Monday, October 11, 2021

The Facebook Dilemma

Strangely, some of the most articulate voices rising up against monopoly control of the media have come from the left. Whether Glenn Greenwald or Naomi Wolf, and Joel Kotkin-- people who have been and perhaps are still notably liberal are speaking out against big tech. A recent link here

Now, Kotkin has written an excellent essay in Newsweek, about the real stakes in the case of the Facebook whistleblower case. It is not about hate speech or misinformation. It is about monopoly control over the free market in ideas:

The real question when it comes to big tech is not the one posed by Haugen's testimony—whether Facebook and the other tech platforms allow "misinformation" or "hate speech" on their platforms; her testimony instead conveniently missed the real problem: that a handful of mega-firms are now controlling content for much of the population.

How bad is it? How complete is their monopoly control over what we think and what we know? It is not, dare we say, just about censoring opinion that the factcheckers do not like. It’s about censoring facts that might cause people to form different opinions. The most flagrant example was shutting down stories about Hunter Biden’s laptop leading up to the 2020 election. The second most flagrant example was the failure of all government agencies to punish Twitter for providing an in-kind contribution to a political campaign.

Kotkin explains:

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults now get their news through social media sites like Facebook or from Google.This is even more true among millennials, soon to be the nation's largest voting bloc. And tech oligarchs have further expanded their domain by purchasing much of what is left of the mainstream media, including the New Republic, the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and the long-distressed Time Magazine .

And contrary to what Haugen and the Senate seem to believe, the biggest problem with having the flow of information so tightly concentrated in the hands of so few is not that it allows posts from hate groups or divisive political operatives or skinny teenagers. It's that a tiny handful of oligarchs are dictating what is knowable, or what views are valid.

These companies have become a ministry for mind control. No one elected them. They are accountable to no one. They brook no competition-- see the fate of Parler.

Attempts to shape or control thought by the tech giants are proceeding with astonishing speed. Staffers at Google, Facebook and Twitter increasingly "curate" the content on their sites. Often this means eliminating conservative views, according to former employees; companies increasingly use algorithms intended to screen out "hate groups." But as reporting has shown, the e-programmers put in charge of this work often have trouble distinguishing between "hate groups" and those who might simply express dissenting if legitimate supported views.

True enough, these censors most often aim at opinions that would be considered to be conservative. This is leftist totalitarianism.

Our government has been asleep throughout. The blame is shared by both political parties:

The steady erosion in anti-trust enforcement under both parties has left firms like Facebook and Google with almost unlimited power to acquire or crush competitors and ideological opponents. And these firms are near-absolute monopolies; they hold market shares that exceed eighty percent in key markets like search, social media, and book sales, as well as phone and PC operating systems.

But, Kotkin also explains how today’s tech elites differ from the corporate monopolists in the past.

The tech elite differ significantly from the old corporate hegemons who needed a domestic working class, which forced them them to deal with organized union workers. By contrast, tech workers have no unions; they are often foreign nationals on short term visas, and their bosses have and been repeatedly caught spying on their own employees.

And the tech elites do not seem to care much about patriotism. They are internationalists, in the sense that they think that they belong to the world, not just to America. To be more clear, they seem to want to own the world, not just to own America,

Tech oligarchs generally don't believe in the American Dream or economic mobility. The author Gregory Ferenstein interviewed 147 digital company founders. What he found is that most are convinced that an "increasingly greater share of economic wealth will be generated by a smaller slice of very talented or original people. Everyone else will come to subsist on some combination of part-time entrepreneurial 'gig work' and government aid."

In other words, oligarchical socialism: basic incomes provided for the reside of the fading middle class. (And for when the plan fails, some tech titans have emergency escape plans.)

It’s a form of socialism, with an oligarchy of philosopher kings in charge, and where everyone else bows down to their greatness. One reason that these oligarchs are so intent on mind control is that they do not want to consider themselves to be grubby capitalists. They do not think of themselves as citizens of a country, possessing some responsibility for the well being of their fellow citizens. They want to be philosophers, possessors of superior insight into the great ideas. And that means, people whose opinions are so absolutely correct that it will become a crime to disagree.

If one looks at Silicon Valley, as demographer Kotkin has often been wont to do, you see the type of dystopia that this monopoly power creates:

Already, this dystopia exists in Silicon Valley, where the ultra-rich flourish, the middle-class wanes, and the poor live-in a poverty that has become unshakeable; according to a 2018 UC-Santa Cruz study, nine out of ten jobs in the Valley now pay less than twenty years ago, adjusted for inflation. Nearly 30 percent of Silicon Valley's residents rely on public or private financial assistance.

The technocratic future is already upon us. And it has little need for the labor of the lower classes—or the messiness of democracy. These same people have amassed the power to control and disseminate information far more subtly and efficiently than Mussolini, Hitler, or Stalin.

The prospect of a duopoly of oligarchs and the federal apparat acting together present arguably the most profound challenge to the future of traditional democratic debate.

We see it all at work in America’s school systems, in America’s politics, in the rank disrespect for differences of opinion. The goal is to gain complete control over the American mind. And, that means, no one will dare challenge the power or the fortunes of the tech oligarchs. 

If it creates a permanent lower class of wage slaves, so be it. At the least, this class will become dependent on the largesse of the oligarchs. They will be bought off with permanent welfare. As we have often noted, the children of the lower American classes are no longer even allowed to have a good education. And, the country is also allowing roving bands of refugees, most of whom cannot read, write or count, the better to fill up the dependent class, a class that can never challenge the mind control imposed by the oligarchs.

It is totalitarian and despotic, though less authoritarian than many people believe. The problem is not really the exercise of authority. It lies in the fact that a small group of people aspires to tell you what you can think, what you can know, how you should feel and what you should believe. 

The trade-off, such as it is, goes beyond a permanent entitlement state. It also involves allowing you to behave as you wish, to harass and intimidate people in public, to do what you want when you want with whom you want. No one will have any right to judge your behavior, but God help you if you deviate from the ideology that the tech oligarchs imagine to manifest true enlightenment.


Walt said...

True. Scary. The answer , if there is one, is surely not the threat to remove their immunity—that would only give them overt carte blanche to censor even more—but to give them the status of a public utility, like a phone company that can’t censor or control its customers’ conversations. The only exceptions should be to the accepted limits to the First Amendment: pornography, direct personal threats, direct incitement to riot, criminal collusion.

Sam L. said...

There's a reason why Facebook is sometimes called "FecesBook"...