STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

The year tech took a dark turn

While giving a speech in Washington, D.C., last month, the head of the Federal Communications Commission urged his au...

Posted: Dec 20, 2017 9:55 PM
Updated: Dec 20, 2017 9:55 PM

While giving a speech in Washington, D.C., last month, the head of the Federal Communications Commission urged his audience to think about a pressing question: "Is social media a net benefit to American society?"

"Given the increasingly important role that social media plays in our daily lives, this is a question that all of us ... need to grapple with," FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in his remarks.

Not too long ago, any debate about this would have focused on the feared addictive and isolating qualities of services like Facebook. But over the last year, the world confronted a new dark side to social media: its ability to tear at the very fabric of society.

Throughout 2017, there's been a steady drumbeat of damaging headlines about fake news, polarizing filter bubbles and Russian propaganda campaigns spreading across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, threatening to sow division among voters.

The tech industry, once a darling of Washington during the Obama administration, now faces strong criticisms from both sides of the aisle over their inability to police massive platforms that can number in the billions.

Last month, executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google were grilled by Congress over their role in the 2016 election. In one memorable exchange, Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, said he was "very proud" of the three "American companies," but added: "your power sometimes scares me."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from the companies' home state of California, echoed Kennedy in one of the Congressional hearings. "You've created these platforms, and now they are being misused," she said. "And you have to be the ones to do something about it, or we will."

Franklin Foer, author of World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech, describes 2017 as a "turning point" for questioning the growing "concentrations of power" in the technology industry.

Related: Silicon Valley's 'gut-wrenching' year confronting its dark side

"When these guys were on the rise for a decade, they held enormous cultural prestige and they were generally beloved," Foer told CNNMoney. Now, he says, "you do have the sense that these companies are on the defensive."

For years, these tech companies have touted themselves as tools to make the world a better place. Facebook pitches itself as a way to "bring the world closer together." Twitter has frequently said it's a "global town square." And YouTube's mission statement is to "give everyone a voice and show them the world."

But time and again this year, those idealistic ambitions have crashed into a darker reality -- both at home and abroad.

Facebook has been described as enabling ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. Facebook's WhatsApp was cited as a cause of beatings in India after a fake news story went viral on the messaging service. Google has come under fire for child exploitation videos on YouTube. Twitter was panned for not removing a controversial tweet from President Trump that North Korea deemed a declaration of war.

The damaging headlines extend beyond social media. Apple has been criticized for aiding censorship in China. Amazon, too, has come under some scrutiny as a possible monopoly as it bulldozes into new industries.

There is a growing awareness of the tech industry's potential to be a force for bad as well as good. And it happens to come at a time when Silicon Valley is a facing a broader crisis of confidence for how it treats employees, customers and the law.

Uber, the world's most valuable startup, has been accused of dodging regulators and engaging in espionage, hacking and bribery. Google has come under scrutiny for how it pays women. Tech executives and venture capitalists are facing sexual harassment allegations. Yahoo users learned that every single account -- all three billion of them -- was hacked.

So far, these concerns have yet to hurt stock prices in the tech industry, nor has it shifted public perception much. YouGov, a market research firm that conducts surveys, says there has been "no significant change" in the brand health of companies like Facebook and Google this year.

But legislators have become more critical of these companies, and to some extent, company insiders have become more openly critical of themselves and their work.

Related: What 'bad' year? Facebook's stock up 50%

Former Facebook exec Chamath Palihapitiya recently made headlines for sharp criticisms of social media in a speech. "We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works," he said.

Palihapitiya and other tech employees also opened up to CNNMoney last month about feeling guilty for the damage caused by the products they built. Indeed, the sense of atonement goes all the way to the top. In a remarkably candid post for Yom Kippur, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized for "the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together."

In Silicon Valley, the solution to technology problems is often more technology, such as better algorithms and new artificial intelligence. But this year, tech companies have begun to devote more real people (and real money) to solve their credibility crisis.

Facebook said last month it would double the number of people working on safety and security to 20,000, though it's unclear how many are contractors. Google is also planning to hire 10,000 people to clean up YouTube.

These proactive moves may help reduce the odds of additional regulatory scrutiny, according to James Cakmak, an analyst with Monness, Crespi, Hardt. But the dark side of social media isn't likely to go away. Tech execs now admit as much.

"It's super important to acknowledge that connecting everyone and giving everyone the ability to share is not necessarily always a good thing," Adam Mosseri, the Facebook VP in charge of News Feed, said at a journalism event in October.

The remark came in response to a question about whether humanity would come to regret giving everyone the ability to publish content.

"In the end, I don't think we as a human race will regret the internet," he said, "But I do believe there will be costs of connecting the world."

This may go down as the year we began to recognize those costs more clearly.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 35712

Reported Deaths: 2207
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion10037594
Lake3806202
Allen174371
Cass15927
Elkhart143529
St. Joseph132035
Hamilton118094
Hendricks118074
Johnson1120110
Madison59761
Porter55329
Clark52841
Bartholomew52238
Howard43734
LaPorte43624
Tippecanoe4214
Shelby39822
Jackson3942
Delaware38740
Hancock34928
Floyd32140
Boone31835
Vanderburgh2902
Morgan28324
Noble25121
Montgomery24417
Clinton2401
White2389
Decatur23031
Grant22123
Dubois2053
Harrison19622
Henry18412
Vigo1758
Greene17125
Dearborn17021
Monroe17012
Warrick16728
Kosciusko1661
Lawrence16524
Marshall1472
Miami1411
Putnam1377
Orange13122
Jennings1314
Scott1223
Franklin1158
Ripley1086
LaGrange1022
Daviess9516
Carroll933
Steuben872
Wayne865
Wabash802
Fayette797
Newton7810
Jasper701
Jay530
Clay522
Washington511
Rush503
Randolph503
Fulton501
Pulaski490
Jefferson471
Whitley443
DeKalb431
Starke393
Sullivan371
Owen341
Perry340
Huntington342
Brown331
Benton320
Wells320
Knox310
Blackford272
Tipton261
Crawford240
Fountain222
Switzerland210
Spencer211
Adams201
Gibson182
Parke180
Posey160
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin120
Vermillion100
Union90
Pike60
Unassigned0175
West Lafayette
Clear
85° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 88°
Kokomo
Clear
80° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 83°
Rensselaer
Scattered Clouds
81° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 83°
Fowler
Scattered Clouds
81° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 83°
Williamsport
Scattered Clouds
80° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 82°
Crawfordsville
Clear
78° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 80°
Frankfort
Broken Clouds
82° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 84°
Delphi
Scattered Clouds
79° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 81°
Monticello
Scattered Clouds
79° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 81°
Logansport
Scattered Clouds
79° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 81°
Isolated storms & humid......
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events