The skills required to invent a new technology are not the same as those required to manage it responsibly. Management is in fact generally much more difficult than the invention itself. Indeed, technical prowess is actually an obstacle. It prevents recognition of the importance of management.
If ever an organization needed to be regulated, it was Facebook. Recent articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal paint a picture of an organization that is a threat in every way. The revelations of a whistleblower only confirm this.
Unfortunately, Facebook is not an isolated exception. Other tech giants such as YouTube are guilty of similar offenses.
What makes Facebook so blatant is that it knew its policies put young girls directly at risk by the way it portrayed their looks and bodies. It subjected them to endless shame. It has even led to reported suicide attempts.
Even when the disastrous effects of its policies were repeatedly brought to the attention of senior management by subordinates, Facebook persisted in its irresponsible behavior. Profits were all that mattered.
From being a primary distributor of Dis and disinformation, allowing conspiracy theories to run wild, providing a vehicle for direct interference in our elections, Facebook is the epitome of the socially irresponsible organization. Its lack of any sense of ethical responsibility.
The “end result” is that self-regulation is not just a “joke”, but a complete failure.
This only raises the thorny question of what can and cannot be regulated. There is no doubt that blatant behavior and policies can and should. But that’s only half the problem. The other elements are not only just as critical, but go far beyond regulation per se.
First and foremost, the underlying ideology on which the technology is based. This is what I call the technological mindset. The fundamental belief that technology is the solution to all of our problems, including those caused by technology itself, is fundamental. As such, it must be as free and as unencumbered as possible so that it can do its essential work. Technologists must therefore focus only on the positive benefits of their wonderful inventions. The negatives are the concerns of others.
Accompanying the above is the psychosocial development of technologists. Technology is above all a young man’s game. I say voluntarily Young-Man. It is not that they or women cannot do STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. On the contrary! Instead, having taught management and STEM related courses my entire college career, I have watched for years the stunted development of far too many technologists. They are virtually incapable of thinking about the negative and unintended consequences of their work, let alone how their wonderful creations will be deliberately abused and misused by nefarious actors.
Bringing together those with similar attitudes only amplifies their behavior. He is directly responsible for creating organizations whose cultures are the epitome of social irresponsibility, and therefore highly unethical.
While actions and policies can and should be regulated, the other key elements unfortunately cannot. Changing the mindset of technologists requires a massive overhaul of the curricula that are the backbone of STEM. Ethics should be a key element of every course. The hope is that this will also promote the psychosocial development of technologists.
Changing the culture of tech organizations, especially those that currently exist, is another matter. Culture is largely responsible for up to 80% and more of what happens in organizations. This sanctions not only “acceptable subjects”, but “appropriate ways of talking about it”, how to rely on superiors, and so on. More often than not, that means accepting behaviors and policies that violate one’s deepest beliefs. This is the power of groups.
Because the changes required are so many and so difficult, we can expect technology companies to continue to do the same. In doing so, they are their own worst enemy. They are the biggest factor prompting their downfall.
Finally, one of the main conclusions of crisis management is that, from the start, organizations are divided into three main roles. One is either a victim, or a villain, or a rescuer. In particular, once you qualify as a villain, it is extremely difficult, but not impossible, to get out of it. But to do this, an almost total transformation of an organization is needed. More often than not, this means getting rid of all of the upper management that was responsible for setting the crisis in the first place. No wonder why so few are able to make the transformation.