How can philanthropy invest in a more equitable technology sector as a means to combat some of the threats that Big Tech poses to democracy?
That was the question addressed by speakers in the second of three webinars exploring the problems and solutions to Big Tech. The program, co-hosted with our friends at Philanthropy New York, focused on what it will take to design digital public spaces that support and engage all people of diverse backgrounds, and there are many leaders in the field who have been working toward building digital public spaces that serve us as citizens instead of as consumers.
To think about how we create a roadmap for justice online, we invited:
- Michelle Ferguson, National Community Initiatives Director, Dream Corps Tech
Ferguson discussed Dream Corps Tech’s initiatives to train and hire talent within local communities who usually don’t have a tech background. Founded by CNN commentator and formerly called Yes We Code, Dream Corps Tech is working with companies like Target to train people for specific tech roles.
Philanthropy can provide the infrastructure to make the tech sector more equitable,” Ferguson said. “They can fund programs that do the work of training individuals to enter into the sector.”
- Eli Pariser, Co-Director, Civic Signals
Pariser, co-founder of Upworthy and the author of “The Filter Bubble,” asked a number of thoughtful questions about what the next digital ecosystems look like, and what needs to be done in order to weave a healthier social fabric.
“One big takeaway is our conversation around a better tech environment often centers the giants— Google, Facebook and Twitter,” Pariser said. Our view is that alongside these private companies, we really need a much more robust public digital infrastructure that can help support a thriving digital life. It’s hard to see how we get there otherwise.”
- Kamal Sinclair, Executive Director, Guild of Future Architects
Sinclair’s work in this space stems in part from research done with the Ford Foundation called Making a New Reality, which offers an overview on the urgent obligation to ensure that emerging media forms are as diverse as they can be. The goal of that research was to look at emerging media and make interventions early on so that equity is part of the value system of those emerging mediums.
“One of the key things that came out of that research is that we’re in a crisis of imagination,” Sinclair said. “We’re seeing same pitfalls of previous media cycles. We have to democratize the imagination of our future. If we continue to design without equity in mind, we’ll continue to deepen the legacy inequities we already have.”
- Alaphia Zoyab, Advocacy Director, Reset (moderator)
Zoyab asked a number of important questions to the speakers throughout the discussion, including which current philanthropic initiatives are having the most impact right now, and how much work we need to do with regard to raising awareness versus funding for the future.
Watch the discussion:
In our first webinar, we explored two documentary films—“The Social Dilemma” and “Coded Bias”—which take different but complementary approaches to warning us about the dangers of artificial intelligence. We used these cautionary tales as a jumping-off point to discuss the threats that Big Tech pose to democracy, including whether these social platforms and tools are consistent with a representative democracy. If the platforms’ business model centers on keeping our attention for as long as possible, there’s a serious question about whether—and how—Silicon Valley can be pressured to take these issues seriously. We also heard from two experts on what philanthropy can do to combat the problems.