Maya Kokerov, M100YEJ Alumna
The ‘Big Five’ tech companies, otherwise known as Alphabet (Google), Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft, have become the underpinnings of the corporate tech world and communication itself. They constitute the infrastructural core of the ecosystem upon which the platform society is built and thus they have a special responsibility in this respect. Their monopolies of power directly influence the ways our social lives manifest, particularly under global lockdowns.
As our post-pandemic social world became even more heavily digitalised, people found themselves immersing themselves in their devices for entertainment, information and conversation, with screen times reportedly soaring up to 200% higher than pre-quarantine. A lot of this usage was directed towards the ‘staple’ social media and messaging platforms: Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Around 47% of users reportedly spend longer portions of their day on these networks.
Simultaneously, corona-related conspiracy theories and misinformation have emerged from the bulging underbelly of Whatsapp group chats. This has led to an equivalent search for legitimate information and greater trust in traditional broadcasters. Back in March, the top 5 public service broadcasters in the UK (the BBC, ITV, STV, Channel 4 and Channel 5) experienced their highest combined monthly share of broadcast TV viewing in more than six years (59%).
The immediate aftermath of the virus momentarily turned people’s attention towards established press and families once again found themselves gathered together in front of the TV to watch the news together. At the same time, journalists and news outlets were struggling financially as the economic crisis made visible the problems with journalistic business models.
This year’s M100 Sanssouci Colloquium looked ahead to a “post-COVID19 media order” through discussion of how the pandemic is changing our economies, our societies, our pluralistic media landscapes and the future of democracy itself. Critical engagement, transparency and mutual cooperation were hailed as vital tools needed to wield and convey the value of journalism in the next decade. Audiences must trust and actively engage in the digital society in order to move beyond “social media platforms filled with screenshots from other platforms” to a much more diverse web, as Cory Doctorow eloquently put it. The ‘Big Five’ continue to profit by perverting privacy regulations and rising from the illusory ashes of fines. These tech giants, like all conglomerate monopolies, are led by algorithms which, as Safiya Noble’s 2018 study demonstrates, are designed mostly by white men. Cultural frames and expectations are baked into the infrastructural designs of platforms that are shaped by the values of their architects.