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Is digital technology making politics impossible?


Is digital technology making politics impossible?

Douglas Boggs Nov. 26, 2017

Is digital technology making politics impossible? The simple answer is yes, and no. It’s like asking“which came first, the chicken or the egg?” The answer just isn’t that simple.

There has always been a very close relationship between politics and technology. Governments fund the research that drives many birthing technologies that then help to create many of the problems with which the government then must eventually attempt to solve. It’s an inherent conundrum of the dog chasing the tail.

Technology has always seemed to have been a double edged sword when it comes to politics. It takes its shape in many forms. We can reference both Hitler and Roosevelt and their power and popularity with radio in order to present this point. Hitler’s intense emotional “Zeig Heil” speeches gave rise to the hands of the Nazi party, and Roosevelt’s friendly fireside chats allowed him to enter nearly all of the living rooms of America. We recall the first televised United States Presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy helped to solidify the now well known catch phrase of “Never let them see you sweat.”  Of course, these types of arguments can always find a pro and con angle, although it would depend on which political platform one might be standing on.

Technology guides some political leaders to help them find solutions to their cause. Truman and the atomic bomb would be one of those examples. There was no reason these two bombs needed to be dropped onto the Japanese cities of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, on August 6th and 9th, 1945.  These two attacks killed hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and decimated generations with its fallout. It was only a few months before, in April 1945, that Hitler had been defeated and by only August of that year the world knew, as well as Japan, that the Japanese could no longer win. Also, at that same time Russia was retreating under their own internal collapse. World War II was ending and America was shining bright as ever. However, Truman felt the need to make a statement to the world of the dominance of American power.

It seemed that Truman felt his message would be better served through the massive annihilation of innocent lives rather than through the inevitable round table agreements of acquiescence to the new western dominance. This new technology created the Cold War that lasted decades. That continued quest of who is the biggest bully on the block. It defined the adage of whomever has the most destructive toys wins.

Technology and politics took a turn in the late fifties to a place where no man had gone before. We found ourselves fighting over space, that final frontier.

The technology racing toward the end of World War II was moving towards rockets. Nazi Germany was leading the way before they lost the war and the United States took their chief engineer named Von Braun. It was Von Braun’s dream to put a rocket on the moon and he didn’t seem to care who allowed him to accomplish the task. When Germany was defeated the United States captured Von Braun and most of his team, who later helped develop the American space programs and military missiles in America. Politics seemed to be holding its own with technology.

Having Von Braun helped the United States compete in the new space race of the “Cold War”. This push helped develop the computers that were necessary to put a man on the moon. Since the Russians got to space first, the Americans wanted the moon. As Von Braun did his work, IBM did theirs by creating the initial computer programs that would eventually put a man in space, and in the words of Frank Sinatra in 1964 “Fly Me to the Moon”, America did in July, 1969.

The space race created the satellite technology that followed with the new powerful computer programs. Technology was moving ahead seemingly exponentially and politics was its driving force. The United States was also began moving forward with a new idea, called the internet.

In the early 1960’s. The U.S. Dept. Of Defense began awarding contracts for packet network systems, including the development of ARPANET. This was an early packet switching network and the first to implement the protocol TCP/IP, which is the foundation of the internet. This research began in several different computer science labs around the United States, United Kingdom and France. The first message ever sent over the ARPANET was from computer science Professor Leonard Kleinrock’s lab at UCLA to the second network receiving at Stanford Research Institute.

In the beginning of the internet the digital technological platform was welcomed throughout the world and nearly everyone who could jumped in. It was the epitome of the freedom of information. The internet craze created instant millionaires and billionaires and was heralded as the way to level the expanding global playing field. Children in Nairobi could feesibly have access to the same information as a child in the United States. When this new technology began it was open, chaotic and de-centralized. It spanned the globe creating an international cross platform allowing people on opposite sides of the world the ability to share ideas and information with each other for free. It allowed borders to be crossed that had never been crossed before. It was this that soon made the governments to take notice and begin to get nervous.  Despite that it was the United States government that funded the invention of the architecture of the internet back in the 1960’s.

Not long after, in the 1980’s, at CERN, in Geneva, Switzerland, we find the British computer scientist Tim Berner-Lee and his creation of the World Wide Web. This technology included the rise of instant communication by email, instant messaging, VoIP telephone calls, video calls, discussion groups, blogs, and eventually leading to the powerful social media networks we have today. Some of those Social media giants in the United States include Facebook, Twitter, Google, and others.

Now, we’re in a world where the technology is about information. Digital information data is the gold standard in capitalism and in politics. Corporations capture and control information. If corporate interests, such as oil companies utilize their ability to control information on climate change, as an example, and are able to convince the public that climate change is a fraud and if successful at this manipulation of information then they are able to save billions or perhaps trillions of dollars in taxes, regulations and enjoy increased profits. Recently, we have seen evidence of acts such as this in the corporate world with Volkswagen defrauding their customers into thinking that their diesel cars produce lower carbon emissions than the company claimed to have said that they did. They got caught defrauding the public of over 11 million cars sold. We have also seen the evidence of information control or rather the attempt to control information in the political arena with President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal eventually ending in his impeachment.

When the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.

Thomas Jefferson Paris-1789

Information is power. Corporations want it, governments want it, and people want it. Corporations want it in order to maximize their opportunity for profits. Governments want it to control the huddled masses. People want it to properly monitor what the governments and the corporations are doing in order to be able to appropriately hold those parties accountable for their wrongdoings against the people, the environment, and the freedom of information itself. With these three parties are desperately attempting to get along in the challenging digital world we now live in and information is under attack for domination, manipulation and control.

As it was with radio, telephone, television, print media, and film industries the internet companies quickly began consolidating as the big corporations swallowed up the small start-ups. This is the process of capitalism and it seems as though, referencing back to Econ101 that this is a good result.  However we have reached a point where there are now only 6 corporations that own nearly all of the radio and television networks in the United States. So, today these large media corporations are able to control most of the information that the general public sees and hears on a daily basis.  In fact, they control and can manipulate the messegaes that the public sees and hears by the minute.  These corporations also lobby the politicians and all political parties for favorable votes in order to deregulate their industry, or offer tax breaks in exchange for the large campaign contributions. This is where we begin to lose the line between freedom of the press, the independence of journalism and politicians acting in the best interests of their constituents rather than for the profits of the corporations.

The same kind of monopolies that were created through the deregulation of the telephone industry using the Telecommunications Act of 1996 has happened with the new social media/information companies today. The internet has become capitalized, monetized and monopolized and is now controlled by some of the largest corporations in the world who now subsequently control much of the information that feeds the minds the global populace. This is known as institutional corruption. The public has become complacent with such type of corruption that it is now considered to be a type of legal corruption rather than illegal corruption. Which undermines the overall effectiveness of government. Through this type of corruption it may result in corrupt means as to how congress funds elections or the message of politicians and even the political message and voting of entire political parties.

The internet was originally designed to be end to end, peer to peer and a way for the average person to communicate and organize without control by corporations or governments. This was the architecture of the internet from its inception. As the internet has grown to become such a powerful global force of the acquisition and delivering of information governments have been trying to find ways to keep their foot in the door in order to have more control over this technology. Can the internet be kept free from government censorship, control or manipulation? It depends on the country. Time will tell. We have already seen evidence that the United States government has used the accepted legal corruption process of listening to and recording every citizen’s telephone calls without consent or a warrant. The liberties of privacy, as defined under the Constitution, have been slowly eroding away.

With the release of volumes of classified documents by the whistleblower, Edward Snowden, we have come to find that our privacy has not only been under attack, but has been stolen.  Methodically over time the government and corporations have created a means to find out more about us than even we know ourselves and use that information without a warrant or our consent.  Politics and Technology can make interesting bed partners. We found that Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, ATT, T Mobile and other corporations were freely disseminating and delivering billions of terabits of information to the government about the lives of every American. Some people say, “That’s okay, I’m not doing anything wrong. As long as I am safe and our freedom is protected.” That naivete makes them fail to realize that their freedom is already deteriorating as these actions whittle away at the protections within the Constitution.

We, as a society, have come to accept a level of institutional corruption with our government rather than holding them accountable. Snowden simply pulled back the curtain and exposed the existing institutional corruption. As a society we were sold a line of information by the government who said they were doing it in the best interest of the people to keep us safe. Much of the public remain complacent and are simply too busy posting pictures of their lunch or cats rather than to use that same technology to create a groundswell of citizens rising up and holding our elected leader accountable for these actions. Although, with Egypt and Tunisia creating what became known as, the Arab Spring, taught us different and began to show the world the power of digital technology.

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”

Benjamin Franklin to the Pennsylvania Assembly 1775

Before President Trump was sworn into office he was already following President Obama’s lead using the power of digital media. Trump’s is a prolific Twitter “er” in order to communicate with his voters, fans, and followers. The President-elect began disseminating Tweets about his political views and possible upcoming policies all for the world to see. He quickly became known as the first President who would be Tweeting his politics 140 characters at a time. Certainly a new way of doing things. Many people agree that this is not the most appropriate way of leading the world. He breaks stride in the procedural processes of global politics as he proclaimed to his voters that he would do just that.

Wikileaks changed the game releasing its first document in December 2006 of a decision to assassinate government officials signed by a Somali political figure who was on the U.S terrorist list since 2001. Since then Wikileaks has released terabits of corporate, government and private citizen’s information. They make little effort to remove sensitive personal information. They continues to hold governments, politicians and corporations feet to the fire. It was in January, 2017, a Twitter account with Wikileaks released a press releases announcing in would create a data base of Twitter users. Twitter later released a statement saying “Twitter bans the use of Twitter data for “surveillance purposes.”

Trump has enough power in the volume of Twitter followers to make the mass media kowtow to his whimper. He has stated to the main stream media outlets that they were not being fair to him. If they continued to pose him in a negative way he will simply not allow them to interview him unless they can guarantee him a favorable view. As we will soon find with the Supreme Court vacancy to be filled with what he has promised to be a conservative judge the idea of free speech to be challenged. With a conservative Supreme Court, a Republican House and Senate, and Trump as President, this creates dangerous precedent that could find detrimental results to the First Amendment.

In order to truly answer this query of “is technology making politics impossible?”, we must keep both eyes open. In order to trust in technology we must be able to maintain the independence and transparency of the medium. This is our only hope to be able to hold governments accountable.

Google had been doing business in China with a version of its service that conformed to the government’s oppressive censorship policies. Google officials stated at the time that they felt the most ethical option was to offer some services, though restricted due to China’s censors. The company wanted to get their hands on the enormous Chinese market. The Chinese internet market sees twice the amount of people online in China than the entire population of the United States, and the numbers continue to grow. Google had been doing business for four years there before a cyberattack was discovered from within the country itself. Google found that the Gmail accounts of numerous Chinese human rights activists had been hacked, so they shut down their operation. Instead of complying with the Chinese regime and continue to censor their platform they chose to direct all of the Chinese traffic to an uncensored version of its search engine based in Hong Kong. The Chinese government reacted and this action in effect made Google’s services inaccessible to the hundreds of millions of internet users in a handful of weeks.

As digital technology has created a platform of disseminating information across the globe it is quite a balancing act for corporations to maintain their business practices and abide by all the varying countries laws and regulations. What is good for the goose is not always good for the gander. There are much more repressive governments than others around the globe and there are more variable ideas of what hate speech is or what exactly human rights are in one country than another.

The key to all of this is transparency?  People must be able to know if the content is being monitored and censored by the governments. The freedom and power of holding governments accountable is based on the depth of the information that the government is withholding from the people themselves and how the various media companies are complying with the specific governmental regulations that they are tasked with.

Twitter took a major step forward and created a process in Iran that is known as two-factor authentication. This is a login option that allows users with Iranian phone numbers to use two activation processes in order to access their services. This action created a higher level of security for the resistance of any governmental attempts to censor or access any of the user’s content.

We find that digital technology corporations are ahead of the curve in attempting to maintain a free and independent internet. However the battle remains. Politicians are not laying down to the technology. Across the globe there are varying levels of censorship and government control.

Have you ever wondered why in America we can no longer purchase Blackberry devices or service? But, we can see the President and other politicians using the device and service? This is due to the fact that the Canadian firm’s platform is so difficult, if not impossible, to hack. The United States government wanted to be able to have access to these devices just as Snowden exposed to the extent that they have access to all other carriers and devices. But, the Canadian firm would not budge to the American government terms. So, we see our politicians using unhackable devices while “we the people attempting to form a more perfect union” are left with devices and services that the NSA can monitor, record, and even turn on and off remotely. Benjamin Franklin would be rolling over in his grave.

The politics is clear that the government has no problem with acquiring more information through the legal corruption of our individual rights and freedoms as outlined in the Constitution. And so far the people have made it clear that they don’t seem to mind as long as they are “safe and free.” From the political side of things digital technology doesn’t seem to make politics impossible. But we are only a few Tweets away from this new President to see if there is another side to this story.


1.. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/31/politics-digital-technology-brexit-donald-trump

2.  http://spectrum.ieee.org/static/grokking-democracy-a-political-world-transformed-by-digital-technology

3. http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com/2016/10/social-media-emotion-and-politics.html

4. https://books.google.com/books?id=kujHAAAAQBAJ&pg=PA3&lpg=PA3&dq=are+digital+technologies+making+politics+impossible&source=bl&ots=VbGlXxmoQ5&sig=pQGsDC6weVBb48TCCciQcZkdu2w&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj0tqG_g7_QAhUFxmMKHVSeDv44HhDoAQhIMAk#v=onepage&q=are%20digital%20technologies%20making%20politics%20impossible&f=false

5. https://books.google.com/books?id=CE2VGH7wJcYC&pg=PA58&lpg=PA58&dq=are+digital+technologies+making+politics+impossible&source=bl&ots=Idh6CRuLTE&sig=QfMHFfZ9R3Mzn7Zo42-WRWNA-1c&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi7gsXtg7_QAhVQ4mMKHQ_MCHY4KBDoAQhIMAk#v=onepage&q=are%20digital%20technologies%20making%20politics%20impossible&f=false

6. Four Horsemen – Amazon Video

7. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9624860/Douglas-Carswell-How-technology-will-create-true-democracy.html

8. https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insight-outlook-how-digital-technologies-are-changing-the-way-we-work

9. http://www.forbes.com/sites/gregsatell/2016/03/13/is-digital-technology-making-us-any-better-off-one-prominent-economist-says-no-and-he-may-be-right/#211c13132fa0

10. http://educationcommission.org/voices/commission-voices/making-the-impossible-possible-by-baela-raza-jamil/

11. http://www.pewinternet.org/2009/09/01/the-internet-and-civic-engagement/

12. https://www.bbvaopenmind.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/BBVA-OpenMind-book-Change-19-key-essays-on-how-internet-is-changing-our-lives-Technology-Internet-Innovation.pdf

13. https://greenallianceblog.org.uk/2015/02/11/why-greens-should-embrace-digital-technology-but-not-abandon-politics/

14. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/05/27/change-the-world

15. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/it-moral-values/

16. http://civichall.org/civicist/political-debates-more-responsive-public-needs/

17. https://www.boundary2.org/2015/11/how-we-think-about-technology-without-thinking-about-politics/

18. http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/index.php/rlt/article/view/21366

19. https://is.muni.cz/el/1423/podzim2013/SAN236/um/Lister_a_spol_New_Media_A_Critical_Introducion.pdf

20. Mobs, Messiahs, Markets – Bonner/Rajiva

21. Bionomics – Rothschild

22. http://civichall.org/civicist/political-debates-more-responsive-public-needs/

23. https://www.utwente.nl/bms/vandijk/research/itv/itv_plaatje/Digital%20Democracy-%20Vision%20and%20Reality.pdf

24. http://qz.com/95696/you-probably-didnt-read-the-most-telling-part-of-orwells-1984-the-appendix/

25. 1984 – George Orwell

26. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2015/07/03/federal-cybersecurity-opm-hack-not-impenetrable/29468695/

27. Blackberry – government uses but not public

28. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/12/20/technology-and-health-_n_2338439.html

29. https://www.uta.edu/huma/agger/fastcapitalism/5_2/Giroux5_2.html

30. Arab Spring

31. http://www.hillwatch.com/PPRC/Quotes/Internet_and_Politics.aspx

32. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/15221095/ns/technology_and_science-privacy_lost/t/privacy-under-attack-does-anybody-care/

33. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/nov/21/google-facebook-brexit-uk-technology-sector-skills

34. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2016/06/24/how-brexit-affects-the-global-technology-industry/

35. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/09/2012919115344299848.html

36. http://journalistsresource.org/studies/international/global-tech/research-arab-spring-internet-key-studies

37. http://www.journalism.org/2012/11/28/role-social-media-arab-uprisings/

38. http://www.economist.com/blogs/erasmus/2016/05/after-uprisings

39. https://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/Role%20of%20Social%20Media%20During%20the%20Arab%20Spring.pdf

40. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/books/review/how-an-egyptian-revolution-began-on-facebook.html

42. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Internet

43. http://philhoward.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Democracys-Fourth-Wave-First-3-Chapters.pdf

44. https://techcrunch.com/2016/12/14/donald-trump-meets-with-tech-leaders/

45. http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/01/why-google-quit-china-and-why-its-heading-back/424482/

46. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Race
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elon_Musk


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