With social media becoming increasingly ingrained in the daily lives of users through laptops, smartphones and tablets, our ways of speech and expression can be said to reflect these developments and changes.
To paraphrase the Canadian communications theorist Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message. Whatever the good or ill effects of its use are, and as much as individual will and choice play a role in our consent to invest time in these mediums, one thing is blatantly clear; social media and big tech has become the dominant and hegemonic interface of global, national and local methods of communication.
Ireland, a country notorious for a low corporate tax regime of 12.5%, is a lucrative location for large monopolies to base their operations here, and the social media wing of big tech is no exception. Companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and more recently Bytedance (the owner of TikTok) have set up shop in Dublin, many within the ‘global village’ of Grand Canal Docks, nicknamed the ‘Silicon Docks’. This drab, postmodernist façade of concrete and glass is symbolic of hyper-progressive Ireland Inc.
Of those renting in this area, 55% are tech workers, and 92% of the tenants living in the area were not born in Ireland. The average monthly rent of EUR 2,479 is in no doubt stimulated by demand, and it should be of no surprise that up to 25% of clicks on tech jobs in Ireland in 2018 came from abroad.
Google, which acquired Youtube in 2006 for $1.65 billion, opened up its first Dublin office in 2003, boasts a workforce of more than 8,000 people. Facebook, which came to Ireland in 2008 now employs nearly 5,000. Twitter, who set up their Dublin HQ in 2012, now has nearly 200 employees based here. TikTok have recently announced that with 200 new jobs on the way, that their Irish workforce is to grow to 1,100 early next year.
Whilst COVID-19 appears to have stagnated the organic, community-based economy, the digital economy is destined to increase its stakes in the employment and economic market here. The statistics in the last paragraph adds up to an estimated headcount of 14,300. That number of employees exceeds the number of persons normally resident in mid-sized Irish towns such as Wicklow, Cavan, Ashbourne and Arklow. Try to let that sink in.
As years have passed, the increasing use of social media by consumers has led to these companies developing a more sophisticated infrastructure that contains a clear hierarchy, different markets catered to content in different global regions, and a ‘corporate citizenship’ culture which is dominated by ‘diverse’ and ‘inclusive’ policies. Some of you may remember a world in the early 2010’s that was defined by the momentum of the Occupy movements, one where online freedom of speech and expression was far more permissive and less regulated. Many of those people of a liberal and progressive persuasion who railed against the 1% will now justify the online censorship of those deemed bigoted on the grounds that these social companies are private entities, and have the right to do so.
With the rise of woke capitalism, liberal automatons and the anarcho-bourgeois have made a pact of supporting extremely powerful corporate entities. The outreach of these firms, their influence and means of enforcement is astronomical, dwarfing that of any country’s national jurisprudence. By embracing a philosophy of ‘corporate social responsibility’ these firms can build a workplace culture where these individuals, literal embodiments of the Nietzschean last man, can simulate their pipedreams, manipulating algorithms, taking down, reporting and flagging content deemed ‘violating’, or reporting ‘trends’ that might lead to the firms recalibrating their policies and listings of what speech is deemed harmful and offensive.
A seemingly endless purge of right-wing voices, groups and organisations, from benign to dissident has essentially resulted in their exodus to alt-tech platforms such as BitChute, Telegram, VKontakte, Parler, Gab and DLive. As an umbrella group, these anti-establishment voices have shown an increased antifragility in using these alternative mediums as backups should their mainstream channels be shut down. This strategy has thankfully been embraced by some of the Irish right, so that in the unfortunate event that various dissenting voices would be deplatformed from their accounts, they have back-up mediums which would be able to recapture much of their original audience.
We have already spoken of the liberal workplace culture that appears to dominate social media companies, but let us bring up some examples. In July of 2017 James Damore, a senior engineer employed by Google published an internal memo entitled Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber. The paper, which critiqued biases in Google’s ethos towards diversity and inclusion, illustrates a balanced classical liberal viewpoint on the corporate work space. Two days after the memo leaked, Damore was fired from his position.
The paper argues the mere factual; that biological and psychological differences between men and women are a decisive factor in men having far higher representation than women in tech roles, and critiques the “politically correct monoculture” in Google that shames those who try to openly dissent from it. Consistent to this viewpoint is an assertion of individualism and a rejection of racial and sexual identity politics, which are now pushed openly in such workplaces through various ‘allyship’ programmes and ‘unconscious bias training’. A feature by The Guardian also mentioned the firing of an anonymous Google employee who ‘queried the use of non-binary pronouns’ and bluntly questioned whether gender is on a spectrum. The blacklisting of Damore from big tech, and those who speak out and express similar views is a sole indicator of just where the sympathies of much of its workforce and its management lie.
Google is no small fish. According to 2019 statistics, Google has 92.18% share of the search engine market, being visited more than 62 billion times, processing over 3.5 billion searches per day. Youtube, which is an acquisition of Google, has 2 billion users worldwide, with up to 79 percent of internet users saying they had a Youtube account.
Google is an absolute hegemon, and it employs a staff who have the potential to view, control and manipulate the visibility of all information filtered on its networks in a way that is adjustable to their own worldview.
In August of 2018, Brian Amerige, a senior engineer at Facebook posted an internal message. Entitled We Have a Problem With Political Diversity, the letter described a ‘political monoculture that’s intolerant of different views’. In a lengthy article written after his departure, Amerige explicitly outlines a form of agitative progressivism that has taken hold at the corporation since Donald Trump was declared president-elect in late 2016.
Amerige refers to this ‘political monoculture’ in terms of having seen torn down posters in offices welcoming Trump supporters, regular proposals to remove billionaire libertarian tech tycoon Peter Thiel from Facebook’s Board of Directors, making ‘all lives matter’ a fireable offense, and a witch-hunt of Oculus Rift founder Palmer Luckey for donating to a pro-Trump campaign group.
Unlike Damore, Amerige wasn’t fired, and the self-described Randian Objectivist claimed that both CEO Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg embraced his concerns. What this suggests is that whilst the platform has become increasingly censorious, particularly in regards to the vague umbrella term of ‘hate speech’, is that this is more of a case of bottom-up control where the board of Facebook acquiesced to the same kind of workplace culture that defines Google.
Whilst reports and exposés of the workspace have emphasised toxic work environments and widespread mental health issues amongst contracted staff, little has been emphasised regarding the biases held by some employees working on the company’s behalf. However, an undercover report by Project Veritas made it quite clear some of the loopholes in Facebook’s policy enforcement, how content is flagged and how policy is implemented. The content also showed that various workers were willing and complicit to delete content that offended their sensibilities (namely pro-Trump and conservative leaning materials), regardless of whether the materials posted online were violating or not, and that those developing algorithms purposely de-filter and shadow-ban such materials.
Whilst the report did not prove that the likes of Zuckerberg or Sandberg were complicit in such a bias, it explicated that the culture endorsed within the workplace allowed for people with progressive, liberal and left-leaning ideas to express them brazenly, indicating that some of their personal biases clearly influenced how accessible content, information and its accessibility.
Issues such as these are now coming to a peak, where the CEO’s of Twitter, Facebook and Google give disingenuous answers to allegations concerning the ability of the networks to influence elections, public opinion, the suppression of public information and whether there is a clear bias and lack of neutrality within these corporations.
Under particular fire is Jack Dorsey of Twitter, especially in relation to the scandal regarding the son of then US presidential candidate Joe Biden, Hunter. A story by the New York Post regarding material found on Hunter’s laptop was censored by the platform. When questioned by Republican Senator Ted Cruz on blocking the content, Dorsey claimed that this was due to a policy restricting the distribution of ‘hacked materials’. The Twitter CEO was unable to give straight answers when asked hard questions about the censorship of what the network flagged as ‘misinformation’, in this case, valid accusations of electoral fraud. In relation to the subject of ‘hacked materials’, Dorsey could only state that Twitter was abiding by policy guidelines when the New York Times published President Trump’s tax-return data in September, which was done without censorship or the individual’s consent. Despite the confidentiality and sensitivities of leaked materials of public, political or business figures, many social media firms who have enacted parallel censorship regarding these topics have clearly illustrated their partisanship. Jack Dorsey has since acknowledged that Twitter was in error to lock out the Hunter Biden story.
If there is a culture war in big tech, then it is between two types of liberalism. The first of these is empowered by the co-opting of post-World War II Marcuse-inspired identity politics into the framework of neoliberal capitalism, prioritizing the concerns of racial, ethnic and sexual minorities against contemporary Western and largely white working class majorities. The second of these is a classical liberalism which negates the collective aspects of identity politics, but does not negate championing personal identification with such tags on a personal level. It is quite clear that the former of the two has won.
So where and how does this relate to Ireland? The expansion of the social media and big tech titans beyond their US jurisdiction have found, in contemporary Ireland, a perfect place to base their operations, owing to low corporate taxation and an English-speaking liberalised population. Provided that measures such as the ‘double Irish’ continue, this also means that social media companies have an even greater reason to expand their influence and stakeholdership here. This inevitably means partnerships and collaborations with more organic elements of corporate and civil life in Ireland, with strong links to bodies that influence or attempt to influence Irish cultural and social life.
A study of work and employment based social networking site LinkedIn illustrates the connections between individuals with experience in Ireland’s political hierarchy, and their usefulness in big tech governance in Ireland. Ryan Meade, who currently serves as Public Policy and Government Relations manager has previous experience as a Political Researcher and Director of Elections for the Green Party, and worked as a Special Adviser to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. As well as working as a consultant in his own capacity, Meade represented the Rathmines district of Dublin as a Councillor between 2002 and 2004.
Google has also of late announced a partnership with the Irish Research Council, in which the awardee will ‘undertake doctoral research in online content safety’. An additional partnership with the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) was announced in November, which encourages players engaged in small to medium enterprises (SME’s) to apply for a business development programme where employees are mentored and offered ‘insights and practical tips to help activate and empower them’. Such PR savvy wordplay is inevitably going to sound positive for those who wish to get ahead or keep afloat professionally. But it clearly indicates that Google wishes to further broaden its sphere of influence to such an extent that the way that people do business will become increasingly less organic and ever more reliant on the strategizing and stewardship of what Neil Postman called the ‘technopoly’.
Ronan Costello is the Senior Public Policy Manager for Twitter, and appears to have a particular interest in NGO activism, advising how a ‘grassroots’ movement can use Twitter as a platform to give it more viral traction. In a Tweet from early 2019, Costello promoted Twitter’s work with the EU Commission, Facebook, Google and various European NGO’s to challenge ‘hate speech’ and promote ‘inclusive dialogue’.
Prior to his career at Twitter, Costello worked as a Communications and Legal Assistant at the Office of the President of Ireland, and was also the Media and Communications Manager at the Union Of Students in Ireland (USI). For those familiar with this publication, the USI was exposed to have an appalling track record of fostering inclusive dialogue, particularly amongst those with viewpoints deemed conservative or non-progressive. Many of those now in positions similar to Costello’s previous one were on record as enabling infiltration and bugging of private meetings, as well as seemingly voicing support for assault and harassment of individuals deemed worthy of it by association and public profile.
Dualta Ó Broin is currently serving as Ireland’s Head of Public Policy for Facebook. Prior to this, he worked in the Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment as an Assistant Principal Officer. In a Tweet by the Irish Network Against Racism (INAR) from March, it is confirmed that the organisation, a coalition of more than 100 Irish NGO’s, has been in consultations with Facebook on how to implement and enforce hate speech and racism policies. This essentially proves that policy decisions in the Irish market of Facebook’s content moderation can be influenced on behalf of an arm of the NGO-industrial complex that uses ‘expertise’ as a smokescreen for ensuring that its ideological and political biases are co-opted and implemented by social media hegemons.
Niamh Sweeney, who is Director of Public Policy at Whatsapp (a Facebook acquisition) previously held Ó Broin’s current role. Prior to this she held a role as a Special Advisor to then Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore, as well as boasting a resume that spans journalistic and broadcasting experience at The Irish Times, Bloomberg and RTÉ.
This information should serve as relevant and informative reading to any nationalist, right-leaning and dissenting journalists, activists and writers who are looking to understand the corporate, political and cultural machinations of the big tech industries in Ireland.
For so much of what we are told is ‘grassroots’ is ultimately spurred on and aided by large conglomerates. In an age where we are told we are getting ever more for free, our means of expression is further controlled, airbrushed and curtailed by a small army of technocrats. The more and more ‘open’ we become to new ideas, the more atomised we risk becoming, our cultural and social cohesion further jeopardized.
Sovereignty in the national, regional and tribal sense is being eroded, both through cultural soft power and demographic change, and those who wish to resist that are being earmarked for censorship and potentially draconian and subjective hate speech laws. We need to work against those who push the tide of ceaseless liberal techno-capital, and we must be as clever and Machiavellian as they are in taking to the fight.