But the idea that Facebook’s technological underpinnings are too complex to audit, and its business model too fast-moving to slow down, was finally overtaken by its undeniable risks. A series of disastrous outcomes, from political manipulation of free elections to violence against small population groups harming young people, to public health misinformation prolonging and exacerbating the epidemic, destroying the sweet fantasy that the company’s products produce a net positive for society.
In the case of the US auto industry, the need for not only regulation, but also an enforcement agency to ensure compliance, was not immediately clear. The necessity and wisdom of proactive regulation of infrastructure technology, rather than relying on the imagination that consumer choice is the primary harm avoidance mechanism, was only recognized after decades of harm and years of whistleblowing and investigative journalism.
Like the internet is everywhere Detroit in the mid-20th century produced something that most Americans felt they could not live without and soon became dependent on it. When suburban sprawl covered peri-urban areas, racial resource allocation emptied urban centers and encouraged white escapes. As a result, owning one or more cars is becoming an increasing necessity for more and more Americans. Federal and state resources have been directed toward building ever more roads to ensure that vehicular traffic grows unchecked, even — or especially — at the expense of those who cannot afford to buy cars or who are structurally prevented from moving out of neighborhoods that have been Incrementally cut it in half. It was devastated by the attempts of the eminent domain to purchase more land for highways in and out of the cities.
At this time, the Big Three also seemed unstoppable, rolling onto the American scene with the help of powerful business and government interests, while also illegally colluding with each other, and against the public interest and public safety, for ever greater profits.
When the results of the bomb were discovered in Ralph Nader’s bestselling 1965 book Not safe at any speed Auto industry executives began exploding in American public discourse, lining up in front of Congress. They tell the American public and those they represent that they are doing their best to make cars safer and less polluting and that there is little they can do to immediately reverse the damage caused by their product. Executives have downplayed the scale of the public safety crisis and often claimed that they were unaware of the harm their products were causing to consumers. Their answers, of course, were largely a charade aimed at saving profits and avoiding regulation for as long as possible. Ford boss at the time, Arjay Miller, detailed how his Lincoln Continental was safe enough to save his life when he had a highway accident—the doors didn’t jam, the gas tank didn’t explode, and Miller escaped unscathed. He pledged to make sure that Ford did everything it could in the coming years to improve safety even further.
But for years after that, Ford has instead cut corners when it comes to safety, producing cars like the Ford Pinto that removed key safety features in order to get to market quickly and cut manufacturing costs for maximum profit. In 1977, the notorious Ford Pinto “note,’ which was revealed by Mother Jones investigative reporters, detailed the company’s horrific cost analysis of past and future accidents. According to the memo, the horrific deaths and full-body burns that Pinto occupants suffered in rear-end collisions were an acceptable loss because once lawsuits or other settlements were paid, they would amount to less than the cost of repairing a Pinto. Design to prevent the gas tank from exploding. The cost From Styling Repair $11 per vehicle. After public and governmental pressure, it was finally implemented through a recall requested by the newly created National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Today, a similar scenario is emerging in the world of Big Tech – a term that has become an acronym for advertising-driven platforms and internet-enabled arbitrage firms that lower the cost of goods and services by putting pressure on workers and consumers. Whistleblowers from many companies, mostly women and many women of color, rose to the role that Nader held in the 1960s – from Ifeoma Ozoma, who stood up to Pinterest and then worked Create legislation to prohibit the abusive practice of non-disclosure agreements for whistleblowers in California, and Timnit Gibru, who alerted the world about Google’s lack of commitment to AI ethics in practice, to Sophie Zhang and now Frances Hogan. In each case, companies have similarly attempted to silence, fire, or discredit these workers, while retaining their harshest treatment of women of color.
The need to change power structures in this sector is critical not only to society but also to democracy: as Haugen’s testimony last week showed, Facebook mobilized its massive profits not towards fixing known problems but to avoid being seen as causing those problems. And like Arjay Miller, Mark Zuckerberg has said whatever is needed to delay and misrepresent regulation.