The Bad News Bubble

Earlier this week I indulged in a bit of sub-tweeting;

Inevitably folks read this vague tweet from their own perspective and I got a bunch of varied replies.

Actually I was reacting to reading about the shambles at the Iowa Caucus and how it was being laid at the feet of a failed mobile app. There is a lot of coverage of those issues. Twitter had its say as well. Conspiracy theories emerged.

To be honest I wasn’t that deeply engaged – the idea of a Caucus is weird and everything I know about them I learned from The West Wing (and not even the Sorkin years). The thing that struck me was that it was another bad news technology story – and not even a Big Tech bad news story but a Civic Tech news story and I realised I just couldn’t remember the last time a positive tech story had really broke through into the mainstream news cycle.

Trolls, surveillance, privacy, security, misinformation and AI ‘robots’ are the main topics of the tech pages on the BBC and Guardian websites this morning. I can’t remember a recent time when it wasn’t like this. I mean look at what I am reading;

I remember reading ‘Here Comes Everybody‘ in 2009 full of excitement of the righteous power of the internet, web and social media. How it was going to be the great leveller and change the world. The news was full of stories of wonder at how these ‘new’ services were changing the world. Now not so much.

Tech seems to have replaced the Banks as the baddies du jour. Not really surprising when more and more of the poster boys (and girls) consistently demonstrate a total disregard for democracy, society or really anything except their bottom lines and personal ambitions. The days of ‘Don’t Be Evil’ seem like a long time ago. Even ‘Move Fast and Break Things’ seems kind of quaint now unless the ‘Things’ they wanted to break were democracy and society.

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There is of course loads of good work being done in Tech big and small. The Resistance is real. The problem is not many of the Good News stories are breaking through – it is an underground of blogposts, podcasts, meet-ups and Twitter threads. I worry though that this preaches to the converted – an ever smaller network of people who remember the hope of an ‘open web’. The fact I sometimes seem to be only one or degrees of separation from so many of the smartest people in this network suggests its scale isn’t huge!

Will the surge of bad news and bad behaviour create a backlash and push a new generation to seek out alternatives to the dominant narrative? I really hope so. The potential of tech for good remains as great as ever – hopefully that doesn’t get lost in the push back against the personal data driven, surveillance economy we have found ourselves enabling..