by CORY DOCTOROW at Boing Boing / 6:15 AM TUE JAN 7, 2020
100 years ago, wealthy people bought up newspapers as fast as they could, then used them to smear progressive reformers, inventing lies (“Congressmen don’t pay taxes!”) to discredit the entire project of dismantling American oligarchy.
The reformers railed against “absentee owners” — distant media tycoons who didn’t care if the fake news their papers printed ruined the lives of the people in the towns they served. The New Deal joined forces with newspaper unions to create the will for trustbusting and anti-monopoly regulation that later weakened the control of phone companies and broadcasters.
The idea of “objective” news comes from this regulated, competitive era in which the ethics of news-reporters were able to trump the profit motives of media owners, and also allowed alternative news-sources like minority-owned papers, union papers, and so on.
This held until the deregulation and union-busting of the 1980s and 1990s, the rise of Reaganism (carried on by Bill Clinton), which allowed for large-scale media consolidation and the regulatory changes that made Rush Limbaugh and Fox News possible.
Meanwhile Big Tech was rising and rising, taking advantage of the same deregulation bonanza to do all kinds of crooked, monopolistic stuff — vertical integration (Google/Doubleclick); buying nascent competitors (Facebook/Instagram); merging with major rivals (Yahoo/everyone).
Matt Stoller’s (previously) Twitter thread on this history wraps it all up by noting that Big Tech’s recommendation systems have become the ultimate “absentee owner” — and, like the absentee owners of the past century, they are vectors for fake news, which are like “barnacles” clinging to the Algorithm — and the authoritarian response to fake news and algorithmic chaos is to turn the Big Tech giants into all-powerful arbiters of our discourse.
What we need to restore democracy is a wholesale anti-monopoly approach to our media ecosystem, starting but not ending w/ the platforms. Communities must have the ability to organize their own public commons for debate and speech, unmediated by private monopolies.
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