My sense is that, if anything, Megan McArdle understates the dangers for Google as it faces down a lawsuit by former employee James Damore, whom the company fired after somebody leaked an internal memo in which he questioned the progressive assumptions of some Google policies and groupthink:
This is one reason public corporations have historically tried to keep politics out of their business. It is internally divisive, and it paints a giant target on your back for your political enemies. Whatever small gains you may get, from internal bonding among like-minded employees, or external rewards from like-minded politicians, are almost never worth the blowback.
This is a lesson that Silicon Valley hasn’t had to learn yet, because it is so rich, and so new, that these sorts of concerns haven’t really registered. Presumably that’s why Google managers complacently allowed a corporate culture to grow up that at the very least tolerates some degree of progressive militancy at work, and quite possibly encourages more than a little of it. That was incredibly short-sighted. And if Silicon Valley doesn’t realize this, it is about to get belatedly hit by that realization, good and hard.
Glenn Reynolds articulates the broad, market-related reason this might be an understatement in his characteristically succinct way: “It’s not an industry that can flourish without trust.” In other words, a whole lot of people are finding more and more reason to rethink their willingness to give these tech giants all of this intimate information about themselves.
This broad, market aspect becomes more focused when one asks who the customers actually are. The more-focused customers for the tech giants aren’t the users in the general public, but the people who see in Google, Facebook, Twitter, and so on a means of reaching an audience. In this regard, give a read to John Hawkins’s thoughts about the risk for conservatives of building their audiences in a way that requires the indulgence of the techies.
As he writes, “what Facebook giveth, Facebook can take away.” Whether the motivation is monetary or ideological, when the Silicon Valley oligarchs decide that the benefits of tolerating people whose views they don’t like no longer outweigh the benefits of ostracizing them, they’ll do the latter. Aware of that possibility, anybody who has any reason to believe they might run afoul of the oligarchs has more incentive to seek other avenues to growth. We all generally proceed with the sense that some mild catering to Google, Facebook, and Twitter can’t hurt, but we’re becoming more wary of allowing them to become critical.
An investigation is more than I have time for, right now, but after reading Hawkins’s essay, I took a look at search-engine-driven traffic to the Ocean State Current, and let’s just say that it isn’t inconsistent with the possibility that Google is doing something to suppress our traffic in its algorithm.
As with politics, so with promotion. More and more, I’ve been arguing that we should focus local and personal in our political activism. The same is proving true for promulgating content. Readers can help by visiting often, spreading the word themselves, and (yes) donating.
Unfortunately, the other side has the advantage of the oligarchs’ favor, but they need that advantage because their ideas are terrible. If the rest of us have to work harder, well, so be it. We had a brief vision of a more fair reality back when blogging first exploded, and it’s time to reassert that vision as an expectation. Of course, we’ll need your help to do so.