Pluralistic: 18 Feb 2022

Today's links

A flaming dumpster emblazoned with a shampoo label reading 'lather, rinse, repeat,' superimposed over the menacing red eye of HAL9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Tech platforms' playbook inevitably produces dumpster-fires (permalink)

Very rarely, I find an article that I want to share, but whose every line so so perfect that I can hardly bear to summarize it because I just want to repost the whole thing, peppered with "HELL YEAH"s. That's how I feel about Anil Dash's "That broken tech/content culture cycle."

Dash lays out a playbook for firms that claim to be "tech companies" but rely on cultural production to grow and profit – a playbook that we've seen used so many times that it's impossible to credibly call what emerges from it an "unintended consequence."

As Ian Fleming wrote: "Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action." If you follow a playbook that has led to series of dumpster fires, you can't credibly claim to be surprised when you end up presiding over a dumpster fire of your own.

Dash's playbook starts off: Build a platform that relies on culture, but call it a "neutral tech platform," except in your ads, "where the message is entirely about creativity and expression."

Step two: Pay your employees solely based on growth. Fire anyone who demonstrates concern for culture or creators over growth.

Three: Grow, but pay no attention to the norms of the people using your platform.

Four: When you discover that your platform has a bunch of really gross stuff going on, make it the responsibility of your org's "least resourced, most marginalized team." Fire anyone who suggests you need structural changes.

Five: Half-ass your moderation. Build a system where bad actors thrive and push everyone else off the platform.

Six: When the marginalized creators who built up all the value for your platform leave, do not "reflect on how you could have amplified them instead of just letting them wander off, exhausted."

Seven: Get serious about monetization. Realize that much of your platform's content is illegal. Panic. Do some deals with big entertainment companies. Seize control over your platform's most popular creators' output.

Eight: "Surface great content" with an algorithm trained on the stuff that's successful, foreclosing on the possibility of making anything different. Treat the algorithm as a sacrosanct oracle except when right-wing trolls work the ref and insist that their garbage's obscurity is "woke bias."

Nine: Overpay for exclusive deals with creators from your platforms and creators you poach from rivals. Forget about creating a pipeline where you nurture new talent. Become totally dependent on your exclusive superstars.

Ten: Commit the same abuses of talent that were perfected by studios and labels. Insist that it's better this time because you're a tech company.

Eleven: When your workers complain that their work is making society worse, ignore them. Listen to right-wing pundits and VCs who insist the problem is entitled "Millennials" ("anyone born after 1970, or who has school loans").

Twelve: When your platform is inevitably implicated in a murder, address it with a single board meeting. Hire "a really good crisis comms team." Have a single town-hall meeting. Cut a check to "whichever organization your board member's spouse started to help deal with the problem."

Thirteen: "Cut an even bigger check in order to keep the creator of the violence-inspiring content on your platform as an exclusive."

Fourteen: Tell everyone that this is "growing pains" and that murder and fascism inevitably occur once a platform attains scale.

Fifteen: When you learn about really disturbing content on your platform, bump the Trust & Safety team's budget by 5% and ask your executive coach for a compliment.

Sixteen: Pursue growth through "emotionally engaging content." Under no circumstances should you reflect on whether those are positive or negative emotions.

Seventeen: When former workers call you out, feel briefly guilty, then get your board to remind you that "cancel culture" is the real problem.

Eighteen: Fund the most toxic users of your platform. Call it "free speech." Under no circumstance should you reflect on the free speech issues raised by letting these people chase everyone else off your platform.

Nineteen: Use "free speech" as a "rhetorical bludgeon" against anyone who points out that you're not just a platform, you're publishing the people you pay for exclusive deals with your platform.

Twenty: These trolls now own your platform. They will get even more extreme and harmful. Respond by "entrench[ing] yourself even further in the necessity of enabling their depredations."

Twenty-one: Start taking a bigger cut of the revenues generated by other creators on your platform. "Rig the algorithm, payment system, and advertising infrastructure in your favor."

Twenty-two: Push dissenters out of the company. Paint external critics as extremists or part of a conspiracy funded by your competitors. Include the families of people who died because of your platform in this conspiracy accusation.

Twenty-three: Once regulation finally seems in the cards, team up with your sole surviving competitor in a duopolistic lobbying push to undermine the regulation. Team up with lawmakers who insist "the 'real problem' is that the algorithm isn’t giving their shitty content unfair amplification."

Twenty-four: "Claim full victim status." Ignore the billions you made from all this. Weep that "the vicissitudes of running a big content platform are just too exhausting, especially when people are blaming you for societal problems that have always existed."

"Buy a yacht. Don’t consume any content on the yacht, you were never really into all that crap anyway."

We call it…The Aristocrats!

My summary of Anil's post doesn't do it justice. It's so good. Go read it.

(Image: Open Food Facts, CC BY-SA 3.0; Hugh D'Andrade/EFF and Cryteria, CC BY 3.0; modified)

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago To fight terrorism, drink breast-milk

#10yrsago Canada’s government muzzles scientists, stonewalls press queries about health, environment and climate

#1yrago Strength in numbers: The crisis in accounting

#1yrago Planet Money on HP's myriad ripoffs

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Kottke (

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