We have seen endless stories about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. We have endured two days of Mark Zuckerberg explaining the Facebook business model. Social media and its role in politics is on everyone's mind. However, none of the current clamor speaks to the broader impact of the internet, or of big tech in general.
In this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast, Jamie Bartlett, director of the Center for Analysis of Social Media, reminds Jeff Schechtman that the internet was supposed to be a democratizing force. The widespread availability of digital technology was to allow freedom of information and communication on a scale never thought possible before.
The reality, Bartlett argues, is that every aspect of the internet and its culture is feeding the worst of humanity’s tribal instincts.
It’s becoming clear, says Bartlett, that internet technology is simply antithetical to democracy. Perhaps it's no coincidence that, as the internet grows, authoritarian regimes proliferate. As tech companies get bigger, the institutions of democracy come under greater pressure.
Bartlett talks about how monopolistic practices are built into the DNA of tech companies, and reveals the intended and unintended consequences of maintaining those monopolies. How hyper-targeted internet advertising is merely the most recent iteration in a long history of efforts to manipulate our decision-making. As those efforts advance in sophistication, the ability of a small minority to distract and ultimately control a technically naive majority poses a grave threat to the fundamental exercise of free choice.
This week’s podcast is a sobering look behind the headlines and noise about tech.
Jamie Bartlett is the author of The People Vs Tech: How the Internet Is Killing Democracy (And How We Save It) (Ebury Digital, April 5, 2018).