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The tech industry is culpable for Trump

Kevin Roose has written an alarming wakeup call in the New York Times:

Pro-Trump political influencers have spent years building a well-oiled media machine that swarms around every major news story, creating a torrent of viral commentary that reliably drowns out both the mainstream media and the liberal opposition.

While election polls typically place Democrats ahead, they were flat out wrong in 2016, in large part because of the Trump campaign's ability to dominate social media. Facebook is the joint monarch of the social media landscape with YouTube; while engagement on the former is dominated by conservative content, Trump's ads about Biden's cognitive decline have enjoyed pride of place on the latter.

Trump is a danger to the country, to democracy, and to the stability of the world. (This statement would have seemed like out-there hyperbole four years ago, but, well, please feel free to take a look back at what has happened since.) Despite this, and despite commentary from pollsters and business executives, it's not at all a given that he will lose the election.

If he does win another four years, the tech industry will not be blameless. Our focus on engagement over community, and our promotion of targeted advertising over contextual ads and other business models, has paved the way for this new kind of authoritarianism. Microtargeting of political messages on social media is theoretically simply a new frontier in political messaging; in reality it has allowed disinformation to be disseminated at scale. The irony is that this kind of behavioral advertising isn't even that lucrative for most businesses; the harms vastly outweigh the benefits.

This is not a rhetorical discussion. We have concentration camps on our borders, an uptick in hate crimes, and a prevalence of xenophobic, nationalist, and anti-science policies. The climate crisis is being ignored even as our country burns. And we are all responsible.