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  • Doug Belshaw 10:12 am on November 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: ADL, Sacha Baron Cohen,   

    Sacha Baron Cohen's ADL speech 

    Sacha Baron Cohen’s Keynote Address at ADL’s 2019 Never Is Now Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate. Backup version on archive.org

    I don’t often watch videos of this length, preferring instead to listen to the audio. Baron Cohen doesn’t use any visuals to accompany his message.

    This is a really powerful speech. Obviously meticulously rehearsed, Baron Cohen rips into what he calls the ‘Silicon Six’:

    Zuckerberg at Facebook, Sundar Pichai at Google, at its parent company Alphabet, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Brin’s ex-sister-in-law, Susan Wojcicki at YouTube and Jack Dorsey at Twitter. 

    He goes on to also make six points, which I’ll summarise in my own words using the occasional direct quotation:

    1. “Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach” — new laws and regulations aren’t limiting freedom of expression, they’re a way to prevent giving bigots and paedophiles a way to “amplify their views and target their victims”.
    2. “We’re not asking these companies to determine the boundaries of free speech across society.” — internet companies have “every legal right and a moral obligation” to kick nazis off their services.
    3. “Elected representatives, voted for by the people… [should] have at least some say” in deciding the fate of the world — the ‘Silicon Six’ pursue “ideological imperialism” and “care more about boosting their share price than about protecting democracy”.
    4. “There is such a thing as objective truth. Facts do exist.” — technology companies should be employing more people to monitor content posted on social media, and take it down before lies are spread.
    5. Internet companies are “the largest publishers in history”, and should be regulated as such — Facebook should be fact-checking political adverts before they run them, and in general we should slow down. Not everything has to be available immediately to everyone.
    6. We should regulate internet companies — “In every other industry, a company can be held liable when their product is defective… It only seems fair to say to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter: your product is defective, you are obliged to fix it, no matter how much it costs and no matter how many moderators you need to employ.”

    I don’t disagree with Baron Cohen but, by deconstructing his speech in the above way, you can see that this is quite a conservative argument in favour of governmental intervention. While he has to explain things in ways people understand, it also seems somewhat technically naive. The internet is not like a restaurant, nor are digital communications like the factories of the Industrial Revolution

    Online hate speech and the spread of conspiracy theories and propaganda can be the proximal cause of violence. But, to my mind, they are fundamentally a symptom of deeper issues. There are other approaches, including three I’d like to highlight.

    The first is financial: let’s get to the root causes of why and how companies become monopolies. A recent podcast episode by Seth Godin explains this better than I could. We can have free markets without (venture) capitalism.

    Second, while this is not an easy problem to solve, returning to the decentralised nature of the early web would eliminate some of the problematic network effects we see. Local moderation on instances of decentralised social networks like Mastodon is a lot easier to do than trying to apply a single policy on a centralised platform for the entire world.

    And then, third, vendor lock-in on social networks is a real thing. When a single organisation owns the social graph of which you are a part, you can’t take your connections and contacts elsewhere. Again, this is possible on decentralised, federated systems. We can pass laws to force interoperability and the right to import and export data.

    I see this speech, and supporting work by organisations such as Amnesty International, as providing an inflection point. To be honest, I don’t think social media in 2024 is going to be anything like it is in 2019. Whether that’s for the better or worse, I’m not sure. What is certain is that we can’t continue as we are and still live within functioning democracies.

  • Doug Belshaw 8:21 pm on November 4, 2019 Permalink | Reply  

    Auditing skills within organisations 

    (cross-posted on LinkedIn)

    Humans are complex beings, but we tend to be hired for roles that only tap into a specific part of our diverse skillsets. Take my recent Mountain Leader course, for example. There were people taking that who work office jobs for large corporates where they would be unlikely to get the chance to use those leadership skills.

    There are many such examples. I don’t need to list them. And even for those people whose many talents are lauded when they arrive at an organisation, turnover of staff (and managers) can mean all of that is quickly forgotten.

    This is not only a real shame, but it’s a massive waste of time and money. In my experience, knowledge, skills, and experience tend to be brought in from outside of organisations who actually have an abundance of it at their fingertips. Not only that, but existing employees and contractors already understand the context.

    Don’t get me wrong, as a consultant myself, I definitely understand the need to bring in a fresh pair of eyes and different approaches to solve difficult problems. But there are many times when specific skillsets the organisation already has in-house – for example, around researching a particular area or facilitating an internal workshop – are ignored or forgotten about.

    This has been true of every organisation I have ever worked for. Which is a double tragedy, as every organisation I’ve worked for has been one related to learning. Schools, universities, tech companies related to education, they all have the same problem.

    So what can be done?

    Let’s say you’ve got an organisation with several hundred people in it. Large enough to have a decent layer of bureaucracy in it, but not a huge multinational company. In this kind of situation, you have to make sure that you plan initiatives really well, as even just asking everyone to do something for 30 mins will cost thousands in whatever local currency you use.

    What would you do if you were tasked to do a skills audit of an organisation? It’s not an easy problem to solve.

    On one end of the spectrum there’s something like creating a bespoke survey which the organisation asks everyone to fill in from scratch. This would be a snapshot of current, self-reported, knowledge, skills, and experience. On the other end of the spectrum would be something where you use existing data to build a picture of the latent talent in the organisation.

    Both approaches at the ends of the spectrum are problematic for their own reasons, but also because they’re ways of doing things to people. The survey would have issues around completion rates, self-reporting bias, and second-guessing what management want to see. Meanwhile, using existing data means that you’re likely to have out-of-date information for those who hired a few years ago. You’re also likely to have a patchy dataset as you’d inevitably have to depend on the willingness and competence of line managers.

    Instead, I’d suggest that the best approach might be to seek the win-win in this situation. Can you think of a platform that people tend to need to keep up-to-date to further their careers? One that allows them to list their knowledge, skills, and experience?

    That’s right. Despite my hate/hate relationship with LinkedIn, I actually think this is an opportunity to surface talents using a platform that people are likely to be using anyway. Of course, I’d much prefer a decentralised solution to this, where people own their data and use their own domain, but realistically, this is the approach I’d use in the short-term if tasked with this kind of thing.

    Do you have any experience with this? What would your approach be?

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