Is Tech Hurting American Soft Power

Is Tech Hurting American Soft Power

Political scientist Joseph Nye defied convention some 30 years ago when he proposed that nations use not only “hard” power — i.e. military strength — but also “soft” power. Soft power, according to Nye, is “one country persuades other countries to desire what it wants… as opposed to hard or commands power, which entails commanding others to do what one country wants.”

To put it another way, soft power is governed by attraction rather than force. According to the notion, countries with more cultural, economic, scientific, and moral impact “punch above their weight,” translating their influence into tangible benefits, It includes anything that is not firearms, troops, or military hardware. Rihanna, like Queen Elizabeth II, is a soft power all-star. Hollywood, sushi, Louis Vuitton, and Copacabana Beach are all worth seeing.

Broadway, Michael Jordan, Harvard, and Starbucks have long made America, a hard power powerhouse, a soft power superpower as well. However, much of America’s recent soft power may credit to our technical prowess. After all, the most well-known names in technology are American: Amazon, Facebook, and Google. 

iPhones are virtually universally used by the world’s wealthy, while Microsoft Windows is used by the world’s most successful companies. World leaders, from Narendra Modi to the Pope, use Twitter and Instagram to communicate with their audiences.

To put it another way, the world’s operating system is American. As a result, the majority of the world relies on technology that is largely based on American principles such as free speech, privacy, diversity, and decentralization.

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley is undoubtedly America’s most important international attraction. Immigrants make up as much as 40% of software workers. Immigrant founders may be found at Google, Tesla, and Stripe. When I was a student at Stanford a decade ago, I saw firsthand the never-ending parade of visiting delegations. Germans, Australians, and even Russian President Dmitry Medvedev all asked the same question: how can we recreate Silicon Valley in our own countries?

Our IT industry has been correctly cited by American lawmakers as one of the country’s top exports. Nevertheless, what happens if it ceases to be a positive force? Is it conceivable for soft power to work in the other direction, reducing a country’s influence?

After all, the negative effects of technology are well documented — false news in India, a gencoide created in Myanmar, and ISIS propaganda in the United Kingdom, to name a few examples. 

Europe has pursued cyber behemoths such as Apple and Google for evading taxes and abusing privacy, while Amazon has been chastised in the United Kingdom for worker mistreatment. In addition, the negative effects of technology on adolescents and teenagers are scrutinized more closely.

As technology becomes increasingly linked to hard power — and as American supremacy becomes increasingly reliant on Big Tech firms — Washington faces a conundrum: If “credibility is the scarcest resource,” as Nye put it in 2012, “is America able to separate the increasingly nefarious actions (and reputations) of its tech firms from Brand USA?”

This situation reminds me of the COP26 climate change talks in Glasgow, which ended last month. Many people say that wealthy countries are not accountable for the behavior of their energy businesses. 

It is a contentious issue, but one thing is certain: Exxon Mobil no longer reflects well on the United States. Indeed, as the economic implications of climate change become more widely recognized, it is more likely to view as a liability rather than an advantage.

Unlike its oil tycoons, America’s IT industry is not causing a global meltdown. We found their items to be typically beneficial. They have sparked a lot of economic activity. They do, however, have positive externalities. For example, Apple iPhones are now used to capture human rights violations, which are then uploaded to Alphabet’s YouTube and shared on Meta’s Facebook and WhatsApp.

When American IT companies, on the other hand, propagate hatred or aid in the perpetration of violence in other nations, it reflects badly on the United States. Moreover, if the US is to revel in its radiance, it must accept responsibility for its flaws, if only for the sake of its own image.

Of course, there are plenty of lawmakers in Washington who want to bring Big Tech to heel. On a large number of regulatory activities, the Biden administration is working hard to collaborate with partners. Congress, as well as organizations such as the FCC and the FTC, set to take antitrust action. These actions, as well as wider changes such as the G20’s recent global corporation tax agreement, go a long way toward reducing corporate abuses. While regulatory efforts should focus on safeguarding American consumers, they should also bear some responsibility for the very real lives lost abroad.