How do digital platforms like Google and Apple affect our democracy?

José van Dijck at IMPAKT TV

Een iPhone met verschillende socialmedia-apps. Foto: William Hook, via Unsplash

Digital platforms and social media are having an unprecedented impact. Not only on our daily lives, but also on our democracy, Professor of Media and Digital Society José van Dijck tells IMPAKT TV. In an interview with Daniela Tenenbaum and Rosa Wevers, she explains how.

Platform ecosystem

Digital platforms like Google, Apple, Facebook/Meta and Amazon play a crucial role in our daily lives and social interactions. They have reshaped our society from a commercial point of view over the last 20 years, says José van Dijck. "A new digital economy has emerged that runs not on money but on data. We sell our personal data and attention for online services."

Because of the growing influence of online platforms, Van Dijck calls these new relationships the "platform ecosystem". "Our entire society, private and public, has become increasingly dependent on the infrastructures built by big tech companies. However, the problem is that we have no influence on how these structures are built and governed."

Democratic values

The lack of influence is causing the loss of control over our democratic values such as privacy, security and accountability. Indeed, legislation is often still lagging behind in this regard. "Companies like Facebook and Apple have become so big because the government has not been able to keep up with the technological developments and growth of these companies," explains José van Dijck. "In offline society, we know who is accountable for what part of society; in the digital world, this is often very difficult to determine."

Nevertheless, there are some recent developments that further the democratisation of digital platforms. "In the Netherlands, we now finally have a state secretary for digitalisation, which is great progress," says Van Dijck. "Also, the European Commission is currently one of the most progressive forces on digital legislation. These are developments we need to keep a close eye on."