Thursday, March 4, 2021

Technology has an account. Technology investors? Not really.

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They have also been indirect beneficiaries of the insurgency on Capitol Hill, with user spikes in the wake of President Trump’s deformity, his surrogates, and accounts promoting the QAnon plot.

In a few cases, public pressure forced action. DLive, a cryptocurrency-based video streaming site, which was acquired by the Tron Foundation from BitTorrent in October 2020, suspended or permanently banned accounts, channels and individual shows after the The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified those who broadcast live the attack from inside the Capitol building.

Neither the Tron Foundation, owner of DLive, nor Medici Ventures, the Overstock subsidiary that invested in Minds, responded to requests for comment.

EvoNexus, a Southern California-based tech incubator that helped fund self-proclaimed “unbiased” social network CloutHub, forwarded our request for comment to CloutHub’s public relations team, who denied that its platform had been used in insurgency planning. They said one group started on the platform and promoted by founder Jeff Brain was simply to organize ridesharing at the Trump rally on January 6. The group, he said, “was for peaceful activities only and asked members to report anyone who spoke of violence. . ”

But there is a fine line between talk and deed, says Margaret O’Mara, a historian at the University of Washington who studies the intersection between technology and politics. When, as a platform “you decide that you are not going to take sides, and that you are going to be an unfettered platform for free speech”, and people are “saying horrible things” are “leading to action”, then the platforms need to take into account that “we are a catalyst for this, we are becoming an organizing platform for this.

“Maybe you won’t get a dealflow”

For the most part, says O’Donnell, investors fear that expressing an opinion on these companies will limit their ability to close deals and therefore make money.

Even venture capitalists “have to depend on cash reserves elsewhere in the ecosystem,” he says. “The concern was that you might not get a deal,” or be labeled as “difficult to work with or, you know, pick someone who could take the next round of your business.”

Despite this, however, O’Donnell says he doesn’t think investors should avoid “alternative technologies” altogether. Tech investors love disruption, he explains, and they see alternative technology as the potential to “break the monoliths”.

“Could this same technology be used to coordinate actions between people who are doing bad things? Yes, it is possible, the same way people use phones to commit crimes, ”he said, adding that this problem can be solved by having the right rules and procedures in place.

“There is an alternative technology whose DNA is about decentralization, and there is an alternative technology whose DNA is about a political perspective,” he says. He doesn’t see Gab, for example, as a decentralized platform, but rather “a central hosting center for people who otherwise violate the terms of service of other platforms.”

“It’s going to piss in the wind … because that guy over there is going to be in it.”

Charlie o’donnell

“The Internet is decentralized, right? But we have ways to create databases of bad actors, when it comes to spam, when it comes to denial of service attacks, ”he says, suggesting it could be the same. for bad actors on alt tech platforms.

But neglecting the more dangerous sides of these communication platforms and how their design often facilitates dangerous behavior is wrong, O’Mara says. “It’s kind of an evasion running through the response that the powerful people in tech … have, which is right, if we have alternative technologies, if we just have a decentralized internet, if we just have Bitcoin. “… then everything will be better.

She calls this position “idealistic” but “very unrealistic”, and the reflection “of a deeply rooted piece of Silicon Valley culture. It goes back to, “We don’t like the world the way it is, so we’re going to build this alternative platform on which to revise social relationships.” ”

The problem, O’Mara adds, is that these solutions are “very tech-driven” and “mostly promulgated by fairly privileged people who … have a hard time … [imagining] a lot of social policy. There is therefore no real consideration of structural inequalities or other systems that need to be changed. “

How to have a “transformational effect”

Some believe that technology investors could change the type of businesses to build, if they so choose.

“If venture capitalists were to commit not to invest in predatory business models that incite violence, it would have a transformational effect,” says McNamee.

At an individual level, they might ask better questions before they even invest, O’Donnell says, including avoiding companies without a content policy or asking companies to create them before a VC logs on.

Once invested, O’Donnell adds that investors can also sell their stocks, including at a loss, if they really want to take a position. But he recognizes the big challenge that would be – after all, there’s a good chance that a high-growth startup will simply find another source of money to enter the space that a principle investor has just left. “It’s going to piss in the wind,” he said, “because that guy over there is going to be in it.”

In other words, a true calculation among VCs would require a reorientation of the way Silicon Valley thinks, and right now it’s still focused on ‘one, and only one, metric that matters, and that’. is the financial return, ”says Freada Kapor Klein.

If donors changed their investment strategies – to put in place moral clauses against companies that profit from extremism, for example, as O’Donnell suggested – the impact that would have on what the startup founders are looking for would be huge, says O’Mara. “People follow money,” she says, but “it’s not just money, it’s mentoring, it’s how to build a business, it’s all this set of principles on it. what success looks like. ”

“It would have been great if VCs who pride themselves on risk taking, innovation and disruption … led the way,” concludes Kapor Klein. “But this tsunami is coming. And they will have to change. “

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