The ideal of a radically “democratized” media, decentralized, participative, and personally emancipating, was enticing, and it continued to cast a spell long after the defeat of the fascist powers in World War II. The ideal infused the counterculture of the 1960s. Beatniks and hippies staged kaleidoscopic multimedia “happenings” as a way to free their minds, find their true selves, and subvert consumerist conventionality. By the end of the 1970s, the ideal had been embraced by Steve Jobs and other technologists, who celebrated the personal computer as an anti-authoritarian tool of self-actualization. In the early years of this century, as the internet subsumed traditional media, the ideal became a pillar of Silicon Valley ideology. The founders of companies like Google and Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, promoted their networks as tools for overthrowing mass-media “gatekeepers” and giving individuals control over the exchange of information. They promised, as Turner writes, that social media would “allow us to present our authentic selves to one another” and connect those diverse selves into a more harmonious, pluralistic, and democratic society.
Then came the 2016 US presidential campaign. The ideal’s fruition proved its undoing.
It’s an interesting piece, but I think calling Twitter and Facebook “decentralized” misrepresents what those platforms actually are.