By Justin Sanders
It’s time for another installment of our semi-regular round-up of brilliant commentary about the endlessly burning dumpster fire that is Big Tech!
When we last checked in, Facebook and Google were trying to outdo each other on losing our trust, exploiting their users, and evading accountability.
Since then, Facebook has taken the spotlight – and then some. Don’t get us wrong – we’re not remotely forgetting about Google, who, in recent weeks, still seems to be going full steam ahead on a censored Chinese search engine, experienced a widespread employee walkout over its mishandling of workplace sexual harassment, and recently earned yet another privacy demerit with its takeover of DeepMind’s Streams project.
But following a stunning New York Times expose in November, Mark Zuckerberg’s social media behemoth has dominated the news cycle, and the backlash has been (justifiably) relentless. The need to curb their reckless, deeply cynical behavior has never felt so urgent, and their presence dominates as we present, without further ado, 15 more reasons for platform accountability from across the spectrum of political, cultural, and sociological discourse….
1.) …Because Big Tech, like all industries, has no incentive to be accountable on its own:
“If companies appear to be acting in political fashion, it’s rarely because ideology — liberal or conservative — guides them: It’s because they’ve calculated that’s the best way to maximize profit and minimize loss. That’s why it’s perfectly consistent for Zuckerberg to donate to pro-immigration groups while simultaneously ignoring anti-immigrant posts from a pre-presidential Donald Trump that appear to violate the company’s policies. The decision to kick Alex Jones off a given platform isn’t a statement of a social media company’s political leanings — it’s a marketing decision.”
– Joel Mathis, The Week
2.) …Because Big Tech’s No.1 product is our attention, which leads to terrible things:
“We now have a society in which people are spending hours every day poisoning themselves, feeding their hatred, their anger. And it is all because of the battle for attention. What the attention specialists have realized over the last couple of decades is that, if you want to grab somebody’s attention, the best buttons to press are hatred and fear and greed.”
– Author and historian Yuval Noah Harari
3.) …Because so long as Big Tech’s No.1 product remains our attention, its monopoly power will remain bottomless:
“Often people make the analogy that data is the new oil. Well, in the old oil company, every time you used oil, you at least depleted the company’s reserve. The difference with these kinds of enterprises is that every time we interact with Google, every time we interact with Facebook, we give them more oil. We make them more powerful. We make it even harder for a new competitor to come into the marketplace.”
4.) …Because one Big Tech company has become responsible for protecting the sanctity of not just our election system, but all of the election systems:
“It’s worth asking, over the long term, why a single American company is in the position of protecting free and fair elections all over the world. But that is the case now, and we now know that Facebook’s action or inaction can spell the difference between elections going smoothly and democracies straining under a siege of misinformation and propaganda.”
– Kevin Roose, columnist, “The Shift”
5.) …Because one of Big Tech’s own CEOs is extremely concerned:
“Every day, billions of dollars change hands, and countless decisions are made, on the basis of our likes and dislikes, our friends and families, Our relationships and conversations…Our wishes and fears…Our hopes and dreams. These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded, and sold… We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance. And these stockpiles of personal data serve only to enrich the companies that collect them.”
– Tim Cook, Apple CEO
6.) …Because, through his response to such concern, we learned that another Big Tech CEO can be horrifyingly petty:
“Mr. Cook’s criticisms infuriated Mr. Zuckerberg, who later ordered his management team to use only Android phones — arguing that the operating system had far more users than Apple’s.”
7.) …Because this same Big Tech CEO is also horrifyingly deluded:
“During a break in one hearing, [Mark Zuckerberg] buttonholed Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican who leads the House Energy and Commerce Committee, to express his surprise at how tough on Facebook Democrats had been. Mr. Walden was taken aback, said people who knew of the remark. Facebook’s leader, Mr. Walden realized, did not understand the breadth of the anger now aimed at his creation.”
– The New York Times, “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis”
8.) …Because no matter how clear it is that someone this petty and deluded should be fired, it will never happen:
“I think [Mark Zuckerberg] has demonstrably failed over the last two years, and the reason he’s failed is because he’s unaccountable… Given a scenario where shareholders and board members had more influence, it’s hard to imagine that there would not have been changes faster.”
– Sandy Parakilas, former Facebook employee, now chief strategy officer for the Center of Humane Technology
9.) …Because even if the guy was fired, we would be right back where we started:
“To be blunt, if we took Mark Zuckerberg out and we replaced him with Mahatma Gandhi, I don’t think the corporation would change in any significant way.”
– Barry Lynn, director, Open Markets Institute
10.) …Because just like Tech Exceptionalism is OVER, so is Tech Idealism:
“The web is long past attempts at self-regulation and voluntary ethics codes. The commercialized internet of today is no longer run by idealists. It’s a huge, largely unregulated market dominated by monopolies with massive lobbying budgets. At this point, it’s time for decisive government intervention to regulate them. Nothing else will cut it.”
– Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg opinion columnist
11.) …Because imperialism is not limited to the halls of government:
“Internet Imperialism reaches back and pulls large portions of our lives into a system that lacks the consent of the governed… Internet companies in coordination are aggressively attempting to limit the scope of our democratically elected governments. We are allowing the vast internet-industrial complex to whittle down the authority of our national and even trans-national institutions by removing much human activity from the scope of governance. We are losing sovereignty, virtual territory to unelected, unaccountable private corporations. How are we any different than China in the 19th and early 20th century?”
– Dr. David C. Lowery, Singer-Songwriter, Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker
12.) …Because Big Tech is aggressively undermining our shared reality – and with it, democracy:
“It used to be the case that every citizen had a right to an opinion, and now every citizen has a right to their own reality, to their own truth, to their own set of facts. And Facebook very intentionally flatters those sets of facts by showing you what you want to hear, and effectively filtering out what you don’t want to hear. Democracy requires that we have a common set of both rules of behavior and also ground truth that we debate around, and if you don’t have [those things] then I think democracy becomes a little impossible.”
– Antonio Garcia Martinez, former product manager at Facebook, in the film The Cleaners
13.) …Because innovation without humanity is essentially societal cancer:
“The frightening news from Silicon Valley goes beyond one company. Tech leaders made screens so addictive that they won’t let their own children use them; they operate in a monoculture that reflects only itself and turns a blind eye to sexual harassment and diversity; and they accept dirty money from unsavory investors like the Saudis. The overall sense of this year is that the brilliant digital minds who told us they were changing the world for the better might have miscalculated.”
– Kara Swisher, Founder of Recode
14.) …Because humanity was never designed to handle Big Tech in the first place:
“If you’d asked me 10 years ago, I would have said humanity is going to do a good job with this. If we connect all these people together, they are such wonderful people they will get along. I was wrong.”
– Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web
15.) …Because Big Tech no longer deserves special treatment (and it never did):
“The leaders of Facebook can no longer pretend they are special people running a special company. Facebook is now just another normal sleazy American company run by normal sleazy executives, engaged in normal sleazy lobbying and corporate propaganda.”
– Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy
The conversation around Big Tech has grown exponentially this year – bringing a variety of voices and opinions from within Silicon Valley and outside of it.
A common theme has been that companies like Google and Facebook cannot continue to be treated by the public or the government as untouchable. After all, they are now among the largest companies in the world – overseeing and collecting data on billions of individuals. As such, they should be held to a higher standard.
We hope that 2019 is the year where we will finally see real, positive change in Silicon Valley.
Banner Image: Frederic Legrand – COMEO / Shutterstock.com / CreativeFuture