The Silicon Valley backlash is heating up
San Francisco, US - Big tech is falling out of political favour. This week, BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith convincingly argued that the tides are turning against Google, Facebook and Amazon. The article, ‘There’s Blood in the Water in Silicon Valley’, is worth a read. As Ben points out, Steve Bannon is leading the charge from the right, calling for Google and Facebook to be regulated like public utilities. Bernie Sanders is helping to push the anti-tech charge from the left. Populists on both wings want to kneecap big tech.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) for the technology giants, there isn't a coherent, unified critique of their behaviour. The grievances come in many forms and from many camps. They include:
Simmering 99 percenters angry over tech’s growing power Mounting antitrust concerns Animus from ad-dependent media companies
Bias charges from rightwingers without a seat at the table in Silicon Valley
Complaints, especially from Democrats, about Russian interference in the election, particularly via social media
An effort to reckon with gender discrimination and harassment at male dominated engineering companies
Accusations of fake news and clickbait all around.
The situation keeps getting worse.
This week two major problems broke open for Facebook. ProPublica revealed that the social-media company took people’s money in exchange for helping them run anti-Semitic ads:
Until this week, when we asked Facebook about it, the world’s largest social network enabled advertisers to direct their pitches to the news feeds of almost 2,300 people who expressed interest in the topics of ‘Jew hater’, ‘How to burn jews’, or, ‘History of ‘why jews ruin the world’’.
Pierre Omidyar, eBay’s founder, facetiously tweeted: ‘Let’s build a comprehensive database of highly personal targeting info and sell secret ads with zero public scrutiny. What could go wrong?’
Facebook said it had ‘more work to do’. That’s for sure.
At the same time, Facebook is being implicated in the Russian effort to attack the election. Last week, we learned that fake accounts that were probably run from Russia spent about US$100,000 on ads to drum up political divisions in the US. This week, the situation worsened. ‘Mueller Probe Has ‘ Red-Hot’ Focus on Social Media, Officials Say’: That headline from Bloomberg News on Thursday can’t be reassuring to the policy folks over at Facebook. The social-media giant of more than 2bn users is at the center of the special counsel’s investigation.
If you want a taste for the political reaction, here’s Josh Marshall writing in Talking Points Memo:
I think the political juice of the Russia story is pushing Facebook toward a bruising encounter with the reality that it’s not God, not a government, not the law. It’s just a website. It can’t happen soon enough.
That's just Facebook. On Thursday, former Google employees filed a class action against the company, arguing that it pays women less for similar work. Google probably faces the biggest antitrust backlash. The search provider lost a US$2.7bn ruling from the European Union in June. Yelp, which has been on a multiyear crusade against Google’s behaviour, feels like its messaging is finally breaking through. Yelp’s policy chief Luther Lowe told Ben Smith, ‘Antitrust is back, baby’.