The banal evil of Big Tech, and who I wish reacted more to it
Big Tech is just banal, after all. In a way that makes me long for much more reactions to it by certain “groups”.
To see what I mean, let’s share some highlights from a great article from 2018, “Everything bad about Facebook is bad for the same reason”. It’s about Facebook, but it applies as is to most of what passes for “data-driven” innovation and services these days (sentences in Italic are my own additions):
- Facebook really is evil. Not on purpose. In the banal kind of way.
- Underlying all of Facebook’s screw-ups is a bumbling obliviousness to real humans.
- To Facebook, the world is not made up of individuals, but of connections between them.
- [This] makes scaling as fast as possible a moral imperative [which lacks an essential ingredient]: Treating individual human beings as sacrosanct.
- [But] there is nothing special about humans [in Facebook’s architecture] “Jew haters” is just as much an ad category as “Moms who jog.” It’s all data.
- [which is very convenient because] There are certain things you do not in good conscience do to humans. To data, you can do whatever you like.
My two cents on this
First “cent”: “Treating individual human beings as sacrosanct” sounds really good. Problem is, those are basically the same words that too many unchecked programmers seem to have already adopted for too long, in the wrong way. All too often, in and outside Facebook, “individuals are sacrosanct” has been the very mantra prompting efforts to “let testosterone eliminate as much interaction with real humans as possible”, for example by SELLING “sologamy services”.
Second “cent”: for exactly the reasons above, I really wish that:
- women and other groups did not settle for just becoming more engineers of the same, wrong kind that is “alpha” today
- Churches started paying much, much more attention to the fact that digital technologies and network architectures are anything but ethically neutral
As an extension, or an explanation, of the second “cent”, please consider this picture:
There are lots of talks about breaking up Facebook, or transforming it into a cooperative. I strongly believe that, done alone, neither of those solutions will work. They will only achieve the intended effect if they include, as a prerequisite, a change of architecture as simple and radical as this. Expecting to end all the problems caused by Facebook by running something that is exactly like Facebook won’t work. It would be like expecting a meat grinder to work like a hand dryer: stuck your hand inside, and the meat grinder will smash it, even if it is owned by the most ethical cooperative of the world.