A handful of US tech companies have radicalised the world

There is no doubt that the Internet has dramatically changed how media and politics operate. Over the last few years a few US companies have dominated radically changed how democracy is done, including allowing nefarious interference in election campaigns.

And at the same time there have been a number of political swings to more controversial and extreme leaders and parties.

Broderick (via twitter):

In the last 4 years, I’ve been to 22 countries, 6 continents, and been on the ground for close to a dozen referendums and elections. Three things are now very clear to:

1) A handful of American companies, Facebook and Google more than any other, have altered the fundamental nature of almost every major democracy on Earth. In most of these elections, far-right populism has made huge strides.

2) The misinformation, abuse, and radicalization created by these companies seems to affect poorer people and countries more heavily.

These companies replace local community networks, local media, local political networks and create easily exploitable, unmoderated news ones.

3) It is going to get worse and more connected. It is getting more mobile. It is having more physical real-world effects. Apps like WhatsApp and Instagram are even harder to track than Facebook.

It’s been a decade since I first felt like something was changing about the way we interact with the internet. In 2010, as a young news intern for a now-defunct website called the Awl, one of the first pieces I ever pitched was an explainer about why 4chan trolls were trying to take the also now-defunct website Gawker off the internet via a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack. It was a world I knew. I was a 19-year-old who spent most of my time doing what we now recognize as “shitposting.” It was the beginning of an era where our old ideas about information, privacy, politics, and culture were beginning to warp.

I’ve followed that dark evolution of internet culture ever since. I’ve had the privilege — or deeply strange curse — to chase the growth of global political warfare around the world. In the last four years, I’ve been to 22 countries, six continents, and been on the ground for close to a dozen referendums and elections. I was in London for UK’s nervous breakdown over Brexit, in Barcelona for Catalonia’s failed attempts at a secession from Spain, in Sweden as neo-Nazis tried to march on the country’s largest book fair. And now, I’m in Brazil. But this era of being surprised at what the internet can and will do to us is ending. The damage is done. I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably spend the rest of my career covering the consequences.

There are certainly signs of major consequences internationally.

In New Zealand we have had political change, but after a nine year National government it wasn’t a big deal, especially as Labour (and NZ First) are not dramatically different to National in most significant policies. It was more of a tweak than upheaval here, probably.

But we can’t help but be affected by what happens in the rest of the increasingly radicalised world.

To be sure, populism, nationalism, and information warfare existed long before the internet. The arc of history doesn’t always bend toward what I think of as progress. Societies regress. The difference now is that all of this is being hosted almost entirely by a handful of corporations.

Why is an American company like Facebook placing ads in newspapers in countries like IndiaItalyMexico, and Brazil, explaining to local internet users how to look out for abuse and misinformation? Because our lives, societies, and governments have been tied to invisible feedback loops, online and off. And there’s no clear way to untangle ourselves.

The worst part of all of this is that, in retrospect, there’s no real big secret about how we got here.

The social media Fordlândias happening all over the world right now probably won’t last. The damage they cause probably will. The democracies they destabilize, the people they radicalize, and the violence they inspire will most likely have a long tail. Hopefully, though, it won’t take us a hundred years to try to actually rebuild functioning societies after the corporations have moved on.

Perhaps. It is very difficult to know where social media, democracy and the world will go to from here.

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11 Comments

  1. Corky

     /  October 31, 2018

    Many sci-fi films are based on the theme of society disintegrating along with political power structures. Large corporations fill that void and become defacto governments. The populace are treated like slaves, similar to colonial America. Maybe sci-fi isn’t far off the mark?

    Reply
    • Maybe ten percent of sci-fi may be found to be not far off the mark, at some time in the future in retrospect, but it is difficult to predict which ten percent.

      I think we have already surpassed the concept of video phones as foretold by The Jetsons. But we are nowhere near having practical flying cars yet.

      Reply
    • Blazer

       /  October 31, 2018

      large corporations=military ,industrial complex have been calling the shots…for decades.

      Reply
  2. unitedtribes2

     /  October 31, 2018

    This guys article is the most biased iv read in a while.

    Reply
  3. Alan Wilkinson

     /  October 31, 2018

    Seems to be an extravagant claim without evidence to me. Clickbait or political scapegoating?

    Reply
  4. Pink David

     /  October 31, 2018

    The only thing that has been radicalised is the media.

    Reply
  5. Pink David

     /  October 31, 2018

    Just for those who believe it is Facebook that is the cause’ of a left wing government being voted out, perhaps they might like to google operation car wash.

    “For the past four years, Brazil has been consumed by a criminal investigation – known as Operation Car Wash – that has uncovered massive corruption.”

    That is, massive corruption presided over by the previous government. Is it really a shock for them to loose?

    Reply
  6. MaureenW

     /  October 31, 2018

    From what I read of Vault 7 published by Wikileaks last year, the tech companies are complicit to the requests/requirements of the CIA which included Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook. Is anyone really surprised?

    Reply
  1. A handful of US tech companies have radicalised the world — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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