The Silent Miners and the Tycoons of Mass Reach are winning.
We used to have three Estates of Power; the Clergy, the Nobility, and the Commoners. This might translate to the Legislators, the Capitalists, and the People in today’s terms.
Later, we now count the news media as the Fourth Estate of Power.
As we ascend to digital-first, the world’s powers are shifting; we might need to rethink the idea of only having four estates of power.
The Fifth Estate: The Silent Miners
Companies like Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google (FAANG) all have one characteristic in common:
They silently mine user data from billions of people.
Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was said to divide and conquer. The Silent Miners collect and sort instead. In the wake of Techlash, this stealthy consolidation of online power has profound implications.
We, the people, are freely giving away our powers by scrolling past gibberish Terms of Service disclaimers — only to pay with our attention, integrity, and behaviour.
It’s the statistical Power-Law Distribution; in systems where many are given many choices, a few will be chosen, while most will get to reside in the long tail of the curve.
The Sixth Estate: The Tycoons of Mass Reach
In Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky pointed out just how unprepared we were as a society for everyone to have a digital voice.
I would argue that we’re equally unprepared for when famous people get unrestricted access to mass reach.
Unlike famous people of the past, people like Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, Pewdiepie, and Mr Beast have unrestricted access to incomprehensible audiences.
Mass media might be dead, but mass reach is alive and kicking.
People with online fame often get no respect from the mainstream media. They’re often characterised as dimwitted, ridiculous, and childish. But in the end, it always plays out as one Estate of Power being envious of another.
Despite all the flack and ridicule, the Tycoons of Mass Reach are growing more potent with each upload. And they’re turning into a Sixth Estate of Power by sidelining the Fourth Estate.
And the Internet is turning into an amplification chamber for the rich.
We Deserve Better Estates
As the Internet is evolving into a Splinternet, the tectonic plates of the Internet are shifting.
A dozen multinational corporations are now mining for data and tweaking algorithms at their pleasure. The divisive power of the mass media is being transformed into an amplification chamber for the famous. Still, more division of power is rarely a bad thing.
Because I don’t worry about new Estates of Power.
I just think we deserve better Estates.