The rulers of the world are logging into outrage, as the gravy trains of billionaire Digital Darth Vaders take on millions of clueless passengers on their digital platforms. There is nothing like a free lunch as Google and Facebook are finding out from Australia’s pushy prime minister Scott Morrison who has lassoed in India’s Narendra Modi to take a stand against Zuckerberg and Co —news brokers who line their pockets without paying for what they sell.
This is no kangaroo court. Australia recently woke up to the fact that the indomitable Internet giants have been picking its pockets for almost a decade at high social and economic cost. Global leaders are mesmerised by their instant reach and connectivity without visible costs to either the government or users. From presidents and prime ministers of the most powerful nations to the rich and the famous, influencers are made to believe that technology-driven social servers make the world a better place to earn and exist. Promoted as a cheap and fast communication tool, the Internet has proved noted Canadian philosopher and media theorist Marshall McLuhan right but at a very high cost.
Published in the ‘60s, McLuhan’s book ‘The Gutenberg Galaxy’ had predicted the emergence of the Global Village. He had claimed that technology would connect people across the world through fast personal interactions. He believed that people dive into the electronic age; they would reach out to each other with the click of a mouse. They would be able to share videos, pictures and even cultural events online. Though computer scientists Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn are credited with inventing Internet communication protocols, it was young entrepreneurs such as Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg who commercialised McLuhan’s idea. They took it beyond just connecting people.
Zuckerberg and his ilk are influencing not only the political narrative but also dictating tastes and lifestyles through peeping Tom software that pulverises privacy. By promising free virtual access worldwide, they are minting money faster than any federal bank. They are the new Lords of Mindspace. Digital serfdom is their new Empire. They are the evil peddlers of individual privacy.
It was only last week that 17 million Australian Facebook users woke up to the strangulating grip of Demonic Dotcoms. When their government asked Facebook and Google to pay for the media content they lift for free to purvey globally, Virtual Villain Zuckerberg — who has been making sucker bergs of people — responded by shutting down those Facebook pages that post and access health-related information. They were shocked by the immense market power of the freeloading tech tarantula, which has woven a web of deceit with toxic tools.
Oz isn’t fighting a lonely battle against America’s money-maniacal mercenaries. In fact, many more countries including China, for reasons of their own, have been battling against social networking’s monopolistic malarkey and unethical interventions in politics and culture. Almost all global leaders are ruing the day they gave hi-tech high fives for unfettered use of technology in governance and communication. They are convinced that the current digital architecture would bring them closer to their target audience at minimum cost.
But they hardly realise that these platforms are being used to infiltrate the system, create algorithms to expand businesses of search engines and the behavioral patterns of the users. They have put in place a system that enables them to collect personal data. After becoming the cheapest means of communication, the Digital media, as they call themselves, is an individual’s most sought-after personal asset. Using their aggressively seductive sales strategies, Tech Moguls have made themselves indispensable.
No individual can survive or thrive without a social media platform and digital connectivity. Gander at the enormous reach of Digital and Social Media platforms: Owned by Alphabet Inc, the Google search engine is used by over five billion users daily — 228 million an hour or four million a minute. Google owns around 90 per cent of the Global search market. Add YouTube’s one billion video views per day, the oligopoly of ‘A for Alphabet to Z for Zuckerberg’ is a given. Gmail is used by every third person in the world.
Promoted by Zuckerburg, Facebook with over 2.5 billion active monthly users has become the largest global social media platform with a market capitalisation of around $800 billion. 2.45 billion monthly active Facebook users registered as of 2019 — making it the biggest social media platform on the earth. Of these 1.65 billion are logging in on a daily basis. India with 250 million users accounts for its largest single market. Over 55 per cent of its advertising audience is less than 34 years old. Twitter has become the most powerful tool for social and market influencing and manipulation. With over 340 million monthly accounts, around 190 million Twitter users use it almost on a daily basis.
While the US with 69 million Twitter accountholders tops the list, India with 18 million active accounts is the third largest market for Twitter. In the past 15 years, Facebook has acquired 78 companies, including Instagram and WhatsApp, to consolidate its hold over the dissemination of news and views. When Zuckerberg bought Instagram, it had only 30 million users and no revenue. Today Instagram boasts billion monthly active users, with 500 million daily users, and is estimated to have contributed $9 billion to Facebook’s revenue two years ago. Global celebrities use Instagram to promote themselves and charge huge money.
Not only do Internet companies wield fearsome financial force, they can topple elected governments and influence the viability of business ventures. If a government or a leader dares to challenge their avarice, they suitably alter the contours of the establishment to fall in line. They use those in power to expand their footprint. For example, Twitter and Facebook were perceived as the strong promoters of Donald Trump and his ideas of the world and the US. His Twitter account was followed by the largest number of Americans. Many other rulers in other countries enjoy a similar privilege. It is no coincidence that the number of followers and friends on Twitter and Facebook surge when a leader assumes office. But once he or she is about to be ousted, their accounts are blocked.
For four years, Trump was the emperor of the digital world. Zuckerberg has been his dinner partner and Jack Dorsey never bothered about Trump’s inflammable tweets. But once they realised that he was on his way out, Trump went on from being Most Wanted to Most Unwanted. Though the dotcom drummers claim to be neutral, they have been giving maximum exposure to divisive and discriminatory content, forcing various governments to impose restrictions on their operations. Recently, India held Twitter accountable and demanded it to take down certain posts and close certain accounts, alleging they foment anti-India sentiments.
Dotoms can get away with murder because they do not operate under local laws. A former executive termed them as “tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of society work”, and ensures that there is “no civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth”. Occasionally, Facebook has apologised for its misdemeanors. But the growing mistrust in its style and substance is amplifying. However, the meekly mediocre moves against them by most regimes prove that Technology Titans can ensure tectonic shifts in the system.
Since they are adored by liberals and admired by nationalists, their supremacy is likely to remain intact. Their success has become a major threat to freedom of expression and genuine democracy. They will make and unmake the rulers of the global village. Yet, there is still a chance of Facebook losing face, if not its clout. Leaders of the world unite! You have nothing to lose except your Tweets and Facebook fakery!
firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla