The geniuses of Silicon Valley are hacking every aspect of society to make it much better — that’s just what they constantly tell us, anyway.
From how we eat music and TV and news to how we grab around, there’s almost no aspect of modern life that tech companies haven’t changed, sometimes radically. And there’s no doubt that numerous of these changes have actually brought concerning positive results for numerous people.
But now it appears one Silicon Valley titan is hacking democracy — hacking it to pieces, that is.
In recent days, tech billionaire Peter Thiel was revealed as the man funding a collection of lawsuits versus Gawker, a news site that is engaged in a lawsuit along with Terry Bollea, a.k.a. Hulk Hogan. Thiel’s deep pockets not only ensured that Bollea’s case got as far as it did, his money likewise provided the backing for an array of lawsuits that look as though they’re designed to leave a smoking crater where the network of Gawker sites used to be.
Today’s the day Donald Trump apparently clinched the number of delegates he’ll have to be the Republican nominee. Yet right now, I’m a lot more afraid of Thiel and his ilk. We all must be.
Chances are Trump won’t win in November. He is a threat to numerous points the majority of Americans hold dear, if the polls are to believed. Yet rampaging magnates like Thiel are an even bigger threat to democracy itself.
Let’s grab one thing clear: I have actually no particular love for Gawker. Last year, like almost every various other media person on the planet, I vociferously condemned one story in particular that I won’t rehash here because the rationale that allowed it to be published in the very first place still nauseates me. That non-story embodied every little thing journalism must avoid, not embrace, in my opinion. And there have actually been a number of various other pieces Gawker and its affiliated sites have actually published that I have actually found deeply troubling or misguided over the years. So I’m not here to tell you Gawker founder Nick Denton is an innocent lamb being led to the slaughter.
That said, Gawker funds and publishes a lot of really good, smart writing and worthy, tough-minded journalism as well, and it has actually done so since it snarked its means onto the media scene in the early aughts. It likewise has actually an array of blind spots and problematic practices, some of which Thiel and others have actually every right to object to, Yet every media company makes mistakes, sometimes big ones.
But the punishment Thiel clearly has actually in mind — the scorched-earth destruction of the entire company — in no means fits the crime he thinks it has actually committed. It’d be like you crashing in to your neighbor’s automobile not once Yet two or three times, and in response, your neighbor, rather than getting angry, lobbing some valid complaints and filing an insurance claim, burns down your home and runs over your dog. And then moves away and drops a bomb on the neighborhood.
Gawker isn’t innocent in this, nor is it Satan incarnate. Yet this isn’t concerning Gawker.
This isn’t concerning one mogul having a tantrum and scrubbing points he doesn’t like from the Internet, as the fictional Gavin Belson recently did on “Silicon Valley.” (Sidebar: Nothing concerning the Belson character feels even remotely fictional, which is one reason the HBO comedy is so funny — in a slightly scary way.)
This is concerning one of the fundamental pillars of democracy being threatened by entities along with almost infinite power and resources. You know those superhero films in which unstoppable, power-mad villains in the midst of meltdowns decide to threaten entire planets? Yeah, that scenario doesn’t feel all that far-fetched, especially if you’ve spent a decade or two or three working in the media industry.
There have actually constantly been rich people who’ve gone after the media, sometimes for frivolous reasons, sometimes for good ones. Yet the truth is, there are a lot more billionaires in this country compared to ever. If they all decide to go scorched-earth on journalism outlets they don’t like, well, say goodbye to a free press.
A thriving media ecosystem in which journalists and critics can easily speak honest truth to power on a regular basis is one of the foundations of a civil society. “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, as long as the press doesn’t make rich and powerful people angry.” Wait, I may have actually that excerpt from the Constitution wrong. Or do I?
If you believe I’m being hyperbolic, I’m not. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos now owns the Washington Post. Magnate Sheldon Adelson is the owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which he appears to be gutting like a fish. And as numerous commentators have actually pointed out, Thiel has actually the ear of the most powerful man at any media company on Earth: Mark Zuckerberg.
Thiel is friends along with Zuckerberg and is on the board of Facebook, which, in case you weren’t aware, holds the fate of numerous media firms in its clammy, data-driven hands. You haven’t seen frenzy behind the scenes at a media company until you’ve lived through a week in which Facebook changes its cryptic algorithms. Few points cause a lot more newsroom ulcers compared to Facebook or Google altering the the means in which their users engage along with news content. Forget Oprah and Time, Inc: A small array of tech firms hold the keys to the media kingdom, they move in mysterious means and they answer to no one.
And numerous of these tech firms believe it’s their mission to fundamentally modification our society, which isn’t necessarily a bad impulse, Yet they’re coming from a culture in which secrecy is an ingrained survival instinct. They don’t like scrutiny and they believe pulling spine the curtain means giving away trade secrets. In short, numerous of these companies and the titans they’ve spawned hope to build the future devoid of being transparent concerning their motives, ways or endgames.
And the press? That’s merely something to be controlled. Not so much a pillar Yet a pet.
So just what if, as Felix Salmon suggests, Thiel convinces his Silicon Valley cronies that nuking media companies that misbehave is not simply a social good Yet an altruistic act? Yes, Thiel compared his grudge fulfill versus Gawker to a charitable cause. And that’s the kind of messianic thinking that makes me wonder if Thiel is merely attempting to provide the next season of “Silicon Valley” along with a satire-rich environment.
However, there is something much deeper and darker at work. You can easily dislike just what some media companies do — that’s fine, we can easily take it. We know we make mistakes, and the kind of free and open exchange of ideas that allows people to squawk concerning stories they don’t like is a rather good thing. All that debate and discussion has actually its effects. For example, Denton announced Gawker had changed its editorial policies after the outcry over the site’s reprehensible 2015 story. Media companies evolve, in section because of feedback, in section due to the times we live in. If they don’t preserve pace along with change, they’ll die. And too numerous good newspapers, news sites and beneficial media resources have actually already bitten the dust.
And that’s why you are probably seeing numerous people that job in the media reacting to the Thiel revelation along with a mixture of horror and terror. We already know that most news organizations are already facing an ever-shifting array of existential threats. Making money as a media firm in this day and age is not for the faint of heart. In general, margins are slimmer and much less dependable compared to ever, and paying the bills via Internet advertising is a chancy game, made chancier by a lot more consumers that install ad-blocking software. A lot of journalism-dependent companies are hanging by a thread, or maybe four threads on a good day.
You may sometimes believe that news outlets of various kinds are falling in to a clickbait-obsessed spirals in response to the radical changes of the past decade. Some days I believe that too. Yet I exited journalism school in the early ’90s, well prior to the Internet was really a Thing, and one truth has actually remained true since that time: The vast majority of journalists, critics and reporters in this game do just what we do because we love it and we believe just what we do is crucial and even fun, and we’re not doing it in a spirit of destructive glee, nor do we believe we’re going to make bank doing it.
Uncovering wrongs, spotlighting good works, championing and analyzing and criticizing, investigating and exposing devoid of fear or favor — a functional society calls for a lively press that is doing all these things, every day. To put it in tech-adjacent terms, it’s the kind of data set that leads to rational, informed choices.
But maybe Silicon Valley isn’t after educated citizens: Maybe the Peter Thiels of the globe simply want an array of obedient consumers. Good luck along with that.