The Advent of the Information Hegemony Era: ANBOUND's Observation on the Joint Banning of Trump
The storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters on January 6, 2021 has subsided, and the situation in Washington has returned to normal. However, this has caused effects not just in the United states but also the world. Among them, one phenomenon that is worth noting is social media platforms joining forces to block the current U.S. president.
While the tech giants (Facebook, Google, Twitter, Apple, Apple, etc.) have very good reasons for banning Trump, mainly because he incites violence, tramples on democracy, and disrupts order；but behind this reasonable and justified joint action, it appears that there is seemingly a kind of almost uncontrolled power possessed by these tech giants.
This kind of power is not granted by the state or the law, but by the controllers of the tech giants themselves, and they include Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, Jack Dorsey, Tim Cook as well as several others. When it comes to social media, the influence of this power seems to almost have no boundaries. It is based on an unprecedentedly powerful information monopoly in the Internet Era. Whoever possesses this kind of power in the modern information society would have the ability to decide the fate of others.
Researchers at ANBOUND believe that after the political disputes in the United States gradually calm down, the powerful control of information by tech giants in the information age will continue to trigger reflections and discussions.
Information Hegemony in the Internet Era
The combined forces of major tech giants to block the incumbent U.S. President Trump has directly led to his "social death", demonstrating to the world the power of self-authorization of these tech giants and the powerful influence of information monopoly. The hidden risks in this are something that one cannot simply ignore.
As early as 2016, ANBOUND had already noticed the "supranational power" hidden behind the tech giants in the Internet Era. In 2018, when Facebook's data breach had become widely discussed, ANBOUND has formed a complete view of "Information Hegemony in the Internet Era".
Taking Facebook as an example. According to the research team of ANBOUND, the influence of the largest social network platform in the United States in the Internet Era is no less than that of a traditional multinational corporation. Indeed, it might very well be more influential. Previously, multinational corporations were thought as "monsters" that transcended countries, and they were a unique entity different from governments. However, the core of these traditional multinational corporations is capital, and its main activities, i.e., investment and business activities, are all centered around capital and returns. Facebook, however, is quite different. Its main body comprises of its users. What it has is an interconnected population network of 1.6 billion members. The social relationships of these people and their needs, from communication to information, are all affected, or even dominated by Facebook. No singular country can claim to have such influence over this magnitude of people, but Facebook is somehow capable of this. Other tech giants too, have such an ability, and they have become a "supranational power in the Internet Era".
The popularization and application of the innovation that is the internet has ushered in a new age of data, making the online world a digital extension of the already complex physical world, thus giving birth to a new "information hegemony".
In the post "What Makes Tech Platforms So Powerful?" published by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business Stigler Center's blog ProMarket, it was mentioned that there are three powers of American tech giants, i.e. gatekeeper power, leveraging power, and information exploitation power.
Gatekeeping is a concept that relates to communication. A gatekeeper is able to screen information, such as news media and edit them for audiences, or it can help companies decide whether a product is able to enter the market. The article believes that the gatekeeper power of tech giants comes from their mastery of the infrastructure that other companies must rely on to develop online businesses. As of 2018, 55% of shopping searches in the U.S. were conducted on Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook accounted for 73% of U.S. online advertising and had a growth of 83% while Apple and Alphabet monopolized 99% of the world's smartphone operating systems. This mastery of infrastructure makes these tech giants the only choice for everyone. Once they have attained such a power, nothing is stopping them from abusing it. Gatekeepers have the ability to filter information, and as the essence of tech giants is that of enterprises, they would naturally hope to continuously exploit their positions as monopolies. Indeed. they will continue to use the power of being gatekeepers to restrict third-party access to their users in order to further consolidate their position.
Leveraging power refers to the ability of tech giants to increase leverage, similar to that of financial markets. As mentioned earlier, the power of gatekeeping gives these giants the ability to filter information, and after amplifying it through leverage, these tech giants can then expand their power from online-based infrastructure to all markets. For example, if Amazon's own products forms a competitive relationship with other products sold on the Amazon platform, it can then give priority to presenting its own products by letting the competing products rank lower on its own platform. This actually constitutes a kind of unfair competition. In 2017, the European Commission fined Google USD 2.7 billion for abusing its search engine and guiding users to Google's shopping service.
The so-called information exploitation power refers to the power of tech giants to use the massive amounts of data obtained from their position as monopolies and huge user base for further exploitation and utilization. Tech giants can easily ascertain how long countless internet users spend on certain websites as well as everything there is to know about their shopping carts. They can even collect data from third-party websites and other apps, so as to grasp the users' behavior data on third-party websites. With the power of information exploitation, tech giants can use the information for other derived businesses, such as precise advertisement, user behavior analysis, or commercial competition.
The popularization of the internet, the development of the mobile internet, and the large number of applications on smart devices have created a new era of data. What is worrying is that in the seemingly infinite internet world, data resources are increasingly concentrated on a few tech giants. These giants are then able to monitor the entire economy: Google can find out what people are searching for, Facebook can find out what people are sharing, and Amazon can find out what people are buying. They will be the first to know when a new product or service is popular, making it so that they are able to imitate the product or service or simply buy it before it becomes a major threat. For example, in 2014, Facebook spent USD 22 billion to acquire WhatsApp, which had fewer than 60 employees. Such an acquisition is the type that eliminates potential competitors. This also means that competition can be stifled by controlling data. People have every reason to worry about the control of data by tech companies, and these tech companies have formed a huge power which is able to control the internet society. Such is information hegemony in the internet age.
How should we adapt to this new era? How can tech giants that possess "information hegemony" be regulated? This has become a real challenge.
A Rational View of the "Internet Plus" Strategy and the Essence and Direction of China's Economy
In March 2015, during the Third Session of the Twelfth National People's Congress, Premier Li Keqiang proposed the "Internet Plus" action plan for the first time, aiming to promote the integration of mobile internet, cloud computing, Big Data, and the Internet of Things with modern manufacturing in order to promote a healthy development of e-commerce, industrial internet, and internet finance, as well as to guide internet companies to expand into the international market.
As a result, "Internet Plus" has become integral in China's economic development in recent years. With the development of the internet industry as well as being promoted by the Chinese government, the internet is regarded as a breakthrough in the search for development under China's new economy. It is seen as the primary way to support innovation and entrepreneurship among the masses and has become the focus of the capital market. However, ANBOUND's founder Mr. Chan Kung has expressed his concern about the speculative momentum in the Chinese economy behind the "Internet Plus" boom.
Chan Kung believes that the internet entrepreneurship has little to do with productivity. Compared with the real economy, the virtual economy provides only a "revolution in form". Generally, the internet is not like a technological revolution. It does not create new products, but rather new platforms. Its "revolutionary temperament" is obviously more than its true support for society. Revolutionary innovations such as car hailing apps have the same effect as e-commerce; they are industrial revolutionaries which have subverted older industries. They transformed industries and created new platforms, yet no new products have appeared in the process and not much value has been generated. But at the same time, both people's lives as well as the urban development environment has seen great changes.
For China as the "world factory", it cannot solely seek to rely on "Internet Plus" in order to seek development and transformation under the new normal. As a new form of technology and virtual platform, the internet is not a panacea for solving all problems, as it merely provides a "revolution of form" that helps reduce costs. If the effect of "Internet Plus" is arbitrarily exaggerated, it would be detrimental to China's economy. As it has a huge economy, China needs more diversified innovation and entrepreneurship as well as more market-oriented reforms based on the real economy. This should become the basic principle and starting point for guiding China's economic policies.
New Normal of "Internet + Politics" cannot be Ignored
Like his predecessor Michael Young who introduced the concept of "meritocracy", in 2016 ANBOUND's founder Mr. Chan Kung proposed the new concept of "Internet + Politics" to explain his thoughts on the influence the internet on international politics.
Mr. Chan Kung believes that in a country with "Internet + Politics", the importance of the head of state has been greatly weakened, while the status and role of the parliament will be greatly improved. While the state continues to maintain what it is, the president or the prime minister have become less important, because they are just one of countless political spokespersons. The power of the state was once completely concentrated in the hands of political elites, yet now there is mass politics because of technology. There is only one place that can restrict these political spokespersons, and that is the parliaments of various countries. The parliament is a playground for these political spokespersons, but at the same time it is also a stage that restricts their scope of action, just like a theatrical stage.
It has to remember that in the future world, the target that countries will deal with are not the Presidents or the Prime Ministers. The real power lies in the parliament. If one fails to realize the world is changing, one will be eliminated by "Internet + Politics".
Going back to Trump and riot at the Capitol, if we put aside the particularity of this event and examine this information power in a general sense, we should see its terrifying aspects.
Theoretically, in a world that is highly dependent on online social media, if these technology giants with strong information monopoly power are unhappy one day, they will collude for some purpose, and they will control the world to a considerable extent. If they use capital to control more traditional media, the power of these tech giants based on information monopoly will be amplified even more. This possibility is quite possible, so it is worthy of vigilance.
The traditional social power structure and social governance are mutual adapting to the information dissemination during the time of traditional era; yet great changes have taken place in information dissemination and control in the Internet Era. The past social power structure and governance system will be in turn, be reconstructed as well.
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