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Are Big Tech and fascism synonymous?

In a notable speech to the U.S. Congress on April 29, 1938, on curbing monopolies, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to the point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. This, in its essence, is fascism – the control of the government by an individual, group, or other controlling private power.” He also pointed out that a wider distribution of the stock of large corporations among the public was no guarantee that the power of these corporations could be curbed because the size of their individual holdings was too small to influence corporate policy regarding mergers, acquisitions, and consolidations.

Roosevelt was extremely concerned about the intertwined business policies of a few large corporations that controlled the country’s economy disguised as independent entities. Roosevelt’s comments came long before the invention of electronic computers, and the few corporations that controlled the U.S. economy were in the transportation (railroads and automobiles), mining (oil, iron, and copper), agriculture, banking, and real estate industries.

So what exactly has changed on the corporate front after nearly a hundred years? Frankly, not much. Big Tech has managed to monopolize every aspect of daily life, be it commerce, communications, entertainment, or other areas. The “robber barons” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Carnegie, JP Morgan, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, etc.) have given way to their modern-day counterparts (Bezos, Gates, Musk, Zuckerberg, etc.). Corporate workplaces of the 20th century were riddled with racism, sexism, homophobia, and state-sanctioned anti-union tactics—all of which are still the norm in Big Tech, especially at Tesla and Amazon.

Notable historians, writers and political scientists have identified a number of characteristics that describe fascism, some of which are self-contradictory. These characteristics include: hero worship, passionate militarism, denigration of entire cultures, societies and peoples, propagation of discord (fake news and fake videos), anti-intellectualism (lack of critical thinking skills), an impoverished language with no syntax (think acronyms and text messaging), oppression of workers and workers’ rights, elitism (us versus them), controlled mass media and the co-optation of religious and political leaders.

There is no denying that the US has a global software monopoly that is rarely acknowledged as such, but has never been challenged by China until recently, especially in the area of ​​artificial intelligence. This monopoly is enforced by rigid transnational intellectual property laws enshrined in free trade agreements, violations of which can result in sanctions against the countries concerned. It should come as no surprise that 89 percent of all web searches are conducted using Google, nearly 80 percent of all office software in the world is from Microsoft, and Meta’s WhatsApp is the most widely used instant messaging and voice over IP service in the developing world.

China, on the other hand, enjoys a monopoly in manufacturing – a monopoly granted to it by companies from Western countries that seek to maximize their profits and minimize production costs by exploiting China’s cheap, non-unionized labor. The big technology companies have played a big role in driving this transition.

Big Tech is an ardent supporter of free speech and human rights, only that doesn’t apply in their workplace, wherever that may be. Pro-Palestinian supporters might want to take note. Big Tech is staunchly opposed to surveillance when it happens in China, but not in the US. Tik-Tok is bad for the US, but Meta isn’t? Big Tech opposes military-civilian dual-use technologies in China, but has no problem bidding for billion-dollar Pentagon contracts. From Big Tech’s perspective, it’s acceptable for law enforcement to use its software to monitor Muslims and black people in the US, but it’s definitely not OK for China to keep tabs on the Uighur minority.

Over the years, Microsoft, Google and Apple, with their deep pockets, have fought tooth and nail against efforts by government regulators in the EU and the US to restrict their monopolistic practices.

In his essay “Primal Fascism,” published in the June 22, 1995 issue of the New York Review of Books, author Umberto Eco predicted: “In our future there will be a television or Internet populism in which the emotional response of a select group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the voice of the people.”

The motto of the big technology companies: “L’etat, c’est moi. I am the state.”

Published June 29, 2024, 10:22 p.m. IS

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