Category Archives: Mainstream media
John Pilger’s recent analysis of government, media, and cultural propaganda – and, more importantly, what it’s trying to hide – inspired my last post, and “Monarchs Belong in the Dustbin of History,” the latest article, posted today, by Chris Hedges on scheerpost.com, is a similar reminder. (We need these reminders to counteract the constant coverup of the truth.)
“The fawning adulation of Queen Elizabeth in the United States, which fought a revolution to get rid of the monarchy, and in Great Britain, is in direct proportion to the fear gripping a discredited, incompetent and corrupt global ruling elite,” Hedges says. “The global oligarchs aren’t sure the next generation of royal sock puppets are up to the job. Let’s hope they’re right.
Monarchy obscures the crimes of empire and wraps them in nostalgia. It exalts white supremacy, racial hierarchy, and class rule. It buttresses an economic and social system that callously discards and often consigns to death those considered as ‘lesser,’ most of whom are people of color.
The cries of the millions of victims of empire” – millions of Irish since the first English invasion in 1169; Indians, whose economy was destroyed by British mercantilism, and where the hasty British withdrawal in 1947 led to the deaths of over a million in Hindu-Muslim violence, a result of British ‘divide and conquer’ policies; “thousands killed, tortured, raped and imprisoned during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya; the more than 4,100 First Nations children who died or went missing in Canada’s residential schools, government-sponsored institutions established to ‘assimilate’ indigenous children; and the hundreds of thousands killed during the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan – are drowned out by cheers for royal processions and the sacral aura an obsequious press weaves around the aristocracy. The coverage of the queen’s death is so mind-numbingly vapid — the BBC sent out a news alert on Saturday when Prince Harry and Prince William, accompanied by their wives, surveyed the floral tributes to their grandmother displayed outside Windsor Castle — that the press might as well turn over the coverage to the mythmakers and publicists employed by the royal family.
The royals are oligarchs, guardians of their class. The world’s largest landowners include King Mohammed VI of Morocco with 176 million acres, the Roman Catholic Church with 177 million acres, the heirs of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia with 531 million acres, and now King Charles III with 6.6 billion acres of land. [I can’t verify this figure online. What I did find is that much of the land belonging to the British Crown is held in trust, though the royals derive rents from much of it.] British monarchs are worth almost $28 billion. The British public will provide a $33 million subsidy to the royal family over the next two years, even though the average household in the U.K. is seeing its income fall and 227,000 households experience homelessness in Britain.
Royals, to the ruling class, are worth the expense as effective tools of subjugation. British postal and rail workers canceled planned strikes over pay and working conditions after the queen’s death. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) postponed its congress. Labour Party members poured out heartfelt tributes. Even Extinction Rebellion, which should know better, indefinitely canceled its planned “Festival of Resistance.” The BBC’s Clive Myrie dismissed Britain’s energy crisis — caused by the war in Ukraine — that has thrown millions of people into severe financial distress as ‘insignificant’ compared with concerns over the queen’s health. The climate emergency, the pandemic, the deadly folly of the U.S. and NATO’s proxy war in Ukraine, soaring inflation, the rise of neo-fascist movements, and deepening social inequality will be ignored as the press spews florid encomiums to class rule. There will be 10 days of official mourning.
In 1953, Her Majesty’s Government sent three warships, along with 700 troops, to its colony British Guiana, suspended the constitution and overthrew the democratically elected government of Cheddi Jagan. Her Majesty’s Government helped to build and long supported the apartheid government in South Africa. Her Majesty’s Government savagely crushed the Mau Mau independence movement in Kenya from 1952 to 1960, herding 1.5 million Kenyans into concentration camps where many died and were tortured. Her Majesty’s Government carried out a dirty war to break the Greek Cypriot War of Independence from 1955 to 1959. Torture, extrajudicial assassinations, public hangings, and mass executions by the British were routine. Following a protracted lawsuit, the British government agreed to pay nearly £20 million in damages to over 5,000 victims of British abuse during war in Kenya, and in 2019 another payout was made to survivors of torture from the conflict in Cyprus. [For a complete history of British colonial crimes, which included a similar regime of violence in Palestine and Malaya, see Caroline Elkins’ recently published book, Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire.] During her 70-year reign, the queen never offered an apology or called for reparations. [Her excuse would be that she was an ‘apolical’ figurehead, but it was all done in her name and in the name of previous monarchs, including the long-reigning Queen Victoria (1819 to 1901).]
The monarchy is the bedrock of hereditary rule and inherited wealth. This caste system filters down from the Nazi-loving House of Windsor [primarily the Duke of Windsor, King Edward VIII, who abdicated in favor of Queen Elizabeth II’s father, George VI; and her husband, Prince Philip, whose four sisters married pro-Nazi German aristocrats] to the organs of state security and the military. It regiments society and keeps people, especially the poor and the working class, in their place.
The British ruling class clings to the mystique of royalty and fading cultural icons to project a global presence, and there is a pathetic yearning among many in the U.S. and Britain to be linked in some way to royalty. This desire to be part of the club, or validated by the club, is a potent force the ruling class has no intention of giving up, even if hapless King Charles III makes a mess of it.”
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report.
I haven’t posted in a while now, but this article, “Silencing the Lambs: How Propaganda Works” published 9-10-22 by veteran progressive journalist John Pilger (online at MintPress News), is too important to let slide by. Go and read it yourself in its entirety, or continue reading for my version (slightly edited for brevity and clarity).
Pilger says, “In the 1970s, I met one of Hitler’s leading propagandists, Leni Riefenstahl, whose epic films glorified the Nazis. We happened to be staying at the same lodge in Kenya, where she was on a photography assignment, having escaped the fate of other friends of the Fuhrer. She told me that the ‘patriotic messages’ of her films were successful because of what she called the ‘submissive void’ of the German public. Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie? I asked. ‘Yes, especially them,’ she said. I think of this as I look around at the propaganda now consuming Western societies.
Of course, we are very different from Germany in the 1930s. We live in information societies. We are globalists. We have never been more aware, more in touch, better connected. Really?
Or do we live in a society where brainwashing is insidious and relentless, and perception is filtered according to the needs and lies of state and corporate power?
The United States dominates the Western world’s media. All but one of the top ten media companies are based in North America. The internet and social media – Google, Twitter, and Facebook – are mostly American owned and controlled.
In my lifetime, the United States has overthrown or attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, mostly democracies. It has interfered in democratic elections in 30 countries. It has dropped bombs on the people of 30 countries, most of them poor and defenseless. It has attempted to murder, often successfully, the leaders of 50 countries. It has fought to suppress liberation movements in 20 countries. The extent and scale of this carnage is largely unreported and unrecognized; and those responsible continue to dominate Anglo-American political life.
As my playwright friend Harold Pinter said, ‘US foreign policy is best defined as kiss my ass or I’ll kick your head in. It is as simple and as crude as that. What’s interesting about it is that it’s so successful. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, and remorseless, but few people have actually talked about them. The U.S. has exercised its power worldwide [for the benefit of elite corporate power] while masquerading as a force for good. It’s a brilliant act of hypnosis.’ I asked Pinter if the ‘hypnosis’ he referred to was the ‘submissive void’ described by Leni Riefenstahl, and he said, ‘It’s the same. We don’t recognize the propaganda, and for the most part accept and believe it. That’s the submissive void.’
In our systems of corporate democracy, war is an economic necessity, the perfect marriage of public subsidy and private profit: socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor. The day after 9/11 the stock prices of the war industry soared. More bloodshed was coming – great for business. Today, the most profitable wars are called ‘forever wars’: Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and now Ukraine – all are based on a pack of lies. Iraq is the most infamous, with its weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist. Nato’s destruction of Libya in 2011 was justified by a massacre in Benghazi that didn’t happen. Afghanistan was a convenient revenge war for 9/11, which had nothing to do with the people of Afghanistan.
Today, the news from Afghanistan is how evil the Taliban are – not that Joe Biden’s theft of $7 billion of the country’s bank reserves is causing widespread suffering. Recently, National Public Radio in Washington devoted two hours to Afghanistan – and 30 seconds to its starving people.
At its summit in Madrid in June, NATO, which is controlled by the United States, adopted a strategy document that militarizes the European continent and escalates the prospect of war with Russia and China. News of the resulting war in Ukraine is mostly not news, but a one-sided litany of jingoism, distortion, and omission. I’ve reported a number of wars and have never known such blanket propaganda [and suppression of dissenting journalists].
In February, Russia invaded Ukraine as a response to almost eight years of killing and criminal destruction in the Russian-speaking region of Donbass on their border. In 2014, the United States had sponsored a coup in Kyiv that got rid of Ukraine’s democratically elected, Russian-friendly president and installed a successor whom the Americans made clear was their man. Before this, American ‘defender’ missiles aimed at Russia were installed in eastern Europe, Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, accompanied by false assurances all the way back to James Baker’s ‘promise’ to Gorbachev in February 1990 that NATO would never expand beyond Germany. Ukraine is the frontline. NATO has effectively reached the very borderland through which Hitler’s army stormed in 1941, leaving more than 23 million dead in the Soviet Union.
Last December, Russia proposed a far-reaching security plan for Europe that was dismissed, derided, or suppressed in the Western media. On February 24th of this year, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy threatened to develop nuclear weapons unless America armed and protected Ukraine. This was the final straw. On the same day, Russia invaded – according to the Western media, an infamous, unprovoked act. The history, the lies, the peace proposals, the solemn agreements on Donbass at Minsk counted for nothing. On April 25th, the U.S. defense secretary, General Lloyd Austin, flew into Kyiv and confirmed that America’s aim was to destroy the Russian Federation – the word he used was ‘weaken.’ America had got the war it wanted, waged by an American bankrolled and armed proxy and expendable pawn. Almost none of this was explained to Western audiences.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is wanton and inexcusable. It’s a crime to invade a sovereign country. There are no ‘buts,’ except one. When did the present war in Ukraine begin and who started it? According to the United Nations, between 2014 and this year, some 14,000 people have been killed in the Kyiv regime’s civil war on the Donbass. Many of the attacks were carried out by neo-Nazis, labeled as ‘nationalists’ by the New York Times. Watch an ITV news report from May 2014, by the veteran reporter James Mates, who is shelled, along with civilians in the city of Mariupol, by Ukraine’s Azov (neo-Nazi) battalion. ‘The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment,’ said Andreiy Biletsky, founder of the Azov Battaltion, ‘is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival, a crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.’ Since February, a campaign of self-appointed ‘news monitors’ (mostly funded by the Americans and British with links to governments) have sought to maintain the absurdity that Ukraine’s neo-Nazis don’t exist.
Airbrushing, a term once associated with Stalin’s purges, has become a tool of mainstream journalism. In less than a decade, a ‘good’ China has been airbrushed and a ‘bad’ China has replaced it: from the world’s workshop to a budding new Satan. Much of this propaganda originates in the U.S., and is transmitted through proxies and ‘think-tanks,’ such as the notorious Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the voice of the arms industry, and by zealous journalists such as Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald, who called those spreading Chinese influence ‘rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows’ and called for these ‘pests’ to be ‘eradicated.’
News about China in the West is almost entirely about the threat from Beijing. Airbrushed are the 400 American military bases that surround most of China, an armed necklace that reaches from Australia to the Pacific and southeast Asia, Japan, and Korea. The Japanese island of Okinawa and the Korean island of Jeju are loaded guns aimed point blank at the industrial heart of China. A Pentagon official described this as a ‘noose.’
Palestine has been misreported for as long as I can remember. To the BBC, there is the ‘conflict’ of ‘two narratives.’ The longest, most brutal, lawless military occupation in modern times goes unmentioned.
The stricken people of Yemen are media unpeople. While the Saudis rain down their American cluster bombs with British advisors working alongside the Saudi targeting officers, more than half a million children face starvation.
This brainwashing by omission has a long history. The slaughter of the First World War was suppressed by reporters who were knighted for their compliance and confessed in their memoirs. In 1917, the editor of the Manchester Guardian, C.P. Scott, confided to prime minister Lloyd George: ‘If people really knew [the truth], the war would be stopped tomorrow, but they don’t and can’t know.’
Vladimir Putin is Adolf Hitler, Xi Jinping Fu Man Chu. Epic achievements, such as the eradication of abject poverty in China, are barely known.
In recent years, some of the best journalists have been eased out of the mainstream. The spaces once open to mavericks, truth-tellers and journalists who went against the grain, have closed.The case of Julian Assange is the most shocking. When Julian and WikiLeaks could win readers and prizes for the Guardian, the New York Times, and other self-important ‘papers of record,’ he was celebrated. When the dark state objected and demanded the destruction of hard drives and the assassination of Julian’s character, he was made a public enemy. Vice President Biden called him a ‘hi-tech terrorist.’ Hillary Clinton asked, ‘Can’t we just drone this guy?’”
Pilger then mentions good news sources like “Consortium News, founded by the great reporter Robert Parry, Max Blumenthal’s Grayzone, MintPress News, Media Lens, Declassified UK, Alborada, Electronic Intifada, WSWS, ZNet, ICH, Counter Punch, Independent Australia, and the work of Chris Hedges, Patrick Lawrence, Jonathan Cook, Diana Johnstone, Caitlin Johnstone, and others who will forgive me for not mentioning them here. But when will writers stand up, as they did against the rise of fascism in the 1930s? When will film-makers stand up, as they did against the Cold War in the 1940s? Having soaked for 82 years in a deep bath of righteousness that’s the official version of the last world war, isn’t it time those who are meant to keep the record straight declared their independence and decoded the propaganda? The urgency is greater than ever.
John Pilger has twice won Britain’s highest award for journalism and has been International Reporter of the Year, News Reporter of the Year and Descriptive Writer of the Year. He has made 61 documentary films and has won an Emmy, a BAFTA the Royal Television Society prize and the Sydney Peace Prize. His “Cambodia Year Zero” has been named as one of the ten most important films of the 20th century. This article is an edited version of an address to the Trondheim World Festival, Norway. He can be contacted at http://www.johnpilger.com.
The forcible attack on the Capitol on January 6th of this year was a coup attempt set in motion by former president Donald Trump and others in an effort to nullify the 2020 presidential election and keep Trump, an aspiring autocrat, in power indefinitely. By acquitting Trump on impeachment charges related to his direct instigation of this attack without calling witnesses, Democrats and Republicans deprived Americans of a chance to delve into the truth of what happened and who was responsible. They did this, because, whether they supported Trump or not, they’ve all been involved in their own dirty tricks and want to be able to repeat them in the future. They don’t care about being real leaders, who’d give their followers an accurate map of reality; they don’t care about the truth; they don’t care about our country; they only care about their own personal power (getting re-elected, being appointed to powerful positions in Congress, and getting top-level corporate jobs and/or writing bestselling books after leaving office).
Is this a new phenomenon? Did Trump begin the wholesale coverup of truth with “alternative facts”? No. He was and is a master liar and obfuscator, but, at least in my lifetime, our government, represented by its egocentric, power-hungry non-leaders and supported by the mainstream media, has lied to us consistently. I became aware of this during the Vietnam War, which I opposed with all the intensity and energy of youthful idealism; and I’ve been aware of it ever since.
We all, as human beings, have a instinctive desire for the truth, knowing that our survival depends on it. What do you do when you can’t trust your government, or other supposedly trusted entities, to tell you the truth? You look for it elsewhere. I turned, and still turn, to “radical,” “leftist” sources of information, mostly in books, for what I consider to be the truth. As a student of history and historiography (how history’s written), I ask myself who hopes to gain by various versions of what happened or is happening. This makes me distrust government, politicians, and mainstream media, where much is to be gained. Others have turned elsewhere — on the opposite end of the socio-political spectrum from me — to demagogues like Trump and rightwing Christian fundamentalist preachers.
Our society and our country are now completely polarized by these competing visions of the “truth.” But where did that start? With the lies and half-truths of regular, mainstream politicians like the ones now in office. They’re continuing the smokescreen that protects their careers and keeps all of us from having an accurate map of our world…the map we need to create successful policy, a well-functioning government…and, ultimately, to survive.
Written as Biden overtakes Bernie in the delegate count…I’m sad that so many voters — understandably in view of misleading corporate media and poor education — don’t realize which Democratic candidate will best serve their real, as opposed to emotional, needs. By poor education, I mean that most social studies (history) taught in US public schools is boring and geared more toward developing unthinking patriotism than encouraging critical thinking and highlighting class and other key issues. If Biden can beat Trump, which I doubt, he’ll be a figurehead for behind-the-scenes manipulation by Wall Street, corporations that profit from war, the NRA, and all the other usual elite 1% suspects. Same old, same old, taking us for sure over the climate change/economic breakdown cliff. I’m sad, but not surprised. What a rotten system; ironically, one most Americans are proud of. We need to, but apparently are not going to, grow up.
In an article entitled “Big Tech’s Big Defector” in the current (12-2-19) issue of the New Yorker magazine, Brian Barth reviews Roger McNamee’s 2019 book Zucked, which criticizes social media and the corporations (Facebook and Google) that support it (note that Facebook includes Instagram and Google includes YouTube), as well as merchandisers (especially Amazon) that track our every digital movement.
A corporate investor, McNamee started cashing in on the personal-computer revolution in the early ‘80s, adding investments in Amazon in the ‘90s, and Facebook in 2009 and 2010. Initially seeing the tech industry as “an experiment in creative and profitable problem-solving,” he started questioning its ethics in 2012. “‘These guys all wanted to be monopolists,’ he said recently. ‘They all want to be billionaires.’ McNamee was still convinced that Facebook was different, but in February 2016, shortly after he retired from full-time investing, he noticed posts that purported to support Bernie Sanders but seemed fishy. That spring, the social-media-fueled vitriol of the Brexit campaign seemed like further proof that Facebook was being exploited to sow division among voters – and that company executives had turned a blind eye. The more McNamee listened to Silicon Valley critics, the more alarmed he became: he learned that Facebook allowed facial-recognition software to identify users without their consent, and let advertisers discriminate against viewers. (Real-estate companies, for example, could exclude people of certain races from seeing their ads. Ten days before the presidential election, McNamee sent an e-mail to Zuckerberg, saying, ‘Facebook is enabling people to do harm. It has the power to stop the harm. What it currently lacks is an incentive to do so.’ Zuckerberg assured McNamee that Facebook was working to address the issues he’d raised, and dispatched a Facebook executive, Dan Rose, to talk to him. Rose told McNamee that Facebook was a platform, not a publisher, and couldn’t control all user behavior. This dismissiveness rattled McNamee. ‘These were my friends. I wanted to give them a chance to do the right thing. I wasn’t expecting them to go, “Oh, my God, stop everything,” but I did expect them to take it seriously. It was obvious they thought it was just a P.R. problem.’ He hasn’t spoken to Zuckerberg (who declined to comment for this article) since, and now refers to him as an ‘authoritarian.’
As Russian election interference became increasingly apparent, McNamee published a series of op-eds – in the Guardian, USA Today, Time, and elsewhere – arguing that the social-media business model thrived on divisive rhetoric: the more extreme the content, the more users shared it, and the more the algorithms amplified it, the more ad revenue was generated. As lawmakers prepared for hearings about Russian meddling in the fall of 2017, McNamee put together a curriculum for them, which he jokingly called ‘Internet Platforms 101.’ Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, had been focused on foreign manipulation of social media, but, in a meeting, McNamee urged him to consider a broader problem – how the platforms were sowing discord among Americans. ‘Roger was really ahead of the curve,’ Schiff said, ‘and time has borne out his warnings.’
McNamee’s zeal for diagnosing problems soon evolved into a mission to devise a solution. He argued that piecemeal regulation would never get to the root of the problem: mining users’ private data for profit. In February 2019, he published Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe, part memoir, part manifesto. He then embarked on a book tour that’s turned into an ongoing public-shaming campaign.
When interviewed, McNamee rattled off a frighteningly long list of things he believes have been ‘Zucked’: ‘your vote,’ ‘your rights,’ ‘your privacy,’ ‘your life,’ ‘everything.’ So far, the public is less alarmed. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that half of Americans think the tech industry is having a positive impact on society. (This view is on the decline, however: in 2015, seven in ten thought so.) Earlier this year, Google and Amazon came in second and third in a survey of millennials’ favorite brands. In general, people are more concerned about the behavior of banks and pharmaceutical companies, and most Americans have yet to meaningfully change their habits as tech consumers.
Using digital profiles to predict and influence our behavior is at the heart of Google’s and Facebook’s business models. In The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, published earlier this year, Shoshana Zuboff, an emerita professor at Harvard Business School, warns of a ‘rogue mutation of capitalism,’ in which tech behemoths surveil humans, and eventually control them. McNamee speaks often about surveillance capitalism, and credits Zuboff with informing his views and bringing academic clout to the cause of Silicon Valley reform.
McNamee offers himself as a case study in how to be Google-free. He uses DuckDuckGo, a search engine that presents itself as a privacy-oriented alternative to Google, and has largely renounced Gmail, Maps, Docs, and the company’s other apps. He argues that Facebook should be used for staying in touch with friends and family rather than for political debates, which the platform alchemizes into screaming matches. ‘Outrage and fear are what drive their business model, so don’t engage with it,’ he told me. ‘I was as addicted as anybody, but we have the power to withdraw our attention.’ His life is made easier by the fact that he has relatively few complaints about Apple, which he praises for taking steps to protect user privacy. Since 2017, the company’s Safari browser has blocked third-party cookies, one ubiquitous tool for gleaning personal data. And its new Apple Card, unlike many other credit cards, including American Express and Mastercard, doesn’t share transaction histories with third parties. On the other hand, researchers have found that iPhones send a steady stream of personal data to third parties, much as the Android phones McNamee decries do. The company is also a pioneer in Bluetooth beacons, tiny devices used by retailers which glean data from phones as people move about in public spaces.
The 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal is the quintessential example of how people can be turned into puppets. By collecting data from Facebook without user consent, the company was able to identify micro-populations of voters, then serve up customized ads encouraging them to vote for Donald Trump. Cambridge Analytica obtained user data through duplicitous means, but similar data sets are widely and legally available; micro-targeting is commonplace on nearly all political campaigns. One of the most popular answers to this is that antitrust law should be used to take on Big Tech’s power. Elizabeth Warren, who’s met with McNamee and called him ‘one of the clearest voices’ on tech reform, has made the breakup of tech giants a central part of her campaign. Bernie Sanders has also pledged to press the antitrust issue if elected; Joe Biden has said that he’ll investigate it. In March, McNamee was invited to give a lecture at the Department of Justice’s antitrust division. In the following months, the D.O.J. and the F.T.C., along with various state legislatures and congressional committees, announced antitrust investigations aimed at Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple.
Several data-privacy bills circulating in Congress draw inspiration from California’s Consumer Privacy Act, which goes into effect on January 1st, and from Europe’s recently enacted General Data Protection Regulation. Such laws expand consumers’ control over their data and give them new legal tools for holding companies accountable. Many privacy advocates, including McNamee, argue that they’re critically flawed, however. Under G.D.P.R. rules, companies must ask users to opt in before their data can be processed by third parties, but, as soon as consumers consent, it’s more or less back to business as usual. And the rules are relatively loose when it comes to metadata. Even if the contents of a phone call are protected, the time of the call or the parties involved might not be. This is more revealing than it seems: as a memo by the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, a tech giant that doesn’t know your name might still ‘know you called a gynecologist, spoke for a half hour, then called an abortion clinic’s number.’
McNamee believes antitrust action will be effective only after comprehensive privacy reforms are enacted – otherwise, it’ll simply create smaller companies that behave in the same ways the big ones do now. ‘I want to prevent the data from getting into the system in the first place,’ he told me. The reform that would really have teeth, he says, is one that would ‘ban all third-party commerce in private information – financial information, location information, health information, browser history, and scanning of e-mail.’ Companies would be allowed to collect data needed for their services, but nothing else: a wellness app could store your height or weight but not the location of your gym – and none of this information could be shared with Facebook. The idea, McNamee explained, is that you could log a workout without then being bombarded by ads for nearby Zumba classes. Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia, has pointed out that few of the current proposed policies would have any effect on whether a company can collect private data, only on how it can be used. Under McNamee’s plan, most of Google’s and Facebook’s revenues would disappear overnight, since nearly 90% of both companies’ money comes from ads. (Tech companies that don’t depend on targeted-ad revenue would remain relatively unaffected.)”
Barth concludes that the tech-reform movement can be hard to take seriously when some of its most prominent activists are also some of the most prominent tech-company shareholders,” and notes that “McNamee ends his talks by saying that the solution will be the ‘biggest business opportunity’ ever.”
In an 11-28-19 Guardian article entitled “There’s only one way to take on big tech: by reining in big money and big state,” Evgeny Morozov says that “the Warren-style critique of big tech rests on a powerful myth of domestic politics gone wrong.” He adds that “it’s easy to mistake Warren’s populist stance – let’s just break up the tech giants! – for some kind of leftism; but all it really is is a repetition of the (neo)liberal creed that well-policed, competitive markets yield prosperity. A Warren-style critique presents the rise of big tech as a series of policy errors by distracted or corrupt technocratic regulators, rather than the result of careful policy planning by Washington elites keen to use every tool possible to consolidate America’s global power. Focused almost entirely on domestic affairs, the Warren-style account rarely situates big tech alongside big money – Saudi Arabia, SoftBank and JP Morgan – and the big state – the Pentagon, with its massive contracting orders, and the NSA, with its massive spying apparatus. Positioned properly inside this troika, big tech emerges as an almost inevitable consequence of global financialized and militarized capitalism.
Not surprisingly, Warren’s account remains blind to the real reason American big tech isn’t smaller: big money and the big state need it to remain big — the former to make sure Wall Street can recoup its loss-making investments, the latter to ensure that America’s defense and intelligence needs are met swiftly, efficiently, and on the cheap. Positioned properly inside this troika, big tech emerges as an almost inevitable consequence of global financialized and militarized capitalism. Making big tech smaller, thus, can only be accomplished by trying to rein in the powers of Wall Street and the Pentagon and accepting that America should play a humble role in the global order. None of this is likely to happen, especially given American anxieties about China’s global ascent in all three dimensions – technology, finance, and military might. Smaller tech would mean America losing its ability to project its power geopolitically; and the odds that the Pentagon, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley – let alone the ‘America first’ Trump administration – would agree to this are nil. They’ll probably remain nil even if someone like Warren – whose foreign policy views are rather conventional, even by Washington standards – gets elected.
The powers of the nefarious troika of the big tech, big money, and big state could – and should be – contested. But this has to be done directly – by explicitly invoking and contesting the links between the financial, military, and technology dimensions of US power – and not indirectly, by discussing tendencies towards monopolization in digital capitalism. The first approach lends itself to a properly progressive political agenda; the second only to the utopian expectations that a new generation of technocrats might resolve some of the contradictions of global capitalism. In the absence of such a program, leftists should ditch the ‘big tech vs small tech’ dichotomy and speak of corporate vs non-corporate tech instead. The ownership – not just of companies but also of sensors, networks, data and services – is more important than the size of the key players. This doesn’t mean we should follow the likes of Warren in treating them as utilities, however; to do so would be to impose a ban on the kind of institutional imagination that the rise of digital technologies should have provoked – but still hasn’t – on the left.
The utilities model is problematic for many reasons, the chief of which is that data – the intimate residue of our intellectual, social and political life – unlike water, gas, and electricity, is suffused with meaning, lending itself to a multiplicity of interpretations and action plans. How this total ensemble of meanings and actions get assembled, by whom, and with what rationale isn’t a question that can be answered with any certainty in advance. The data ensemble can, as it does now, empower the advertising industry, feed virtual disinformation campaigns, and help banks extend more loans – i.e., ensure that the wheels of capitalism roll smoothly. It could also seed non-market behaviors grounded in solidarity and mutual respect, doing for the knowledge society what the welfare state once did for industrial society: create durable foundations for human flourishing. By shoving solutions to the problem of big tech into the institutional straitjacket of the utilities model, we’re giving up the opportunity to create a radically new institutional landscape – one which will de-commodify everyday life the same way the welfare state de-commodified working life almost a century earlier. This genuinely leftwing agenda doesn’t provide a simplistic, clean, but ultimately utopian answer along the lines of ‘small’ or ‘humane’ tech. But in calling out big tech as a function of American corporate power it at least gets the diagnosis right.”