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

20 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2018  

Michael Kwet

Information Society Project; Yale Law School; Rhodes University

Date Written: August 15, 2018

Abstract

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). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3232297 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3232297

Michael Kwet (Contact Author)

Information Society Project ( email )

Yale Law School ( email )

Rhodes University ( email )

Fine Art Department
Rhodes University, PO Box 94
Grahamstown, Eastern cape 6140
South Africa

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