Digital Colonialism: US Empire and the New Imperialism in the Global South

For final version, see: Race & Class Volume 60, No. 4 (April 2019) ; DOI: 10.1177/0306396818823172

20 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2018 Last revised: 5 Feb 2019

See all articles by Michael Kwet

Michael Kwet

Yale University - Information Society Project

Date Written: August 15, 2018


This paper proposes a theoretical and conceptual framework explaining how the United States is reinventing colonialism in the Global South through the domination of digital technology. Drawing on South Africa as a case example, it argues that US multinationals exercise imperial control at the architecture level of the digital ecosystem: software, hardware, and network connectivity. This gives rise to five related forms of domination. First, the monopoly power of multinational corporations is used for resource extraction through rent and surveillance, constituting a new form of economic domination. Second, by controlling the digital ecosystem, Big Tech corporations control computer-mediated experiences, giving them direct power over political, economic, and cultural domains of life – a new form of imperial control. Third, the centerpiece of surveillance capitalism, Big Data, violates the sanctity of privacy and concentrates economic power into the hands of US corporations – a system of global surveillance capitalism. Fourth, as a feature of surveillance capitalism, Global North intelligence agencies partner with their own corporations to conduct mass and targeted surveillance in the Global South. This intensifies imperial state surveillance. And fifth, US elites have persuaded most people that society must proceed according to its own ruling class conceptions of the digital world, setting the foundation for tech hegemony.

These five features demonstrate that digital colonialism is both structural and conceptual, and the international community needs to create a fundamentally different tech ecosystem that decentralizes technological by placing control directly into the hands of the people. For this task, People’s Technology for People’s Power – combined with education, grassroots movements, and creative legislation – provides practical solutions to counter the rapidly advancing frontier of digital empire.

Keywords: Digital Colonialism, Big Data, Surveillance Capitalism, Imperialism, South Africa, Free Software, Decentralization

Suggested Citation

Kwet, Michael, Digital Colonialism: US Empire and the New Imperialism in the Global South (August 15, 2018). For final version, see: Race & Class Volume 60, No. 4 (April 2019) ; DOI: 10.1177/0306396818823172, Available at SSRN: or

Michael Kwet (Contact Author)

Yale University - Information Society Project ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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