Tech Isn’t the Problem. We Are

Fully Charged
Bloomberg

Hi, it's Nico. In the last two weeks, searing protests against police brutality and racial injustice have spread around the world, instigated by the death of unarmed George Floyd after a Minneapolis cop kept a knee pinned to his neck for almost nine minutes.

Most of us have experienced the resulting demonstrations through social media and witnessed legions of proponents share images of police, in riot gear, cracking down on protestors with tear gas, rubber bullets and batons. And we've seen a fomenting backlash to the protests, spurred by people who've seized on videos of looting and fires in cities after dark. Each post is its own Rorschach test.

There's been a lot of ink spilled arguing that social media has fractured our society, allowing us to live in bubbles that reinforce our worldviews. The algorithms are the problem, these people argue, disconnecting individuals from facts, making every user an entrepreneur in the attention economy and highlighting triviality and division. These points are all valid.

But those who argue that we'd be a harmonious society without social media have never fully known America. They haven't heard the conversations or felt the fears of those who look and live differently.

Tech isn't the problem. We are.

Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey are men who've profited from amplifying conspiracy theories, surveilling people's online behavior and helping disseminate extreme viewpoints. But the platforms they've built—Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc.—are a more accurate reflection of American society than the genteel Big Three broadcast networks that covered the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Social media, for all its faults, lays societal conflict bare. And in a country with a short collective memory that often tries to bury its painful past, at least that's honest.

The protests have cropped up in all 50 states and in Latin American, African and European capitals. Footage from the marches has sometimes been shocking. But the movement's existence shouldn't be a surprise. The frustration, humiliation and pain endured by black Americans also boiled over in 2014, 2015 and 2016, when the lives of unarmed black people were taken, creating debts that police forces, cities and society can never repay. Just because the names of those victims—Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott—fell out of the headlines doesn't mean that any of the structural forces leading to their deaths were resolved. Those years established a collective routine, in which we have to watch short snuff films on social media to have a conversation about change, to realize that the lives of black people do, and always will, matter.

Even if you believe that African-Americans have had all the rights of every other group in the U.S. for two generations, this societal rift, not to mention the demonstrations, won't end until black people believe they're treated equally under the law and long-entrenched systems of money and power make progress on real reform. We can't get past this moment until we go through it.

For now, our brutal national conversation about race is playing out through the prism of likes, retweets and choppy Instagram Live videos. What we take away from this moment is up to us. We also have the opportunity, with one tap, to hear from people who are nothing like us. And to find out the true cost of unity.Nico Grant

If you read one thing

Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of link-sharing site Reddit, is stepping down from its board of directors and calling on the company to replace him with a black candidate. Ohanian, the husband of Serena Williams, wrote about his decision on Twitter here. Read Bloomberg's coverage of the move, and the at-times controversial company, here.

And here's what you need to know in global technology news

In China, an online shopping saleswoman commands Oscars-sized audiences for hawking goods from clothes to appliances to houses

Zuckerberg, responding to mounting pressure from workers, has said the company will review its content policies. In an internal poll, 5,500 employees voted to ask Zuckerberg to change Facebook's approach to political speech.

Apple is rolling out an interest-free loan program through the Apple Card to finance the purchase of its products

Jeff Bezos said he supported the Black Lives Matter movement in an instagram post on Friday. "I have a 20-year-old son, and I simply don't worry that he might be choked to death while being detained one day," Bezos wrote. "Black parents can't say the same."

City Journal, a quarterly magazine from conservative research group the Manhattan Institute, has a long-form profile of Peter Thiel

In related news, the U.K. has given Thiel-backed Palantir access to a trove of sensitive information to help it combat Covid-19. 

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