Suspended from X.Com: The Cult of the Genius Tech Bro
Heidi Siegmund Cuda investigates how we eradicate tech-troll domination
The author of this article was permanently banned from the site formerly known as Twitter for this comment on the basis it may “threaten, incite, glorify or express a desire for harm or violence”. In light of this ludicrous decision we are reposting the article without a paywall.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”—Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future, 1962
They were treated as special — tech wunderkinds who possessed magical powers.
Byline Supplement is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Peter Thiel etc…
Awe-inducing cover stories in polished tech periodicals, which existed to exalt them on high. The faces of these special boys appear in chiaroscuro to ensure their canonisation.
But what was Mark Zuckerberg, really? A troll who created a website twenty years ago that judged if someone was hot or not. FaceMash, as it was known, evolved into Facebook, and its ‘move fast and break things’ ethos nearly broke democracy when the social media platform allowed Cambridge Analytica to hoover up all our data and target minds.
“It started with the dream of a connected world,” said digital rights activist Professor David Carroll in the film The Great Hack. “These digital traces of ourselves are being mined into a trillion dollar a year industry… we are now the commodity.”
No one read the terms and conditions, or checked the box for the part where the world becomes a deeply divided wreckage site, he said.
And it wasn’t that long ago when Elon Musk was a deified ‘star man’.
The world thought he was really special.
Then he bought Twitter, and starting posting Hitler memes and neo-Nazi references.
Many were shocked. Those who knew him from Tesla, SpaceX, PayPal, and the plethora of dewy deifying tech cover stories couldn’t believe it was the same guy.
But those who’d been paying closer attention saw it coming, as we did here in our report Unmusked: How Elon Musk is Using Twitter to Destroy the Concept of Truth.
The Bag Men
The origin stories of Twitter and Facebook always seem to leave out its initial funding. As the Guardian reported in 2017:
“Two Russian state institutions with close ties to Vladimir Putin funded substantial stakes in Twitter and Facebook through an investor who later acquired an interest in a Jared Kushner venture, leaked documents reveal.
“The investments were made through a Russian technology magnate, Yuri Milner, who also holds a stake in a company co-owned by Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser.”
If money is coming from a mafia state — one that is consistently and relentlessly targeting the West with information warfare, that should be well-publicized in the terms and conditions that no one reads.
It was PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel who said in 2009 that he “no longer believed freedom and democracy are compatible”. To his point, he funds extreme anti-democratic candidates.
As democratic strategist Fred Wellman tweeted last year:
I think the media should cover these elections like they do business transactions:
“Billionaire investor Peter Thiel completed a key first step in his purchase of American democracy with the acceptance by the Ohio GOP of his $10M bid for the Republican Senate seat there.”
And the extremist candidate he funded, JD Vance, is now a sitting Senator.
Both Thiel and Vance are behind the platform Rumble, which functions as a pro-Kremlin propaganda and radicalization outlet, and extremist presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has benefited from his friendship with Vance and Thiel’s investments in his businesses.
Ergo, if the tech bro is a genius, then it feels more like Dr. Evil than Einstein.
‘The Myth of Meritocracy’
Jackie Singh, the former cybersecurity lead threat analyst for US President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign and an information security specialist, blames the ‘myth of meritocracy’ for global tech dysfunction.
“This myth is often championed by influential tech bros to rationalize their own ascent and hoard,” Singh told Byline Supplement. “It conceals systemic barriers that benefit a select demographic. This narrative suggests that those who fail to rise have only their own shortcomings to blame, absolving the industry of any imperative for structural change and perpetuating a fatalistic, eugenic-adjacent view of society.”
She said this results in “the privileged continuing to amass opportunities and engage in toxic cultures without consequence, while underrepresented groups are left vying for basic recognition, inclusion, and equal treatment.”
She said the “lack of diversity in tech and its leadership has a ripple effect that extends to the very technologies we produce, including AI systems. Limiting the range of perspectives in the development process can only ever result in AI algorithms which reflect and perpetuate existing social biases. When deployed in critical societal sectors, these biased technologies further entrench disparities, often causing direct yet unseen harm to individuals.”
This concentration of power and perspective, she believes, creates a self-reinforcing loop.
“Technologies shaped by a biased lens inherently marginalize those not represented in their creation, thereby sustaining the existing power hierarchies,” she told Byline Supplement. “The myth of meritocracy, thus serves not only to rationalize current inequalities but also acts as a mechanism for their perpetuation in both the tech industry and society at large.”
Because the tech scene exploded out of the progressive waters of the San Francisco Bay Area, there was a time when people thought that meant Silicon Valley was progressive, too.
Lol. Images of the tech titans lining up to kiss Trump’s ring in 2017 put that false notion to rest.
Tech Bros Killed My Hometown
No one was more deified than the man in black — Apple’s Steve Jobs. His product is ubiquitous and has absolutely changed the world, but I see his face in chiaroscuro, and I think of how my hometown went from a melting pot of immigrants who bought nice homes on lower middle class salaries to the explosion of tech pricing out the lower middle class. Houses bought in the 1960s on one blue collar salary for $20,000 now selling for multiple millions. Gig workers delivering overpriced food, taxis unaffordable — the haves have it all, the have nots get $15 an hour.
It’s not his fault — he helped revolutionize the world but his success and the success of others killed my hometown. The hippies of the sixties have been replaced with yoga babble-spewing cutthroats that gave us a post-privacy world without so much as an ‘I’m sorry.’
And for every Jobs, there’s a Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the crypto exchange FTX, who was arrested last year in the Bahamas and charged with wire fraud, money laundering, campaign finance violations, securities and commodities violations, as well as other charges.
Or an Adam Neumann. Neumann — who was forced out of the collaborative office space company he co-founded, WeWork — told a reporter in 2019 he wanted to live forever, become a trillionaire, the president of the world, and expand WeWork to Mars.
Back to the Futurism
An Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published a manifesto in 1909 titled: The Manifesto of Futurism or Manifesto del Futurismo.
The poet’s philosophy — called Futurism — rejected the past, celebrated speed (‘move fast, break things’), machinery, violence, youth, and industry.
In a Medium report reprinted in the Guardian, Douglas Rushkoff — author of Survival of the Richest, Team Human, Program or Be Programmed, and host of the Team Human podcast, wrote about a personal experience he had with ‘Futurists’ when he was invited to lecture at half a year’s salary. He said he was brought to a room where five tech bros questioned him.
“That’s when it hit me,” he wrote, “at least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology. Taking their cue from Elon Musk colonizing Mars, Peter Thiel reversing the ageing process, or Sam Altman and Ray Kurzweil uploading their minds into supercomputers, they were preparing for a digital future that had a whole lot less to do with making the world a better place than it did with transcending the human condition altogether and insulating themselves from a very real and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, mass migrations, global pandemics, nativist panic, and resource depletion. For them, the future of technology is really about just one thing: escape.
“Of course, it wasn’t always this way. There was a brief moment, in the early 1990s, when the digital future felt open-ended and up for our invention. Technology was becoming a playground for the counterculture, who saw in it the opportunity to create a more inclusive, distributed, and pro-human future. But established business interests only saw new potentials for the same old extraction, and too many technologists were seduced by unicorn IPOs. Digital futures became understood more like stock futures or cotton futures – something to predict and make bets on. So nearly every speech, article, study, documentary, or white paper was seen as relevant only insofar as it pointed to a ticker symbol. The future became less a thing we create through our present-day choices or hopes for humankind than a predestined scenario we bet on with our venture capital but arrive at passively.”
“This freed everyone from the moral implications of their activities.”
Silicon Valley technologist Joshua C. Fidel, my co-host of RADICALIZED Truth Survives podcast, said any moral implications were always an illusion.
“Tech’s metastasizing amorality occurred because there were billions of dollars pumped into it to create the spectacle,” Fidel told Byline Supplement. “People see successful and wealthy people and idolize them, they want to be like them. And Silicon Valley was always a lie… If you look at everything they promised those two decades ago, nothing has come to pass.
“That Arthur C. Clarke comment — any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic — that's what they offered us as amazing advancements in technology. Instead, what we got was smoke and mirrors — entire industries destroyed. Money sucked out from the working class, and deposited in the bank accounts of venture capitalists.”
He said the shiny front was to hide the malevolence.
“They gathered our data, they processed it. And they turned it around and used it against us to drive some of us mad, some of us into radicalized extremists willing to kill for a political figure.”
Author Neil Gaiman — in his book American Gods — created New Gods to worship — the god of technology, the god of the internet — as the Old Gods’ curb appeal had waned.
But what are these tech geniuses really? Carnival barkers — clever lads who invented 50 new ways to steal a buck?
“They draw you into the tent to take your money, but not just your money, your data,” said Fidel. “They know where you live, how many kids you have, how you tend to vote, what TV programs you watch, the brand of toilet paper you like to buy.
“They know how to put people around you if you're on social media. ‘Here's a group that you should join. Hey, have you read this new website that might just be run by a bunch of f**king Russians pretending to be Americans?’”
It appears no tech platforms run by the Gods of the Internet appear to be operating in good faith or proving they can regulate themselves, and Section 230 of Title 47 of the US Code — part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 — is weak tea, providing immunity for platforms from third-party content. So they go ahead and become accessories to global crimes against humanity — mass shootings are livestreamed, beheadings are uploaded, revenge porn continues to traumatise its intended targets, because… whatever… it’s the internet.
The most sensible thing I’ve heard is to move fast, and break up tech — turning these social media platforms into regulated public utilities. Like clean water, and clean air, we now rely on communications platforms, and rather than allow communication to be disrupted by Nazi trolls and bot farms or paid internet assassins hired to discredit reporters and politicians, we should be able to communicate without fear, emotional trauma, and death threats.
Yesterday, I was alerted that I was being targeted by a well-connected veteran abuse troll using AI and calling me ‘brainless’. After months of death threats and years of abuse for my work, I no longer care what is said about me by those with malicious intentions, but it leaves a lingering gray cloud that takes some time to pass.
I had to call a guest who is speaking at one of my upcoming ‘Speakeasy’ zoom salons for my Bette Dangerous Substack — author and progressive talk show host Thom Hartmann — and tell him when I announce our event, to expect malinformation trolls to slide into his DMs.
He told me, “We get trolls, death threats, and regular cyber attacks by Russia, Saudi Arabia, and China. We’ll make it through.”
Although I am saddened to hear of his attacks, it’s a relief to know he understands the battlefield.
Here's the thing, we shouldn’t have to live this way. The Gods of the Internet should never have been pedestalled. When Musk let all the troll farms back on Xitter, it made things harder for those committed to the labor of democracy.
Investigative reporter Carole Cadwalldr posed these questions in the Ted Talk she gave in Silicon Valley to the tech bros:
“Is this what you want? Is this how you want history to remember you? As the handmaidens to authoritarianism? Is this what we want? To sit back and play with our phones as this darkness falls.”
I think it may be what they want, but it’s not what I want.
I want what Sacha Baron Cohen wants. The actor and activist just gave a speech on the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington. Here is an excerpt:
“The forces of hate have a new weapon that was not available in 1963 — social media — these social media platforms deliberately amplify content that triggers outrage and fear, including fear of the other. This technology gives an unfair advantage to the intolerant. They’ve gone from Klan rallies to chat rooms, from marches to message boards — it’s how they spread their filth, recruit new members, and plan their attacks. And we’ve all seen the deadly results… hate and violence that should have no place in our pluralistic societies.”
Geopolitical analyst Dr Michael MacKay points out the hubris of those who pose as geniuses but have invented nothing, instead simply profit from and exploit the vision of others: “Real geniuses, not the tech bros, gave their ideas to the world to hopefully make it a better place”, he told Byline Supplement. “Sir Tim Berners-Lee is a genius who humbly acknowledges that none of his work would have been possible were it not for the great work of his colleagues and predecessors. I think the world would be a better place if we celebrated real inventors and creators like him.”
He reminds us that the internet “has the promise of being an online, global community in which all people participate freely, openly and without barriers like wealth. It should be like being able to speak a language and talk to other people – as simple as that.”
“The way we get to a better place with our technology,” Dr MacKay believes, “is to recognize how we got here. Let's celebrate the real geniuses who freely gave us the enormous benefit of their talents. Let's put the tech bros in their proper place and recognize they are merely commodities brokers who package and sell other people's ideas."
I agree. Let’s combat this hateful darkness in a sweeping new deal that ensures the cult of the tech bro genius no longer has the power to sabotage our world — it’s well past time for a tech troll reckoning.
Heidi Siegmund Cuda writes about US politics for Byline Times, Byline Supplement, and at bettedangerous.com.
Byline Supplement is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.