Move Fast and Break Things*

On Thursday afternoon, we will welcome Noam Cohen, former technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball.  Cohen will be joined by Jeff Howe, assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University, Wired Magazine contributing editor, and author of Whiplash.

Over the past decade, three behemoths of the tech world, Facebook, Amazon and Google, have amassed an astonishing amount of control over how we communicate, how we shop and how we seek information and knowledge. Seen early on as a way to democratize society and “make the world a better place”, the tech industry is now facing harsh criticism—and for good reason. In addition to market monopolization is the more troubling manipulation of information and emotions, especially during the 2016 elections and since, with additional evidence piling up daily that there was intense Russian interference in our country’s electoral process. 

Recently, Cohen wrote in a New York Times op-edIn addition to their power, tech companies have a tool that other powerful industries don’t: the generally benign feelings of the public. To oppose Silicon Valley can appear to be opposing progress, even if progress has been defined as online monopolies; propaganda that distorts elections; driverless cars and trucks that threaten to erase the jobs of millions of people; the Uberization of work life, where each of us must fend for ourselves in a pitiless market.

According to the New York Times, News is dripping out of Facebook, Twitter and now Google about how their ad and publishing systems were harnessed by the Russians. On Nov. 1, the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on the matter. It is unlikely to enhance the companies’ reputations.Under growing pressure, the companies are mounting a public relations blitz. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, was in Washington this week, meeting with lawmakers and making public mea culpas about how things happened during the election “that should not have happened.” 

Apologies abound and perhaps the public is not feeling so benign anymore. However, what about us? What about the users of this technology? Do we have responsibilities as well? What are concerned citizens to do?  In his New York Times op-ed, Cohen asks: if a few people make the decisions about how we communicate, shop, learn the news...do we control our own society?

These questions and more will be addressed by Noam Cohen and Jeff Howe. Please join us!

*Facebook's motto until 2014

 

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