Tech Ethics Crisis: The Big Picture, and How We Got Here

At the CADE Tech Policy Workshop, Y-Vonne Hutchinson spoke about the role of tech in facilitating mass atrocity, and Catherine Bracy spoke on the need for empathy and collective action.

Rachel Thomas


February 9, 2020

The first two videos from the CADE Tech Policy Workshop are available. Read more below, or watch them now: - A filter and a spotlight: Technology and Mass Atrocity - Building Empathy in Tech: A Critical Component for an Ethical Industry

In November, a group of tech industry employees, concerned citizens, non-profit workers, activists, graduate students, and others gathered at the University of San Francisco for the Center for Applied Data Ethics Tech Policy Workshop to discuss issues related to disinformation, the criminal justice system, surveillance technologies, mass atrocity, and other issues of data misuse. People traveled from as far as Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and even France to participate, and employees from several tech companies and local government joined us as well.

Y-Vonne Hutchinson and Catherine Bracy were two of the speakers at the CADE Tech Policy Workshop

I’m excited to release the first two videos from the workshop today; please stay tuned as more will be released in the coming weeks. These talks by Y-Vonne Hutchinson, a former human rights lawyer and CEO of ReadySet, and Catherine Bracy, CEO of Tech Equity Collaborative, help paint the big picture of how we arrived at our current tech ethics crisis, as well as offer a path forward.

Technology and Mass Atrocity

Y-Vonne Hutchinson, a former human rights lawyer, CEO of ReadySet, and co-founder of Build Tech We Trust, has been studying the role of the tech industry in amplifying mass atrocities (such as white supremacist mass shootings) and the coordination of terror attacks. She tied together many angles in helping us understand the dynamics that led to our current situation: the tech industry’s history of exclusion going back to the intentional creation of the stereotype of coders as antisocial men, rising isolation and loneliness in society, and how social media is fueling group status threat and social identity threat.

Technology, especially social media, has made us better at mobilizing, attention grabbing, and targeting; It has done this with a scale and coherence rarely seen before, resulting in tragic consequences. In our online communities, we all see the same videos, hear the same arguments, and can quickly be mobilized to respond in the same way; within an incredibly short period of time. Hutchinson’s talk examines the connection between the culture of social media companies and the violent real-world impact they sometimes have. Watch her talk here:

Empathy is a Critical Component for an Ethical Industry

As more and more consequences of the “move fast and break things” era of the Internet come to light, tech companies are under enormous pressure to anticipate the potential negative impacts of their tools and platforms. But, when the companies who are building these tools are so isolated from the communities they are impacting, how can we expect this ethical decision-making paradigm to take root? Catherine Bracy, CEO and co-founder of TechEquity Collaborative, argues that in order for the tech industry to become more ethical, the people who design and build tech tools, platforms and business models must gain greater exposure to the wider world. Through a case study, she covers how how when tech workers engage in tech’s own backyard, this can have an impact not only for the local economy but for the mindset of the tech industry. Watch her talk here:

Learn More About the CADE Tech Policy Workshop

Special thanks to Nalini Bharatula for her help with this post.