The “Unicorns” of Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley is the centre for ideas and developments of new technology, consequently attracting a range of individuals and groups. The groups have varying range of success and therefore they have coined the names “unicorns” for victory or “black swans” when it didn’t quite go to plan. While these terms are indicative of different outcomes and levels of success, the groups in Silicon Valley share the same culture. This culture is based off a range of political, social, and economic ideas. By analysing these core values of Silicon Valley and evaluating relevant case examples, it demonstrates that to some extent, the values of Silicon Valley are separate to those of the global community.
Political motives can be understood as the activities associated with the governance of a region or the activities aimed at increasing an individual’s status within a group. In line with this definition, there are many similarities when looking at a sovereign state and a company in Silicon Valley. One can draw many resemblances between the two; both are main regulators of a set of rules or laws, and both are aiming to become more powerful. This is evident in the case of the Australian government trying to reduce “fake news” online on social media platforms. In 2021, Australia passed new laws in a bid to stop misinformation on social media platforms, particularly Facebook. The significance of this case is it demonstrates that social media platforms are able to regulate certain misinformation, yet they often chose not to. As misinformation can be harmful to the general public, the stance on regulation of information by these platforms is inherently political. An example in which a social media platform was proactive in regulating content to cease rising tension, was the case of Twitter banning Former President Donald Trump. The social media platform released a statement citing their reasons and that the permanent suspension was due to the “risk of further incitement of violence” (Twitter, 2021). Twitter has its own set of rules and regulations which individuals must follow when using the site, including the President of the United States of America. These cases are able to demonstrate that transnational companies are acting as their own regulators of rules and that regulation in the world of “new tech” is still being explored, leaving majority of regulation to the media platforms. The are pros and cons of these companies having political influence and mediation, yet it appears likely that as these companies grow there will be various political issues that arise and demand more political action. Consequently, by nature of these tech companies, they are inherently political.
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Many companies in Silicon Valley focus on the social aspects of their business model, especially the social media giants such as Facebook, Instagram, twitter to name a few. While the services provided from Silicon Valley may be useful, it is not always for the best. Studies have shown that social media is making people less social and negatively affecting users mental health. Elinor Carmi explains that online social media platforms create artificial social environments that can increase antisocial behaviour such as trolling and spamming as well as unfriending or “unliking” other users. Carmi articulates that these options are available for users because the platforms want to keep users engaged with the site, even if it creates negative behaviour (Carmi, 2022). Other research has investigated the detrimental effects of social media on mental health. It has been found that mental health is declining due to factors such as social media use impacting sleep, fear of missing out, self-comparison and pathological use of social media (Coyne et al., 2022). We know these are major issues so as consumers, the question asked is, why do we go back for more? Why continue using a service that can negatively impact our lives? Quantitative data from research studies explicitly shows how as users it is incredibly difficult to give up social media and avoid using our devices. This is due to a range of factors, yet the most prominent factor is notifications (Du et al. 2019). Notifications are made to remind you to use your device, they rarely have any useful information. It seems likely that social media companies will use notification features to bring users attention back to the platform. As social media platforms rely on maintaining number of consumers, notifications can be a useful function to employ. Despite the potentially harmful effects of social media companies, they haven’t done much to protect users mental health or prevent antisocial behaviour. While online communication can be convenient, the actions of the companies in creating functions that allow for antisocial behaviour and the features to remind users of the platform exhibits their values around social ideals.
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A criticism of Silicon Valley is that the companies are often motivated by money, not positive change. Due to the competitive nature of wanting to be a “unicorn” and not a “black swan”, it seems likely that companies will utilise any and all means to succeed. Alexander Halavais is a researcher and educator that investigates the methods employed by search engine companies to increase their success. He articulates a “battle of the search engines” in which companies have the desire to be chosen by consumers over their competition. The search engines will track data and user’s behaviour to provide a personalised experience without the user even knowing (Halavais, 2008). Which ultimately leads to them being favoured by the user and retaining them as a consumer of the search engine. Halavais’ criticism of this is that companies are not transparent enough with their processes and it could lead to the unethical handling and distribution of people’s personal data. These search engines can also build a false sense of trust from the user, so when they are looking for goods and services, the search engine will favourably pick and promote certain results to yield financial benefits(Ghose et al. 2009). Due to this advertising function of search engines, each click can yield monetary gain to the search engine (Ghose et al. 2009). Studies have shown that users trust their search engines to provide helpful information, so this discrete targeted advertising appears deceptive. It can lead to directing consumers of the search engine to goods and services that aren’t the best for the user. The use of personal data, tracking user behaviour and discretely advertising for financial gain appears as a benefit for the search engines and not for the general population. Thus, reiterating the lengths companies will go to in an effort to be successful and not a “black swan” of Silicon Valley.
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In conclusion, it appears likely that Silicon Valley is constructed of a range of political, social, and economic ideas that are in the self-interest of its inhabitants and not in the interest of the global community. The various stakeholders in Silicon Valley have demonstrated this through a range of cases such as Australia passing laws that to reduce misinformation, twitter banning trump, antisocial behaviour online, mental health issues and the use of personal data to profit from targeted advertising.
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