December 16, 2018

This year, To Save Me From Tears

By Melissa Ryan

For the last edition of 2018, I originally set out to write a year in review piece. However, I realized early on that what I wanted to see closely mirrored two recent newsletters, one written just after the election and the article celebrating CARD’s two year anniversary. I’ve been on a bit of a reflection kick since November so this week, as 2018 comes to a close, I’d like to look forward.

The word that keeps coming to mind when I think about 2019 is accountability. Starting with a Democratically controlled house who will investigate the Trump administration, the multitude of failures from big tech, and the rise in domestic terrorism just to name a few. Democrats on the Judiciary Committee gave us a preview about what that might look like this week when Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai testified for one final tech hearing. Democratic members often used their time at that hearing to offer a laundry list of potential investigations for the committee come January. Incoming Judiciary Committee Chair Jarrod Nadler has also signaled his intent to investigate “matters related to domestic terrorism, countering violent extremism, domestic surveillance, and the unfair profiling of racial, religious, and ethnic minority groups” next year.

I can’t promise that Trump and his administration will finally be held accountable but all signs point to there being a reckoning. In addition to Congress, there’s the Special Counsel’s investigation and assorted other state and federal investigations where Trump and/or his companies are being scrutinized. Expect to see a lot more fireworks next year. Impeachment seems highly unlikely given the Republican majority in the Senate, but if nothing else all of Trump’s wrongdoings, including any collusion with Russia or other foreign powers will at least be public knowledge, just in time for his 2020 reelection campaign!

My hope is that 2019 is when we reach a tipping point on the public’s anger at the tech companies, especially Facebook and YouTube, and hold them to account as well. We’ve been building up to it all this year but for a number of reasons that anger hasn’t yet reached a critical mass with consumers. Tech platforms have repeatedly failed to protect their users from harm on data privacy, misinformation, human and civil rights, and online harassment. Congress and civil society are poised to act but truly holding tech companies to account will require a lot more grassroots energy from consumers — enough to threaten tech’s business models.

One final word about accountability, it needs to be systemic. For every James Alex Fields or Alex Jones there’s another person waiting in the wings. For every group like the Proud Boys that implodes another one will form. Extremism isn’t new but it’s been allowed to thrive online and off for too long. In 2018 we had a decent amount of success with holding individuals accountable. Next year we need to be bigger and bolder with our targets, disrupting the systems that allowed extremists to emerge from the shadows in the first place.

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