The Student News Site of High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering

The Echo

The Student News Site of High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering

The Echo

The Student News Site of High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering

The Echo

How Corporations Attack Your Thoughts

Large companies use the news, social media, and donor groups to manipulate the public into acting against their own interests.
Original+art+by+Cessarina+Choo
Original art by Cessarina Choo

Citizens need reliable and unbiased sources of information in order to understand the world around them and hold their leaders accountable. But mass media—media that reaches huge swaths of the population—is an enticing target for those that wish to alter the flow of information for their own purposes. Independent outlets for media and information are constantly being attacked by organizations who want a say in what the general public gets to know. By tightening their grip on the media, private actors intrude upon our lives. They can control what we know and, consequently, what we believe and think.

When corporations can influence the flow of information, it is only natural that they will try to benefit from it. In the 20th century, large corporations began using psychological warfare to change the beliefs of the public. One of their most powerful tactics is known as Astroturfing, in which corporate groups prop up organizations masquerading as grassroots movements (movements where the primary advocates are common people), which they then use as puppets to legitimize and spread their propaganda. Astroturfing gained notoriety in the 2010s, when internet service providers (ISPs) poured billions of dollars into spreading support for repealing net neutrality, which prevents them from choosing what content can and can’t be seen by users. Telecom giants such as Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon hired bot farms and forgers, and funded anti-net neutrality pundits in the effort to drown out pro-net neutrality voices. They sent more than 8 million fake letters to the Federal Communications Commision, and despite 95% of internet users supporting net neutrality, over 80% of all internet comments about net neutrality were made by anti net neutrality bots. These efforts were successful, and the FCC decided to repeal net neutrality laws in 2017. There are many more Astroturf organizations, like the various climate change denial groups that Exxonmobil and other Petroleum companies pour billions of dollars into. Another example is the “New Yorkers for Beverage Choices” group, which was propped up by Coca-Cola and PepsiCo in order to attack health laws in NYC. These are only a few of countless front groups run by corporations. With no formal defense against this pervasive tactic, Astroturfing continues to erode free discourse and severely harm the people of the world.

Good morals and humanity require costly investments that shareholders will not allow. However, it is still important for a brand to maintain a good image. Appearing righteous to the public is necessary to avoid unwanted attention from pesky journalists poking around illegal toxic waste dumps and slave labor mines. To keep their favorable appearances, corporations require a constant stream of news coverage of all their virtuous acts. For instance, billionaire and then-CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, considered himself a modern Prometheus when he joined many business magnates in boasting the title of “Job Creator” during a recent Senate hearing on Starbucks’ ruthless union busting. But what are job creators? According to Schultz and Co, they generously give jobs to Americans as “gifts.” But entrepreneurs are in it for money, not philanthropy, and the jobs “generously provided” by large corporations hardly meet the bare minimum for pay and safety standards. Starbucks, for example, has a countrywide base pay of $15 per hour—less than the living wage of every US state except South Dakota. Corporations not only falsely boast generosity, but innovation as well. Development of useful technologies and medicine is often ascribed to the corporations that own the patents, while the inventors themselves see little of the profit. Often, they’ve never even worked for the company in question, but instead sold or gave away the patent. Medical insulin (used to treat diabetes) is the poster child of the effects corporate ownership has on technology. When Frederick Banting pioneered the medical use of insulin, he intended for anyone to have access to it free of charge. His vision didn’t last, because the corporations which produce this life saving medication exponentially increased the price. Now, insulin is sold at 15,000% the price of making it and over a million Americans are forced to risk their lives by rationing insulin. This all-too-common result of corporate interference highlights the clearly parasitic relationship between for-profit enterprises and developments of technology.

Independent, aggressive journalism that reports on anything significant, no matter the cost, is essential to modern democracy. But the journalism industry is a lucrative business, and the news organizations that thrive are not necessarily the most informative, but the most profitable. Nowadays, only a handful of news companies are left, and all of them are owned by for-profit conglomerates and shareholders. All companies—including news organizations—are legally required to put the profit of the shareholders first. The Washington Post, a very prestigious newspaper, became an example of corporatized journalism when Amazon boss Jeff Bezos personally bought ownership of it in 2013. Articles reporting on Amazon’s flagrant violation of worker’s rights and predatory building practices were tucked away into hard to find corners of the website. Meanwhile, praise of Amazon and attacks on corporate regulations flooded the Washington Post opinion section. News isn’t the only form of media that is manipulated by shareholders, however. Staff at the social media company Meta (formerly Facebook) have admitted to promoting hateful, far-right content in its algorithms on Facebook and Instagram, which is forced onto the feeds of its 3 billion users. The outcome of for-profit media is the suffocation of important, unbiased information under piles of sanitary, corporate-friendly content.

Trade unions have existed for millenia to protect individually powerless workers from abuse by their employers. By banding together and utilizing their collective bargaining power as the producers of a company, workers can demand higher wages and safer working conditions. Before industrial workers began unionizing in the 1920s and 1930s, most laborers in the United States worked between 10-16 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They earned today’s equivalent of $5–$6 per hour in unsafe conditions where over 1 in 100 people were killed in workplace incidents. Despite strikes being violently suppressed by corporate owned paramilitary groups, the trade unions won the 5 day work week, federal minimum wage, mandatory safety requirements for workers, an end to child labor, protection against racial discrimination and worker intimidation, and a host of other rights that are now considered basic standards. Many common despicable behaviors of corporations were banned, such as the practice of locking workers inside factories. The government finally cracked down on the bombing of strikers and assassinations of union leaders. Since then, however, union membership rates in the United States have plummeted from 34% to 10% (the lowest of any developed country) as income inequality and poverty skyrocketed. Even though the right to unionize is officially protected under US law, corporations are able to exploit a host of loopholes to keep workers from organizing and demanding better conditions. For example, it may be illegal to fire someone for speaking about unionizing, but giving said person an impossible quota and then firing them for not meeting it is virtually impossible to prosecute. One of the biggest ways corporations undermine unionization is with heavy use of anti-union propaganda, both subtle and overt. Almost all large corporations in the United States plaster their workplaces with posters and newsletters containing knowingly false claims that unions are expensive, ineffective, or corrupt. It’s not just on the job either. It is common for workers to receive regular anti-union texts, and be forced to attend “captive audience” seminars, where contracted companies (specializing in worker suppression) bombard them with propaganda designed by expert psychologists to trick them into voting against unionization. To be a worker in the modern USA is to endure constant assault by corporations that pretend to be your friend while remaining hostile to your rights. What’s good for you is unprofitable for them, and corporations will do anything in their power to keep their workers from demanding fair treatment.

The subjugation of mass media by the corporate world has had grave repercussions for everyone. It is nearly impossible to consume any form of public information without being subjected to hidden messages from self-interested wealthy backers. When unbiased sources of information are few and far between, it becomes extremely difficult to independently form opinions and stay well informed. Before engaging with information from any organization, you must determine who is controlling or funding them and what they stand to gain or lose. Financial backers will only lend their support to causes that further their interests, meaning that any information from these organizations will have the biases and messages that its secret backers want to propagate. When approaching any sort of news or information source, you must be skeptical and wary of its potential ulterior motives.

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