In today’s world, it is unmistakably the case that consent results in major part from media saturation campaigns that now make extensive use of digital technology. Specifically, social media sites like Facebook and Google vastly expand the power of propaganda, fake news, echo chambers, filter bubbles, ads customized to achieve the greatest emotional impact, and mass surveillance. Elites building regimes that aim for total control now have an unprecedented array of tools to influence citizens. The companies themselves admit that they helped deliver the U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump.
Whatever, the political views of their top executives, businesses act to maximize profit and, on this point, they have achieved remarkable success. For the first time since records have been kept on the market value of private companies, the five largest in the world are all media and digital technology companies. In order of value, these include Apple, Alphabet (parent of Google), Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook. Moreover, if we simply reverse the first two on the list, we have a list of the five most valuable brands on the planet. They have all profited by using digital tools to build monopolies over specific sectors of the media world. As a result, they enjoy the nearly unfettered ability to deliver audiences to advertisers eager to reach buyers and to provide essential tools to governments keen to control their citizens. These firms and others, like Twitter, are deeply complicit in the social construction of authoritarian regimes because it is financially and politically beneficial to do so. It was therefore no surprise, for example, when the Central Intelligence Agency signed a $600 million deal with the Cloud Computing division of Amazon for data storage and services.
We are entering a new digital world marked by the convergence of technological systems like Cloud Computing, Big Data Analytics, and the Internet of Things. Plugged into a global grid of telecommunications networks, they are providing the foundation for what it is reasonable to call the Next Internet. While offering many opportunities to expand democracy, the Next Internet is currently used primarily to defeat democracy. This is largely because it is even more deeply dominated by the same handful of companies that rose to power in the original Internet. The Next Internet is also being shaped by the U.S. government, especially its military and intelligence apparatus, which operates a massive, worldwide surveillance system and launches weaponized drones that rain death on terrorists and innocent civilians alike. The only challenge the U.S. faces is from China where an entrenched authoritarian government offers citizens growing material prosperity in return for controlling their lives.
Major changes are essential to reverse the deepening of both surveillance capitalism and the surveillance state. This book provides what Raymond Williams once called the “extra edge of consciousness” that is absolutely essential to create, both on and offline, a better, more open, more equitable, and more democratic world.