An audience with Recode’s Kara Swisher

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I recently had the opportunity to listen to renowned technology journalist Kara Swisher speak at an event at the New School in New York. As one of the leading voices in technology journalism, she had some incredible insights to share. And I wanted to impart just a few.

True to form, Swisher had plenty of criticism for the current crop of tech leaders—their failure to anticipate the consequences of their creations, and their attempts to circumnavigate their responsibilities. Her argument was simple: those who create technology must anticipate the worst-case scenarios, and work to avoid or at the very least mitigate them (with the growing capabilities of AI and facial recognition software, this is more important than ever).

Like many in the industry, Swisher believes that greater legislative oversight of the technology industry is vital to protect people’s right to privacy. While technology has enabled us to simplify certain tasks in life (groceries delivered to your door for example), these benefits have come at the price of personal data (which technology companies seem to have limitless access to).

As a veteran of the technology world, Swisher’s perspective on how we arrived at this point was insightful. She spoke at length about the establishment of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act—the legislation that provides immunity from liability for providers and users of an interactive computer service that publish information provided by others. In her view, this legislation gave the technology industry a free pass to create and implement technology with zero accountability or thought for consequences … the results of which (such as cyberbullying) are evident today.

Swisher believes cyberbullying is a huge problem

Like many of us, Swisher believes cyberbullying should be stopped. But in the current legislative climate, it is difficult. In her view, these technology platforms are not in fact public platforms but rather private and as such, should be immune from free speech protections. If Instagram was classified as a private platform, those subject to online abuse or false accusations could sue, and platform providers would be compelled to provide some form of protection.

If change doesn’t come soon, Swisher said, these technology platforms will only become more damaging. 

In addition to increased legislative oversight, she also talked about the possibility of breaking up larger companies to limit their monopolies—e.g. splitting YouTube from Google, or Instagram from Facebook. While a controversial view in some quarters, Swisher argued that monopolies are stifling innovation and damaging societal wellbeing.

There is almost no innovation in search as no one wants to take on Google—and even if they did, they can’t get the funding to do so, Swished remarked. Her point is that leaves Google alone to drive innovation in the search space, a shortsighted way to fuel progress. In a non-competitive environment, there is no sense of urgency to change anything and so existing problems remain.

I came away from the session informed and inspired. We’re clearly entering into a new period of accountability in the technology space, one that will benefit us all in the long run. 

valerie chanValerie Chan