Leaked Strategy Memo Reveals “Techlash” Campaign Plan

Robert D. Atkinson Daniel Castro November 29, 2021
November 29, 2021

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The tech industry is staring into the hot glare of political klieg lights these days, and it turns out that is no accident: An organized campaign has been working behind the scenes to push an ideological agenda in Washington. As long-time tech policy analysts who are very familiar with the issues and players (tech companies are among our organization’s financial supporters), we could have guessed as much. But now we know for sure, because an operative accidentally leaked a sensitive strategy memo that was meant for campaign donors and field organizers. We’re sharing it here in its entirety:

To:   Friends and allies
From: Humanitarians Against Tech (HATECH)*
Re:  Techlash campaign strategy

Mission almost accomplished! We’ve succeeded in generating a global backlash not just against big technology companies but also against technological “innovation” itself. We need to remember that it was not very long ago that President Obama felt compelled to go to Google’s headquarters to unveil an innovation agenda promising to use technology to fix health care, deliver clean energy, ensure young people can compete, and other blather. Neither Biden nor Trump would ever say such things! So have no doubt that we have managed to change the debate.

But we can’t relax. Our job will not be done until governments break up and strictly regulate large technology firms and ban or tax most emerging technologies. That is why HATECH needs your help now more than ever to build this campaign into a movement. Please give generously to your favorite activist group—and stay involved. Here are 10 ways you can help us win:

  1. Remember that emotions win the day. Always use inflammatory language to describe tech companies’ practices. For example, don’t waste people’s time complaining about “data collection,” call it “surveillance advertising,” or go really big by saying the whole economy has evolved into “surveillance capitalism.” (BTW, Shoshanna’s book is available Amazon.) And come up with clever book titles. These have all helped the cause: The Attention Merchants; Weapons of Math Destruction; The Black Box Society; Algorithms of Oppression; and World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. Few people read these screeds, but lots of folks see the titles and get scared.
  2. Call tech companies “big tech.” It sounds like Big Tobacco, which everyone already hates. Partly because of the success of our movement, and not withstanding books like Big Is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business, many people think big is bad.
  3. Always attack your opponents’ motives. Responding to their arguments about how technological innovation drives growth, raises living standards, and solves otherwise intractable problems will just make your points will look weak. Just cast anyone who says those things as shills who are towing the line for their big tech paymasters. Believe it or not, this works in undercutting their credibility, especially with the media, who will almost never ask where we get the money to press our cause.
  4. Make big tech’s strengths look like weaknesses. Do tech companies make great products? No, they make addictive ones—like tobacco companies. (See how this works?) Does everyone use the same app? Then it’s evidence we’re dealing with an evil, coercive monopoly. Have tech platforms given millions of people bigger voices? No, they’re platforms for fake news. Did you just binge-watch a fantastic new TV series? Yes, because a dark pattern made you.
  5. Make mountains out of molehills. Repeat example you can find where technologies have caused problems to scare people into believing they are inherently harmful. For example, you can tar artificial intelligence by pointing to early algorithms that didn’t quite get it right. Just don’t mention that companies and researchers learn from early mistakes, so later versions of the technology seldom have those problems.
  6. Leverage the public’s ignorance. Few people actually understand these technologies, so rely on that to mislead them. Do Facebook or Google really sell our data? No, but it doesn’t matter. Just say they do. Or conflate technologies like facial analysis with facial recognition (and then start calling it all “face surveillance”). Don’t worry, you won’t get caught.
  7. Don’t be afraid to be dystopian or apocalyptic. Warn of all sorts of horrible results if governments don’t due our bidding. An effective tactic these days is to warn that democracy itself will fail unless our agenda is adopted. We’ve got solid logic to backup these claims: Autocratic countries use tech, ergo any country that uses tech is a threat to democracy. And if anyone proposes a law you don’t like, just say it will “break the Internet.”
  8. Use images, graphics, and movies to generate fear. Great examples are movies like The Social Dilemma (available on YouTube) and graphics like the one showing that unless we heavily regulate “big broadband” the Internet will turn into a cable TV system. Don’t worry if you are distorting reality. That’s the point.
  9. Portray your organization as a “public interest” group and business as selfish profiteers. This means describing your motivations in terms of what is “humane,” “human-centered,” and “secure,” because it implies that business and technology are inhumane, profit-centered, and insecure. Bonus points because this is also good for fundraising!
  10. Finally, find sympathetic victims. Everyone loves small, mom-and-pop business, so keep repeating that tech companies are “rigging the game” against them. (Leave out the part about how tech platforms make it easy for small companies to connect with customers around the world.) Another good idea is to say tech companies are harming children. If you can find children running small businesses, even better. Put them on campaign posters: “Big Tech is putting lemonade stands out of business!”

We have been on a roll lately. There are bills in Congress that would put the screws to these companies. But we need to get them over the finish line, so let’s keep up the pressure. If we don’t let facts get in the way, we can win this fight. So, on we go! And by the way, don’t forget to optimize your websites for Google and get your apps into Apple’s App Store, your Facebook campaigns up and running, and your tomes published so they are readily available on Amazon!

* Yes, this is a parody—but just barely.