I’m struck by how this kind of power can be seen as no big deal. Large corporations exist to sell us things, and to impose their interests, and I don’t understand why we as the research/academic community should just think that’s totally fine, or resign to it as “the world we live in”. That is the key strength of independent academia: we can speak up in spite of corporate or government interests.
To me, this resignation to online corporate power is a troubling attitude because these large corporations (and governments and political campaigns) now have new tools and stealth methods to quietly model our personality, our vulnerabilities, identify our networks, and effectively nudge and shape our ideas, desires and dreams. These tools are new, this power is new and evolving. It’s exactly the time to speak up!
That is one of the biggest shifts in power between people and big institutions, perhaps the biggest one yet of 21st century. This shift, in my view, is just as important as the fact that we, the people, can now speak to one another directly and horizontally.
This strikes me as an important fault line, in so far as a superficial difference (i.e. whether or not this bothers you) tracks much broader divergences in political orientation which are likely to become more pronounced as these trends develop over time. However the risk is that this one contentious study becomes a distraction because, as Tufekci points out, this is something Facebook does on a daily basis. What could be lost here is a sense of the political apparatus coming into being and its broader implications.
Categories: Digital Sociology