The Myth of Big Tech Competence

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns . We have high expectations of rich, smart, a...


This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns.

We have high expectations of rich, smart, and powerful tech companies, but they are not immune to mismanagement. And when genius fails, it can be shocking to the employees of those companies and destructive to those left behind as a result of the mistakes.

A Wall Street Journal item (subscription required) yesterday detailed the ways in which Facebook essentially allows influencers to break corporate rules, which apply to everyone. In an example cited in the article, Facebook initially allowed football star Neymar to post nude photos of a woman without her permission, despite its rules against such behavior.

It has been clear for some time that Facebook has given preferential treatment To some high level people, including Donald Trump. What the Journal report shows is that Facebook’s use of protective gloves for VIPs is a systemic practice that has affected millions of people, that Facebook has mismanaged the execution of this policy and that the special treatment has resisted internal attempts by Facebook to dismantle it.

Anyone who’s worked for a large organization has likely had a taste of what seems to have happened on Facebook: The company made a logical plan for influential users that got messed up when applied – and then the company was unwilling or unable to fully fix what went wrong.

Stories like Facebook’s botched VIP system, Amazon’s chaotic management of warehouse workers and that of Apple repeated false starts in building a car show that even corporate superstars can suffer from the bureaucratic quagmires and confused decision-making that plague many large institutions.

What’s different with tech giants is that these companies seem to believe in their own supreme competence, just like much of the public. This makes their missteps more glaring and perhaps makes companies more reluctant to admit their mistakes.

The basic idea of ​​Facebook’s VIP policy – giving a second look at decisions that affect high-level accounts – makes sense.

The company knows that in crushing billions of Facebook and Instagram posts every day, its computer systems and employees are making mistakes. Facebook’s computers can delete a harmless photo of a child’s birthday party because the system misinterprets it as sexual imagery that breaks company rules.

Giving another look at influencer posts isn’t necessarily a bad idea; unfortunately the policy has not been applied very well. According to The Journal, because Facebook doesn’t deploy enough moderators or other resources to review all posts, many teams “chose not to enforce the rules with high-level accounts at all.” It’s understood? VIPs were exempt from corporate rules less through malicious intent than through negligence.

The Journal reported that Facebook had known for years that it was unfair and reckless to let high-level people operate under a different and more lax rulebook, but the number of people who were effectively exempt from punishment kept growing. to augment. The article says at least 45 Facebook teams started adding names to the VIP list until it reached at least 5.8 million people last year.

I recognize that across the billions of Facebook users, none of its principles or practices will be perfect. Facebook and its former civic integrity officer said the company has made changes to address some of its VIP list issues. But the Journal’s report ultimately points to a more fundamental error: A large organization exhibited mind-boggling mismanagement and was unable or unwilling to completely solve its problems.

It’s not shocking when Congress or the cable company acts incompetently. But we see tech giants with billions of dollars and big brains as special and ubiquitous and smarter than everyone else. This makes it more surprising when the tech giants spoil the wages of workers and will not admit it, as Google did, or fumbling around for years trying to sell groceries, like Amazon did.

Tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon have seemingly invincible power, but their growing wealth does not prevent these giants from being also, at times, ridiculously inept.


This wallaby named Pocket would like to remind you to eat your green leafy vegetables.


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