial innovation, Facebook's crypto currency project risks a concentration of power that must be stopped at all costs.

From checkbook to Facebook?
From checkbook to Facebook?

PARIS — While top Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is calling for the break-up of Facebook and other would-be American tech monopolies, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has announced the creation of a new currency.

This is no PR gimmick. Facebook's team has been secretly working on the project for a year. A subsidiary, "libra," has been established in Switzerland to develop the blockchain technology needed to create the cryptocurrency. Exchanges have already taken place with the governor of the Bank of England as well as with other crypto-markets such as Gemini that was ironically founded by the old nemeses of Zuckerberg: the Winklevoss Brothers, from their days at Harvard.

"Sending money to someone should be as easy as sending a photo," Zuckerberg declared. The details are vague still, but Zuckerberg's message (and ambition) is clear.

Facebook is poised to take us into a cashless society.

It's important to try and measure the impact the libra currency could have. With 2.4 billion users around the world, Facebook would be able to develop a financial tool of formidable efficiency. No need to type the number on your credit card and date of expiration. No need to remember complicated passwords to pay your plumber. No need to pay bank fees!

Like in China with Alipay or WeChat pay, Facebook is poised to take us into a cashless society, where all purchases can be made on demand through a smartphone-generated QR code. In addition to being its own currency, independent of exchange rates and cost-effective transactions, Facebook's currency would quickly aggregate all services, including e-commerce and the old-fashioned banking industry. No doubt this fluidity would quickly win over the skeptics.

Facebook's plans could also risk an end of the nation-state, an already faltering institution. In his Six Books of the Republic, French political theorist Jean Bodin (1530–1596) associated sovereignty with the monopoly of money. Only those with the power to make the law, he explained, have the power to control money. And in every well-ordered Republic, only the sovereign prince has this power.

It is not for nothing that counterfeiting was long considered a crime of lèse-majesté . But today, who is it that establishes laws, or norms, in regards to freedom of expression? Facebook. It seems only logical, then, that it would next mint money in the place of governments, which will collapse on their own accord with the mountain of debt denominated in their various central bank currencies. A "Global Coin" for a "Global Village."

I continue to be impressed with the philosophy of Bitcoin and its crypto avatars, which were developed in open source, preserve anonymity and try to offer sovereignty to the smallest unit that exists, the individual. But a Facebook State, designed in the shadows of confidentiality clauses, seems like it would be something else entirely.

It may become impossible to function in society without a Facebook account.

Mark Zuckerberg has done well to give assurances that his currency would be open and encrypted. And yet, I don't see how he will resist the temptation to complete his formidable siphoning enterprise by integrating business data and thus making our personal transactions traceable. His metaphor to sending a photo speaks for itself: To whom do we really send photos posted on Facebook? To what extent is that question really up to the website's algorithm?

It could soon become impossible to function in society without a Facebook account, as I still do. As the social network becomes an entire business world, it will aggregate our contacts, our opinions, our purchases and our incomes to know us even more intimately. It will offer us jobs, health insurance and virtual coaches, compensating us in these ways for what we lose in autonomy.

It won't even be necessary for the police to control us. Not when we're already controlled by a "personal score" on Facebook, a private-sector reinvention of the "social credit" that communist China imposes by force.

What Facebook has prepared, under the guise of financial innovation and technological disruption, is a stranglehold of unprecedented scale. It will impact the lives of billions of people. And it must be stopped immediately.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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