Democracy vs. digital capitalism

CC0 Annie Spratt (via Unsplash)

In today’s Observer, Evgeny Morozov discusses the ‘fake news’ bandwagon, digging deeper than the cultural scapegoats (voter ignorance, racism, Russia) and into the economic causes:

The problem is not fake news but the speed and ease of its dissemination, and it exists primarily because today’s digital capitalism makes it extremely profitable – look at Google and Facebook – to produce and circulate false but click-worthy narratives.

To recast the fake news crisis this way, however, would require the establishment to transcend one of their denials and dabble in the political economy of communications. And who wants to acknowledge that, for the past 30 years, it has been the political parties of the centre-left and centre-right that touted the genius of Silicon Valley, privatised telecommunications and adopted a rather lax attitude to antitrust enforcement?

I’ve already written about my admiration who don’t play the my-free-tech-is-funded-by-online-advertising game. Morozov says that more people like this are needed:

The only solution to the problem of fake news that neither misdiagnoses the problem nor overpowers the elites is to completely rethink the fundamentals of digital capitalism. We need to make online advertising – and its destructive click-and-share drive – less central to how we live, work and communicate. At the same time, we need to delegate more decision-making power to citizens – rather than the easily corruptible experts and venal corporations.

This means building a world where Facebook and Google neither wield much clout nor monopolise problem-solving. A formidable task worthy of mature democracies. Alas, the existing democracies, stuck in their denials of various kinds, prefer to blame everyone but themselves while offloading more and more problems to Silicon Valley.

I’m trying, but it’s genuinely difficult given the way the internet is these days. In 2017, I’ll endeavour to encourage other people to do likewise. Our democracy depends on it.