In the 1930s radio had been around for a few decades, but it was only just becoming commonplace, and it was still an exciting new technology that was rapidly connecting the world and contributing to social and political change. In the US, radio was defining President Roosevelt's man-of-the-people image, with his inviting and personable fireside chats. In Europe, however, radio's effect was amplifying a much more virulent form of populism.
Fascism was finding its voice. The blended pride and humiliation of national ego, and the simultaneously mocking and fearful portrayal of the weak and terrifying other, were tapping into impulses that were deeply human and capable of immeasurable cruelty. But by the 1950s, the world had adapted to its new interconnectedness, and it seemed certain that we had left true fascism behind for good. It wasn't until recently, with a new technology to connect us more than ever, that the cycle returned and society began finding its way back to those ancient and ruinous tribal divisions around the world.
This is the what comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, best known for his portrayal of Borat in the film of the same name, and for his cutting political series Who Is America?, was speaking to on Thursday night. He was giving a speech at the Anti Defamation League's International Leadership summit, when he said that "all this hate and violence is being facilitated by a handful of internet companies that amount to the greatest propaganda machine in history."
The incredible communicative power of the Internet has the potential to unite us with the kind of populism that brought us the New Deal—or indeed the Green New Deal—or to divide us with a new era of fascism and hate. If CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and Jack Dorsey are unable or unwilling to face the tremendous responsibility this power places on their shoulders, we must either wrench this power from them through any regulatory means at our disposal, or face devastation that may well exceed the ravages of World War II.