Internet neutrality is important for both freedom and informed democratic debate. But author Alan MacLeod – who edited the book Propaganda in the Information Age – believes “big tech giants have basically gotten into bed with the US state”. And these corporations are dictating what information we see (or don’t see) with little to no public scrutiny.
I spoke to MacLeod about these issues earlier this year in light of two articles he’d written: That Facebook Will Turn to Censoring the Left Isn’t a Worry – It’s a Reality and Facebook’s New Propaganda Partners. And he shared his analysis of just how biased giant internet corporations really are.
“Left-wing, critical sites have really suffered in the battle against ‘fake news'”
I wrote that article about censoring the left, and I think there’s plenty of evidence for that. If you just look about how algorithms on Facebook, or YouTube, or Google, or Bing, or Twitter, or any of the other big social media giants have changed, what we see is that left-wing, critical sites have really suffered in the battle against ‘fake news’. So sites like Democracy Now, or The Intercept, or Common Dreams have lost so many… of the search traffic that they used to get from Google. Likewise, lots of content creators that have left or progressive views have lost their advertising revenue. But frankly, I always thought that was always coming because you can’t really expect some of the largest capitalist media institutions in the world to give you money to promote an anti-capitalist message. I don’t think that was ever going to continue.
Social media giants like Facebook and Google…, which were started in the United States, have enormous power over the world that, frankly, … we’re only just beginning to start thinking about. When you have a look and see that Facebook is used by 40 or 50% of the United States to get their news, and then when you see that other sites like Facebook and Twitter or Google News – which are all American sites – are used by 20 or 30 or even 40% of the entire world to see what is reality, and what is not reality; what is news, and what isn’t news. That’s an enormous power that you have over billions of people.
‘In bed with the US state’
And these big tech giants… have basically gotten into bed with the US state. I mean, we’ve seen Facebook partnering with the Atlantic Council, which is an offshoot of NATO, whose board includes people like Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and six or seven different former or current heads of the CIA. That’s the group that’s deciding what is ‘fake news’ and what is ‘real news’, and how the algorithms that dictate how billions of people around the world are going to see news. That’s who’s deciding what you see and what you don’t. And so there’s this massive partnering of soft power and hard power – of the soft power of social media and movies and TV with the hard power of the US state…
we also see the soft power of Hollywood being penetrated by the CIA, for instance, with scripts being supplied, rejected, or approved by the Department of Defense in return for a lot of financial assistance, and assistance with things like getting tanks, or planes, or helicopters into your films. If you want anything like that, there’s a quid pro quo, and you have to go to the Department of Defense who will change, accept, or otherwise modify your scripts. And in this way, the hard power of the United States government is actually being transmitted through ideology across the world, and I think we’re only starting to really understand the consequences and the power of this – that we’ve let these enormous mega-corporations, these monopolies, dictate our news…
Media is perhaps the most powerful institution in the world at any given time. It decides what is true, what is false, what is newsworthy, and what is not. It basically decides what we think about. And we’re not scrutinising that anywhere near enough, in my opinion.
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