An excerpt from the book’s intro:
The relationship between the tech giants and the media is not stable but rather a rollercoaster ride; you can be on the top of the world just to find yourself a moment later hurtling toward the ground. Not an enjoyable ride (though, reading about it in this book is, hopefully). The outline of the chapters takes us through this rocky journey.
The historical background depicts the power imbalance between the tech companies and the journalists who covered them.
The review starts in the late 1980s, move to the early 1990s, addresses the late 1990s dot-com bubble, the early 2000s bubble burst, and the early 2010s.
Among the topics are
- the responsibilities of tech reporters
- the types of content in tech news
- the main players who cover tech (computer magazines, tech blogs, and traditional media)
- the influence of corporate PR
- tech companies’ limited access and infamous secrecy.
This chapter covers the roots of the Techlash. The pivotal year was 2017 as a result of various tech scandals, including
- foreign election meddling (revelations on Russian interference in the 2016 US election)
- fake news, misinformation/disinformation wars
- extremist content and hate speech
- data collection and protection, and privacy violations (following cyberattacks and data breaches)
- anti-diversity, sexual harassment, and discrimination.
Among the contributors to the formation of the Techlash are
- the aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory, including the Cambridge Analytica “firestorm”
- Pack Journalism — Techlash agenda across all the news media
- the tech companies’ scale and bigness
- the political pushback — tech CEOs getting grilled.
There are several crisis communication theories that can help explain the crisis responses to the Techlash. Among them are corporate apologia, image repair theory, and situational crisis communication theory. Together they set the stage for the research findings. How did the tech companies respond to their scandals?
In a nutshell, although there were different tech companies and various negative stories, their responses were very much alike. The analysis identified the repetition of specific messages in the companies’ attempts to reduce responsibility.
The tech companies were criticized for their responses, including the pseudo-apologies or their victimization. The critics claimed that tech companies need to stop blaming others. The bigger question is around the role of humanity versus technology.
The chapter discusses the Techlash effect on the tech companies, the evolving issues they needed to manage (and still do). Those issues include
- the deteriorated trust
- tech regulation
- rise in tech investigative reporting
- tech conferences and interviews with tech CEOs
- tech workers’ activism
- the overall shift in culture from techno-optimism to techno-pessimism
- but also the growth in usage and business as (despite the Techlash) they are financially thriving.
As COVID-19 hit the United States, there was a short “second Honeymoon” phase, full of gratitude for the technological inventions which help us cope with the outbreak. But then, very quickly, the Techlash issues resurfaced.
Should tech companies acclimate to constant media scrutiny? And given that attacking Big Tech became a bipartisan practice, from a growing number of media outlets and all political sides?
The prediction is that moving forward, we could expect even more investigations around the core of the Techlash, such as content moderation, ad transparency, misinformation, algorithmic accountability, data rights, and antitrust. The Techlash as we know it — is probably here to stay.
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The “pre-Techlash/Techlash/post-Techlash” sections help to organize the story, but there isn’t a strict dichotomy between them. While reading, you will find a more complex depiction, as the pendulum swung from one side to the other more than once or twice.
“Jeff Bezos used to tell me, ‘Today’s poster boys, tomorrow’s piñata.’ You’re not as good as they say, you’re not as bad as they say. Just find the middle ground,” said Brian Chesky, Airbnb CEO. The book will present the difficulty of reaching such middle ground, as the pendulum is drawn to both extremes.