Drawing a moral line

“The place of tech companies at the heart of war underlines the powerful role they have grown to take. I sincerely hope Putin’s aggression, and the essential role his propaganda machine has played, serve as a broader wake-up call for them. It should not take the breakout of another conflict for companies to become responsible actors, and to draw some basic moral lines globally.”

Thus spake Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center in yesterday’s FT. Meanwhile, in the UK, all that Lord Frost and similar extremists can blather on about are confected worries about allowing Big Tech to become channels for a “woke” culture. Could it be Frost et al like the way the internet can be used to stimulate and weaponise populist sentiment and they want to keep it that way?

For evil to triumph all it needs is for good people to do nothing or, to put that slightly differently, for good people to fail to find a way to confront and defeat the enemies of liberal values (note for some readers – “liberal values” does not mean “left wing”).

We have absolutely no reason to trust Big Tech to get it right. How many “last chance saloons” did they drink in? And remember for Big Tech delay is money. Money is what drives them. That’s the beginning and end of it. The rest is PR and marketing.

 “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons”, thank you Ralph Waldo Emerson for that very modern insight. He must have known various inhabitants of Silicon Valley in a previous life.

We are constantly warned not to “conflate” different issues but the reality is the charge sheet against the internet, already large, is still growing. So we must find a way, through our democratic institutions, to construct a new settlement. It’s urgent. 

The internet most emphatically does not simply “hold up a mirror” to the world. It definitely does that and if there was no evil in the world, or if we all lived inside a University seminar room, it wouldn’t matter. But there is evil in the world and not everyone in it feels bound by the rules of debate. 

What we know beyond peradventure is that the internet can magnify and thereby also shape our world. Scale, accessibility and speed changes everything. 

I am delighted that Girl Scouts in Happyville and Boy Cubs in Neverneverland can use social media to organise a rota to do shopping for old people in their neighbourhood. Marvellous. But enough already with the fairy dust.