By Istvan Pinter
The Great Depression of 1929-33 was triggered by the crash in the United States. The one of the main reasons for the crash of the stock market was the corruption of journalists. When the internet spread, many of us hoped for a safer and more peaceful world, which is led by transparency and mutual respect. Barely a decade had passed, when it became clear that the organizing principle of the net does not guarantee equality or democracy.Only few states dare to voice the truth and draw attention to dangers. The question is: whether a new Roosevelt will appear (before a collapse) and introduce a state-of-the-art New Deal that could manage the hunger for profit and provide for the safe and respectful use of the internet.
Nowadays, it is trendy to falsify history. Fortunately, it hasn’t been denied that the Great Depression of 1929-33 was triggered by the crash in the United States. Hopefully, the role of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in crisis management has not been questioned either, since he was the one who put economy under the control of the state, regulated the financial system and eventually overcame the 25% unemployment rate with the help of his program called New Deal.
The depression started in the months of September and October of 1929 with the Wall Street crash. The reasons thereof, however, are starting to be shrouded in mystery. Even Wikipedia that claims to be an encyclopedia - i.e. it is scientific and impartial - fails to mention (1) that one of the main reasons for the crash of the stock market is the corruption of journalists and editorial staff of the time. American companies at the stock market paid off journalists to publish untrue data and falsified analyses. Institutional and private investors based their decisions on this falsified information and subsequently lost everything. The crash wiped out everything and everyone with the exception of major investment banks, of course. President Roosevelt could only suspend market rules temporarily and achieve the reassessment of the role of the state in three years’ time. Until that point, banks had terminated the loans of hundreds of thousands of farmers, thirteen million people were unemployed. Those who still had a job, worked only part-time and the political system sank into anarchy. The Depression’s international impact was severe as well: recession, bank failures, high unemployment for almost a decade, poverty and the strengthening of Nazism in Europe.
Today’s situation greatly resembles to the situation before 1929: not only journalists are being paid off by well-capitalized companies and business oligarchs, but, utilizing the inventions of the fourth industrial revolution, they decide on which news are to be made unavailable and which fake news are to be published instead - what information is available to citizens at all. Influencers, who shape public opinion, are on their payroll just like corrupt journalists were back in the days. While traditional journalism is slowly eradicated by the changes in media consumption - thus annihilating ethical journalism and professionalism as well -, online content is endangered by fake news and deep fake. Advertisers of newspapers, magazines and TV shows have chosen platforms available via smart phones and notebooks. The biggest tech firms that have monopoly utilize their financial possibilities and their power.
This process of transformation is not unique. Let’s not forget that innovation and development created mass media. We can thank the inventors of steam engine, printing press and typesetting machine for affordable newspaper. Later, the discovery of electricity gave us radio and television, through which modern journalism evolved into a fourth branch of power. Not regulating this branch adequately, according to its gravity, a branch that has direct impact on the three other branches (legislative, executive and judicial) is a shortcoming of western states. Providing for checks and balances did not happen; it is enough to take a look at the impact the press has on elections. It was more important that the ruling elite could keep power under control with the help of the press and in the meantime pretend there is democracy. While, international news agencies in monopoly provided for the appropriate screening of news flow (2).
This was the environment in which the internet and content services manipulated for the individual blew up. While thousands of prepared journalists lost their jobs, voters cannot freely decide on what to listen to or watch, on based on what information and analyses they cast their vote regarding the management of societies and states.
Certain tech monopolies that are hungry for profit are not known for their ethical operation. Since they have taken over the control of the fourth branch of power, they have direct impact on the democratic structure. What is more, they can utilize this impact not only within a state, but thanks to the internet also across borders. Only few states dare to voice the truth and draw attention to dangers. The House of Commons (lower house of the parliament) in the United Kingdom accepted a report (3) at the beginning of 2019 that analyzes the situation in details and finds that the uncontrolled and unregulated monopolies endanger the very existence of western democracies. Chinese president Xi Jinping encouraged the safe and peaceful use of the internet (4) already at the 2nd World Internet Conference in Wuzhen in 2015, while Russia tries to mitigate risks by following the behavior of a responsible nation state pursuant to the Charter of the United Nations.
There is no doubt that the actions of tech giants greatly impacting international relations have consequences across borders as well. Globalized information flow may benefit economies in that it can contribute to operating a sustainable international production system. More importantly, we can discover the diversity of cultures, humans and peoples can understand each other better. When the internet spread, many of us hoped for a safer and more peaceful world, which is led by transparency and mutual respect. Barely a decade had passed, when it became clear that the organizing principle of the net does not guarantee equality or democracy. In fact, the principle “the stronger takes it all” prevails. (5) The consequences of this are obvious, the only question is how humanity utilizes the possibilities provided by development.
To answer, we should know:
Because as Mahatma Gandhi said in 1947: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed.”(6)
By the autor: Istvan Pinter LL.M. is a Hungarian geopolitician, dealing with the cyber and the virtual spaces, President of the Council on Geopolitics since 2003.