Does The Public Care About Tech Backlash? And Does That Matter?

from the does-it-even-matter? dept

The NY Times recently had a piece by Rob Walker noting that there is no tech backlash, despite many people believing there is one. Unfortunately, I think the article overstates its case, and misses the more important, more nuanced point. I do think that the public narrative — driven by many in the media and many politicians and bureaucrats — is that there’s a giant “techlash” out there as people are fed up with how various tech companies act. I think that Walker’s point is correct that the public is still using the big internet companies in larger and larger numbers. But I’m not sure it quite says what he seems to suggest it means.

But according to its most recent quarterly report, the number of Facebook accounts used daily (1.59 billion) and monthly (2.4 billion) each increased by 8 percent over the prior quarter. Despite all the anecdotes you?ve heard about people deleting their accounts, the company?s flagship app added about a million new daily users in the United States alone. Revenue was up 28 percent. Even factoring in the F.T.C. fine, Facebook recorded a profit of $2.6 billion.

Facebook is not the only demonized tech platform; social media companies in general are routinely criticized as toxic swamps full of trolls, liars and bots. But again, there?s no evidence of any exodus. In the same quarter, Twitter added five million new daily users, and Snap reported that the daily user base of its flagship Snapchat app grew 7 percent, its best-ever performance as a public company. According to the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of Americans use some form of social media, a percentage that has risen steadily for years and shows no sign of flagging.

Even as someone who thinks the whole “techlash” story is overblown and incredibly misleading, I don’t think it’s reasonable or accurate to say that the paragraphs above prove that there’s no techlash. Indeed, it’s not difficult for folks who really are out to get these companies to point to the above stats as evidence of a lack of competition, since if there was real competition, perhaps people would flock there instead. Similarly, those looking for greater regulatory oversight will quickly point out that if the “problem” they’re addressing (as Senator Hawley seems to think…) is that these sites play games with our minds to addict us, well, their increasing usage just supports that narrative, and is even more evidence (in their minds) of the need for regulation.

What would be a lot more interesting to explore — and what is not explored in the article at all — is whether or not the average user of these platforms actually enjoys it, or if they feel compelled to use these services. Why are these services continuing to grow? Is it because they actually do provide value to the millions or billions of users they have — or for more nefarious reasons? None of that is answered in the pure statistical dump of this article.

My hunch — and it is a hunch — is that most people are somewhere in between all of this. Tons of people actually do enjoy the value and benefits we get from these tech companies. The ability to find almost any kind of information we want, or nearly any product we want, and to stay in touch with friends and family (and make new friends) all over the globe — all with a click of a button. That’s all amazing in so many different ways. And it’s the kind of thing we shouldn’t lose sight of.

However, there’s nothing contradictory in recognizing that, wanting to continue to use that while simultaneously, being concerned about the potential negative impacts that come from all of this, or that are the result of certain companies having too dominant a position. There’s nothing contradictory about being concerned about the privacy implications of all of this while simultaneously using these products and giving up some of your private information. As I’ve explained dozens of times now, privacy is a tradeoff, and the cost/benefit calculation can change over time, especially as more information is known.

In the end, I still believe that the techlash is overblown and overstated, often by people with dubious motives. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t real concerns that should be considered, discussed and addressed. Brushing it off by saying “oh, but people keep using it!” doesn’t do any of that. Indeed, it sort of makes a mockery of the concerns that are real, and that doesn’t help anyone. And, worse, even if the public doesn’t care, the fact that it’s a driving narrative for media and politicians means that it’s going to matter one way or the other as more legislative “solutions” come down.

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Companies: facebook, google

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Comments on “Does The Public Care About Tech Backlash? And Does That Matter?”

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Arthur Schrank (yes, from BNR) says:

It's not like you have comments to spare!

You censored THE FIRST AND ONLY!

"Zof" wrote:


I know this meme. It’s the one with the dog in the business suit in the room on fire right?

And it’s censored!

WHY? — Because Techdirt definitely intends to run off anyone at all dissenting.

Unable to stand even playful neutral comments is why your previously small site is now MORE TINY by the day, Masnick. Sheesh. Can you not understand that YOU look like an utter IDIOT for censoring that?

And no, no one cares.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's not like you have comments to spare!

Because Techdirt definitely intends to run off anyone at all dissenting.

Dissenting from what, exactly? This article seems to go against your usual narrative that Mike is in the tank for big tech, as he’s criticizing an article that supports the position of FB/Google. And yet you still attack him.

It’s almost like you don’t actually have any argument other than "I hate that Mike guy."

Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re: It's not like you have TROOLS to spare!

It’s almost like you don’t actually have any argument other than "I hate that Mike guy."

Not true!

I know he has already ran off with his tail between his legs to tell his mom how badly he just burned TD, but…

Blue Balls hates the Jew Conspiracy!
He hates Google!
He hates himself!!

He loves giving Corporations arbitrary "Rights" via governmental authority, spreading big government, and enriching corporations at the expense of human culture. And for whatever reason, horizontal lines.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: It's not like you have comments to spare!

One, Masnick didn’t “censor” that comment or yours. Enough users flagged these comments that the comment was automatically hidden—though still viewable by anyone who wants to with a simple click.

Two, clearly you care to some extent. You’re here commenting after all.

Three, any citation for the allegation that the site is shrinking? Or what you even mean by that?

Anonymous Coward says:

The thing is everyone uses the dominant platforms because everyone else uses them. If you splinter Facebook into, say, three different platforms dividing people into three different groups then everyone will be divided. My dad who likes to chat with his cousins and see his brothers and my paternal cousins are doing will not be able to because his family will all be on different platforms. That would make no sense.

This has been discussed before several times. There is value in being on the same platform as all your friends and family and that’s what causes everyone to migrate to a few platforms. Separating the platforms into multiple different ones divides everyone which defeats the purpose of social media to begin with which is to unite us.

Unless all the platforms are connected and someone can chat with their friends across platforms. But then regulators will claim that’s unfair collusion across platforms.

There is an intrinsic reason why people flock to the same platform. Because there is intrinsic value in doing so.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

and see what his brothers and paternal cousins are doing *

and yes, this makes it harder for competition to emerge. Because if you are a small platform competing with a big platform it’s more difficult to get people to migrate to your platform since none of their friends and family is on your platform. But that’s the nature of the game. and there has been situations in the past where people did migrate from one platform to another, such as going from Myspace to Facebook, etc… so if the dominant platform either stopped innovating or they began to really really suck they can still eventually get taken out by a superior competitor. But it’s not the government’s job to try and choose winners and losers or to try and defeat the purpose of these platforms by splintering them. It’s the very fact that these platforms unite large groups of people that makes them valuable to begin with and an unavoidable consequence of that is that you have fewer platforms. Either that or the platforms must ‘collude’ to allow cross platform communication.

Glenn says:

In the grand scheme of things I’m not concerned with how "big tech" acts, affecting mostly people who freely choose to use their services (which are often themselves free–no doubt why people use them). I’m far more concerned by the activities of people being critical of "big tech" for the sake of furthering their own ends–politicians more than anyone else, people who don’t let a lie stand between themselves and what they want (typically more influence and money).

Anonymous Coward says:

The public should be worried ,if section 230 is reduced or stopped
,it means every image and post on a forum will be filtered or maybe censored and blocked to reduce the risk of legal liability .
Section 230 is really a gaurantee of free speech on the web ,
if it,s weakened it will especially reduce forums for speech for minority
groups , vunerable group ,s from non white minoritys .

The most likely result of the backlash is further attacks on the usability
of section 230 .
Not every small website has the legal resources, of facebook or google
who can afford to employ 1000,s of moderators or build filters to
block dubious content .
We should take heed from the chilling effect of fosta ,it had the side effect of
encouraging websites to drop personal ad,s and dating ads,
which should be legal in theory .

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