A peek behind a dark curtain

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Professionalism / UK policy
An empty 1920s theatre, from the view of the stage

A funny thing happened during my recent spell between jobs. As with anyone on a job search, I received a few offers which weren’t quite on the level. None of them merited any interest from me, much less the courtesy of a response; no jobseeker is under any obligation to respond to timewasters. But there was one bizarre offer which did serve a purpose: it gave me a peek into a dark room.

The tl;dr is that I was approached to be the public face of a privately funded advocacy campaign on a big tech crusade. Their proposal would have paid me very well to do a few hours of work, at most, a month. But that job would not have involved any actual work, or any of the, you know, stuff I’ve actually spent my life doing.

Rather, my role would have been to play a quasi-fictional composite character. They wanted me to be the campaign’s public face, media spokesperson, and rent-a-human behind the team of desk jockeys doing the actual crusading work. The role would have required me to define my public identity around a manufactured sob story of how I was a victimised victim of big tech, and to appear on the front pages of the broadsheets and broadcast media as the personification of the campaign.

Regardless of the fact that the thing I was to be the victimised victim of hadn’t actually happened to me – it happened to other people.

And regardless of the fact that anyone who’s done more than two minutes of research on me – reading this blog, for example – knows that I care not a jot for the obsession with Big Tech and its celebrities. My work is about the little tech and everyday people who are being swept up and condemned as collateral damage in the big tech crusade. This is not news, people.

Those who know me personally will also be amused to imagine me defining myself as the victim of anything, much less being a paid professional one.

But still, this group, in its London luvvie wisdom, approached me with the offer. An offer, I must add, which kissed my Scottish arse, hard.

It wasn’t an offer that respected who I am, or what I’ve done, or what I bring to the table. It was a request to throw all that in the bin, and pivot my life’s work to scowling on the front page of The Times to curdle the stomachs, and the moral indignation, of Middle England.

(Is big tech a problem? Absofeckinglutely. Is it my life’s work? Absofecking not. Are you going to combat big tech’s problems by stooping to their level? Figure that out for yourself.)

I wonder who they found, in the end, who was willing to stoop.

In tech policy, one of the lazy tactics used to silence dissent is to accuse anyone who retorts any bad proposal as being in the pockets of Big Tech. It’s a tactic which reduces the debate to two black-and-white sides: benevolent governments and evil corporations.

The truth is a lot more nuanced, and a lot darker.

There are good campaigns and crusades, in our technology debates, that are on the level. There are also bad campaigns and crusades, in those debates, which use professional victims as their public faces. Even if those victims aren’t quite who they say to be.

There’s good money being thrown at both kinds of campaigns by well-meaning people. There’s also darker money being thrown at both kinds of campaigns by people whose true interest isn’t in “getting” big tech. Far from it.

I’m glad I got a chance to peek behind the curtain to the darker kind. And I’m glad I’m strong enough to have seen right through it.

Would you be?

Header photo by me, not by Stanley Kubrick, Edinburgh 2019

The Author

I’m a UK tech policy wonk based in Glasgow. I work for an open web built around international standards of human rights, privacy, accessibility, and freedom of expression. The content and opinions on this site are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of any current or previous team.


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