Digital Disconnect- How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy

Robert W. McChesney is one of the nations’ leading analysts of media and monopoly, and his Digital Disconnect- How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy, is an excellent analysis of the problems that arise when a medium with the capacity to empower people is itself becoming a tool of social control.


In the first three chapters McChesney provides a substantive, sophisticated yet transparent description of the political economy of the United States.  That alone justifies a read, given how too many left activists fail to see the intersection of politics and economics and end up locked into offering a far too weak Keynesian stimulus policy  as the alternative to capitalist austerity measures. McChesney offers a better, more complete view through rendering an astute  political economy of journalism, communications and media.

 After establishing his political economy baseline, the author documents the takeover of the Internet and much of our media by corporate oligarchs.  As McChesney argues. if you have a social system dominated by a power and economic elite, they are going to shape new enterprises to fit their capitalist interest not only in profit making but in propaganda. In describing the recent developments he asserts,  “ As a rule, policies will be made by elites and self-interested commercial interests, unless there is an organized popular intervention” ( p. 91).

 The writer also provides an extensive discussion of the important issue of copyright, and how the extension of copyright by the media oligarchy substantially reduces and limits the free sharing of ideas.   (Readers not familiar with  this development would do well to look at the discussion at

 Corporate rule of course is not new, though its evolving forms need to be understood.  Charles Ferguson’s film, “ Inside Job” and the follow-up book Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America (2012) traces  finance capital’s  domination of  the U.S. government and how it produced the most recent economic crisis.   In  Digital Disconnect readers benefit from McChesney’s long critical scholarly record of studying corporate journalism as an imbedded form of corporate capitalism  and its challenge to democracy.  As he says, “capitalism imposed its logic” ( p.89).

 McChesney  combines his extensive knowledge of both political economy and media studies to clarify several of the vital conflicts between corporate media control and democratic interests.  In chapter 4, “The Internet and Capitalism,” he does not accept  the fanciful utopian views of digital democracy being promoted by the Google, Apple, Microsoft and other large corporate conglomerates. For him, capitalism won and democracy lost. His is a valuable and needed  alternative to popularly  promoted views of the Net  such as Eric Schmidt of Google and Jared Cohen in The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business (2013).

 Can we good guys win? After detailing the perilous decline of journalism since the emergence of the Internet, where more than four in 10 paid journalist positions were lost  during corporate consolidation  of the media and where many major cities have been reduced to one-paper towns,  McChesney  is not optimistic. But the struggle continues.

 In that struggle, those of us on the Left are immensely aided by such clear, substantive arguments about the role of media, the consolidation of media by the Murdochs and Koch brothers of our nation,  and an analysis of how the oligarchs use the media they own to promote a neoliberal agenda. He offers numerous examples. One he leaves out: how the corporate mouthpiece cum think tank the Peterson Institute created and promoted the Fix the Debt campaign, which so successfully set  a key part of the media and political agenda for the last two years.

 As good as McChesney is, I think one conclusion is overly broad. McChesney argues that the 2008/2009 economic collapse and the continuing economic crisis reveal that “the system is failing, conventional policies and institutions are increasingly discredited, and fundamental changes of one form or another are likely to come, for better or worse” (p.221). The fact is, that while our media and telecom institutions, including Time Warner, News Corp. Disney, General Electric, Viacom, Comcast and others, as well as Internet giants Google, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, etc. have been widely criticized, they’ve yet to be discredited. That’s our Achilles heel. Too few in the democracy  movements yet understand the importance of corporate capitalist control of our media. In that light, Digital Disconnect is an excellent book for moving the progressive agenda and building a movement that knows you can’t have a democratic society without a democratic media.

 Activists will   greatly benefit from McChesney’s clear and substantive analysis of how capitalism undermined a potential for democratic media and the democratic project itself.   I urge all to read this important book to understand the depth and complexity of capitalist control of the Internet and of media, and how they use their control to dominate our elections and our government and to prevent the development of democracy.

 By Duane Campbell, with editorial assistance from Michael Hirsch. Duane Campbell is a professor (emeritus) of bilingual multicultural education at California State University Sacramento. His most recent book is Choosing Democracy: a Practical Guide to Multicultural Education. He is on the editorial committee of this blog and he blogs at

Feminist Working Group

December 14, 2016
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People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's and LGBTQ issues, especially in light of the new political reality that we face after the election.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Turning Members into Leaders

December 28, 2016
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Are you starting a new group? Or have you been doing most of the work for your longtime group? Has it been hard to keep new people involved or get them to take responsibility? But suddenly everybody wants to jump in at the same time! Learn how to mentor new leaders and make sure they have all the information and tools they need to succeed.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

NOTE: This training is at 9:00pm Eastern (8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6pm Pacific). Please RSVP.


  • Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy.

In Leadership Development you will learn:

The proven steps to developing the leadership skills and commitment of more members:

  • identifying potential leaders
  • recognizing what each one brings to the group
  • asking people to volunteer
  • giving them specific tasks
  • supporting them in their efforts
  • creating opportunities for new leadership
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Training Details

  • This workshop is for local leaders who will lead campaigns in their chapters.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt 607-280-7649.
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  • You can participate in every workshop or just attend once in a while.
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DSA New Member Orientation Call

January 19, 2017
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You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8:30 PM ET; 7:30 PM CT; 6:30 PM MT; 5:30 PM PT.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
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The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.