The following is a reader submitted opinion article.
The Information Tycoons
During the Occupy Wall Street protests a few years ago, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders used an old term in his verbal attacks on today’s capitalists in industry, the banks and the investment houses. Comrade Bernie said, “We believe in this country; we love this country; and we will be damned if we’re going to see a handful of Robber Barons control the future of this country.” Bernie was referring to a Gilded Age term which described monopolists who sought to control various industries by what most now view as corrupt means.
Prominent among these business tycoons were Cornelius Vanderbilt (transportation), Andrew Carnegie (steel), John D. Rockefeller (oil), and James B. Duke (tobacco). Each of these, and others of similar bent, tried to dominate specific industries and thus control prices. Many got very rich in the process.
In today’s world, you would be hard pressed to find much written or said about these men and their business practices that is positive. They are almost universally condemned and left-wing types often point to the likes of Vanderbilt and Rockefeller as evidence of how Capitalism is fundamentally flawed and rigged against the common people.
Most of the abuses of power used by the Robber Barons in the Gilded Age are now illegal or heavily regulated by the Federal Government. The current business world is very competitive and today’s business practices follow well accepted rules. Or, perhaps not.
In today’s world, and we are talking about the whole world and not just one country, there are now powerful monopolistic businesses that control what people see or hear on web sites, news pages and blogs. These businesses are controlled by a few very rich and powerful men and women who seem to be very committed to the domination of their sectors. And, it seems to me, that these electronic monopolists are more of a threat to our freedoms than Robber Barons ever were.
All of us hear and see the names every day: Google, Facebook, Twitter, GoDaddy, Microsoft and Apple. It’s almost impossible to get through a normal day (maybe hour) without using products or services from one or more of these companies. Much of our news, communications and entertainment is controlled by or filtered by these new colossi of business.
Founders and executives of these new internet age companies are now among the richest people on the planet. They wield immense power. They are the new tycoons – information tycoons.
It can be argued that the world is now much more dominated by the likes of Google and Facebook in a way that would have made the Robber Barons of old very envious.
More importantly, this power directly affects our culture and politics. Even the way we think.
Isn’t it interesting that the strident detractors of Capitalism in general and specific monopolies in particular don’t seem to find anything wrong with today’s Internet fat cats and the lack of competition in their business world?
Facebook, Twitter and Google have few real competitors yet no one seems to be concerned. Microsoft is totally dominant and Apple really one has one rival, Samsung. The concentration of wealth and power is truly astounding.
As the old adage says, “power corrupts” and yet somehow these new Information Tycoons are not seen as mercenary.
How is it that when Facebook bans someone’s page because of alleged inflammatory content that no one sees where that can lead?
Why is it that when a Twitter feed is deleted because it offended someone there is no alarm?
How is it that when it is discovered that Google search results seems to be skewed towards a certain point of view that all you hear is crickets?
Why is it that when Facebook, Google or Twitter give content oversight to foreign dictatorships in return for access to markets that no one utters a peep?
Does not the control of what we see and hear and read lead directly to how we think? Isn’t this important? It seems to me that controlling thought in today’s world is a lot more important than controlling steel production, oil production and railroad tracks ever were.
Let me leave you with this. It’s the middle of a National Election in Germany right now. The Merkle regime is under considerable pressure from opposition parties because of Merkle’s guest worker and refugee policies.
It was reported by both CNBC and Bloomberg that Merkle attempted to tamp down on criticism of her immigration policies by directly, in person, requested of Mark Zuckerberg that Facebook in Germany shut down certain pages. Zuckerberg was heard to agree to the request. That Merkle would ask and that Zuckerberg would agree should scare the pants off anyone who believes in the free exchange of ideas.
The next time you do a Google search or visit Facebook or go on Twitter, ask yourself: Am I getting the whole truth here? By the way, ask yourself also: Do I dare express myself honestly here?
It may be that it isn’t Big Brother watching. It may be an Information Tycoon.
Douglass E. from Triangle area of North Carolina