When American representative democracy collapses, blame it on Facebook.
The internet can be used for immoral purposes, writes tech pioneer Taplin, director emeritus of USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab, from selling drugs and pornography to enabling the piracy of intellectual property. It can also be used to do good, enhancing the economies of remote places by linking them to the world. But if it is largely amoral, that, by Taplin’s account, owes little to those who are making fortunes on the Web by controlling and selling information and ransoming eyeballs. Among Taplin’s heavies are Facebook, Google, and PayPal, as exemplified by founders and executives Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and Peter Thiel, the last of whom emerges as a kind of dark lord of the Hobbesian, libertarian internet (a characterization echoed by other observers). Google enables piracy, guiding readers to sites where albums and movies can be downloaded. Though hiding behind a do-no-evil mantra, Google could simply stop listing pirate sites just as it stopped listing illegal drug sites—“after it paid a $500 million fine for linking” to them. What does all this have to do with democracy? For one thing, it promotes inequality—and, as Taplin notes, with Robert Bork’s “protrust” view of antitrust laws now dominant in legal and governmental circles, monopolies are often encouraged rather than prohibited. For another, it narrows choice despite the seemingly endless offerings of Amazon, Wal-Mart, et al. The author offers a modest program of resistance, among whose planks is the interesting notion that creators, especially musicians, would do well to follow the Sunkist model, forming cooperatives to control their works just as citrus growers banded together in common interest. “I have no illusion that the existing business structures of cultural marketing will go away,” he writes, “but my hope is that we can build a parallel structure that will benefit all creators.”
A powerful argument for reducing inequality and revolutionizing how we use the Web for the benefit of the many rather than the few.