Fake News, Digital Giants and Democracy

Fake News, Digital Giants and Democracy

In years, digital capitalism driven by Silicon Valley has provided different services that are, to be honest, very useful and beneficial to all citizens. This fact has led to the development of theory of internet-centrism, the propensity to view all political and social change through the prism of the Internet and cyber-utopianism, the belief that online communication is in itself emancipatory and that the Internet always favors the oppressed.

Surely, no one can doubt that digital giants as Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc., have renewed our daily life (for example the way people organize their time or how government arranges the health care sector), but, to use their platforms, we must follow their logics that, as companies, are economic and only concern profit. This point is well-defined but, from the perspective of democracy, there are other interests at stake and it becomes clearer when we talk about fake news.

The theme of fake news and post-truth has become very crucial in 2016, especially during the electoral campaigns, from Brexit to US presidential elections to Italian constitutional referendum. The losing side of 2016 pointed out that democracy is sick due to fake news but when our elites consider fake news the main problem of Internet, their narrative becomes a shallow explanation of a complex and systemic problem.

According to sociologist and writer Evgeny Morozov, “The problem is not fake news but a digital capitalism that makes it profitable to produce false but click-worthy stories”. Mr. Morozov claims that the huge danger facing western countries today is not so much the emergence of illiberal democracy abroad as the persistence of immature democracy at home. Two are the factors that describe this immaturity: the denial of the economic origins of most of today’s problems (Brexit and Trump’s electoral success are explained only by cultural factors) and the refusal of the corruption of professional expertise. Elites don’t have recognized these denials: they only have found scapegoats.

As proof of these denials, solutions provided in Spain (ban internet memes), Italy (establish commissions to rule on the veracity of news) and German (set up centers of defense while fining the likes of social networks for spreading them) to reduce fake news by policymakers and authorities only promote more expertise, more centralization and more regulation, namely what alienates voters because they end up regulating the wrong things.

We must get out of a naïve cyber-utopianism because Internet is not positive or negative in itself but it is a technology: how it is important, it is the use of it. Moral panic caused by internet memes and funny YouTube videos is a marker of our democracies’ immaturity.

Hence, we must focus on the real problem affecting digital capitalism: digital giants must not monopolize problem-solving (Facebook has recently censored a photo of nude statue of Neptune in Bologna for obscenity, not the best way to solve the problem of freedom of expression). It is necessary to rethink the fundamentals of digital capitalism to really unleash the force and the genius of free market. We need to make online advertising less central in how we live, work and communicate and citizens must play a vital role in this shift because delegating more decision-making to them can to reduce the impact of corruptible experts and venal corporations.

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Il problema attuale delle democrazie occidentali non sono le fake news ma il capitalismo digitale degli Over-The-Top che rende conveniente produrre contenuti falsi ma redditizi.