Are “robber barons” stalking unsuspecting users of modern technology? During the latter half of the 19th century, a small number of business empires emerged in America, concentrating enormous wealth in the hands of a few. These empires impacted the lives of every American. One popular encyclopedia describes a “robber baron,” as a “pejorative term for one of the powerful 19th-century American industrialists and financiers who made fortunes by monopolizing huge industries through the formation of trusts, engaging in unethical business practices, exploiting workers, and paying little heed to their customers or competition…”1
According to one oft-quoted tech company insider, 21st century tech companies have similarly become today’s such empires, “by paying for …[their]…profits with our safety, including the safety of our children.” During testimony given to the U. S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Sub-Committee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, this insider stated “I have worked as a product manager at large tech companies since 2006… My job has largely focused on algorithmic products … and recommendation systems…Working at four major tech companies that operate different types of social networks, I have been able to compare and contrast how each company approaches and deals with different challenges. The choices being made … are a huge problem — for children, for public safety, for democracy — that is why I came forward. And let’s be clear: it doesn’t have to be this way…” “I came forward, at great personal risk, because I believe we still have time to act. But we must act now.”2.
During her employment, this insider revealed “I saw that … [one particularly well-known tech company] … repeatedly encountered conflicts between its own profits and our safety…. [That tech company] … consistently resolved those conflicts in favor of its own profits. The result has been a system that amplifies division, extremism, and polarization — and undermining societies around the world. In some cases, this dangerous online talk has led to actual violence that harms and even kills people. In other cases, their profit optimizing machine is generating self-harm and self-hate — especially for vulnerable groups, like teenage girls. These problems have been confirmed repeatedly by … [that tech company’s] … own internal research.”3.
An example of the questionable methodology used by that tech company, as explained in a National Public Radio report about the insider’s testimony, was that “[t]he algorithms reward engagement. In other words, when a post receives comments, ‘likes’ and other interactions, it is spread more widely and is featured more prominently in feeds, instead of just featuring posts in chronological order. The engagement-based formula helps sensational content, such as posts that feature rage, hate or misinformation, travel far and wide, she said.” 4.
Such cries for corrective actions have not gone unnoticed. According to the Associated Press “Dozens of US states, including California and New York, are suing Meta Platforms Inc. for harming young people and contributing to the youth mental health crisis by knowingly and deliberately designing features on Instagram and Facebook that addict children to its platforms. A lawsuit filed by 33 states in federal court in California claims that Meta routinely collects data on children under 13 without their parents’ consent, in violation of federal law. In addition, nine attorneys general are filing lawsuits in their respective states, bringing the total number of states taking action to 41 and Washington, D. C. … ”5.
“‘Meta has harnessed powerful and unprecedented technologies to entice, engage, and ultimately ensnare youth and teens. Its motive is profit, and in seeking to maximize its financial gains, Meta has repeatedly misled the public about the substantial dangers of its social media platforms,” the complaint says. “It has concealed the ways in which these platforms exploit and manipulate its most vulnerable consumers: teenagers and children. The suits seek financial damages and restitution and an end to Meta’s practices that are in violation of the law.” 6.
In a related news report, the attorneys general of the 26 states, wrote a Letter to executives at Aylo (fka MindGeek) the parent company of Pornhub to “inquire about a possible ‘loophole’ in your platforms’ moderation practices that potentially permits content creators to publish child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on your platforming … that could permit countless children to be victimized.” 7 The alleged “loophole” in Pornhub’s moderation practices involves a practice that requires content creators and performers to “produce a photo ID to open an account with Pornhub to upload content,” but who are “… not required to show their faces in the content they upload to the site, so there is no way to confirm that the content actually features the performer/content creator that uploads the content.” 8 As explained by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, one of the signers of that Letter, “Without airtight safeguards, a website like this can become a haven for child molesters, rapists and other abusers,” Yost said. “It appears the people in charge left the gate unlocked for predators, and the company needs to explain itself.”9.
In the early 20th century, former President Theodore Roosevelt took on the “robber barons” of his day. In the words of this courageous trust-busting President, “No man may poison the people for his private profit.” President Roosevelt is also known for having said: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are,” and “Believe you can, and you are halfway there.”
For people of faith, it is now our turn “to do what we can, with what we have, where we are,” and to stand against those who seek to use pornography to poison today’s generations.
1. Schneider, S. (September 24, 2023), “Robber baron,” Encyclopedia Britanica, https://www.britannica.com/money/topic/robber-baron, Accessed October 30, 2023.
2. Statement of Frances Haugen before the United States Senate Committee of Commerce, Science and Transportation Sub-Committee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security (October 4, 2021), ¶4, 18, https://www.commerce.senate.gov/services/files/FC8A558E-824E-4914-BEDB-3A7B1190BD49., Accessed October 30, 2023.
3. Statement of Frances Haugen before the United States Senate Committee of Commerce, Science and Transportation Sub-Committee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security (October 4, 2021), ¶5, https://www.commerce.senate.gov/services/files/FC8A558E-824E-4914-BEDB-3A7B1190BD49, Accessed October 30, 2023.
4. Allyn, B. (October 5, 2021)” Here are 4 key points from the Facebook whistleblower's testimony on Capitol Hill,” ¶36, https://www.npr.org/2021/10/05/1043377310/facebook-whistleblower-frances-haugen-congress. Accessed October 30, 2023.
5. Ortutay, B., (October 24, 2023) “States sue Meta claiming its social platforms are addictive and harm children’s mental health, Associated Press News, https://apnews.com/article/instagram-facebook-children-teens-harms-lawsuit-attorney-general-1805492a38f7cee111cbb865cc786c28, ¶ 1, 2. Accessed October 30, 2023.
6. Ortutay, B., (October 24, 2023) “States sue Meta claiming its social platforms are addictive and harm children’s mental health, Associated Press News, https://apnews.com/article/instagram-facebook-children-teens-harms-lawsuit-attorney-general-1805492a38f7cee111cbb865cc786c28, ¶ 3. Accessed October 30, 2023.
7. (September 29, 2023,) “Attorneys General Letter to Aylo and Ecp Loophole in Content Moderation,” Published Scribd.com, https://www.scribd.com/document/674475969/Attorneys-General-Letter-to-Aylo-and-Ecp-Loophole-in-Content-Moderation. ¶ 1. Accessed October 31, 2023.
8. (September 29, 2023,) “Attorneys General Letter to Aylo and Ecp Loophole in Content Moderation,” Published Scribd.com, https://www.scribd.com/document/674475969/Attorneys-General-Letter-to-Aylo-and-Ecp-Loophole-in-Content-Moderation. ¶ 3. Accessed October 31, 2023.
9. 10TV Web Staff (September 29, 2023), “Yost sends letter to Pornhub's parent company regarding loophole in account verification,” TEGNA Inc – 10 WBNS, https://www.10tv.com/article/news/local/dave-yost-pornhub-parent-company-lawsuit/530-fc30304a-ec3a-4607-82f5-52c7d6b672df. ¶ 3. Accessed October 31, 2023.