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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

Death by a thousand clicks

Removing the old gatekeepers has left culture in the hands of Big Tech

When the owners of the New Republic sacked the Editor Franklin Foer in December 2014, the New York-based magazine was plunged into crisis—a number of senior staff resigned and many feared for its future. For all its intellectual prestige, the magazine hadn’t been notching up enough online hits, and Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook who bought it in 2012, wanted to shake things up. He hired a former journalist at the celebrity gossip website Gawker to re-invent the New Republic for the digital era. It was a portentous moment for anyone interested in the future of publishing, apparently pitting the values of traditional journalism against the commercial cynicism of Big Tech.

In his new book World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech, Foer charges Facebook and its peers with having brought about “the catastrophic collapse of the news business and the degradation of American civic culture.” He casts the world of online media as a creeping dystopia, arguing that its obsession with digital interconnectedness is incompatible with the sanctity of the individual. For Foer, the idea that humanity can be morally re-shaped through the power of group scrutiny— what Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has termed “radical transparency”—raises the chilling spectre of a society where the individual is subjugated to the collective.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s February 2018 issue: John Naughton, James Ball, Yuan Ren, Hannah Jane Parkinson and Houman Barekat outline the ways in which our lives are controlled by big tech giants. Naughton argues that Facebook and Google have created a new “surveillance capitalism” in which they battle to grow user engagement of their products and monetise our lives for their own gain as they do so. The cover package also explores how “bots,” fake social media accounts, influenced the US presidential vote and the Brexit referendum as well as the effects of removing net neutrality in the US. Elsewhere in the issue: Samira Shackle asks what happens to ordinary civilians affected by Islamic State as they attempt to move back to their homes and rebuild their lives; Shahidha Bari asks whether we can continue to appreciate the work of actors, filmmakers and writers who have been disgraced; and Christine Ockrent profiles Michel Barnier.