Queen Modestus, Diplomatic Discourse Analyst
There is a common belief that countries like China, Saudi Arabia, and Ethiopia do not support freedom of expression. This is often attributed to those governments’ ban on some popular social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Many people assume this is an attempt to control and oppress the population by limiting their access to information from outside the country.
However, this may not always be the case. Unfortunately, some people hold this belief without having visited any of those countries or having a comprehensive understanding of the role of language and information in international politics. As someone who has researched and experienced this firsthand, I would like to share my knowledge on this topic to provide another perspective to the debate.
According to Diana Lemberg, a lecturer at St Andrews University in the UK, the United States began investing heavily in language education during and after World War II to arm military trainees with the “weapon of words,” a powerful tool that could promote understanding or vanquish foes. This investment led to the creation of training institutions both domestically and abroad. The idea behind this language education initiative was twofold: to promote international peace by fostering understanding among nations and to use language education as a weapon to defeat its enemies, if necessary. Therefore, language education goes beyond teaching people how to communicate in certain languages, as it has the potential to shape geopolitical relationships, influence public opinion, and thus impact the way people think, feel, and act.
The power of language is indeed immense, as it can shape the world we live in and can be potentially more lethal than nuclear weapons when used strategically. Throughout history, many countries have used language as a means to destroy their opponents, and this trend continues to this day. As we know, words possess the ability to shape reality, convey meaning, and influence emotions. In a political context, they can be used to credit or discredit a government and create instability within a country. This manipulation, taken to its extreme, is what is referred to as weaponization. It involves using language as a tool to control, manipulate, and therefore shape public opinion.
The weaponization of language dates back to the early 1900s. Its strategic use by the military, government, and business owners to influence people’s decisions, and manipulate their thinking and emotions, has been ongoing ever since. However, it is important to note that weaponized language is only effective if it is adequately communicated. As a result, this gives rise to another form of weaponization, that is information weaponization. For language to be effectively weaponized, specific information needs to be shared, restricted, or manipulated. Thus, the weaponization of language and information are intertwined and often overlap in practice. The objective of both is to use communication as a tool to wage war.
It is important to understand that this control extends beyond traditional broadcasting and publishing media to encompass the Internet and social media platforms. In this age of “media aggression,” the media plays a significant role in ensuring that weaponized informat right time and place. In contemporary society, the media serves as a crucial source of information and plays a significant role in shaping public opinion and narratives. Therefore, it is not uncommon for some malign international actors to use this in influencing public opinion by manipulating the information accessible to certain people in certain regions. They subsequently exert control over the population by feeding them fake and harmful information.
This trend has become even more noticeable on the internet, social media in particular has become a weapon for some international actors to destabilize or discredit certain governments and promote insecurity in some countries. One significant factor contributing to this is the manipulation of algorithms. Online platforms utilize algorithms to personalize content and recommendations, and these algorithms can be exploited by malicious actors to amplify extremist views, reinforce biases, and create echo chambers that limit exposure to diverse perspectives. As a result, information becomes fragmented, and radical or harmful ideologies are reinforced. Which can then be used to target specific individuals or regions and promote instability.
Therefore, the decision by some governments to restrict certain foreign application platforms is a proactive measure to prevent the weaponization of language and information from destabilizing the country and promoting insecurity.
It is essential to understand that this is not always an attempt to control and oppress the population, as some may perceive. Instead, it is sometimes a measure put in place to ensure the safety and well-being of their citizens. By restricting certain foreign platforms, the government can better protect its citizens by preventing them from being exposed to harmful disinformation, misinformation, propaganda, online trolling, and brainwashing. More importantly, it
is also aimed at protecting the peace and sanity of the country