Fascism is back. Blame the Internet.

In fascism, feeling is first. Fascists of the 1920s and 1930s wanted to undo the enlightenment and appeal to people as members of a tribe, race or species. What mattered was a story of us and them that could begin a politics of conflict and combat. Fascists proposed that the world was run by conspirators whose mysterious hold must be broken by violence. This could be achieved by a leader (Führer, Duce) who spoke directly to and for the people, without laws and institutions. Totalitarianism meant domination of the whole self, without respect for private and public.

Our memory of the 20th century grew hazy just as we began the plunge into cyberspace, which is perhaps why we did not notice certain alarming features of the experience. The Internet has revived fascist habits of mind. Smartphones and news feeds structure attention so that we cannot think straight. Their programmers deliberately appeal to psychological tactics such as intermittent reinforcement to keep us online rather than thinking. Is pulling your phone out 80 times a day really a free choice? Companies know that interruptions to flow are more likely to get a response, which is why the experience of a smartphone or a social platform is so jarring. Once attention is gained, it is kept by deliberately bottomless feeds that reinforce what we like and think. Researchers have found users of the Internet believe they know more, but in fact are less able to recall what they think they know.