We Make the World We Want to Live In

This was originally published as an item in Issue 003 of the designspun email newsletter.

It is no secret that Twitter has enabled and emboldened Donald Trump by not restricting any of his tweets, even if they violated their terms of service. But earlier this week, they put misinformation warnings on two of his tweets about mail-in ballots. This angered the President but also got the ball rolling. Snapchat shortly followed by saying it will no longer promote Trump’s account. Against the backdrop of growing protests against the murder of George Floyd by police, some tech companies finally started to grow a conscience. But will Silicon Valley change? Mary-Hunter McDonnell, corporate activism researcher from the Wharton School of Business says, “Giving money to organizations that are out on the front lines is more helpful, but it’s also to some extent passing the buck. People are tired of that.”

As designers, we have some power over the projects we work on, and the products we create. Mike Monterio wrote in February, “At some point, you will have to explain to your children that you work, or once worked, at Facebook.”

While at Facebook, Lisa Sy designed ways to flag hate speech on the platform—using Trump’s account in the mockups. In 2016. Four years later, Facebook has not implemented such a system and continues to leave up dangerous posts from Trump, including the highly-charged “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” post.

Tobias van Schneider wrote in 2016,

The role as a designer, or even as an engineer has become more influential and powerful than ever. The work we do makes an impact and naturally brings up the discussion around ethics, responsibility and accountability.

Many of us will work on pieces that are seen by hundreds, maybe thousands. A few of us, having larger clients, or working at a tech company, might work on something used by millions, if not billions of people. We hold great responsibility.

We produce work for audiences, users. Humans who are on the other end of that screen, poster, or ad. Mike Monterio again:

You don’t work for the people who sign your checks. You work for the people who use the products of your labor. If I were to put my hope in one thing, it’s that you understand the importance of this. Your job is to look out for the people your work is affecting. That is a responsibility we cannot defer.