Elephant in the Digital Room (EBC)

The Elephant in the Digital Room: Technology and the Loss of Democracy (Part 2)

What is the Elephant in the Digital Room?

On reading this title, I was curious to find out this elephant in the digital room. It piqued my interest to learn about this thing or person that had been given the status of a giant. As I read on, it was funny to find out that the imagery did in actual fact refer to the giants in the technology industry, who had transformed the once non-commercial mediums to profit-making ventures.

At first, I thought it was the internet that was being described. Then, the author noted that it was about time people recognized the elephant in the digital room – Capitalism.

I know! Where did capitalism come from? That was my question too!

Capitalism: defining the internet

The writer believed that “Celebrants” and “Skeptics” of the internet had ignored the impact of capitalism in their arguments. According to McChesney (2013), capitalism defines everything that is of a social nature, including the internet. To prove his point, he had several reasons. Here is one I considered valid. Over the years, profit motive (a feature of contemporary corporate capitalism) defined the way the internet developed, and would probably continue to influence its growth.

To me, this is very true because the way the internet is run today is very different from the ideology it started with. As previously discussed on this blog, the internet has become a platform where big giants like Google and Facebook struggle to take over every available digital space. They try to “lock-in” individuals to have fuller access to individuals’ preferences and also channel products to them. However, this is only possible because of the free market system of government.

Everything online, today, appears to be designed to attract advertisers, marketers, and public relations personnel. Thus, commercialization is now the end goal for platform owners. For instance, most social networking sites (SNSs) have these little communities or groups that people are a part of either by choice or by invite. These small groups have become perfect baits for marketers and advertisers who now have all their customers in one place.

Political economy: A better way?

These big giants have monopolized the system and thus created a power imbalance in the society, which is against real democracy (McChesney, 2013). In other words, capitalism, which is enabled by the government, “is turning the internet against democracy.” Therefore, according to McChesney (2013), the key to understanding the internet is not in the confines of a “networked economy” or “global economy”. But, through looking at it from the angle of political economy because these giants were only enabled by favourable regulations and taxation policies of the government. The government, alongside other large corporations, enjoy the benefits of the current state of the internet (that is, free surveillance and consumer information).

The world of the internet is fast becoming a scary place, with all these secret agendas from not just platform owners or even users, but also corporations and the government. Perhaps, the author is right! Looking at the internet from this point of view has definitely broadened my understanding of the internet.

By Ngozi Adighibe

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