A group of ex-Silicon Valley employees has formed a pressure group to educate Americans about the addictiveness of social media. The Center for Humane Technology (CHT), working alongside nonprofit Common Sense Media, includes early members of Google and Facebook’s teams. It will soon open The Truth About Tech, an advertising campaign aimed at 55,000 public schools in the United States.
“What began as a race to monetize our attention is now eroding the pillars of our society: mental health, democracy, social relationships, and our children,” claims the group’s website. Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google, the site adds, comprise “an invisible problem that’s affecting all society.”
The Truth About Tech is backed by $57 million in capital from Common Sense and the CHT, including donated airtime from DirecTV and Comcast. Its team includes Tristan Harris, a former Google ethicist, Elevation Partners founder and former Facebook adviser Roger McNamee, and former Mozilla user experience head Aza Raskin.
“We were on the inside,” Harris told the New York Times. “We know what the companies measure. We know how they talk, and we know how the engineering works.”
Over two billion people worldwide now own a smartphone, with access to round-the-clock updates from rafts of apps that demand users’ attention. Fake news and propaganda have begun to take brickbats from within the tech industry – including London-based Factmata, which last week won a $1m funding round to scale algorithms fighting online chicanery.
At last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos tech leaders including Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi and Mark Benioff of Salesforce advocated for greater regulation of tech companies. Doctors and sociologists are joining a crescendo of scientific consensus against the addictiveness of social media, while last month Wall Street investors asked Apple to explore the health effects of its products.
Harris emphasized the power of Google and Facebook, neither of which has made widely celebrated attempts to investigate the effects of their solutions, and said that his team would direct their attention on children, many of whom have never known a world without social media. The CHT’s solutions include political pressure, inspiring humane design, creating a “cultural awakening” and engaging tech employees.