From the #DeleteUber campaign to fake news, the industry observed itself in the crosshairs this year and it was a long time arriving, experts say
When Jonathan Taplin's book Move Fast and Break Things, which dealt with the fretting rise of big tech, was first published in the UK in April 2017, his publishers removed its subtitle because they didn't think it was supported by evidence:” How Facebook, Google and Amazon cornered culture and undermined republic .”
When the paperback edition comes out early next year, that subtitle will be restored.
” It's been a sea change in simply six months ,” Taplin told.” Before that, people were kind of asleep .”
In the last year, barely a day has gone by without a scandal placing technology companies in the spotlight, whether for sexual harassment, livestreamed slaying, Russian influence operations or terrorist propaganda.
Tech's annus horribilis started with calls to #DeleteUber, but the way things are going it will end with calls to delete the entire internet.
” 2017 will no doubt been a year when tech has found there is a target painted on its back ,” told Om Malik, a venture capitalist.” The big companies have been so preoccupied with growth that there's been a lack of social responsibility. Now the chickens are coming home to roost .”
The surprise election of Donald Trump acted as a catalyst for scrutiny of the platforms that shape so much of our online experience. Even so, it's taken many months for the enormity of their role to sink in.
Perhaps the biggest wake-up bellow has been the showdown in Washington. Congress summoned represented by Facebook, Twitter and Google to testify over their role in a multi-pronged Russian operation to influence the 2016 presidential election. All three companies admitted that Russian entities bought ads on their sites in an attempt to skewed the vote.
In Facebook's case, fake accounts pushed divisive messages in swing states; Google found similar activity across its paid search tool and YouTube; and on Twitter, armies of bots and fake users promoted fake news narratives that were favourable to Donald Trump. Similar patterns were identified around the Brexit vote.
” The election shows the stakes involved here ,” told Noam Cohen, author of The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball.” In the past, to be a critic of Silicon Valley was to say the smartphone is stimulating us dumb. Now it's incompatible with republic .”
It's not been the only example to new technologies companies monetising and distributing unpalatable content and acting surprised when it's uncovered.
In March, the Times of London revealed that YouTube had paid, via an advertising revenue share, Islamic extremists to peddle hate speech, leading to a boycott from many major advertisers. A second boycott started this month after brands discovered that their ads were appearing alongside content being are used by paedophiles.
In May, the Guardian's investigation into Facebook's content moderation policies revealed that the social network flouted Holocaust denial statutes except where it dreaded being sued. Four months later, Pro Publica discovered that Facebook's ad tools could be used to target” Jew haters “.
Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, subsequently said she was ” disgusted” and” disappointed that our systems let this “.
Read more: www.theguardian.com