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Social Media's Evil Maturity

posted by Robert Clark

describe the imageAlthough a scientific poll would probably locate several, I have not found a single incoming college student who knows that in the year 2000, when today's first-year students were in primary school, Google formally adopted the sentence “Don’t be evil” as its company motto.

Social media is a great source of jobs, includes socially responsible corporations, and can help to change the world for the better.  But let's look, for a minute, at a darker side of the industry so that our choices can be wiser.

Equally unfamiliar to most students are organizations like the Electronic Freedom Frontier, which includes some founders of the world wide web, and had a utopian dream, now grown quaint, of a digital world of free-of-charge information, authority-challenging insights, and the free exchange of ideas, feelings, exciting games, and ordinary people speaking truth to power. 

Cash-strapped students do, however, know about Coursera, Iversity, and moocs. They recognize that online courses from traditional schools, free courses from private companies, and face to face courses are in a market competition in which brand and price can often be at least as important as course content and quality.

Nor do students expect Facebook, Google or social media companies to work against their primary reason for existence—to sell search, demographic, consumer preference, affiliation, and personal information to other companies. 

Nonetheless, seeing social media companies in bed with anti-science and anti-fact political allies may be somewhat surprising.  Google recently hosted a lunch—$2,500 a plate—fundraiser for Senator Jim Inhofe, (Rep.) of Oklahoma. Inhofe believes that the Bible disproves global warming. He also approves of the smear campaign based on the falsehood that President Obama was not born in the U.S.

Contrary to Inhofe, Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, has said on record that global climate change is a fact.  But Google runs a large data center in Pryor, Oklahoma. Quibbles about science, and the Bible as the bedrock of public policy, are less important than the need for Google to have friends in the Senate.

Do such alliances betray the dreams of liberal-minded young entrepreneurs?  It’s worth asking whether many social media entrepreneurs are liberal, even in the sense of the “liberal arts.”  Does having nerf-ball, free massages, or dogs in the workplace make one young, anti-authoritarian and free?

Silicon Valley corporations, Facebook the most visible among them, have lead a campaign to lessen U.S. restrictions on the immigration of highly skilled workers to the U.S.  Liberal politicians who are supported by labor unions, and conservative politicians who want to protect U.S. workers as their first priority, have both attacked such Silicon Valley efforts to open immigration to more engineers, mathematicians and credentialed talent. 

As in the fashion industry, one view is that outsourcing to the cheapest labor possible in poor nations, sweatshop or round-the-clock factory, is essential to compete with rival companies. Moreover  low-wage sweatshops and factorues are among the best that a poor country can offer. Yet in the U.S., we eventually, though relatively briefly, paid fair wages, increased worker safety, and most of all, pursued the greater profits that high-skill factory labor provided.  Tech industry profits are a huge avalanche. Is out-sourcing and finding the cheapest and unprotected poor-nation labor really necessary? Does tech only really need highly paid engineers and marketing specialists?

Not surprisingly, such news rarely appears in social media itself. One has to look to dinosaurs like The New York Times and Time magazine to learn about the political buying power, and often business-allows-any-evil, strategies of social media companies.  The link below is to an excellent piece in Time that is the source for this post.

Robert Clark  

Topics: social media, Facebook, Silicon Valley, immigration reform, social responsibility