You Break It, You Buy It: The Naiveté of Social Engineering in Tech – And How to Fix It

Political Communication logo
May 22, 2019

Facebook’s mission statement promises to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” (Zuckerberg, 2017a), and in his commencement speech to the Harvard class of 2017, CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg spoke about his dream, even in college, of connecting the whole world (Zuckerberg, 2017b). What becomes increasingly clear with each revelatory news story, is that Zuckerberg – and the leaders and engineers and designers at other tech firms like Google and Twitter – failed to see how an engineering mindset applied to achieve social goals could wreak havoc on society and democracy.

Facebook is not alone in espousing social goals. Twitter aims to promote conversation – their core values statement reads, “We believe in free expression and think every voice has the power to impact the world” (Twitter Values, n.d.). WhatsApp, responsible for spreading viral misinformation that has led to mob killings in India (Goel, Raj, & Ravichandran, 2018), claims that “behind every product decision is our desire to let people communicate anywhere in the world without barriers” (WhatsApp, n.d.). Google, perhaps most ubiquitous of all, is guided by the principle “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” (Google, n.d.).

Read more