The Day of the Comet: What Trustbusting Means for Digital Manipulation

This presentation by Cory Doctorow was given as the opening keynote at the second annual NISO Plus conference. Doctorow offered this as the abstract for his talk.

Big Tech likes to boast about how good it is at manipulating us and oh, they are! But the cover manipulation - the psychological tricks they sell to advertisers and politicians - are thinly supported by the evidence and rely on self-serving, internal research that is largely indistinguishable from marketing puffery. On the other hand, there are plenty of ways that Big Tech provably alters our behavior: Facebook locks all your friends in its walled garden so you need a Facebook account to talk to your friends. Apple locks apps in its walled garden so you can't access apps that Apple doesn't like. Google pays billions to make it the default search on every platform, so any time you ask a question, they're the ones giving you an answer.

All of this manipulation doesn't require psychological or technological tricks - all it needs is monopoly, and for the first time in 40 years, lawmakers are getting serious about fighting monopolies.

Using anti-monopoly laws to break Big Tech's power may sound like a win: but if it turns out that Big Tech's claims to psychological manipulation mastery are true, then won't breaking Big Tech up just create dozens of little, reckless firms that have access to these devastating psychological weapons?

In other words: if Big Tech is a comet headed at our planet threatening all life, then won't breaking it up turn it into a devastating meteor shower that we can't hope to survive?

Click below to watch the embedded video: