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The tech bro whitewash

I'm pretty conflicted about The Social Dilemma.

On one hand, anything that contributes to the discourse around the harms knowingly committed in the name of engagement should be applauded. My friend David Jay works at the Center for Humane Technology as their Head of Mobilization, and was involved in this film; I know the people who work there are coming from a genuine place. I think that is admirable.

On the other hand, I'll confess to some pretty hard reservations about tech bros who make their fortune at companies like Facebook and then issue mea culpas. The harmful impact of platforms like Facebook were knowable; I know because I, and people like me, knew them well. In 2004, when Facebook was just graduating from being a way to rate the relative attractiveness of women on campus, I was building decentralized social platforms with community health in mind. There were many people like me who understood that creating a centralized place controlled by a single corporate entity for most of the world would get their information was incredibly problematic. It was and is antithetical to both the web and democracy itself.

So coders have been working on these problems, but this isn't really about software. Crucially, the people who have been at the receiving end of these harms have not been silent. Women - particularly women of color - have been sounding the alarm about these harms for years. That we're listening to men who worked to build these systems of abuse, rather than the people who have been calling out the problems this whole time, says a lot about who and what we value. It's not a problem we can code our way out of.

These conversations are vital. But let's be clear: they have been happening this whole time. If they're new to you, you've been listening to the wrong people. And we should consider whether we want to allow the tech bros who created this problem to whitewash their past.