From Public Sphere to Personalized Feed: Corporate Constitutional Rights and the Challenge to Popular Sovereignty
Human Rights after Corporate Personhood, edited by Jody Greene & Sharif Youssef (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 2020)
Posted: 1 Mar 2021
Date Written: February 26, 2021
What might a society look and feel like in which the free expression rights of for-profit corporations eclipse and override persons' rights to privacy, and interests in fair political representation? And how might the acceleration of current trends toward corporate personhood erode the autonomy of actual persons? This chapter explores these questions through two prisms: U.S. jurisprudence of corporate free speech rights, and an imaginative evocation of one fictional world this jurisprudence is leading towards.
The first section makes the case that many aspects of American legal culture pave the way to a public sphere in which corporations have far more meaningful political agency and capacity for planning than citizens or even political parties. The second section introduces the setting of M.T. Anderson’s Feed, a dystopian novel with surprisingly rich insight into the habits of mind and character that would naturally thrive in an automated public sphere (and kaleidoscopic personalized feeds) even more dominated by for-profit corporations than our own. We conclude by reflecting on the fragility of opportunities for autonomous self-creation when communications are increasingly monitored, shaped, and monetized for profit.
Keywords: Free expression, free speech, law and literature, corporate rights, dystopia, scenario analysis, communications, automated media, public sphere, automated public sphere, newsfeed, Facebook, Google, GAFAM, Twitter, communications, media theory, personalization, critical theory, social theory, ideolog
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