To Make the Internet Great Again, Trump Must Smash Facebook and Its Tech Oligarch Friends


Even as many Americans look with horror on the authoritarian blusterer in the White House, we are slowly succumbing to a more pernicious, less obvious and far more lasting tech oligarchy gaining ever more control over our economy, culture and politics.

“We are certainly looking at” bringing antitrust cases against Amazon, Facebook and Google,” Trump said in an interview just before the election, adding that he’s had “so many people” warning him about their overwhelming power.

Unreliable narrator though the President may be, people are indeed waking up to the tech giants’ massive and largely unchecked power, and the consequences of turning over our channels of communication to them. That includes World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, who said earlier this year that he “was devastated” by how the internet has been used in recent elections, including our presidential race, and that he’s working to create a new system now that "the web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places.”

We once saw the tech industry as a refreshing alternative to the staid old corporate establishment, a entrepreneurial environment where all kinds of thoughts and images would have free rein. Yet as the industry has evolved, it has become one of the most concentrated and monopolistic America has ever seen, determined to stamp out prospective rivals and expand control of both media and politics.

Amazon’s recent decision to put its two new “headquarters” operations in New York and Washington illustrates the growing collusion of tech, culture and media. From an economic or geographic point of view, other cities like Columbus, Dallas, or Indianapolis, where tech growth is greater and where lower housing and living prices are drawing more millennials, might have made more sense. But by locating in the most expensive and connected northeastern cities, Amazon and Jeff Bezos are placing themselves in the heart of the nation’s dominant media and political culture. With almost limitless cash, considerations like office or housing costs, or even taxes, that impact most normal businesses apparently mean very little.

The early phases of the digital revolution, which I witnessed in California in the 1970s and 1980s, were shaped by relentless competition between upstarts and firms that, just a few years earlier had been upstarts. Scores of companies launched their own personal computer lines, software and peripherals.

Today, a handful of companies that have colluded to keep wages down dominate the digital economy, in part by buying up any emerging competitors. Once we had bold notions of the internet helping to create an ever-expanding realm of options in the arts and journalism. In 1980, the late Alvin Toffler suggested in The Third Wave a “de-massified media.” Instead, we have Google controlling nearly 90 percent of search advertising, Facebook almost 80 percent of mobile social traffic, and Amazon about 75 percent of American e-book sales, over forty percent of all online sales and, perhaps most important, nearly 40 percent of the world’s “cloud business.” Together, Google and Apple control over 95 percent of operating software for mobile devices. Microsoft still accounts for over 80 percent of the software that runs personal computers around the world.

This piece originally appeared on The Daily Beast.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book is The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Photo: From Flickr, using CC License.

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More Government Regulation anyone?

It is always interesting to me that Republicans are never in favor of regulating business until that business begins to criticize Republicans.

When Russian troll farms posted literally hundreds of thousands of false news stories about Democrats, any attempt to regulate them was viewed as an assault on the First Amendment. But when Washington Post started carrying stories about Trump that were mostly true but occasionally misleading, then all the sudden, Facebook is a "threat to humanity".

Facebook and Google (among others) have been threats to freedom for a while now, so I suppose we should welcome the GOP to the "party", even if they are about six years late.

Studies have shown that Google inadvertently boosted the campaign of Donald Trump, by giving equal time to pro-Trump and anti-Trump editorials. The problem is that the Pro-Trump editorials were mostly false, while the anti-Trump editorials were mostly true.

For example, the Google "fairness" algorithm elevated a story that Trump paid for his airline to transport American troops home, and demoted a story that Trump was being investigated for essentially stealing money from a charity. The airline story turned out to be false, though, while the improper use of charity funds turned out to be true. Yet if you Googled "Trump Charity", you were just as likely to get the false story as the true one.

Roughly the same is true of Facebook. The 115 known fake "pro-Trump" stories that were promoted on Facebook (in 2016) were shared a total of 30 million times. There were only 41 pro-Clinton fake stories identified in the same time period, for a total of less than 8 million shares. The number of people who clicked through is massive: The average user of Facebook was exposed to about 50 fake news stories, and believed (that they remembered and admitted to) one each. These are frightening numbers, and those are just the positive stories.

So what should we do about it? Should we turn the media into a California-like regulatory nightmare, where the big players have to get permits to set up new news outlets? Should we give Trump permission to sue Facebook and Google every time they hurt his feelings?

Should we break up the social media monopolies like the DOJ did to Ma Bell? Should we require warnings on fake news stories like we have on cigarette packages?

I wonder which examples of regulatory over-reach the Republicans are willing to embrace?

Bad headline

"To Make the Internet Great Again, Trump Must Smash Facebook and Its Tech Oligarch Friends"
should be
To Make the Internet Great Again, Facebook and Its Friends Must Smash The Dumpster®

Dave Barnes