- Journalist Carole Cadwalladr took the stage at TED 2019 on Monday, where she criticised tech companies for “breaking” liberal democracy.
- Cadwalladr’s reporting blew the lid off the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which revealed that Facebook had made data on tens of millions of Americans accessible to the political consulting firm.
- In her speech, Cadwalladr criticised Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for being “handmaidens to authoritarianism.”
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Even before the TED 2019 conference in Vancouver, Canada opened on Monday, the event promised to be political. The theme this year, “Bigger Than Us,” focuses on finding solutions to deep-rooted tensions in society.
A main source of that tension – privacy issues surrounding tech companies like Twitter and Facebook- came up on Monday evening, when tech executives found themselves directly in the line of fire.
In a talk, Carole Cadwalladr, the journalist who broke the Cambridge Analytica scandal, called out Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey for being “handmaidens to authoritarianism.”
Her comments were especially bold, given that Dorsey is scheduled to appear on the same stage on Tuesday, and may have been in the audience as her speech was being delivered. But the majority of Cadwalladr’s talk focused on criticisms of Facebook.
In 2018, Cadwalladr’s reporting revealed that Facebook had made data on tens of millions of Americans accessible to Cambridge Analytica, an English political consulting firm. The firm then allegedly used this data to influence the 2016 Brexit vote in the UK and the 2016 presidential election in the US. The stories made Cadwalladr a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.
Her talk condemned Facebook and Twitter for providing a platform for hate speech and misinformation – a decision, she said, that likely fuelled the outcomes of the UK and US elections.
“What the Brexit vote demonstrates is that liberal democracy is broken, and you broke it,” Cadwalladr said, addressing her comments directly to “the gods of Silicon Valley, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg and Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Jack Dorsey.”
Immediately after Cadwalladr left the stage, the head of TED, Chris Anderson, acknowledged the presence of Facebook employees in the audience. “There’s never been a TED talk like that before,” he said. “We all know great people working inside these tech companies. We all know how much angst and self-examination there is going on.”
Anderson said he had extended open invitations to Zuckerberg and Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg to share their thoughts. The conference, he said, would “make time” for the executives later this week if they chose to attend.
Watch Cadwalladr’s TED talk below:
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