Vice Media: How Big Tech weaponizes progressive language to stifle dissent

I’ve previously written in this newsletter about corporate hypocrisy surrounding justice issues, plus the tendency to cave to right-wing pressure. Along similar lines, last week Vice media published a more in-depth analysis by Montreal-based political organizer and labor writer Lana Polansky, who calls out several examples of companies marketing themselves using progressive rhetoric, while actually pursuing a highly regressive agenda. Some extracts below.

- Bruce

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https://www.vice.com/amp/en_us/article/pky4yn/how-games-tech-and-the-army-use-progressive-language-as-a-smoke-screen

How Games, Tech, and the Army Use Progressive Language as a Smoke Screen

Tech and games companies have spent years marketing themselves as innovative, forward-thinking, and “progressive,”drawing on the imagery of the welcoming, inclusive, democratic workplace… [But] rather than finding their self-image makes them vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy, they increasingly appropriate concepts of social justice [and] invert power dynamics to portray themselves as victims, and the people they exploit as aggressors…

The most prevalent form this kind of corporate gaslighting takes is probably the culture-obsessed, conflict-averse managerial framework deployed across much of tech and games…

[Kickstarter] came under scrutiny when a number of workers involved in the drive were fired under suspicious circumstances. Throughout, Kickstarter maintained that it was “progressive” and is classified as a “public benefit company”, while also claiming that “the union framework is inherently adversarial.” It claimed that it did not engage in unfair terminations while simultaneously hiring Duane Morris, a law firm specializing in maintaining a “union-free workplace.”...

When Kickstarter claims to be a “progressive” company, there is an intentional slippage taking place, one that becomes important when tech companies up the ante by engaging in tactics such as pinkwashing and greenwashing, or weaponizing the rhetoric of harassment and toxicity to dismiss criticism...

As [labor organizer Grace] Reckers observes:

[Tech companies] try to brand themselves as having a somewhat flat hierarchy, or they'll talk about having a more casual work environment and having an open door policy or how ‘we're all in this together’. They're trying to build that brand together and there's a sense of camaraderie that is constructed specifically as a marketing tool not only for the brand itself but also for the employees who work there.

[…]

Ben Gwin, a data analyst and union organizer at Google subsidiary office HCL in Pittsburgh who successfully helped organize a union there in 2019, spoke to me about his experiences…

“I think Google definitely tries to portray itself as something it's not, for sure,” Gwin told me… Much like with Kickstarter, Google leveraged its reputation as a safe and democratic workplace while retaliating against organizers at its facilities...

It’s best to understand this trend not as an isolated phenomenon within games and tech but as part of a broader social trajectory for hegemonic institutions to recuperate social movements, empty them of their radical content, and commodify them…

None of this is new. It belongs to a long history, spanning the better part of a century, of state and economic powers appropriating the language of mass movements to undermine their goals…

Gwin proposes a simple litmus test to see how vulnerable a company's reputation really is.

“See if there's pay equity issues, whether or not the workers are treated well,” says Gwin, adding, “If that's not the case then they're full of shit. ” [...]

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