To commemorate the company’s initial public offering in 2011, LinkedIn
gave some of its employees a lucite cube emblazoned with the stock ticker,
LNKD, on one side and “Next Play” on the reverse. That phrase encapsulates
the business philosophy of Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s CEO at the time.
Weiner has said he borrowed
“next play” from the Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who
incants the phrase to push his players past the distraction of their last
success. Once Weiner adapted it as a business koan, he used next play
obsessively: to announce
Microsoft’s $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn, to describe
his resignation from the CEO role, to name his
new venture-capital firm. During LinkedIn job interviews, candidates were
to name the job they wanted to have after the one they were applying
for—scouting out their next, next play, even before the next one became
Nextplayism is Silicon Valley’s whole culture: What are you gonna do
next? “I hear people ask it of each other two or three times a
week,” Ian McCarthy, a vice president of product at Yahoo, told me.
Progress is based not on the virtues of results, but on reaching a
milestone. What comes before is relevant only insofar as it brings about
what will have followed.
The social-media giant was once one of the most desirable gigs in
the industry, but that might be changing. A quiet set of workers
that McCarthy, who mentors many younger tech professionals, called
“Never Facebookers” has emerged, people who tell him that they
wouldn’t work for the company under any circumstances. For those
already working at the company, which didn’t respond to a request
for comment, another option is to abandon ship. But that move falls
prey to the logical trap of the next play: That what follows is
better than what came before, by virtue of its succession. (Weiner
objects to my interpretation, saying that for him, a next play
always requires “reflection, not just moving on.”)
The whole industry is implicated in this problem, including Google,
and others. Tech workers most able to protest their employers with
resignation are those who have the least to lose—the ones who will
find their next play easily, reinvesting conscientious objection in
yet another tech company. The industry says it wants to improve the
world, but its workers are so comfortable, and so entrenched, that
they have a hard time finding a way out that doesn’t lead them right
back in again.
It’s easier for tech workers to talk about taking a stand than to
do so. For one, big technology companies such as Facebook and Google
about acquiring talent. They hire or poach
the best people, sometimes just to prevent a competitor from having
access to them instead. Some workers don’t want to rock the boat for
fear they might get blacklisted, McCarthy said. And ironically, the
brokenness at companies such as Facebook and Uber can also make
their jobs enticing. Disruption is appealing, and the promise to
move fast and break things (even priceless and irrecoverable ones,
such as democracy)
can be a recruiting tool.
Others already in a company’s employ may see an opportunity to fix
some of its ills. One product manager at a large tech firm, who also
advises many early-career professionals, spoke with me on the
condition of anonymity because she fears reprisal from within the
industry. She told me about her “activist” friends who refuse to
leave jobs at Facebook, even if they disagree with the company’s
practices. “They came to change the world,” she said, “and stayed to
work within the system on issues they cared about.” The same drive
that makes these workers care about the consequences of Facebook’s
impact on democracy also makes them want to stick it out in an
effort to improve the service.
Even so, Facebook seems to have crossed the line of tolerable
abhorrence for some tech workers. Inside the business, nextplayism
may offer the best, and maybe the only, way for them to show their
distaste. “The vast majority of people I know at the director-and-up
level, when they are leaving a company and looking for a new gig,
they’re Never Facebookers,” McCarthy, who is also an occasional collaborator
of mine, said, referring to senior-level roles. “They’re offended if
you even offer to do introductions to someone at Facebook.”
But that is a privileged attitude. Much of the magical operation of
online services is driven by rote laborers, such as moderators,
wranglers, and gig
workers. They aren’t counted as members of the industry,
except perhaps as its casualties. Among skilled, white-collar tech
workers, nearly three-quarters were not born in the U.S., according
to some reports. For those on work visas, work choices are
determined almost entirely by their immigration status: According to
the tech workers I spoke with, they tend to choose larger companies
for stability, hoping to turn work sponsorships into green cards.
Even if some workers disapprove of what their company is doing,
quitting a job can mean losing their immigration status and running
the risk of getting deported. The product manager at the large
tech firm also speculated that immigrant engineers might not
understand or care about uniquely domestic social issues, such as
the specific history of antiblack racism.
Even among American citizens, some tech workers are in the business
simply to make
power, and solve
problems—even if they create just as many new ones in the
process. These “equity engineers,” as I’ll call them by one of their
goals, cashing out, might have studied computer science in order to
solve problems, or to live a good life. It would be a caricature to
say that these archetypes don’t care at all for politics, but their
radicalism tends to be an inward-facing one, lured by
technolibertarian fetishes such as blockchain. For this group,
technology is politics, and seeing the two at odds
That leaves only a small group in a clear position to speak up.
Many of these folks represent the top of the workers’ food chain
(though the venture partners still cast long shadows overhead).
Probably white, probably engineers, and probably American-passport
holders, they have plenty of other options both in and out of the
Take Timothy Aveni, the 22-year-old Facebook engineer who quit
the company last week in disgust after Zuckerberg’s failure to act
in response to Trump’s posts. Aveni, according to a post on his LinkedIn
page, graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in
2019 with a 4.0 GPA in computer science (a program in which I
teach), and worked for two summers as a Facebook intern before
taking a full-time job at the company. He’s young, white, and
American. In an email, Aveni acknowledged that he is privileged,
well compensated, and burdened by few personal obligations or
commitments. Leaving his job wasn’t an easy choice, but he is keenly
aware that it wasn’t as hard as it might have been for someone
That’s even more true for Alexis Ohanian, the Reddit co-founder who
from the company’s board last week because of its history as a hub
theories. Ohanian has committed future Reddit-stock gains to
advancing black rights and urged the company to fill his board seat
with a black member (which it did).
These are noble gestures, but they are also relatively painless
choices for Ohanian, who didn’t respond to a request for comment. He
is married to Serena Williams, and the couple’s net worth reportedly
approaches $300 million.
Ohanian doesn’t need a next play at all, and Aveni will likely, and
easily, parlay a Facebook resignation on principle into one.
Others are more reticent about their distaste for the industry,
even if they won’t admit it outright. Ian McCarthy introduced me to
some of the younger folks he construed as Never Facebookers, but
none of them responded to my invitation to talk. LinkedIn’s
spokesperson wouldn’t even talk to me about the lucite cube. It’s
all part of the culture: There’s real fear about retaliation in
Silicon Valley, which is still a small town despite its global
conquest. Nobody wants to piss off the wrong founders, or venture
capitalists, or even the upwardly mobile equity engineers who might
later open doors for them.
Nextplayism dies hard. All workers worry about their future, but
the ambitious people drawn to tech are almost pathologically
reticent about foreclosing future opportunities they don’t even know
about yet. And besides, what are you doing next? tends to
have only a few valid answers in the Valley: starting your own
company, for example, or running a large engineering or product
team, or becoming a chief something officer.
The tech workers who long for political righteousness are mired in
a fundamental trap. They conflate their identity with their
workplace to an extreme, partly because they’ve been enculturated to
believe that technological innovation brings about social benefit
rather than hindering it. If they had a less grandiose view of
Silicon Valley, social and political action might take place away
from work, during the off-hours. But then again, off-hours don’t
exist; technology has erased boundaries between work and life for
the Palo Alto set even more than it has for those of us who use
Some tech workers don’t care about the social ills they design, or
don’t notice them. But others, and far more than have made their
voices public recently, are unhappy about the situation. The product
manager said that many of her reformer friends who stuck it out at
Facebook wound up disillusioned, feeling that they were just
bandaging a gushing wound. Quitting the industry entirely is also
difficult; once inside, many find it hard to imagine leaving again.
A malaise has descended over the Valley, a mournful sorrow over the
old promise to “make the world a better place” and the sad reality
that has unfolded instead. Unless enough workers can overcome that
silent angst, real progress won’t be possible.
For now, it will come in fits and starts at best—the odd
resignation or public rejoinder remaining exceptional. The draw of
Silicon Valley is still too strong, and there is as much fear of
losing it as of retaining its present form, no matter how
destructive it might be. Best to leave your options open, keep your
head down, and ship your product. “It’s easy to say ‘I’d never work
at Facebook’ now, and then flip later,” the product manager says of
the Never Facebookers who, despite their hatred, fear speaking of
it. After all, you never know what your next play might be.
We want to hear what you think about
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is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and the Ivan
Allen College Distinguished Chair in Media Studies at the
Georgia Institute of Technology. His latest book is Play Anything.
Joe Biden is fed up with all this social media nonsense, and doggone it,
he's not going to take it anymore.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee published an open letter Thursday morning addressed directly
Zuckerberg, letting the CEO know that he better shape up, mister, or
there will be consequences. Specifically, the letter critiques Zuckerberg
for failing to stem the tide of misinformation and lies spread on his
platform by the Trump campaign.
Biden, in full old-man-lecturing mode, told the willfully
obtuse billionaire that his company had failed to live up to its
commitment to "improve American democracy" and, for some reason, hasn't
listened to the Biden campaign's suggestions on how to best do so.
"The [Biden] campaign has proposed meaningful ways to check
disinformation on your platform and to limit the effect of false ads,"
reads the letter. "But Facebook has taken no meaningful action. It
continues to allow Donald Trump to say anything — and to pay to ensure
that his wild claims reach millions of voters."
Indeed, Facebook does
take money to spread politicians' lies. It's part of the company's
business model, after all. However, the "following concrete
recommendations" proposed by the open letter aren't exactly something to
build a regulatory foundation on.
There is one distinct proposal contained in the letter that's worth
"There should be a two-week pre-election period during which all
political advertisements must be fact-checked before they are permitted to
run on Facebook," proposes Biden in the letter.
And yeah, that actually is an idea.
We reached out to Facebook for comment on that proposal specifically, but
received no response as of press time. The company did publish a broad response to the strongly worded letter — and
yes, it does really begin with "We live in a democracy[.]"
In other words, Facebook saw Biden's "letter to your manager" energy and
decided to one-up it with Debate Bro vibes. But the eye rolls
don't stop there. See, according to Facebook, the fault actually lies with
elected officials — like, one might logically conclude, Joe Biden.
"Just as they have done with broadcast networks — where the US government
prohibits rejecting politicians' campaign ads — the people's elected
representatives should set the rules, and we will follow them," reads
Facebook's letter — conveniently omitting the fact that, for years, Zuckerberg insisted that Facebook was not a media
company or publisher. "There is an election coming in November and we will
protect political speech, even when we strongly disagree with it."
Nothing like taking a strong, principled stand that just so happens to line
As the election grows closer, it's likely that this type of critique will
only grow in volume and frequency from the Biden campaign. Facebook, after
all, is a deserving
punching bag. It would be nice, however, if the swings Biden's
campaign took were more than just for show
Why Is Laurene Powell
Jobs Funding Fake News?
Emerson Collective claims to fund 'super high-quality journalism,' but
backs astroturfed news sites
Laurene Powell Jobs has portrayed herself as a defender of the free
press, but while journalistic projects she supports have laid off
employees and turned to the government for help, the billionaire has
funded a political group that built sham local news sites to push
Democratic talking points.
Powell Jobs—worth over $26 billion thanks to her late husband, Apple
founder Steve Jobs—has spent big on major media properties like the Atlantic,
Axios, and Mother Jones through her "social change"
investment firm, Emerson Collective. But many of those outlets appear to
be floundering amid the current economic crisis, taking government loans
and laying off staff.
Powell Jobs's attention, however, appears focused more on sending Joe
Biden to the White House. Multiple reports have indicated the billionaire
has funneled money into liberal media operation ACRONYM, which in turn
operates Courier Newsroom, an umbrella over seven different sites that
pose as local news outlets while distributing
what one critic called "hyperlocal partisan propaganda."
This mismatch between Powell Jobs's public image and political spending
raises questions about how seriously the self-professed friend to
independent media takes those commitments, especially when they might
conflict with her political goals. Neither a representative for ACRONYM
nor for Emerson Collective responded to multiple requests for comment for
Powell Jobs has more than once been listed as a major backer of ACRONYM.
A March New York Times story
described her as such, as did a
May story from Vox.
There is also some evidence of a connection between Powell Jobs and
ACRONYM CEO Tara McGowan: Emerson Collective gave $2 million to Priorities
USA Action during the 2016 cycle, when McGowan worked
as the PAC's digital director. McGowan has also tweeted
appreciatively at Powell Jobs.
The exact relationship between Powell Jobs, Emerson, and ACRONYM,
however, remains murky. That's thanks in large part to Emerson's status as
an LLC, which unlike a more traditional 501(c) designation, protects
the organization from having to make public finance disclosures. Courier
is similarly structured.
It is clear, however, that both ACRONYM and Courier are doing well. Since
February, Courier's stable of sites has grown from three to seven.
One of these, North Carolina-based Cardinal & Pine, spent
over $20,000 on digital advertising in March alone, according to a Center
for Responsive Politics investigation.
ACRONYM reported more than $9 million in receipts in FY 2018, according to
by the WashingtonFree Beacon.
Many of the news sites funded by Emerson Collective, meanwhile, are
struggling amid a massive economic downturn. The Atlantic, in
which Emerson owns a controlling stake, laid
off 17 percent of its staff. Group Nine Media, which owns the
Emerson-backed NowThis, dropped 7 percent of its workforce.
Many Powell Jobs-supported outlets have turned to the federal government
for a bailout. Axios, which has received Emerson money, returned
a $5 million loan from the Paycheck Protection Program amid backlash. The
Marshall Project, an outlet focused on criminal justice reform,
confirmed to the Free Beacon that it had taken a previously
disclosed PPP loan. So did left-leaning news site Mother Jones,
which does not appear to have previously disclosed this information.
The Free Beacon reached out to a number of Powell Jobs-backed
outlets to ask about whether they had sought additional funding from
outside sources. Most did not respond or declined to comment, but Marshall
Project director of strategy and communications Ruth Baldwin said,
"We have naturally been in touch with all our major donors since the
pandemic began. Not all of them have been able to continue at the same
level of support, but we have felt encouraged overall."
The state of Powell Jobs's investments—media properties faltering as a
fake news operation takes off—flies in the face of her carefully curated
image as a friend to the free press.
column penned in the Atlantic in 2019, Powell Jobs
referred to journalists as "the world's most valuable troublemakers,"
writing, "in a struggle for the soul of this nation, in a battle for
justice around the world, I am honored to be on the side of those who are
fighting for the truth."
That sentiment was echoed by Peter Lattman, the managing director of
media at Emerson, who told the New York Times for a
flattering profile of Powell Jobs that "broadly, we invest in and
support super high-quality journalism," adding "we are looking at
innovative approaches to media and storytelling."
Jobs's carefully crafted image has extended to media coverage, not only
in the Times, but also in the Washington
Post. All of this support for "independent media," as a
Times interview put it, seems at odds with the mission of
Courier, whose parent Powell Jobs funds.
Courier functions as part of ACRONYM's campaign to win elections for
Democrats. McGowan framed its outlets as part of combating President
Donald Trump's massive 2016 social media campaign, tellingBloomberg of criticisms that her coverage is slanted, "balance
does not exist anymore."
Courier sites disclose only a hint of their larger political purpose,
with a mention at the bottom of their pages that they are "owned by
Courier Newsroom, Inc." This, the Center for Responsive Politics noted,
means that their ads—which primarily target President Donald Trump—"are
not considered political by Facebook."
The project's goal is to, as Bloomberg put it, "deliver the
facts favorable to Democrats that [McGowan] thinks voters are missing, and
counter right-wing spin." Gabby Deutch, who works for misinformation
outlet NewsGuard, stated
it more harshly: "Courier and Acronym are exploiting the widespread
loss of local journalism to create and disseminate something we really
don’t need: hyperlocal partisan propaganda." Her organization gave all of
Courier's sites failing grades for "undisclosed partisan Democratic
perspective"—far out of line with any definition of "independent media."