Jason Fried, the CEO of Basecamp, a software company that makes productivity and collaboration software, recently announced a ban on all societal and political discussion on the companies own internal Basecamp site, effectively sending the message to employees to leave their politics at the door.
While this (and a host of other policy changes at Basecamp) are baffling given the current climate we live in, it is an especially abhorrent stance for any company that designs software. If there are any organizations that need to be talking about political and social issues these days, it is software companies. Software companies are designing and creating the reality most of us inhabit and, as such, are shaping that reality in both conscious and unconscious ways.
Software design decisions are social and political and those decisions have real-life social and political implications. Software is not apolitical. Software is not neutral. Software is developed by people and, as such, is imbued with the values of its creators. Sometimes those values are explicitly manifested, but often they are implicitly built into software as unconscious biases.
Imagine being a software developer working for a company that will not tolerate discussing whether you should change a profile form field to let people add in their preferred pronouns or gender identity for fear that even talking about it is too politically sensitive?
This is exactly the problem so many in ed tech are warning about. That technology is not neutral. That design decisions are political decisions that have repercussions that can perpetuate the worst in our society.
I want software developers to work in a workplace where they are not only free, but encouraged to have discussions about politics and social issues. I want them to surface hard discussions, to wrestle internally with hard issues, to be free to talk about equity, fairness, inclusivity, representation, Russian bots, political interference, how their platform may be used to spread misinformation and all those issues that accurately reflect the discussions and problems we are struggling within society. I want developers and software companies to talk about all the political and social dimensions to help them become aware of their own implicit patterns and ways of thinking, and to understand how those patterns and ways of thinking get reflected in the tools and technologies they build.
To see a software development company not realize the importance of staff having political and social discussions in a world where technology is constantly being manipulated and repurposed for political ends is, at best, ignorant to the profound role that software plays in shaping our society. At worst, it is actively complicit in contributing to the myriad of problems technology has introduced.