Regulating tech is only half the job: Changing the underlying attitudes is the real problem

Culture is largely responsible for up to 80% and more of what goes on in organizations.

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SOURCENationofChange

The skills required to invent a new Technology are not the same as those required to manage it responsibly. Management is in fact generally far more difficult than invention per se. Indeed, technical prowess is actually a hindrance. It impedes recognition of the importance of management.

If ever an organization needed to be regulated, it’s Facebook. Recent articles in both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal paint a picture of an organization that is a menace in every which way. The revelations by a whistleblower only confirm it.

Unfortunately, Facebook is not an isolated exception. Other Tech giants such as YouTube are guilty of committing similar offenses.   

What makes Facebook so egregious is that it knew that its policies were putting young girls directly at risk by how it portrayed their looks and bodies. It subjected them to endless shaming. It even led to reported attempts at suicide.

Even when the dire effects of its policies were brought repeatedly to the attention of senior management by subordinates, Facebook persisted in its irresponsible behavior. Profits were all that mattered.     

From being a prime distributor of Dis and Misinformation, allowing Conspiracy Theories to run amok, providing a vehicle for the direct interference in our elections, Facebook is the epitome of the socially irresponsible organization. Its lacking in any sense of Ethical Responsibility.

The “bottom line” is that self-regulation is not only a “joke,” but a complete failure.

This only raises the thorny question regarding what can and cannot be regulated. There is no question that egregious behavior and policies can and should. But that’s only half the issue. The remaining parts are not only just as critical, but go far beyond regulation per se.

First and foremost is the underlying Ideology on which Tech rests. It’s what I call The Technological Mindset. Fundamental is the core belief that Technology is the solution to all of our problems including those caused by Tech itself. As such, it must be as free and as unencumbered as possible so that it can do its essential work. Technologists need therefore to focus only on the positive benefits of their marvelous inventions. The negatives are the concerns of others.

Accompanying the above is the Psycho-Social Development of Technologists. Technology is primarily a Young-Man’s game. I say Young-Man deliberately. It’s not that they or women cannot do STEM–Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. To the contrary! Rather, having taught Management and STEM related classes for my entire academic career, I’ve observed for years the arrested development of far too many Technologists. They are virtually unable to think of the Negative, Unintended Consequences of their work, let alone how their marvelous creations will be deliberately abused and misused by nefarious actors. 

Putting together those with similar attitudes only magnifies their behavior. It’s directly responsible for the creation of organizations whose Cultures are the epitome of Social Irresponsibility, and thereby highly Unethical.

While actions and policies can and should be regulated, the other key components unfortunately cannot. To change the mindset of Technologists requires a massive overhaul of the curricula that are the mainstay of STEM. Ethics must be a key component of every course. The hope is that this will further the Psycho-Social development of Technologists as well.

Changing the culture of Tech organizations, especially those currently in existence, is another matter. Culture is largely responsible for up to 80% and more of what goes on in organizations. It not only sanctions what are “acceptable topics,” but the “proper ways to talk about them, “ how to defer to superiors, etc. More often than not, it means going along with behaviors and policies that violate one’s deepest convictions. Such is the power of groups.  

Because the changes required are so many and so difficult, we can expect Tech companies to keep doing more of the same. In doing so, they are their own worst enemy. They are the biggest factor prompting their undoing.

Finally, one of the key findings of Crisis Management is that right from the beginning organizations get cast in three primary roles. One is either a Victim, Villain, or Rescuer. In particular, once one gets labelled a Villain, it’s extremely difficult, but not impossible, to work one’s way out of it. But to do so requires a near total transformation of an organization. More often than not, it means getting rid of the entire senior leadership that was responsible for getting one into a crisis in the first place. No wonder why so few are able to make the transformation.

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