The reporter who broke the Cambridge Analytica–Facebook scandal has taken down the tech giants for undermining democracy.
In a TED Talk in Vancouver, Carole Cadwalladr called out the "gods of Silicon Valley" for their role in helping authoritarians consolidate their power in different countries.
Cadwalladr, who writes for the Guardian and the Observer, identified the chief culprits: Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Twitter's Jack Dorsey.
"This technology that you have invented has been amazing but now it's a crime scene," Cadwalladr said. "And you have the evidence. And it is not enough to say that you will do better in the future because to have any hope of stopping this from happening again, we have to know the truth.
"Because what the Brexit vote demonstrates is that liberal democracy is broken, and you broke it," she continued. "This is not democracy: spreading lies in darkness, paid for with illegal cash from God knows where. It's subversion and you are accessories to it."
A partial transcript of Cadwalladr's remarks
"I don't have to tell you that hate and fear are being sown online all across the world
"And we know that there is this dark undertow which is connecting us all globally, and it is flowing via the technology platforms.
"But we only see a tiny amount of what's going on the surface. And I only found out anything about this dark underbelly because I started looking into company called Cambridge Analytica. And I spent months tracking down an ex-employee, Christopher Wylie.
"And he told me how this company that worked for both Trump and Brexit had to profile people politically in order to understand their individual fears in order to better target them with Facebook ads.
"And it did this by illicitly harvesting the profiles of 87 million people from Facebook. It took an entire year's work to get Christopher on the record. He was extraordinarily brave because the company is owned by Robert Mercer, the billionaire who bankrolled Trump.
"And he threatened to sue us multiple times to stop us from publishing. But we finally got there and we were one day ahead of publication.
"We got another legal threat—not from Cambridge Analytica this time, but from Facebook. It told us that if we publish, they would sue us. We did it anyway.
"Facebook, you were on the wrong side of history in that. And you are on the wrong side of history in this—in refusing to give us the answers that we need.
"And that is why I'm here to address you directly, the gods of Silicon Valley: Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg and Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Jack Dorsey.
"And your employees and your investors, too. We are what happens to a western democracy when a hundred years of electoral laws are disrupted by technology.
"This technology that you have invented has been amazing but now it's a crime scene. And you have the evidence. And it is not enough to say that you will do better in the future because to have any hope of stopping this from happening again, we have to know the truth.
"Because what the Brexit vote demonstrates is that liberal democracy is broken, and you broke it.
"This is not democracy: spreading lies in darkness, paid for with illegal cash from God knows where.
"It's subversion and you are accessories to it. And it is not about left or right or leave or remain or Trump or not. It's about whether it's actually possible to have a free and fair election ever again. Because as it stands, I don't think it is.
"And so my question to you is: is this what you want? Is this how you want history to remember you? As the handmaidens to authoritarianism that is on the rise all across the world?
"Because you set out to connect people—and you are refusing to acknowledge that the same technology is now driving us apart.
"My question to everybody else is: is this what we want? To let them get away with it—and to sit back and play with our phones as this darkness falls?"
On April 21, Cadwalladr wrote a first-person account in the Guardian of her experience giving a TED talk in Vancouver. The article also includes a full video of her presentation, which is not available yet on YouTube.
She described TED as "the holy temple of tech", where new developments used to be unveiled.
"It was only later that I began to realise quite what TED had done: how, in this setting, with this crowd, it had committed the equivalent of inviting the fox into the henhouse. And I was the fox," Cadwalladr wrote. "Or as one attendee put it: 'You came into their temple,' he said. 'And shat on their altar.' "