That broken tech/content culture cycle

That broken tech/content culture cycle
Photo by Kevin Andre / Unsplash

Here’s how you do it.

  1. Build a platform which relies on cultural creation as its core value, but which only sees itself as a technology platform. Stick to this insistence on being solely a “neutral” tech company in every aspect of decision-making, policy, hiring and operations, except for your public advertising, where the message is entirely about creativity and expression.
  2. Hire a team that’s rewarded solely on growth goals and winnow out anyone who values creators or culture above expansion and user acquisition. Enforce a monoculture.
  3. Succeed in achieving your primary purpose of growth, while paying little attention to exactly what content and norms are being created and shared on your platform.
  4. Find the inevitable initial bad actors or harmful content on your platform, and make them the responsibility of the least resourced, most marginalized team in your organization. When that team’s leader suggests structural changes that might prevent future harms, push them out and replace them with someone who had previously only ever been focusing on growth at all costs.
  5. Half-ass all attempts at moderation and building safety into your platform, choosing only to react belatedly and inconsistently when hate and exploitation happen in your community. As a result, only the bad actors will truly thrive as creators on your platform, since everyone else will get hounded off as soon as they gain any traction or audience.
  6. Watch as the marginalized creators who were essential to your initial success and cultural credibility get fed up, burnt out, or worn down by nonstop abuse and being undermined by the whims of the platform’s changes over time. Never reflect on how you could have amplified them instead of just letting them wander off, exhausted.
  7. Move into the extreme content monetization phase of your platform. Realize there are enormous amounts of content on your platform that you have no permission to use or distribute, and panic at getting destroyed by rights holders. Respond by claiming dominating ownership and monetization control over the few original creators on your platform, and striking deals with the handful of major content owners.
  8. Build an algorithm to “surface great content” for your audience. Train it on the behaviors of your existing creators, so you create a rich-get-richer dynamic, effectively cementing the culture of your platform and making it impossible for new creators from underrepresented communities to get a foothold. Make it so the only process for revisiting your algorithm is bad-faith arguments from right-wing goons trying to game the refs because their actual content isn’t good enough to get audience on its own. After that, treat the algorithm as some magical sacrosanct god with unknowable whims that everyone is subject to, rather than as a series of intentional business decisions captured in software form.
  9. As you rely more on original content on your platform, identify the major creators who’ve risen to prominence, or the talent you want to poach from other platforms. Overpay for them, setting off a bidding war against your competitors, especially legacy players with crappy tech who will bid up the going rates for the handful of superstars without any mind to content quality or sustainability, rather than nurturing a broad stable of constantly-maturing new talents. Focus your advertising and corporate image on these few super-visible creators, making your brand dependent on their success over any new talents that might arise, and starving other creators of any resources that might be vital to their success.
  10. If in doubt, just repeat the most abusive and extractive behaviors that the publishing, film and music industries have carried out in the past, while saying this platform is a better deal for creators than those industries were.
  11. Note the rising discontent amongst your workers, especially marginalized workers, as they stop being proud of the effects the platform is having on culture and society. Rather than listening to them, listen to VCs and right wing pundits who tell you that the problem is that Millennials (anyone born after 1970, or who has school loans) are too entitled and should be ignored.
  12. Have one challenging board meeting after the first time someone specifically cites content from your platform as having inspired them to commit murder. Get a referral for “a really good crisis comms team” and put out a press release along with a check to whichever organization your board member’s spouse started to help deal with the problem. Have a single town hall meeting where everyone feels really bad about it.
  13. Cut an even bigger check in order to keep the creator of the violence-inspiring content on your platform as an exclusive.
  14. Talk about this entire phase of cultural metastization as “growing pains” when speaking to press or to your workers. Say that some amount of murder inspiration or fascism enablement is inevitable if you make a big enough platform.
  15. Hear word about truly awful, genuinely disturbing content being spread through your platform. Respond by increasing your trust and safety team’s budget by 5% as much as you increase your growth team’s budget. Ask your exec coach for praise for this.
  16. Have your growth team report back on how deeply emotionally-engaging content significantly increases platform engagement. Don’t reflect for even a minute on whether those emotions are good or bad, or whether your growth is happening ethically and responsibly.
  17. Finally get called out publicly by past workers brave enough to talk about the harms they saw, and how they still lose sleep about how they weren’t able to do more to prevent them. Feel a momentary faint pang of accountability before your board members and leadership team remind you: any form of accountability for harm is cancel culture, and indicating any willingness to reflect on culpability will put you on the opposite side of the culture war from all of your investors and peers.
  18. Double down on funding the worst voices on your platform. Call it “free speech”, and make sure that nobody internally points out that truly defending free speech would have entailed protecting those early marginalized creators who made your platform credible in the first place.
  19. Definitely misuse “free speech” as a rhetorical bludgeon against people who are pointing out that you are both amplifying and sponsoring content, not merely making it available. Resolutely refuse to be intellectually honest about the difference between merely providing a platform to all, vs. making editorial decisions to promote and subsidize content that you have control over.
  20. Watch as the bad actors on your platform, emboldened by your obvious dependence on their exclusive content, get more and more extreme and harmful with their content. In response, entrench yourself even further in the necessity of enabling their depredations.
  21. Tighten the screws a little bit by taking an even bigger cut of the revenues that creators might make on your platform. Rig the algorithm, payment system, and advertising infrastructure in your favor, and just keep tweaking it to make it worse the more creators complain.
  22. As objections inside and outside your organization get stronger, rather than engaging in good faith, push out or pressure dissenters within the organization, and describe outside critics as either extremists or part of some broad, ill-defined conspiracy, one that’s likely funded by your competitors. This includes the surviving family members of those harmed by people inspired by content on your platform.
  23. Keep doubling down and tripling down until finally public sentiment demands regulation as a last-ditch attempt at accountability, now that your hyper-growth has stamped out all competition in your field except the other player in your duopoly. Team up with them to lobby and bully your way into undermining regulation. Indulge regulators who lie and pretend the “real problem” is that the algorithm isn’t giving their shitty content unfair amplification. Grease the skids by giving them a boost, so they’ll sign on to your plan to treat platform-incited harm as the inevitable costs of doing business at scale.
  24. Finally, claim full victim status by saying that, despite making you unimaginably, perversely wealthy, the vicissitudes of running a big content platform are just too exhausting, especially when people are blaming you for societal problems that have always existed, like your platform’s promoted content inspiring people to commit violence. Listen to the devils on your shoulders saying they’re all just jealous and hate innovation. Buy a yacht. Don’t consume any content on the yacht, you were never really into all that crap anyway.