An Organization Attempted to Repair Tech Culture—but Surrendered Control of Its Own

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By Car Brand Experts

Allen, a data analyst, and Massachi, a software developer, spent close to four years at Facebook handling some of the darker sides of social media, combatting fraud and interference in elections. They were strangers to each other but both left in 2019, disheartened by the lack of support from higher-ups. “The efforts of teams like mine, civic integrity, were going to waste,” Massachi expressed in a recent presentation. “More than a mistake, it was a blunder.”

The concept of leveraging their expertise from Facebook to raise awareness about the risks of social platforms was first formulated by Massachi. He co-founded the nonprofit Integrity Institute with Allen in late 2021 after being introduced by a former colleague. The timing was ideal as Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, had just released a trove of internal documents, igniting new government inquiries in the US and globally about issues within social media. It became part of a new wave of tech nonprofits like the Center for Humane Technology and All Tech Is Human, initiated by individuals from the industry who aspired to be public advocates.

Massachi and Allen instilled a tech startup atmosphere in their nonprofit, initially funded by Allen. The early team members with backgrounds in technology, politics, or charity made sacrifices in compensation to produce a series of comprehensive guides for tech firms on subjects such as preventing election tampering. Major tech philanthropists collectively pledged several million dollars in funding, including the Knight, Packard, MacArthur, and Hewlett foundations, along with the Omidyar Network. Through collaboration with a university-led group, the institute secured contracts to offer tech policy advice to the European Union. Moreover, the organization partnered with news organizations, including WIRED, to investigate issues on tech platforms.

To broaden its capabilities beyond its modest team, the institute assembled an external network of twenty-four founding experts for consultation or research assistance. This network of designated institute “members” rapidly expanded to encompass 450 individuals worldwide in the subsequent years. It evolved into a central point for tech employees laid off during the widespread job cuts on tech platforms, particularly in positions related to trust and safety, or integrity, functions overseeing content moderation and policies at companies like Meta and X. Those who joined the institute’s network, which is free but involves a screening process, gained entry to a part of its Slack community for professional discussions and sharing job opportunities.

Significant tensions arose within the institute in March of the previous year when Massachi presented an internal document on Slack titled “How We Operate” that prohibited the use of terms such as “solidarity,” “radical,” and “free market,” which he felt could be perceived as biased and provocative. He also discouraged the use of the term BIPOC, an abbreviation for “Black, Indigenous, and people of color,” which he believed originated from the “activist domain.” His manifesto appeared to mirror the workplace guidelines that the cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase had introduced in 2020, which prohibited discussions on politics and social matters unrelated to the company, sparking criticism from some colleagues and executives.

“We are an internationally-focused open-source initiative. We are not a US-centric liberal charity. Proceed accordingly,” Massachi emphasized, urging staff to take “exemplary actions” and utilize “traditional language.” A few team members took offense, perceiving the regulations as outdated and unnecessary. An organization dedicated to addressing the intricate issue of speech moderation now faced similar challenges within its own ranks.

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