In 1949, George Orwell wrote the book 1984, in which he accurately predicted the future with Francis Bacon’s phrase “knowledge is power”. This is true today more than ever.
Facebook, Google, Amazon and Twitter actively control information flow through their oligopoly of all readily available content on the internet. Amazon has even moved beyond the internet, not that it needed to because print is dead, and now owns the Washington Post. Additionally, Amazon seeks to dominate our drug and food supply. This unregulated oligopoly, which was initially narrowly focused on frivolous social media and consumer products, has grown rapidly and amassed the ability to decide what is “fake news” and what isn’t. And Facebook and Google have both been caught using algorithms to make those decisions via the manipulation of search results.
The old fogies in the US Congress do not understand the power of the internet or how successful the proprietary algorithms utilised by Facebook, Google and Twitter can be at manipulating public opinion, while suffocating opposing views. The situation is a million times worse than the situation depicted by Orwell. For example, US Congressman Marsha Blackburn’s US Senate campaign advertisements were blocked on social media because the candidate is pro-life.
Google and Facebook’s internet supremacy has far reaching implications; arguably, they endeavoured to manipulate the recent presidential election by prioritising, and sometimes altogether burying, content. Google’s founder was even on Hillary Clinton’s election committee. Facebook goes a step further than Google in individually curating content, segregating its users into political bubbles by showing them articles they would like, without ever showing dissenting viewpoints. This drip-feed of the “narrative” breeds groupthink among its users (i.e. everybody with internet), who then regurgitate that narrative to the extreme, ostracising all who dare to disagree. (Who else lost friends as a result of the 2016 elections?) However, the public was aided by subreddits such as r/The_Donald and r/HillaryforPrison, in spite of Reddit’s attempts to quiet its users, and saw how search results were manipulated by Google during the 2016 presidential elections. I’m sure that by the 2020 elections, Google and Facebook will have sufficiently honed their algorithms to manipulate content that could deliver the candidate of their choosing.
Throughout the history of human civilisation, including periods of ecclesiastical rule, no entity has had as much power to influence and control the social and political ideals of billions of people with zero oversight or regulation as these tech giants. This is extremely dangerous and can end very badly. These companies pose a danger to democratic society’s liberty and the West’s entire way of life. Google and Facebook will never release or disclose how they are tweaking their algorithms to impact social movements or influence and suppress democratic process and liberty. The tech oligopoly swallows up any and all potential challengers, eliminating competition in a manner that the Sherman Antitrust Act was drafted to prevent. Will anybody, government or otherwise, try to enforce those provisions and promote the free market?
It appears unlikely, as the tech oligopoly has already grown out of control. This is David vs an army of Goliaths.
Microsoft, at the time of its break up by DOJ prosecutors, was smaller and far less influential than Facebook, Google and Amazon are today. Ironically, Google supported the breakup of Microsoft because of Microsoft’s monopolistic practices around operating systems that were hostile towards competitor software. Google and Facebook currently do the same thing with their search engine and news feed respectively, but it’s about a thousand times worse—Microsoft controlled the market for software, Google and Facebook control the market for information. While the Federal Trade Commission has been charged with the responsibility of promoting consumer protection and preventing coercive monopolies, no regulatory agency has been provided the necessary firepower to effectively regulate or oversee the algorithms that control and censor Google’s search engine or Facebook’s content. Perhaps hell has frozen over, but this might be one situation where a grant of greater authority and resources to government regulators to review algorithmic trade secrets might actually benefit the general public.
Throughout the history of human civilisation, including periods of ecclesiastical rule, no entity has had as much power to influence and control the social and political ideals of billions of people with zero oversight or regulation as these tech giants. This is extremely dangerous.
Don’t count on politicians, especially in the United States, to enforce the existing antitrust laws, because these internet behemoths are too big, too connected, and contribute too much to the congressional coffers to have laws apply to them. Google and Facebook are two of the biggest companies in the world, and their lobbying dollars control the corrupt political system in Washington, DC’s swamp.
Recent disclosure forms show that Google spent $5.93 million between 1 April and 30 June 2017, more than any other corporation in Q2 2017. After wasting tens of millions (perhaps hundreds) on the Clintons, all of these Silicon Valley players need to buy new influence in Washington to prevent an antitrust action. Google will be this year’s top corporate lobbying spender in the US. Amazon’s spend is not far behind, and Facebook’s spending is right up there as well.
Washington’s pay-to-play government defines some monopolies as good and some monopolies as bad—and it has chosen to define these monopolies as good.
Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court won’t be much help either. Without a David to bring the Goliaths to task, the Supreme Court cannot opine on the legality and the frightening consequences of allowing the algorithms of these internet companies to manipulate and control our lives, behaviour and social values. When will our courts be able to act? As usual, they will decide to close the barn door after all the horses have bolted. Is democracy’s only hope that the European Court of Justice will rule against this too connected to prosecute army of the “Silicon Valley Goliaths”?
SYSTEMIC CORRUPTION BY DEEP STATE MUST END NOW
Facebook, Google and Amazon disseminate deep-state propaganda, while crushing opposing viewpoints with impunity. Google and Facebook have both teamed up with national security agencies to spy on the public to control public sentiment, as well as political, moral and social values. Amazon has even entered into a $600 million partnership with the CIA and NSA to provide “cloud services”. Similar to the psychological operations implemented by the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1960s, when they created the conspiracy theory program to malign, discredit and make unfounded allegations, anyone who takes on the establishment is a propagandist working for the Russian government.
Thanks to Washington’s swamp of corruption, the deep state’s interference and partnerships with these internet-based providers to collect Orwellian data points on Americans, information flows are controlled and diversity of thought is stifled.
To be clear: the biggest emerging existential threat to liberty, democracy, and freedom is Facebook, Google and Amazon and the money they pump into Washington’s swamp, allowing them to grow even bigger and giving them control of all information flows. Is this freedom? Not on your life. It’s time to break up and regulate Facebook, Google and Amazon.
Mitchell Feierstein is CEO of Glacier Environmental Fund and author of Planet Ponzi: How Politicians and Bankers Stole Your Future.