Examining the News

How serious is the big tech backlash?

Julie Kim

Chances are you’ve already seen the Wired magazine cover featuring a beaten-up Mark Zuckerberg. If there was any doubt left, it’s now clear that the backlash against “Big Tech” is officially here.

A couple months ago, a communications team at a major technology company came to us wanting to know if there was truly an increasing number of stories discussing a potential backlash or whether it was simply a juicy storyline that might not have much momentum. Quid software gives you a birds eye view of millions of articles at once and allows you see how media coverage is shaping around any particular topic.

In this case, we used Quid to explore more than 10,000 global news media from the past one year to understand how the big tech backlash narrative has evolved over time, and which topics have been the most socially engaged.

Key Storylines

Below is the Quid network map of thousands of relevant news articles around the subject. You can see the articles cluster into a handful of unique topics:

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Antitrust (the turquoise-colored cluster) has been the most mentioned issue in 2017 as it has been a tough year for Google being fined $2.7 Billion for breaching EU’s antitrust rules. Data Security (the pink cluster) is the next largest - 2017 has also been a big year of debate over personal data protection between big tech companies and regulators, along with net neutrality discussion. Narratives on AI and Autonomous Vehicle closely follow as third and fourth largest, as there has been increasing awareness on social and economic impact by artificial intelligence, such as job market disruption and banking industry disruption.

According to Quid’s data science metrics, Safety and Environment (the light blue cluster) was the most connected with multiple different topics. The cluster was largely composed of the battery safety rules raised from Samsung phones’ battery explosions in 2016, and other product safety issues. The topic was closely connected with the patent filings by chips and batteries manufacturers, antitrust laws faced by the Korean conglomerates, and data security concerns on new smartphone features.

We put these articles in a timeline view in order to better understand how each topic has evolved over time during last one year:

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The general timeline trend shows that there was a huge jump on the big tech backlash narratives since June 2017, and the volume of this narratives has stayed high since then. It’s clear this story built significantly in volume over the back half of 2017. June of last year is when the European Union struck Google with $2.7 billion regulatory fine for unfairly favoring some of its search services over other search engines. In July 2017 Apple announced that it is removing all Virtual Private Network (VPN) services from its app store operations in China, which accused the tech giant of succumbing to the pressure from China.

Not only were there many events that involved global tech giants in conflictive political and social issues, there has been increasing trend of wary narratives about the controlling power of big tech corporates:

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Since the EU’s antitrust law, there have been growing number of articles defining the Silicon Valley giants as “threats” to consumers, workers, startups, and democracy. In the US, discussion on social media giants’ roles as media platform has gone viral as well, especially after Twitter, Facebook, and Google have been accused of not taking adequate steps to curb Russian and foreign influence in the 2016 election.

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We aggregated these articles into a scatterplot to find out which topic received the most social engagement and media resonance. In the above scatterplot, each node represents topic and they are sized by number of stories. Even though there were not as many articles about the diversity issue, these articles have been re-published 25 times on average and received some of the heaviest social engagement. As a former Google employee’s anti-diversity memo stirred up controversy, other tech giants like Apple, Twitter, and Facebook followed up with comments on diversity issues. Articles on tech giants’ voices in politics were also among the most socially engaged over the last year. Big tech firms seem to be increasingly involved in political battles: taking a stand against new immigration policies such as travel ban and sparring with US lawmakers on a bill that would hold websites liable for publishing information “designed to facilitate sex trafficking”.

Despite a lot of press (as evidenced by the size of the purple circle above), the efforts by technology companies to avoid paying more in taxes has not generated much activity on social media, giving it the lowest social engagement of all categories. That may change with the recent news that Amazon earned $5.6 billion in profit last year yet paid zero dollars in federal taxes.

It is abundantly clear that the narrative gaining steam is of a Big Tech that doesn’t always have the average consumers’ interests at heart. A deeper dive into the network can reveal which brands are gaining the majority of the blame and to what degree there are positive storylines to balance out the negative. For a more in depth exploration, or a different topic that interests you, get in touch at hi@quid.com.

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