Silicon Valley Lacks A Moral Compass. Is That A Problem?

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Just this morning, I gave Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook the heave ho. If they are going to use their data mining skills to hack democracy in America, they will have to do it without me.

Facebook Silicon Valley cultureIn an interview that aired on Sixty Minutes on Sunday, Trump digital director Brad Parscale explained his social media strategy. “Twitter is how [Trump] talked to the people, Facebook was going to be how he won.” He indicated that Facebook staffers were embedded directly into the Trump digital marketing campaign, after being carefully vetted to make sure they had the proper conservative bona fides.

50,000 or more Facebook micro-targeted ads were tested each day, using variations in language, color, typeface, and other visual cues to maximize their effect on the people viewing them. On some days, as many as 100,000 variations were tested and then pushed to Facebook users.

Facebook hotly denies that it did anything wrong and contends it is only doing what other tech companies are doing. Perhaps that’s true, but isn’t that like the kid who gets caught torturing cats on Halloween who shrugs it off with a dismissive, “Yeah? So what? Billy did it too!”

It now appears that Facebook was only too happy to take money from anyone and everyone — including Russian spies — provided they were ready, willing, and able to pay the asking price. In a prior age, such activities would at least constitute election tampering if not actual treason. But so far, the company has maintained its “everyone does it” position to excuse its conduct.

According to The Guardian, Facebook was successful at getting its ads classified by the Federal Elections Commission as “small campaign items” like banners and lapel buttons back in 2011. That meant it didn’t have to report its activities to the FEC as campaign advertising.

In light of the massive impact social media had on the last election, that ruling by the FEC is clearly absurd. The agency is currently reviewing its policies, but since it is now controlled by Trump stalwarts, don’t expect any actions that would in any way restrain social media activities.

For his part, Mark Zuckerberg is shocked — SHOCKED! — by the accusations of bias being made against his company. Last year, he told the media with a straight face that 99% of postings on Faxebook are authentic and that “fake news” is not a problem. Turns out, as much as half of what people see on Facebook is made up. In the absence of actual journalism, opinions have become the lingua franca of the internet.

Freada Kapor Klein is a founding partner at the Oakland-based venture capital firm Kapor Capital. She has been involved in the tech industry for 40 years and is a long time critic of Silicon Valley excess. She says the industry was “forward thinking” when it began but is now “dominated by greed.”

The absence of a “moral compass” today is the result of a “bubble” of white men whose ethos of moving fast and breaking things fails to take responsibility for their actions. Company heads like Zuckerberg and Uber founder Travis Kalanick are two primary examples, but the mania for making money no matter the cost applies throughout the industry, Klein says,

Kapor-Klein says Kapor Capital offers an “alternative moral axis” that differs markedly from the dominant Silicon Valley model. Along with Ben Jealous, who is currently a candidate for governor of Maryland, and Ellen Pao, who famously sued venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in 2012 for gender discrimination, Kapor Capital believes it offers a road map for a more ethical future.

It has funded more than one hundred for-profit companies that are trying to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots. “Here in Oakland,” home to Kapor Capital, “we want tech to be done right,” Kapor-Klein says.

Just recently, Google, parent company of YouTube, came under intense criticism when it shunted people searching for videos of the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas to those claiming the incident was a hoax. As a result, it modified its search algorithms, so public pressure can have an impact on social media firms.

But what about tech giants like Apple, Tesla, Microsoft, or Intel? Are ethics and technology simply incompatible? In the final analysis, the only check on greed is for people to refuse to do business with companies they feel do not reflect their values. That’s why I have said goodbye to Facebook. I am a protest movement of one. Perhaps others will choose to join me, but I am none too hopeful.

Source: The Guardian

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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