Skip to main content Accessibility Feedback

All tech is political

Last week, I wrote an article about Black Lives Matter.

While most of the feedback was positive, I did predictably receive some negative responses, too. Some where particularly racist, but most of them were like this:

I follow you for tech, not politics.

Here’s the thing: all tech is political.

There are obvious examples

In the most obvious ways, technologies like Twitter and Facebook have completely reshaped and transformed politics. They’ve been weaponized as tools of political war. They’re used to plan and organize protests. They helped drive revolutions in some countries.

In slightly smaller ways, the things we create and open source are used for political things, too.

GitHub has a contract with ICE that, despite CEO Nat Friedman’s repeated assertions that they support diversity, they refuse to break. Projects that you open source can be used for things you don’t like reprehensible shit like helping keep children locked in cages.

To address this challenge, Coraline Ada Ehmke created a modified version of the MIT license, The Hippocratic License, that restricts the use of open source projects from use in things that support human rights violations.

But it’s often more subtle than this

It’s not just how people use what you make. It’s how you make what you make.

Any time you design and build something, you do so through the lens of your values and beliefs. Implicit bias is present in everything we make.

The decision to force people to use their real names, or to not let people block users (I’m looking at you, Slack), expose how likely a designer or decision maker is to have experienced harassment themselves. This is often closely correlated to gender and ethnicity.

Even tech articles aren’t immune. Someone on Twitter asked me:

How is a review of graphics cards political?

The tech recommendations someone makes are also driven by their own preferences, biases, and lived experiences. Do they recommend something expensive and powerful? Something cheap and accessible? Do they provide a mix of options or just offer one?

These decisions all reveal the politics, to an extent, of the author.

My articles are no exception

My preference for vanilla JS, for simplicity, for web performance… it’s all driven by my beliefs around the web as an open and accessible resource for everyone, regardless of where they live or the tech they can afford.

It’s the reason I continue to push for approaches that work out-of-the-box back to IE9, even though newer approaches sometimes make things a little easier.

All tech is political, even if it’s not always obvious.

This isn’t just an American thing

I had a few folks tell me that Black Lives Matter has nothing to do with the countries they live in.

Every country has discrimination. This is not just a US problem.

Sometimes its racial. Sometimes its religious persecution. Other times, it’s against indigenous populations from descendants of colonizers. Sometimes it’s against the poor.

Often, it’s a combination of things.

Regardless of the type of discrimination, the people in power have an obligation to help dismantle it. We have an obligation to be aware of how the things we build reinforce or tear down those power structures.

All tech is political.