How Big Tech rules the technological society through culture
The early internet era was full of optimism about the future of the technological society. Techno-utopians naively hoped that a society running on the so-called ‘information superhighway’ would be armed with facts, and civic life would evolve past the tired dialectic of partisan politics.
What they predicted, and what ended up happening, are two very different things. Far from achieving enlightenment, we’re confronting a world of conspiracy theories and alternative facts produced within echo chambers and widely disseminated through social media.
While so-called anti-disinformation activists such as the Biden administration’s Nina Jankowicz play an active role in whitewashing Ukrainian nationalist volunteers who committed war crimes in the Donbass, others in the media seek to blame conservative speakers such as Tucker Carlson for crimes committed by homegrown mass shooters.
Before we can understand why things are the way they are, it is necessary to recall what happened in the first two decades of the 21st century. For all the utopianism and hope that defined the end of the 20th century, we still haven’t ended starvation or inequality, accomplished world peace, or established a colony on Mars. Instead, we have a culture war and a myriad of trivialities that threaten to ensconce the human race in low-stakes preoccupations such as preferred pronouns and microaggressions.
We can lament the ways in which a new age of enlightenment, driven by technological process, has proven elusive. The failure of this utopia to arrive is very much an outcome of Big Tech's monocultural hegemony. Big Tech, which has engineered the current state of political discourse, has been subsumed by leftist beliefs—both from within and without.
Silicon Valley liberalism and the counter-establishment
Remember Usenet? You probably don’t. In the ‘90s, Usenet was a series of message boards that existed on an alternate network before the dominance of the “World Wide Web.” Usenet and other disparate networks existed alongside the web – and continue to do so. Usenet was something that anyone with a client program could access, the same way you can access the World Wide Web through browsers such as Google Chrome, Safari, or Firefox today. This decentralized network of message boards – “newsgroups” – served as sounding boards for people to have conversations. They were run very much as forums are these days, dedicated usually to singular topics or fields of interest.
Many of the terms used these days by the LGBT+ and social justice communities first emerged or took on prominence through these Usenet communities, including the term ‘cisgender’ (describing a person whose gender identity corresponds with his or her biological sex – the opposite of transgender). The concept was never really a thing until the denizens of these newsgroups made their way to proto-social media sites such as Tumblr, and eventually dominated social media platforms. Now, these concepts, which were incubated in echo chambers, have proliferated to mainstream political discourse. Even Democratic politicians announce their pronouns.
But just as radical liberal ideas began to trickle out of the insular Usenet intelligentsia, eventually latching on to the centrist liberalism of the establishment, so too did the counter-establishment on imageboards – the first of which was 4chan. This counter-establishment aligned itself around conservatism.
True, it’s a mode of conservatism that’s no doubt different from what the Founding Fathers and classical liberals of the Age of Enlightenment would have identified with. “Reject modernity. Embrace tradition,” or so the slogan goes. It is a shibboleth often spoken and then regurgitated ad nauseam by disconnected, self-declared conservatives who regard the present state of conservatism as “progressivism in slow motion.” Unhappy with the way things are, the disenfranchised turn toward a form of cultural neo-fundamentalism that is laden with a sense of nostalgia for things that never were.
The ‘manosphere’ exists in parallel with social justice activists who also imagine that the world is against them – and that is the shared history that the soft-critics of Big Tech in the mainstream media frequently ignore. It’s easier for them to blame things like MAGA, 4chan, video games, and individual actors for expressing their “toxicity” on the internet rather than blame the internet for capturing our expressive life the way that it has.
GamerGate: The Silicon Valley liberals’ whipping boy
Liberal tech journalist Taylor Lorenz, like other members of the establishment media, frequently rails against Big Tech for disempowering minorities and marginalized people. But she understands this disempowerment through the lens of harassment. Harassment, she says, is a significant issue in today’s social media landscape. If you’re being shouted down by someone who’s making fun of your IQ, your looks, or the fact that you chug down 3 gallons of water a day, and you can’t slap him through the monitor, it’s understandable why you’d feel actively disempowered.
The establishment press frequently cites GamerGate as the unlikely social movement to kick off the trend of angry gamer nerds, mainly white, Christian males, on the internet feeling empowered enough to harass anyone who makes them feel small or alienated like some 21st century ‘Revenge of the Nerds’. And companies such as Twitter, they argue, don’t take these young men seriously enough to want to do anything about it.
For those not in the know, GamerGate was the anti-establishment movement driven by gamers in response to the woke gentrification of video games in 2014. Having grown out of an accusation against a feminist game writer benefitting from cronyism, it grew into a culture war around the industry. The term is used in the liberal gaming press as a shorthand for “male supremacist neckbeards threatening to rape and kill women in the videogame industry.”
These days, GamerGate is more often cited by journalists than by anyone who participated in it at the time. A simple Google search reveals no fewer than a dozen references to GamerGate in the past month alone – all in connection to the shooting in Buffalo, Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, or some demand for increased censorship and an end to free speech.
The fact of the matter is that GamerGate was a symptom of the cultural hegemony emanating out of Silicon Valley. It was a counter-establishment reaction. And Elon Musk, who recently made his move to buy Twitter, has become the avatar of all the disenfranchised, who are now fighting back against the establishment.
That’s not to justify the people who behave badly online, or to demonize them as wrong-thinkers. We are all entitled to our opinions, but our behavior in the real world is usually, if not always, is based on how others react to our actions. On the internet, you can be as antisocial as you want to be and invite other antisocial people to form a sort of antisocial collective with you, ritualistically throwing taking pot shots at the rest of society.
But the existence of a counter-establishment demonstrates something that Lorenz and her peers are quick to ignore.
Today, leftist thought permeates the mainstream, in part because of the vast amount of cultural capital that technologists have amassed alongside their wealth and have been able to export globally. Many of these technoliberal ideas are distinctly anti-male, and to an extent, anti-white.
For example, look at transgender feminist Coraline Ada Ehmke’s ‘Contributor Covenant’ – a legally codified set of do’s and don’ts for an inclusive (read: ‘woke’) workplace, which has seen widespread adoption in Silicon Valley. The author of the Covenant also co-authored the ‘Post-Meritocracy Manifesto’, a pledge to repeal principles that “mainly benefit those with privilege, to the exclusion of underrepresented people in technology.”
The fight against ‘white supremacy,’ while valid perhaps in the 1940s up to the 1990s, is an older, now obsolete paradigm that only serves to inflict damage on the fabric of society in the present. Silicon Valley’s brand of liberalism, however, is obsessed with immutable characteristics such as race, gender, and sexual orientation. And through that political orientation, Big Tech chooses to disenfranchise white men.
This rhetoric – paradoxically promoted by white men within Big Tech who want to prove their allyship – promotes a system that values identity over merit. This, in turn, has led to young men coming together around their identity, trying to find empowerment in all the wrong places – in the incel subculture, or on white supremacist discord servers, where they find mutual solace in their sense of shared victimhood. It’s almost hard to blame them when the media and Big Tech bombard us all with messaging that vilifies certain immutable characteristics.
As difficult as it is to swallow, it’s not entirely the fault of these arguably disempowered men who seek to regain their place in society (some of whom do want supremacy, as opposed to equality – if only out of revenge). Nor is it explicitly the fault of leftists or social justice activists that anyone is feeling disempowered. And it’s just not productive to lay the blame solely at their feet.
Big Tech wants big expression – but only for a small minority
There is a culture war that’s happening beneath the shadow of Big Tech, which, for all its pandering to ‘diversity’, refused to take a side until it affected its bottom line. And, given how Big Tech’s stakeholders and investors come from the same coastal wealth as the engineers who design these platforms, it’s no surprise that it takes the side against counter-establishment values.
We must be mindful of how Big Tech, which remains poised to spread its tentacles throughout every aspect of our lives, governs our interactions with others on social media. While condemning all forms of bigotry and bragging about its ability to empower people to make their voices heard, it surreptitiously concentrates the governance of where and how this speech occurs in the hands of the elite. And they love it – they make money off it. Platforms such as Facebook, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter weaponize our very human desire to express – making small gestures to make people feel personally empowered and thriving off the viral potential of cancel culture and mean-spirited ‘debate.’ But ultimately, these gestures are merely an illusion to keep us distracted in our rage toward our political and ideological opponents.
For all its virtue signaling, Big Tech still takes investments and cues from totalitarian interests, political lobbyists, special interest groups, and sells user data to not-so democratic governments all over the world—including the US government.
We are asleep, naive, and unaware of the creep of Big Tech. The media wants us to focus our rage on disenfranchised white men or expressions of counter-culture – meanwhile, we’re being strangled by Silicon Valley’s myriad tentacles, slaves to the technological society that has arisen in place of the technological utopia we had hoped for.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.