What’s Next for Tech

Where do we look to when we long for change? For a long time now, people have started to lose faith in traditional arenas like government. Instead, people have turned to technology. From Google to Amazon, tech companies have had a tremendous impact on society, transforming how we work, play, and communicate.

But have our hopes been misplaced?

Consider Elon Musk, who was once seen as a self-made visionary. Tesla and SpaceX promised to revolutionise the way we travel, now and in the distant future. Yet a series of alarming events have cast his reputation into doubt. In the span of a few weeks, Musk has had multiple public meltdowns on Twitter, baselessly accused a diver involved in the Thai cave rescue operations a “pedophile”, and invited investigations from regulatory agencies following a failed plan to privatise Tesla. Meanwhile, Tesla continues to bleed money quarter after quarter with no discernible path to profitability amidst reports of human rights abuses.

Now consider Jeff Bezos, whose company Amazon recently struck $1 trillion market cap. Reports after reports unveil questionable practices within its warehouses, where workers are allegedly denied bathroom breaks. One survey suggests that over half of workers have suffered from depression since working at Amazon. In its search for a second headquarters, cities across the US offered tax breaks and other incentives in a bidding war, hoping to boost their local economies. Yet the effect of Amazon on these cities remains uncertain. Many argue that these incentives outweigh any potential benefits that Amazon might offer, while others fear the inevitable gentrification that this move might bring. Don’t forget decades of anti-competitive practices, including its questionable use of patents to force out competitors and even completely removing their products from its website.

 

Protesters gather in London following the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook data scandal

 

These issues are rampant throughout the tech world. On one spectrum, Apple, accused of human rights violations within its supply chains; Facebook, embroiled within “fake news”  and free speech debates; Google, fined €2.42 billion by EU anti-trust regulators; Uber, the poster-child for negative workplace culture. On the other end, Juicero, a startup focused on high-end juice subscriptions, whose products required a proprietary $700 juicer that was ultimately revealed to be unnecessary. Even as startups grow into full-fledged companies, they often remain being seen and treated as if their purpose remains the same, to disrupt. Never mind what needs to be done to fix the mess they leave behind.

Recently, governments have begun to hold tech companies accountable for their decisions. San Francisco decided to temporarily ban ride-share scooters from its streets, a contrast to Uber’s early days. Auckland itself is considering taxing properties used for Airbnb, given its well-documented negative effects on local rental supply. Under public scrutiny, tech companies have conceived plans to improve diversity, doing away with metrics like “personal fit,” often used arbitrarily to justify discriminatory hiring practices.

Technology remains a place where people can, and are, making positive differences. At the same time, we still need to acknowledge its very real shortcomings. Regardless of our attitudes towards tech, as global citizens, we need to hold tech accountable for the decisions it makes, the impact it has, and the values it upholds. If we long for change, instead of looking towards elsewhere, we should begin with ourselves and see our own potential to do good.

 

By Justin Chen

 

Media & Communications

 

 

Aotearoa Youth Declaration is an annual conference for High School Students which connects young people with government policy. Participants work in Focus Groups to develop policy statements that represent their views and priorities on a range of subjects. The statements below were drafted by the participants of the Media & Communications Focus Group, and approved by the participants at the Conference.

 

11.1

We are concerned that New Zealanders do not know how much of their personal data, including private messages, call logs, etc., is being gathered. Enterprises and organisations do not make clear which information is handed over. We would like to see online enterprises being transparent with users about speci c details of what data they are collecting and how it is being used, as well as who will have access to it.

11.2

We acknowledge the increasing power that media platforms such as YouTube have over the incomes of young and diverse content creators, and small local businesses. These creators are at risk of (further) having their primary incomes impacted as a result of policy changes on these platforms. We therefore urge these platforms to comply with the spirit of Aotearoa employment law, specifically regarding protections from discrimination and termination without notice.

11.3

We encourage the continued cooperation between the Government and private entities to enable a ordable and secure private internet connections to low socio-economic communities. We want to see equal opportunities for all to engage with information and online services.

11.4

We are concerned about the fall of journalistic integrity, and its consequences on the spread of false information. We encourage the Government to educate the public about the integrity of information sources through educational campaigns to combat misinformation.

11.5

We acknowledge that the media have a strong influence on the perspective of today’s youth, contributing to misinformed or misguided biases. As such, we believe that the media has a responsibility to make clearly publicly accessible:

  1. Guarantee RNZ’s funding be adjusted to inflation to allow them to continue to create accurate and diverse news and creative content on multiple platforms;
  2. The content author’s affiliations and associations;
  3. The overall nature of the content e.g., opinion, sponsored content;
  4. Their sources of revenue and sponsors if applicable.
11.6

We believe generalisations and stereotypes in the media affect the quality of life of minorities who are misrepresented. Therefore, we urge media producers to include genuine diversity and positive representations of minorities in their content. Positive representations will show young people who are part of minority groups that they are celebrated by society.

 

An enormous thanks to the Focus Group participants, the Facilitators – Ben and Hana, the Conference Organising Committee, and the Event Sponsors.

 

Download the 2018 Youth Declaration

 

World Freedom of Press Day

 

I didn’t even know World Freedom of Press Day was a thing. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe everyone else knew it about it. Either way, now that I do know about it, here’s why it’s important.

The 3rd of May, according to UNESCO, is a date which “celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.”

 

Wide view of participants in a panel discussion on the occasion of “World Press Freedom Day 2007”, at UN Headquarters in New York. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

 

In other words, today is a day in which we remember how valuable it is to have a press that is free from outside intervention and are capable of reporting on the stories that matter to New Zealanders.

As a working journalist, albeit one that is often found writing about cats up trees or reporting on something a Kardashian said, I still understand the vital importance of a free press.

If a story needs telling – even if it damages those in positions of power – I can tell it.

In some countries around the world, journalists aren’t so lucky.

According to Reporters Without Borders, an international non-profit organisation dedicated to freedom of information and of the press, more than a third of the world’s people live in countries where there is no press freedom.

Unsurprisingly, a number of the countries at the bottom of the press freedom scale are those with the most repressive, dictatorial governments – North Korea and Turkmenistan, for example.

Conversely, and thankfully, New Zealand was ranked in the top 5 in 2016, alongside Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark.

What this means is that in countries without a free press, citizens are shut out from the conversations that really matter. In my opinion, while much of the media serves to entertain or to inform, the real importance of journalism is holding power to account.

Genuine political discourse is important to allow people to make informed decisions and understand their place in society.

 

A radio journalist at work in Juba, South Sudan, on World Press Freedom Day UN Photo/Isaac Billy

 

So, sure, I didn’t know that May 3rd was World Freedom of Press Day before sitting down to write this piece. But now I do – and I know that it’s something that deserves acknowledgement.

Because in New Zealand, we’re fortunate enough to have a free and functioning press– but so many millions of people aren’t.

Millions of people are left without a voice and the chance for abuses of power to be checked and corrected.

Without a free press, what hope do we have for fair governance and a working democracy?

I think, none.

 

By Stewart Sowman-Lund