Then there’s the impact of the digital revolution on publishing and, by extension, on politics. “Our news ecosystem has changed more dramatically in the past five years than perhaps at any time in the past five hundred years,” says Emily Bell, the director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University’s Journalism School.23 Digital technology, she warns, has actually put the future of publishing “into the hands of a few, who now control the destiny of many.”24 Social media, Bell says, have “swallowed journalism” with what she dubs—with a medieval symbolism that might have amused Erasmus of Rotterdam—the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon, engaged in a “prolonged and torrid war” for our attention. These private superpowers are thus becoming our “new speech governors,” usurping the traditional role of government in determining what can and can’t be published.25 Meanwhile, online publishers—the actual creators of content and, one would assume, economic value—remain mired in crisis, with 85 percent of all online advertising revenue going in the first quarter of 2016 to just two of Tim Berners-Lee’s centralized data silos: Facebook and Google.26 The monopolization of media isn’t just a problem for publishers. With Facebook as our new front page on the world, we are simply being refed our own biases by networked software owned by a $350 billion data company that resolutely refuses to acknowledge itself as a media company because that would require it to employ armies of real people as curators. It would also make Facebook legally liable for the advertising that appears on its network. So what we see and read on social media, therefore, is what we want to see and read. No wonder everything now seems so inevitable to so many people. This echo chamber effect, the so-called filter bubble,27 has created a hall of mirrors, a “post-truth” media landscape dominated by fake news and other forms of online propaganda. Thus the disturbing success of Trump, Brexit, and the alt-right movement; thus the virulence of Putin’s troll factories, networked ISIS recruiters, and the other mostly anonymous racists, misogynists, and bullies sowing digital hatred and violence.
From How to Fix the Future by Andrew Keen.