The Power of Big Tech Over American Democracy

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I want to share some broad observations about the Internet’s dominance—and in particular, the dominance of the biggest digital platforms—over our economy, our society, and our democracy. It’s easy to forget how different the world was just 20 years ago. At the time, General Motors topped the Fortune 500 list. Apple was 285 on that list, and Amazon didn’t even make the cut. Twitter was still an idea somewhere in the recesses of Jack Dorsey’s head. Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t old enough to vote, even though he’d likely already acquired the undeveloped view of the First Amendment that he holds to this day. No one on this planet had ever heard of Gmail, or YouTube, or TikTok. That was only 20 years ago, but it might as well have been 200. Today, Americans spend over two hours a day on social media—more time socializing online than in-person. The average TikTok user in our country spends over 80 minutes a day on the app—that is three weeks of every year. I’d say speaking as a parent and a citizen, you could probably learn almost anything but Mandarin if you focused on it three weeks out of the year. We are using that for TikTok. Facebook now hosts 2.7 billion “friends”—half a billion more souls than Christianity. Twitter has fewer followers, of course, than Facebook, but those followers include every single politician, every journalist, every TV producer in America—withering our political debate to 280 characters and to those effervescent posts. In just two decades, a few companies have transformed much of humanity’s daily life. How we amuse ourselves. How we discover, learn, and shop. How we connect with friends, family, and our elected representatives. How we pay attention. How we glimpse our shared reality, or how we don’t. This transformation is a staggering testament, of course, to American innovation. And we can all think of a dozen ways these platforms have improved our lives. But this dramatic shift from our analogue to our digital human existence has never been guided — or even informed, I would argue — by the public interest. It’s always been dictated by the unforgiving requirements of a few gigantic American enterprises and their commercial self-interest.

ICYMI: Bennet Delivers Keynote Address on Power of Big Tech Over American Democracy and Society At Silicon Flatirons Flagship Co