McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern Issue 54: The End of Trust
published by McSweeney’s
McSweeney’s first fully non-fiction issue had the Electronic Frontier Foundation as an advisor, and is so full of great writing that I ran out of sticky tabs.
Are you interested in surveillance capitalism and how we are going to survive it? McSweeney’s Issue 54 is for you! While it was published in 2018, it remains completely topical.
At the time I’m writing this, active dis- and misinformation campaigns from a variety of sources are hoping to influence the public in multiple countries to change their votes or behaviors with “stories” about the elections, the global pandemic, civil rights, race relations, protest voting, and other topics. These campaigns are using technology to inexpensively spread their messages, often through unwitting social media consumers, if not through individuals easily converted to new causes online. Meanwhile, a major social media platform is being criticized for secretly changing its algorithms to favor right-wing figureheads have been chummy with the company’s CEO. The manipulation had measurable, real financial impacts on sidelined news organizations, though the changes were hotly denied at the time. (You can read more here in Clara Jeffries’ Twitter Thread on this topic , which has some great links to other resources on this story.) There is no obvious path in this development to hold this platform accountable for its actions, or to keep it from giving resources to bad actors to spread misinformation.
There are companies using technology you enjoy to change your behavior, and the strange discomfort you feel about what you’ve shared with them (and their business partners, seen and unseen) is based on real concerns.
Issue 54 isn’t a compilation of the single-breach/oversight articles you’ve already read. This thoughtful collection of essays spans the technical AND the philosophical: the embrace of daily life surveillance by both “free” capitalist societies AND repressive regimes; the way data is used to maintain existing power structures, so majority communities tolerate surveillance at the expense of law-abiding minorities whose efforts for social justice are violently repressed; how individuals receiving any social services are forced to give up data about their families that the wealthy can keep to themselves; and what could happen if we reframe privacy from an individual choice to a community-wide asset, whether information is demanded by government authorities or corporate entities selling our data for profit.
This collection is SO THOUGHTFUL. In a world where people are programming their own biases into AI, it’s also quite urgent. I recommend this collection with great enthusiasm – and concern about where we think we’re going, versus where we actually seem to be going.