Brevity is the soul of tweet

on the fifth power of social media

Posted on November 21, 2017

Brevity is the soul of tweet

When Abraham Lincoln campaigned for the US presidency, he travelled by railroads and spoke up to six hours to all future voters. When Bush or Clinton competed for the Oval Office, they travelled by planes and learned how to focus on ninety seconds of audiovisual bullets carried by the TV stations watched by millions in prime hours. When Donald Trump was winning the presidential race against Hilary Clinton, he travelled by planes, relied on big data analyses, and tweetted on and off the record all the time. His bullet points of aphoristic tweets reached hundreds of millions, who could pick him up individually and in real time (or slightly later). None of these hundreds of millions actually needed to see him in person, either on screen or in reality. Their vote revealed the fifth power – the world wide web’s uses of global networking for making up individual minds, never mind mine fields of data mining, minding and profiling.

Some claim that the fifth power emerged from the spirit of digital communications, augmented realities and virtual simulations. After the parliaments, the governments, the courts of law and TV studios – the world wide webs. These hyper-connected political accelerators of democratic decision making are hotly contested by all parties. The immigrants use mobile phones to mobilize millions in Los Angeles against planned bills of law in Washington DC. Facebook and Google go far beyond Shylock in “Merchant of Venice”. Instead of a pound of flesh they sell individual hearts and minds to the highest political or commercial bidders. Should Schmidt and Zuckerberg face criminal charges of selling human organs? They do not bother to tell the owners about their sales. When caught red-handed, their managers claim innocence – after all, they are ruled over by computerized brains of sophisticated bots and blessed by a great god of a universal market exchange. And they do have a point. Markets and democracies are better than Putins and Kim Jong-uns.

It is hard to say how the new power will establish itself accommodating or fighting the other four. Facebook and Google will probably be broken as monopolies of coal, steel or stationary telephones were. But a new class struggle will go on. What rough beast, its hour come down at last, slouches towards Hollywood or Wikileaks to be born?


Haarlem, November 21, 2017