Almost everything that has gone wrong with our country (and indeed the world) is facilitated through misuse and abuse of our work as technologists. It is time for us techies to rise up and use our unique skills to counter the threat of right-wing extremism, because only we truly have the tools to stop it.
There are a few reasons why good-minded and hearted people in tech need to take back control of our creations now, and why we cannot wait for others to do it for us.
- Our way of life and values are under attack by right-wing nationalists.
- Their goal is to subjugate entire populations, including you and me.
- Our tech industry leaders are feckless cunts — they will not save us.
- We, the creators, uniquely have the power to make this happen.
- Our work should serve a noble purpose, one that leads mankind out of mindless slavery and into the light.
We have the power to end this right-wing insanity if we choose to wield it. Here are the main reasons why we must do so now, and a recipe for how.
Our Way of Life
Most of the people I’ve worked with in the tech industry are pluralists who believe in the primacy of good work over race, gender, ethnic origin, age, sexual orientation, etc. There are problems of equality and opportunity in tech, but I don’t know anyone in our industry who has not worked closely with many people of different origins. This exposure breeds familiarity and has gone a long way to making tech one of the most diverse industries in America.
When I first joined the games industry 20 years ago, there were a number of out and proud Trans people who made huge contributions to our craft, including the late great Dani Bunten Berry. The tech industry has long led the way of valuing intelligence, skill and dedication over ethnicity or background — but these mean nothing to the Republican extremists that are infesting our culture. Instead of holding us up as role models, they seek to cut down our achievements.
The Republican Goal is Subjugation
Many in the tech industry have argued that our products and services must be equal opportunity platforms for both left and right. They have used this “balanced” ideology to enable the rise of fascism throughout the world (e.g. Twitter’s standards enforcement). There is no moral equivalence between Nazi beliefs and our vision of a noble, open society. If they continue to consolidate power, eventually we too will be subjugated to their whims and this will involve a major loss of freedom for us and the people we care about.
We have strong contracts that govern everything our users do. We have the ability to enforce any standards of speech and decorum we want, and we could take away extremism’s mouthpiece overnight if we wanted to. Consider what a small tweak to the news feed algorithm or the closure of Nazi/Republican accounts on Twitter would do to their ability to drive animus. Many will argue that they will simply move to the “dark web”, but our best engineers can stop that shit in a heartbeat, too.
Our Leaders Are Weak
Tech Industry leaders have made it clear that they love diversity when it helps them hire engineering talent, but they are willing to make deals with ethno-nationalists and dictators when they want to preserve market share. These companies always argue that it’s not their place and they serve the greater good by sticking it out in tough political climates. But is that really the right calculus? If it isn’t, do autocrats really have the ability to rein in the power of big tech firms? At this point, I would argue, no they do not. Tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc. wield greater influence and power over the world than any companies have ever had in the past. They don’t have to be pushed around by Nazis — they choose to do so.
We cannot be lazy when it comes to this issue. Sure, we in the tech industry have historically benefited disproportionately from our our leaders’ complicity. Much of our wealth was built on very exploitative regimes (whether in manufacturing or distribution). But this devil has come home to roost, and we are facing an existential threat on our doorstep. While it may seem expedient, keeping your head down right now is the worst possible move. No one is going to save us but ourselves.
We Have The Power
Everyone fears our power: Politicians, Law Enforcement, even our CEOs. We can do things that mere mortals cannot, and in a tech-dependent world, we can disproportionately influence the outcome.
This includes our ability to organize and pressure our employers to take a principled stand for freedom and justice. If the core engineering team at Google threatened a strike or walkout, you can best believe management would respond. Small companies are even more dependent on their talent.
I don’t believe we need unions — we can have most of those advantages using existing, decentralized communications technology. What we do need is a collective organizing umbrella and mentality, and the will to fight for what’s right. Once we are determined, I believe all barriers are surmountable.
Our Work Should Have A Noble Purpose
If you’re like most of the people I know, you built your products and services to solve problems, make the world more efficient and level the playing field. Not to enable mad men, genocidal killers and dictators. Maybe, like me, you joined the tech industry inspired by the future vision of humanity in Star Trek. Or perhaps you read Arthur C Clarke novels and daydreamed of tech-tinged utopia.
Regardless, there is a spirit of optimism that is deeply infused in tech-industry culture. It’s the belief that a better, faster, cheaper solution will be found — and that we will be the people to make it happen.
I believe that this optimism has a crucial place in our future, now more than ever.
What To Do About It
Simply put, we must organize.
Every one of us who believes in fairness, equality and open/tolerant society should band together. Everything should be on the table for counteracting our oppressors, including:
- Focused work action to change how our employers operate, including who they let use our products and how those people’s behavior is governed.
- Acts of techno-civil disobedience bringing our message to where people spend most of their time.
- Targeting Nazis/Republicans and their sympathizers using surgical approaches.
- Donating our time to candidates and issues on the right side of history.
I for one still believe in the promise of the tech industry. I believe that we have the power to drive humanity forward, and to do it peacefully, intelligently and with love. In order to accomplish those goals, we will need to challenge the status quo. I believe this is not only possible, but the greatest moral imperative of my lifetime.
That’s why I’m throwing myself behind the idea of using tech as a powerful force for political good in 2018 and beyond. If you’d like to do something — anything at all, let me know and let’s discuss.