Why We Need Digital Socialism'

By Tom Brasher

How can we solve the issue of Big Tech? With the growth of large tech corporations, most prominently Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook, the idea that we have a free internet seems implausible as these companies sell users’ data, stifle competition and manipulate search results to suit their needs. With a combined wealth of more than $5 trillion, these companies have an enormous amount of power over how users interact with digital technologies, controlling what they can and can’t see, censoring information about unionising to their employees and allowing for the spread of sensationalism and fake news.

There have been several different solutions proposed to the problem of Big Tech, the most popular include strengthening antitrust laws to place a limit on the growth of these corporations, and breaking Big Tech companies up to prevent them from completely dominating the market. While these proposals have been popular, particularly among US Democrats, others believe that market forces lie at the centre of this issue and therefore, a much more comprehensive solution is required. This solution is digital socialism.

Digital socialism first entered the public consciousness after the publication of Paul Cockshott and Allin F. Cottrell’s 1993 book Towards a New Socialism, which advocated the use of computerised economic planning and direct democracy in order to create a new form of socialism, distinct from the planned economy which had defined the USSR. However, with the aforementioned growth of Big Tech corporations, the focus of digital socialism has shifted away from using technology to achieve socialism, towards socialising the technology itself.

This would consist of passing laws which would bring these companies into public ownership, allowing users to decide how their personal data is managed. In addition, the technologies that Big Tech companies use would be made open source, allowing for user customisation and for widespread collaboration, potentially increasing the speed at which new digital technologies can be developed. These laws would also have the advantage of preventing other companies from monopolising control over new technologies and accumulating large amounts of wealth.

In addition to its potential to reign in Big Tech, some have also argued for digital socialism as a necessity. In the same way the welfare state was first introduced as certain services, such as healthcare and education, were seen as so crucial to human survival that they had to be brought into public hands, the possibilities held by the development of artificial intelligence and automation are also too great to leave in the hands of the public sector, when they can be better utilised for the good of all.

Image: Connected, by Adi Kuntsman