Big tech made a big show of rejecting MAGA, the alt-right, and Donald Trump himself. And while the attack on the Washington Capitol was the impetus for the white supremacy cancel party, it’s roots lay in the calculation of value and not in any great moral discovery.
You are only relevant as long as you are useful.
This realization I came to years ago has become a mantra that has made my life much easier to navigate . My usefulness in any given situation dictates how relevant I am to the people in that situation. If I lack in usefulness, I lack relevancy, and ultimately, that situation will come to an end, or at least my involvement in it.
What does all that mean? It’s simple.
Your job decides you have become unuseful. It could be because of your poor performance or some institutional changes. Either way, you have become less and less relevant to what the company is trying to accomplish. The result being your applying for unemployment.
It also applies to our personal lives. Your partner realizes they aren’t getting what they need from the relationship. Emotional support, money, sex, whatever it is, you ain’t got it. You have become unuseful to them. That lack of usefulness makes you less relevant in their lives, which you’ll likely discover when their sidepiece gets promoted to their main thing. I’m kidding. I’m not kidding.
For five years, Donald Trump and all his racist tendrils have been extremely useful to all forms of media. Whether you are a card-carrying MAGA supporter or fighting for the liberation of marginalized people everywhere, Trump has been the catalyst for much of the conversation. This especially holds true for big tech and social media.
Remember when Trump’s early morning tweets were world news? They dominated the news cycle and, in turn, drove conversation on Twitter itself. Similarly, disinformation campaigns on Facebook drove traffic allowing unverified stories, conspiracy theories, and groups trading on them both.
From a business standpoint, usefulness and relevance were unquestionable. Until it wasn’t.
This brings me to the third principle in the use vs. relevance conversation. Hassle.
Apologies but, sports reference coming in 3…2…1…
Terrell Owens was, at one point, arguably the best receiver in football (he and Randy Moss were 1 and 1A). Owens had incredible hands, could run any route and was among the toughest players in the NFL. He once played in the Super Bowl with a broken leg. Owens was also the quintessential diva wide receiver. While receivers are known to be cocky and temperamental, Owens was peak diva. Clashes with management, coaches, and teammates ultimately gave him the reputation of being a team killer.
Ultimately, while his skill set was still very useful the hassle in managing his worth made him irrelevant and ended his career.
End of sports reference.
The fact is that there will always be value in what Trump does. He is a divider. He creates conflict. Thanks to social media and the current political climate we are more divided as a country than we have ever been in most of our lifetimes. If you are a content creator or a social media platform there is a supreme value in that division. Nothing moves without friction. But for that friction to be profitable, it has to live in a sort of middle ground. The debate has to be debatable.
The events at the Capitol building spun us to a place where even Mitch McConnell had to hit us with a “fuck this shit I’m out” moment. Remember when folks debated whether Kilmonger was a villain or the true hero of Black Panther? All you had to do was say, “He choked an elderly Black woman.” End of argument.
The attack on the Capitol was that point where even the most conservative among us had to cash in their chips. Trump as a figurehead still has some value. MAGA as a thing to shout either for or against still has value. But the domestic terrorism we all witnessed made accessing that value all too expensive.
For five years people have asked Twitter to suspend or ban Donald Trump for his dangerous rhetoric and misinformation. With a few minor exceptions, they didn't see fit to actually do anything. Facebook was rampant with hate groups propagating the same misinformation spouted by the president and for years users begged for the platform to step in. Instead, they spent more time suspending users who actively spoke out against all the ‘isms the platform allowed to take place.
Apple and Google were fine with allowing Parler, the go-to social media app for white supremacists to reside in their respective app stores. Not until this week did either platform see fit to remove the app.
All of this would have likely played out differently if Trump had won the election. It’s far easier to lie in this den of iniquity when the person propagating this level of hate is the leader of the free world. When Trump loss the election he lost some of his usefulness. When he had a legal temper tantrum and tried to steal it back he became even less so. When he goaded his followers to commit treason and failed to call them back to their respective dens he became useless.
For those who spoke and fought in the name of social justice and democracy, it became too easy to make the point. For those who spoke in favor of conservative values, it became impossible to justify what we were all seeing.
There was no more friction, there was no more use, and thus we are beginning to see the diminished relevancy.
Jettisoning Donald Trump, MAGA, QAnon, and white supremacy was a business decision made when there was no option left on the table. A summer of faux Blackness and support of social justice-related causes painted big tech and other companies into a corner. Too many people were watching to see what would happen when shit got real.
The only remaining question for us is how much does it ultimately matter? Does a desirable action need to be accompanied by a desirable motivation or does the end justify the means?
Personally, I don’t believe in altruism. Without some form of selfish motivation nothing happens, good or bad. When I say selfish I am using the word stripped of its negative connotations. I’m speaking strictly of a benefit one derives from their own action. Doing good simply to feel better about yourself has a selfish element to it. I don’t think any of us would argue that’s a bad thing.
Big tech did the right thing for reasons other than propriety and justice. They did it for their own survival and profit. That’s going to have to be enough. It’s on us to take note of the exposed nerve and touch it when necessary.
But even then it comes down to use and relevance. It will never be about right or wrong.