The COVID-19 pandemic and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol helped open many Americans’ eyes to how the amplification of hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy theories by major Internet platforms has undermined public health and democracy, with disastrous consequences.
Tristan Harris has spent the better part of a decade fighting this status quo and warning the world about these risks, but his message initially went unheeded. Beginning with a now famous 2013 slide deck explaining how psychological vulnerabilities might be used to hook users that circulated inside his former employer, Google, Harris has built public awareness about these issues more successfully than anyone before him. In 2018, he co-founded the Center for Humane Technology, a nonprofit focusing on tech addiction and the way technology can be used to manipulate our behavior.
Harris skillfully uses the persuasive techniques of Internet platforms as a weapon against them, as seen in the 2020 Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma. The documentary (which I was also part of) helped bring his message to the global masses, while also foreshadowing the insurrection. In an age when our democracy is in peril, we need activists like Tristan more than ever to fight the mega Internet platforms and help redefine our digital lives.
McNamee is the author of Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe and has been a Silicon Valley investor for 35 years