Ethical Hypocrisy and Social Networks

For as much joy Facebook has brought me over the years I can no longer contribute or support this platform. The overwhelming evidence shows the reality of what Facebook is: a surveillance engine. It’s a powerful and sinister collector of personal data, a propaganda partner to government censors, and an enabler of discriminatory advertising. You are Facebooks product and you are being manipulated.

I used to believe that decentralized social networks like Facebook and Twitter needed to exist. I used to believe that the good outweighed the bad. My opinion now is is that we’ve proven that belief to be false. We’ve done more harm than good when you consider the polarization and hatred that’s happening across our world. People are reinforcing their confirmation biases at an alarming rate. If history repeats itself, then we are headed for some hard times unless we change.

The real issue is more the fundamentals of the social arena than the specifics of Facebook. The deeper lack of ethics and abundance of greed in the Tech Industry being absolutely core to that issue. I know this not just from the news headlines, but because the Tech Industry is what employs me and many of my friends and family. My craft inside this machine is in the enablement of creating environments in which people create and ship value safely and quickly to market. But it’s deep within the sociotechnical systems — the interaction between society’s complex infrastructures and human behavior — is where I spend to tend a lot of my time researching and experimenting.

I’m always trying to crack the nut that is how to bring ethics into the tech industry. Somedays I feel like it’s impossible and that I just need to drop out of tech all together. The lack of women in tech, abundance of agism, obscenely rich 20-somethings, awkward coders with terrible people skills, talk about about “hustling” and “gigging” and growth at any cost…it’s all disgusting. But most days I keep trying, because I truly believe in the good of humankind. I believe that we can make a difference for the better, and I believe that Tech has a positive role to play.

A couple years ago I was invited to present at an invite-only event on chaos engineering hosted by a big name tech company in San Francisco. The last time I was in the valley was prior to the 2008 financial crisis. Maybe it was because I was a little older, but I was shocked at what I experienced during that trip in how much had changed. It was during that trip I realized that in 2008 the villains were the folks who worked in Wall Street, but now the villains are Tech Workers.

I cannot in good conscience contribute to platforms such as Facebook (this includes Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp) whilst trying to help make a positive difference in the Tech Industry. I feel it rather hypocritical to champion ethics in a professional capacity yet personally contribute to platforms that are anything but ethical.

Leah Cunningham @leah