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Tech Media Corruption in the Age of Information

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Part of the Library of Public Policy and Public Administration book series (LPPP,volume 15)

Abstract

Choosing Facebook as the specific example of what is referred to in this chapter as the 6th Estate in order to distinguish it conceptually from the fourth and fifth Estates, the primary objective of the first part of the chapter is to examine if digital information created, disseminated, and mediated increasingly via Facebook is also subject to those same normative principles as the fourth and fifth Estates. Having established that Facebook is in essence a media company, the second part of the chapter will demonstrate, on the basis of the Dual Obligation Information Theory (DOIT), that Facebook is also subject to the same normative principles and requirements that other media companies of the fourth and fifth Estates, are. The third part of the chapter will examine if Facebook’s role in the Cambridge Analytica case not only violated the fundamental normative principles and requirements to which all media companies are subject, but moreover, its actions constituted media corruption. More generally, Facebook’s media corruption as illustrated in the Cambridge Analytica case, relates to a conflict of interest emanating from its business model that in its design and practice is conducive to systemic media corruption.

The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars but in ourselves

(Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene III, L. 140–141).

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This is an extended and revised chapter, based on an earlier abridged version of a published paper by Spence (2020) The sixth estate: media corruption in the age of information. Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Emerald Publishing Limited, 1477996X.

  2. 2.

    Traditionally the Four Estates were understood to include, the government, the clergy, the public and the press in the form of the legacy media whose role was to hold the other three estates to account for the public good. In the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web where anyone with access to the Internet can disseminate and communicate information to the public, nationally and internationally, the fifth Estate is a more recent addition that includes the social media, mediated digitally via Tweeter, Facebook, Google, and other information technologies. The relevance and significance of the fourth and fifth Estates especially through their symbiotic convergence i.e., the Convergent Media, is that they act as a monitoring and accountability measure to hold the other two governing estates, that of government and clergy to account. For example, it has been the Convergent Media, including WikiLeaks, that has exposed the misdemeanors and corruption of governments and clergy (police corruption and corruption of the clergy in the form of sexual abuse are two out of many examples).

  3. 3.

    Insofar as Google, like Facebook, operates functionally as a media company in its information practices through its search function and its other communication and curation practices that involve the collection, profiling and harvesting of users information, which like Facebook, sells to advertisers for profit, then Google should also be viewed as being essentially a media company. According to Rana Foroohar (2019: 107) Google’s prospectus, when it went public in 2004, shows that “Google wasn’t just a tech company. Page 80 of the prospectus laid it out: “We began as a technology company and have evolved into a software, technology, Internet, advertising, and media company, all rolled into one.”

  4. 4.

    Referring to Big Tech generally, which includes Facebook and Google, among others, Rana Foroohar (2019: 50) astutely observes that, “it’s a schizophrenia that reflects ambivalence, both, on the part of the companies and society itself, about what they are. Media players? News organisations? Platform technology firms? Retailers? Logisticians?”

  5. 5.

    The term, sixth Estate, is a neologism I introduced in this book to distinguish the media role of Tech companies such as Facebook and Google from that of the fourth and fifth Estates.

  6. 6.

    For details of that case see Cambridge_Analytica. (Wikipedia. Accessed: 19 September 2019).

    .

  7. 7.

    See, for example, Zeynep Tufekci (2018). You Tube, The Great Radicalizer, The New York Times, March 10, 2018; Christopher Mims (2018). Who has more of your personal data than Facebook, The Australian and Wall St Journal, April, 23, 2018; Frank Pasquale (2015) The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, pp. 50–51;66;78–79;96;185;190–191. 214–215; and for a more comprehensive account of the problem, see, Shoshana Zuboff (2019) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Profile Books; Webb, Amy (2019). The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity, Hatchet Books; Foroohar, Rana (2019); Galloway, Scott (2017). The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. London, Great Brittain: Bantam Press; Van Dijck, Poell and De Waal (2018), The Platform Society: Public Values in a Connected World. Oxford: Oxford University Press; and Lynch, Michael P. (2016) The Internet of Us: Knowing and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data, Penguin Random House.

  8. 8.

    The Social Contract referred to here is based on the philosophical ethical theories of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and John Rawls that will be examined in more details in Chap. 7. Although different in their approach and articulation those social contract theories counsels every citizen and corporations to act for the common good of society as whole and not for their own exclusive self-interests in violation of the common good.

  9. 9.

    See, for example, Zeynep Tufekci (2018). You Tube, The Great Radicalizer, The New York Times, March 10, 2018; Christopher Mims (2018). Who has more of your personal data than Facebook, The Australian and Wall St Journal, April, 23, 2018; Frank Pasquale (2015) The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, pp. 50–51;66;78–79;96;185;190–191. 214–215; and for a comprehensive account of the problem, see, Shoshana Zuboff (2019) The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, Profile Books.

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Spence, E.H. (2021). Tech Media Corruption in the Age of Information. In: Media Corruption in the Age of Information. Library of Public Policy and Public Administration, vol 15. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-61612-0_5

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