We Discuss Ethics And Big Tech In 2021 With Morten Rand Hendriksen Chief Instructor At LinkedIn Learning
Since joining forces with lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning) in 2010, I’ve 60+ published courses on WordPress, front-end web design and development, and web standards, reaching hundreds of thousands of viewers from all over the world. I also contribute to the web community as a public speaker, author, educator, web developer, and design philosopher.
I help the web make sense by helping people understand and get the most out of the web and contribute to the debates about ownership and democratization of information, design philosophy, and the open web.
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Jonathan Denwood: Welcome back folks to the WP tonic show. It’s episode 593, and we’ve got a real friend of the show, a personal friend, lead, instructor at LinkedIn learning a philosopher, and a well-known internet personality. That’s actually resent me saying it, but he is, we’ve got Morten Rand Hendriksen with us, so Morten, would you like to give a quick 10, 20 intro about yourself?
Morten Rand Hendricks: Well, you just did you pretty much covered all the bases.
Jonathan Denwood: Steven, would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the listeners and viewers?
Steven Sauder: My name is Steven Sauder. I am none of those things, but I do run a small little company called zip fish and we optimize WordPress speeds, both on the server and on your site.
Jonathan Denwood: And what we’re going to be discussing. In this episode, we’re going to be discussing ethics and big tech. really the two things probably don’t go together, but Morten agreed to come on the show. It’s been something that he’s been passionate about for a while, and I’m sure it’s going to be a fantastic discussion. But before we do that, I just want to mention one of my main sponsors and that is, Castos and Castos. If you’re looking to go into podcasting, you need a platform that will send your episodes in RSS feed, and that’s what Castos does it basically hosts the audio file. And then it just ships it through to RSS feed to things like iTunes, Spotify, Google Play. And it also provides a host of other services that if you’re into podcasting yourself or for clients, you are going to find really useful they’ve got a fantastic interface. When I moved to them, I actually paid for the service out of my own pocket and then through discussing them they said that they would be interested in being the main sponsor of the show. I’ve just been delighted with the service and you should go and have a look if you’re interested in becoming a podcaster for yourself or for your clients.
So Morten with our Friday round table show increasingly, it seems like the groundhog day episode because we seem to be talking in almost every Friday show about some tech company that has got themselves into hot waters when it comes to ethics. This Friday, for example, we’re going to be talking about base camp and their suicidal journey into self-implosion through a lack of probably insight and ethics. Do you see a general pattern here or do you think it’s just the general madness of, of every age?
Morten Rand Hendricks: Yeah, I mean that particular situation is not just I have a very itchy tag in my shirt. That particular situation is not merely an issue of, a lack of ethics framework for that company that is, an issue of a lot of things that just coalesced into one enormous problem, very rapidly.
Jonathan Denwood: outside a past field bull that was just waiting for a launch to burst at.
Morten Rand Hendricks: Well, if you look at, if you try to take a step back from base camp specifically, and look at the type of issue that they are running into right it all starts with a discussion around, diversity and inclusion and the reality that we the world is, or the world, and, specifically North American, and Western European world. And in more, even more specifically, the tech world is only now really coming to terms with the fact that diversity is a value that you need to apply to your company if you’re going to have any type of success. But, if you push forward towards any kind of diversity or inclusion, it will feel to people who have had enormous privileges since the beginning, as if their rights are being taken away.
and it manifests in many different forms One of them is that we start becoming more aware of what our language is doing to people and how a lot of the cultural language we use a lot of jokes and, you know, colloquialisms and everything we use in our everyday language actually creates an othering system where you say that this is funny because it applies to people who don’t look like us or people who don’t believe in the same God as us or people who somehow don’t belong in our in-group. And, when those issues are brought up a lot of people because they’ve grown up in a society where this is considered to be the norm, feel like now we are being attacked for just being who we are. And there’s -, the movement towards diversity and inclusion is to say, maybe that culture is broken in some way, and we need to take a step back and look at our own culture and see if our culture is somehow harmful to other people.
And I’m not saying our people, as in me specifically or a group and belonging to I’m saying every single person needs to look at this because human beings are wired to group people into stereotypes. And stereotyping of people is actually the reason why we’re able to function in society as a whole. The problem is when we have to stereotype, that becomes automatically negative. So you say like, because people look or look or behave or present in a certain way, be attributed to the traits that don’t actually have anything to do with the fact that they look or behave a certain way. Then we’re running into a situation where you get implicit bias and over time systemic bias. And then you end up where we are today. Now, what is happening in a Western culture specifically? What is happening in tech culture even more specifically is that when these issues are raised, the people that are sitting in power positions feel like they are, someone is trying to take their power away. And that, that power was somehow, divine to them because through their amazing work, right?
And in the tech world in particular, we often hear this term, meritocracy which is used to say that, you know, the reason why you bubbled to the top is that you are the best at what you do and through merit, but any research into like any and all research into meritocracy shows that that is not at all, what is happening. It’s mainly a luck and people who are willing to step on other people to get to where they’re going. And, there’s this really good quote from, what’s his name? I can’t remember, but he basically says that I’ll remember in a second, but he says that, meritocracy is when people inhale too deeply of their own success. it’s basically like you may have had some success and then other people helped you step up, but then, you choose to be unaware that other people helped you. Right.
And in all that, we end up in a situation where you kind of have the powerful, resisting, any type of change because any type of change would mean stepping away from some power. And what they’re not realizing is stepping away from some power means letting other people in. And those other people may actually contribute in ways that you previously were unavailable. And if you have an insufficient policy around this and insufficient insight and insufficient culture around these types of issues, to be able to discuss them in a rational way, internally in a company or internally in any type of culture, you end up with what you have in that situation, which is when the discussion starts to gets too heated immediately, as people aren’t used to discussing these types of issues and they don’t have the language, and they don’t have the social structures to be able to have discussions about things like values without starting passing value, judgments on each other, and then everything collapses.
And then you get someone who says, no, no, no, we’re just not going to talk about this at all. Because if we talk about it, people start fighting and on the shutdown communication, and then all the people who feel like that was the first time they ever got to voice their opinion feels like they’re being excluded even more than before. And all the people that feel like that discussion was somehow infringing on their rights to be the best they can be. Feel like those people who say, hey, that was the first time I ever got to talk about it, or attacking their values. And then you have a complete implosion. And all of that is to say there is a systemic issue in our society. And especially in our current society of not being able to have and conversations about these types of issues, because we’re way too quick to pass value judgments onto other people.
And you hear this all the time when, like, if someone brings up any kind of diversity or inclusion or anti-racism or any of that thing. And you have a person who is deeply conservative in the room, they will immediately label them a social justice warrior. And to nullify the conversation, to say, everything you say is irrelevant, simply because you fall into this bucket and in doing so, they’re effectively saying this conversation is not a conversation. I am not listening to anything you’re saying, we’re just not going to have this conversation at all. I’m just going to keep throwing labels. And then you have the same thing from the other side that they will say, well, you’re just a conservative, or you’re just like, what is it just a new term they’re using? Then, instead of RMCs the RQ C like people who are sole Republican, they’re in the queue spectrum, right?
And in doing that, they’re being like, they’re labeling people as like, you are just inherently evil or stupid and therefore we can’t have a meaningful conversation with you. And the entire conversation just breaks down and what’s needed, I think, is for everyone to start applying this very old term, which is solidarity to their communication. To say that I am with you in this, especially if you work in the same company, you are actually in something together and you need to be able to extend the solidarity to other people and also extend grace to other people. And say, what we’re discovering here in our conversation is that we live two entirely separate lives, where there’s almost no overlap, except for the fact that we work in the same space. And this is an opportunity for each of us to learn about the other person’s lived experience and then accept the other person’s lived experience as a true description of their life experience.
So when says things like, I don’t feel safe doing X instead of saying, well, that’s like, I don’t feel like that therefore, you must be wrong, or I don’t believe you or you’re a part of some giant conspiracy to do whatever say, Oh, tell me more about that. Because that is a window into someone else’s lived experience. And it’s really interesting because if you look at, this whole concept of things like harm, you’ll discover that if you have someone who says they’re being harmed, you can always have another person saying that didn’t happen, right? And you actually need a third party in that conversation to be able to judge whether or not something really happened because in the way that humans think is that every person can have a completely separate experience of the same thing. It’s that whole, you know, four blind men are presented with an elephant and like it’s a snake. No, it’s a tree. No, it’s a wall, right?
Unless you have a, a third-party observer who is completely impartial to it. You won’t be able to pass any type of meaningful judgment that can be accepted by the rest of the world. But that requires that that third party is willing to be an impartial observer. And that’s super hard to do in a society where we are polarizing everything and very rapidly passing value judgments on people.
Jonathan Denwood: I think that’s a before I throw over to Steven. I think that’s my observation. That last comment is very relevant because people would say that social media has been one of the major tools that have polarized and have been used magnifying glass for a situation that’s become even more toxic. So Steven, over to you.
Steven Sauder: Man, I feel like so much has been said, there are so many different pieces to dive into there. But, I think something that I’ve been wrestling and thinking around a lot is this idea of prejudging somebody based on like, like the idea that they’re espousing. Like, you’re just saying, like, you know, they start saying something conservative that maybe has like a really good point and you automatically just like dumped them into, you know, the cue camp or whatever. Like, oh, like, whatever that comes next, like it has no relevance, or, whether you’re profiling somebody based on ethnicity or race or visual appearance, like all of those things, there are some things that are like higher, like more hot topic button issues, and for good reasons. But like they all boil down to the exact same thing that you are like looking at something, or you’re hearing something and you make a bunch of judgments after that.
But the crazy thing to me is that that’s like, as people, that is what is inside of our nature, like, that’s how we’re to work. We can’t function without categorizing and without, putting people into boxes to be able to navigate through the world. And that doesn’t justify somebody from doing that, you need to figure out how to draw lines around that, but where do you draw that line? Because you can’t just say like, no don’t categorize anything, ever treat every human being exactly the same. So, you know, somebody who walks into a store with a gun, like, Oh no, I’m just going to treat them like another human and not a threat. Like, well, that’s too far. Cause that’s a crazy example. But like there’s a line and the line is bad-
Morten Rand Hendricks: It’s not though, because if you walk into a store and a person walks into a store with a gun, there are certain situations where it’d be like, this is normal. I have no problem with it. It depends on what they’re wearing. If they’re wearing something that presents like a police uniform, you’re like, that’s a fine, heavily armed person walking around the store. I have no problem with that. If it’s someone who’s wearing like hunting gear and is carrying a rifle, you’re probably going to be like an interesting choice, probably not very legal, but I’m less concerned about this person doing something. If it’s someone who’s dressed like I am right now, right? Like if I walk in with my hoodie up and sunglass basically was it, someone said when I walk outside and I have a hoodie on and sunglasses and my mask, apparently I appear extremely intimidating.
Like this here’s a guy or basically is unidentifiable. If I walked like that and I had a weapon on me of any kind, people would be super concerned. Because you’re, it’s the wrong context. And that’s exactly the stereotyping thing right now. I just want to recommend to the eight people listening. There’s a book called blind spots by, a bunch of different authors. It’s a non-fiction book. There’s a whole section in that book about stereotypes and how stereotypes work in the world and how stereotyping is the sorting mechanism we use for everything like when we talk about stereotypes, people always think immediately like, stereotypes to say, you see a person who looks a certain way in the world and then you’d make value judgments about that person. In reality, stereotyping is like, I hold up something like this. And then your brain immediately goes, eh, long-ish thing kind of tamper on one side, probably a pen, right? That’s stereotyping
Is like, you have a categorization system where you very rapidly try to put things in inboxes. And for humans, there’s like, I think it’s seven stereotype traits that you use. And using those seven types, you can categorize every person in the world. And it’s this super interesting thing where if you are talking about, if you want to describe someone in the world, so you’d like you observed something happening on the street and you want to describe it to another person. There are these immediate things you hit, right? You say like, you start by saying how big they were like because you can sort of judge age by size, right. You then describe probably their presented gender. Because you look at people that are like, this person presents as male or female, right. And then you say like this, it looks like a woman, or it looks like a man to my understanding of what that is.
And then you go to other very defining characteristics, like the color of their hair, the color of their skin, the color of their eyes, but in doing so, you’re not actually saying anything about the quality of the person or their values. All you’re saying is the picture I have in my head right now is this. And the way that I classify it in my head as to tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, and down into this category, right? The problem then is if you go down that wrong and then the second you say had dark skin color, a bunch of other things attached to it. Like probably something, you know, if you, when you do this, it’s like they’ve done all these tests where they say like, you just show people pictures of black and white people. And then people have negative value judgments about black people just by and it even happens with black people.
There’s another book called whistling Vivaldi, which is super interesting that talks about how people will internalize the stereotypes the negative stereotypes that are given through their group to the point where they will actually underperform as long as they’re aware of it. And they’ve done tests where, for example, they have athletes like track and field athletes where they remind white track and field athletes that white track and field athletes tend to underperform in competition with black athletes by virtue of being white and the white athletes will underperform more than they normally do just by being reminded that there is a value, judgment stereotype applied to their group. Whereas if they are told that in this particular test, even though you are white, that stereotype does not apply in this circumstance, because this is a test of something, how invalidates all that stuff, they will over-perform.
So our internalized value judgments based on what we think other people think about our group impacts what we think. And that’s one of it’s like when we talk about things like diversity inclusion, you realize that this is systemic in a much deeper sense than simply saying, you know, Oh, society is evil for grouping people. This goes into our personal internalized systems. And the reason why we need to do things, like make sure that all groups are equally represented on boards, or even just in advertising on TV or any type of situation where people can see themselves in that same situation is precisely this, that if people internalize a specific type of stereotype, that applies to themselves, they will underperform in situations where they shouldn’t simply because they think that they’re carrying the burden of proving that their group is better than whatever it says.
So it’s directly harmful to people. And this is one of those you start a conversation about like making fun of people’s names, right? And it seems like, Oh, you’re just not being fun anymore. In reality, what you’re talking about is when we do this on a systemic basis, people internalize these types of attitudes to the point where they are not able to function to their best in society. And that is what we need to turn, right? So this very superficial conversation is actually about the nature of how humans behave.
Jonathan Denwood: And we need to go for a break actually, and then come back, I’ve got some more questions. Hopefully, Mortsen can stay on for some bonus content as well. We’ll back in a few moments.
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Jonathan Denwood: We’re coming back. We’ve had a bit of a discussion of ethics and base camp. Before we go into the other section of the show. I just want to tell you about a webinar that we’re going to be doing on the 14th of May. That’s Friday the 14th at 10:30 AM Pacific standard time. It’s going to be me with Spencer and Spencer Forman of launch flows. We’re going to be talking about how you use WordPress to build a modern marketing atomization flow that can compete with the best like click funnels and all the excess products for yourself and for your clients. And you can join us to ask questions live. It’s going to be pushed onto the WP tonic YouTube channel. To get reminders all you have to do is go to the WP tonic website. There’s a big button that says webinar on the main navigation you click that just give your name and address and name and email, and you will be getting reminders when the show goes live on the 14th.
It should be fantastic. Spencer is very informative and we’re going to be going in all aspects. Now onto the second part, kind of leads on, you know, big tech Facebook Google, and even Amazon. They all seem to be happy with some major problems lately. well, the, it just, yes, you’re totally correct, but it just seems the intensity and the public focus around big tech and their involvement in social media and other issues seems recently since the pandemic seems to have focused even a lot more, first of all, would you agree with that? And secondly, can you give some of your own personal insights? Why you think if you do agree with my statement, why this is happening?
Morten Rand Hendricks: Okay, so I have to do this first so I worked for LinkedIn, which is Microsoft and none of what I say in any way reflects the opinions, or it’s a statement on behalf of my employer, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, legal disclaimer, the law. I’m in a position where I get to talk to people about things, but you have to understand that I’m talking purely as my own opinion and not as that of anyone else nor a representative of et cetera. I’m not going to speak about Microsoft or LinkedIn in any context because of my employment, because that would be extremely unethical and problematic and not trustworthy or anything else. And I also don’t want to speak specifically about any other company, because I don’t have the insight specifically into any of those things. But what I’ll say is what is happening is what I warned about like five years ago at a conference talk that if we don’t do something internally in our community,
Jonathan Denwood: I just wanted to interrupt. I just want to slightly interrupt. That’s why I asked you to come on the show to talk about is because you have consistently for a substantial period of time been warning about this and at the beginning, I think you were kind of, poo-pooed a bit, to be honest, I didn’t poo-pooed you but I think, there were some people that poo-pooed you, but what you were talking about six years ago has kind of solidified really, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I four I needed to do
Morten Rand Hendricks: No that’s fair. It’s what is happening is the tech sector. And especially the internet-based tech sector, which is what 20 something years old now in any meaningful shape. Has, operated in this, unrealistic world of, value-neutrality since its inception. And that it says we just build products. We are not responsible for what happens to those products and how people use those products and what consequences those products have on the world. And that’s an understandable sentiment. If you are building a GitHub repo for some random thing that will be used by eight people. If you are building a tool that’s used by 40 million websites, that’s absurd because you are changing the lives of 40 million people, right? And then every person that they interact with, it’s also changed. If you are building a social media tool that, is used by the majority of the world, and then every decision you make is a decision that is world-changing by definition.
And the bizarre part about this is all the companies that build these types of tools and all the organizations or communities that build these types of tools are very quick to tell you that what they’re doing is extremely important and changes people’s lives for the better until you say, but what about all these negative consequences at which point they go, no, no, no. We’re not responsible for any of the consequences of our tools. People use them, however, they want to, that’s not our responsibility. We just make software, right?
So there’s this complete, this like the messaging, the sending is like this all the time. They keep talking as themselves. What is happening now is because we are not doing the job of regulating ourselves, of taking responsibility for what we build. Governments are doing it right because they have to because they can see in their own populous what is happening when these tools are used in ways that they shouldn’t be when you have a terrorist who lives streams an attack on the internet and the platforms, it is live-streamed on are aware it’s happening, but don’t shut it down a till after the event is overdue to red tape, there is a serious problem.
But underneath that, there’s a serious problem in that the tech world has built the tools necessary and the communities necessary for someone to be radicalized into thinking that that is something that you should be doing in the first place. And what’s happening now is due to the lack of will by the tech companies to take on this responsibility, governments are coming in and say, okay, you’re not doing it so we’re going to force you. And, you should actually have Heather Burns on at some point to talk about this, because what is happening is that the governments.
Let’s talk specifically about the UK and Europe, but this is also happening in Canada, the United States and Finland and Australia, and some other places too. So this is happening all over the place. Lawmakers are worried that they don’t really understand what’s going on with this technology and they don’t want to take on the responsibility of governing these tech bodies. So instead, what they’re saying is if you have a platform of any kind and someone does something illegal on that platform, you as the platform will be held liable for their work.
So if you Jonathan publish a social media network, and someone goes on that social media network and performs a crime, then the government will say, okay, Jonathan, because you didn’t prevent it, I’m going to put you in jail or give you a fine. And this is the government’s incredibly hard-handed way of saying stop being irresponsible about your product. We are going to punish you for it.
The challenge in that is the same services are being used by people who need to be able to break rules to do things, right? So for example, if you live in a country with an oppressive regime, in which publishing information about what the regime is doing is illegal and punishable by death, which is something that is happening in several countries in the world right now, you need some way of communicating that information entirely, without risk of being identified, because if you are identified then you die, right?
These social media networks all these platforms give people the capability of doing this. But these laws would make it impossible for those platforms to do it. Because if someone breaks a rule or breaks a law under the umbrella of an oppressive regime, then an argument could be made that since you’re not allowed to break laws, we can now go after the company. And then it becomes a really tricky situation of saying like on the face of it, you could say like, well, the world will agree that this particular Country’s rules are insane, right? Like saying anything negative about the government equals death is not reasonable. So we’re not going to enforce this.
But what happens when you get a country that says something like publishing any, national security information is equal to prison for life, and then starts classifying things like oil pipeline debates around first nations groups as national security information. A slippery slope exists. And it’s very real in this circumstance.
Jonathan Denwood: I’m sorry to interrupt Morten We need to wrap up the podcast. Are you okay staying on? Well, half-hour goes quick. Are you okay staying on for a while and-
Morten Rand Hendricks: I’ll have an hour for you.
Jonathan Denwood: Yes. Yes. Thank you.
Morten Rand Hendricks: There’s no one deciding how long your podcast is. You can just do that yourself.
Jonathan Denwood: Oh, I do the transcript as well. And it gets a bit expensive if we go over a half hour. So I like to keep it around half-hour. So Morten will be staying on. You’ll be able to, watch and listen to the extended version of this interview on the WP tonic YouTube channel until I’m banned that is. A bit of sarcasm. Morten, what is the best way for people to learn more about some of the ideas that you’ve expressed in this podcast? Part of the show’
Morten Rand Hendricks: Follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter is the easiest. On LinkedIn, I’m Morten Rand Hendriksen. It is the only one with that ridiculous name so it’s easy to find. On Twitter, I am Mor10 or M O R 1 0 because that’s my name.
Jonathan Denwood: That’s great. And Steven, how can people find out more about you and your company?
Steven Sauder: Yeah head over to zip fish.io and run a speed test to see how much faster you can make your website.
Jonathan Denwood: And Steven and his company have been really helpful with making the WP tonic website, a bit more of a speed machine rather than just a middle-age, lounge website. And he did a fantastic job. We will be back next week with another great guest like Morten we’ll see you soon, but do remember to go over to the YouTube channel and listen to the rest of this great interview. We’ll be back soon folks bye.
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