The Return of the Techno-Moral Panic

Author: 

Our present panics tend to arrive just as new parts of our economy, culture and politics are reconstituted within platform marketplaces — shifts that have turned out to be bigger than anyone anticipated. Aggravation about “fake news” followed the realization that the business and consumption of online news had been substantially captured by Facebook, which had strenuously resisted categorization as a media company. Children’s entertainment has migrated to new and unexpected venues faster and more completely than either parents or YouTube expected or accounted for. Twitter is now the most effective way to keep up with breaking news, a singular direct line to the president, and a conspicuously mismanaged experiment in centralized public discourse.

As the internet of 2017 has changed, so has the internet user. We are now in the majority, and our experience is defined by plenitude and freedom, still, but also by a growing sense of exploitation. We find ourselves aware of the power and unaccountability of the new marketplaces in which we socialize, communicate and do business. To cast our recurring panics as technophobic reruns is to misidentify what animates them most: Not fear, but helplessness.

It would be a mistake to give credence to every noisy critique of a platform, and some of the inevitable panics about Facebook, Google and Twitter — not to mention Amazon — will be bolstered by sheer reactionary traditionalism. But in more cases, these panics will reveal themselves as concrete complaints, addressed to people and companies whose responsibility for the networks that connect us — for better and for worse — will finally start to catch up with their power.


The Return of the Techno-Moral Panic