Chuck Todd: The race to build a better internet — before it’s too late


Analysis: A new book proposes a framework for the internet that would give consumers more control over their own personal data.

What if the big tech companies achieved their ultimate business goal — maximizing engagement on their platforms — in a way that has undermined our ability to function as an open society? What if they realized that when folks agree on a solution to a problem, they are most likely to log off a site or move on?

It sure looks like the people at these major data-hoarding companies have optimized their algorithms to do just that. As a new book argues, Big Tech appears to have perfected a model that has created rhetorical paralysis. Using our own data against us to create dopamine triggers, tech platforms have created “a state of perpetual disagreement across the divide and a concurrent state of perpetual agreement within each side,” authors Frank McCourt and Michael Casey write, adding: “Once this uneasy state of divisive ‘equilibrium’ is established, it creates profit-making opportunities for the platforms to generate revenue from advertisers who prize the sticky highly engaged audiences it generates.”

In their new book, “Our Biggest Fight,” McCourt (a longtime businessman and onetime owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers) and Casey are attempting a call to action akin to Thomas Paine’s 18th century-era “Common Sense.” The book argues that “we must act now to embed the core values of a free, democratic society in the internet of tomorrow.”

The authors believe many of the current ills in society can be traced to how the internet works. “Information is the lifeblood of any society, and our three-decade-old digital system for distributing it is fatally corrupt at its heart,” they write. “It has failed to function as a trusted, neutral exchange of facts and ideas and has therefore catastrophically hindered our ability to gather respectfully to debate, to compromise and to hash out solutions. … Everything, ultimately, comes down to our ability to communicate openly and truthfully with one another. We have lost that ability — thanks to how the internet has evolved away from its open, decentralized ideals.”

As it currently functions, the internet, they argue, “is the primary cause of a pervasive unease in the United States and other democratic societies. The internet explains why our national arguments seem intractable. It’s why every issue is reduced, in public debate, to the lowest common denominator.”

In some ways, like Paine’s “Common Sense,” the book is an attempt to stoke revolution, this time against Big Tech instead of the English monarchy. The book opens with a challenge, similar to the rhetoric of the 1700s in Colonial America: “Do we want to envision, write and be in charge of a future in which we are respected as individuals and in which we can enhance and enrich our society? Or do we want our future to be written by a few giant corporations whose technology, algorithms and devices steadily chip away at our humanity? It’s a choice between human beings and machines.”

And with generative artificial intelligence about to take over the internet, it’s never been more urgent to embed true small-“d” democratic values in it first.

One of the difficulties the authors admit in the book is trying to convince the public that people have been wronged by tech’s monopolization of our personal data for its profits. After all, even as inflation touches so many aspects of our lives (cost of health care, cost of food, cost of housing, etc.), the tech companies have been really good about offering new bells and whistles for nearly nothing. (Do you pay for your Gmail account?) Why is that? Why are they so willing not to charge us for using their services?

Read the full analysis on the NBC News website here.

Learn more about OUR BIGGEST FIGHT: Reclaiming Liberty, Humanity, and Dignity in the Digital Age on

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