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Fact Check: It’s Claimed That Einstein Warned a Time Will Come When the Rich Control Means of Communication. Here’s the Truth

In World
April 05, 2024

Claim:

Albert Einstein warned that the time would come when the very rich so controlled the means of communication that it would be almost impossible for ordinary people to make informed decisions.

Rating:

Rating: Mixture

Rating: Mixture

Context:

Many social media posts have paraphrased what Einstein wrote in an essay that was published by the independent socialist magazine “Monthly Review” in May 1949. While the passage Einstein wrote did amount to the same thing as the various paraphrases, he was not writing of something that would happen in the future, but what was happening in 1949.

For years, social media posts have claimed that revered 20th-century physicist Albert Einstein once warned that the time would come when the very rich so controlled the means of communication that it would be almost impossible for ordinary people to make informed decisions. The most recent example we found of the claim, as of this writing, was posted on Facebook on March 20, 2024:

https://www.facebook.com/thomas.zaremski/posts/pfbid026MAPMp6DWV1DAuxRYTZ32zbEMtm3TkUfAxwM2dayX2HUzKqgETYytyCZHVkKWKSXl

We also found another Facebook post that included Einstein’s purported warning from February 2020:

It included a screenshot that supposedly showed a X (formerly known as Twitter) post from two days before, which said:

Albert Einstein warned in 1949 that the time would come when the very rich so controlled the means of communication that it would be almost impossible for ordinary people to make informed decisions and so democracy would then be broken

We live in the time Einstein warned about

We found social media posts that attributed the quote to Einstein on TikTok, in addition to other posts made on Facebook and X about the claim. Variants of the claim appeared on these social media platforms. For example, Einstein was attributed as saying, “There will come a time when the rich own all the media, and it will be impossible for the public to make an informed opinion” on Facebook. We also received emails from Snopes readers asking about the claim as well.

Einstein wrote an essay titled “Why Socialism?” for the first issue of the independent socialist magazine “Monthly Review.” Published in May 1949, the piece included the following paragraph that said (sentences bolded for emphasis):

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The bolded quotes in the paragraph above do amount to the same thing as the various paraphrases we found on social media — that it would be difficult for people to make informed, objective decisions because sources of information would be controlled by private capitalists.

Crucially, however, Einstein was not writing about something that would happen in the future, but what was happening in 1949. That’s a key detail the various paraphrases were wrong about.

As such, we have given the claim that Einstein once warned that the time would come when the very rich so controlled the means of communication that it would be almost impossible for ordinary people to make informed decisions a “Mixture” rating.

We’ve previously fact-checked other quotes that were allegedly said by Einstein, which you can find here.

Sources:

Allen-Kinross, Pippa. “Einstein Did Argue the Rich Control Communication and This Damages Democracy.” Full Fact, 27 Feb. 2020, https://fullfact.org/online/Einstein-warning-rich-control-communication/.

Eisntein, Albert. “Monthly Review | Why Socialism?” Monthly Review, 1 May 2009, https://monthlyreview.org/2009/05/01/why-socialism/.

Lee, Jessica. “Albert Einstein: Quotes He Never Said and Other Facts.” Snopes, 15 Feb. 2022, https://www.snopes.com/collections/albert-einstein-collection/.

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