Every time I hear Clay Shirky speak or read something he’s written, I think to myself “he’s an order of magnitude smarter than everybody else in the room”. Today’s blog post, on the fallout of the #AmazonFail business, is just the latest example:
Here’s how stupid that belief made me. I have been thinking about the internet as hard as I can for the better part of two decades, and for the latter half of that time, I’ve been thinking about the problems of categorization systems, and it never occurred to me that the possible explanation for systemic bias might be something having to do with a technological system instead of a human one, that a changed classification in the Amazon database could trigger the change in status of tens of thousands of books.
From the moment this particular controversy broke, it felt like Motrin Moms 2.0. Just as Twitter enables us to rapidly raise money and inspire positive action, it’s also exceptionally good at fostering reactionary fury. As Shirky writes, Amazon unquestionably got some stuff wrong, but they’re not nearly as guilty as the web was making them out to be.
Speaking as an occasional lynch mob member (and as someone put it a while back, a friend of the gays), we need to moderate our furious impulse to propagate scornful messages until we have enough of the facts. It’s only going to get easier and easier to direct angry online attention at something, so we need to get better and better at thinking before we retweet with vengeance.