Investigation and Accountability: Technology Coverage Evolves

The summer of 2013 marked another turning point in the relationship between technology and society, which journalists covering technology had to address. Revealing the massive scale of coordinated, multinational government and corporate surveillance, Snowden confirmed privacy advocates’ worst fears: that the same technologies that connect us can also be used to monitor and control citizens without their knowledge or consent. Snowden’s revelations forced journalists, thought leaders, and citizens to begin untangling just how much of the tech industry was complicit in building a global surveillance network. It was also a “moment of broader cultural awareness about how much these huge mechanisms that have been built around us are affecting us now on civic levels,” says writer Elmo Keep of Real Future at Fusion.26

The few journalists and commentators who had warned about the power of data felt simultaneously vindicated and defeated, and a “general pall came over technology reporting,” notes Fusion editor-in-chief Alexis Madrigal.27 In the journalistic community, what blossomed out of this was an understanding of how much more the technology industry deserved investigative attention and journalistic resources. Since then, investigative efforts have exposed labor practices at Amazon,28 detailed Google’s extensive lobbying efforts,29 uncovered Uber’s means for dealing with harassment,30 and surfaced discriminatory decisions and predatory practices of algorithms.31 Journalists have used both traditional reporting tactics and programmatic data journalism methods to hold technology companies and practices accountable, and there is room for still more investigative coverage. Senior editor of The Nation Sarah Leonard compares it to the way “we have financial journalists and labor journalists who look at Walmart, or look at collusion on Wall Street.”32

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