Facebook Was Soon to Be Held to Account: Will Meta Escape the Consequences?


Ron Baecker is Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, author of
Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives, co-author of thecovidguide.com, organizer of computers-society.org, and author of the recently published Digital Dreams Have Become Nightmares: What We Must Do.

In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg built an app to connect Harvard undergrads to one another. By 2006, it was available to anyone over the age of 13. Soon thereafter, his Facebook (FB) social media firm was animated by the concept that connectivity was a human right for the world’s billions. FB is now visited by almost 3 billion distinct users each month. The firm has become a monopoly, counting Instagram and WhatsApp among its divisions. (Further details appear in Chapters 11 and 17 of Digital Dreams Have Become Nightmares: What We Must Do.) 

FB’s dominance has led to serious problems which are well known. Its news feed widely shares toxic material — misinformation, hate speech, and fake news. People post private information which FB exploits commercially through surveillance capitalism. Fake social media participants constructed by Russia in the 2016 US presidential election and other elections has skewed the results. Children’s addiction to social media harms their sense of self-worth and their physical and mental health and well-being.

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A Review of: ‘Digital Dreams Have Become Nightmares: What We Must Do’

C. Dianne Martin is Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at George Washington University, and Adjunct Professor in the School of Information, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has been teaching Computers and Society since 1983.

I was delighted to receive email early this year from Prof. Ron Baecker, whose Computers and Society class at the University of Maryland in 1972 made me see that I could productively combine my previous studies in the social sciences and humanities with my new career in information technology. I was therefore eager to read his latest book, Digital Dreams Have Become Nightmares: What We Must Do.

In documenting his personal journey from dreams and exuberant optimism about computer technology to pessimism, nightmares, and fear caused by the emerging consequences of the tech explosion of the past 75 years. Ron has provided a comprehensive historical sweep of the computer revolution. In Part I he chronicles the high hopes of early developers to create technological solutions to disparities in healthcare and education, to increase creativity, collaboration, and community, and to provide greater power and convenience to all.

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Ethics throughout a Computer Science curriculum


Ron Baecker is Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, author of
Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives, co-author of thecovidguide.com, organizer of computers-society.org, and author of the recently published Digital Dreams Have Become Nightmares: What We Must Do.

Every Computer Science student should get significant exposure to the social, political, legal, and ethical issues raised by the accelerating progress in the development and use of digital technologies.

The standard approach is to offer one undergraduate course, typically called Computers and Society or Computer Ethics.  I have done this during the current term at Columbia University, using my new textbook, Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives (OUP, 2019).  We meet twice a week for 75 minutes.  In class, I present key topics covered in the book, and welcome a number of guest speakers who present their own experiences and points of view.  Every class is interactive, as I try to get the students to express their own ideas.  There have been four assignments: a policy brief, a book report, a debate, and a research paper.  Such courses are typically not required by major research universities, which is a mistake, but they are often required by liberal arts colleges.

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Conscientious objector tech workers


Ron Baecker is Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, author of
Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives, co-author of thecovidguide.com, organizer of computers-society.org, and author of the recently published Digital Dreams Have Become Nightmares: What We Must Do.

Today’s high-tech workers are the envy of the workforce.  They do a job that most love.  Many get to work with reasonable independence, with no bosses looking over their shoulders.  Rewards can be great; thousands and possibly tens of thousands have become millionaires.  Many have become billionaires.

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Must computer science students learn about ethics?


Ron Baecker is Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Toronto, author of
Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives, co-author of thecovidguide.com, organizer of computers-society.org, and author of the recently published Digital Dreams Have Become Nightmares: What We Must Do.

My textbook — Computers and Society: Modern Perspectives — may be used in a variety of courses and contexts, but is intended primarily for use by Computer Science (CS) Departments, as they attempt to educate and train tomorrow’s software professionals, managers, and IT leaders. If we want to monitor how well departments are doing this job, we should ask is if they are sensitizing their students to the ethical responsibilities of the profession. It is useful to contrast the attitudes and performance of CS Departments, typically situated in science faculties, with departments in Faculties of Engineering.

Concern over ethics in Engineering began after several major disasters late in the 19th century and early in the 20th century, notably several bridge failures and the Boston molasses disaster, in which a flood or molasses wreaked havoc on nearby building and train systems.  There already had been created professional societies such as the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Institute of Electrical Engineers.  These societies then moved quickly to introduce Codes of Ethics and requirements for licensing and accreditation, which ultimately caused university departments and faculties to include some learning about and practice with ethical concerns as part of their curricula.  A later development was the creation in 1954 by the National Society of Professional Engineers of a Board of Ethical Review.

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