Ex-Google consultant sounds alarm on negative impact of Big Tech in ‘The...

Ex-Google consultant sounds alarm on negative impact of Big Tech in ‘The Social Dilemma’

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When Joe Toscano started warning others about the harmful side effects of the Internet and social media, he was dismissed as a “conspiracy theorist,” but only a few years later a wildly popular documentary has put his concerns front and center.  

Toscano, a former Google consultant, is a key figure in the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” which details the negative impact Big Tech can have on people. The Nebraska native believes Americans have a long way to go before the problem is solved.  

“If the algorithm of the internet were a highway and on the side of that highway, there was an accident that we were all looking at, which we do, right? Everyone does, but every time someone looked at that accident, it’s like a click, like or engagement. So if the algorithm of the internet were a highway, the internet would think we need more car accidents,” Toscano told Fox News.  

“That’s the problem as to why we are here,” he said. 

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Former Google consultant Joe Toscano is a key figure in the wildly popular Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” that details the negative impact Big Tech can have on people.

Former Google consultant Joe Toscano is a key figure in the wildly popular Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” that details the negative impact Big Tech can have on people.

“The Social Dilemma” features several Silicon Valley insiders explaining the dark side of social media, with everyone from the co-inventor of Facebook’s “like” button to high-powered executives weighing in. Toscano was a consultant for Google, which is different from other industry experts featured in the film. 

“Most people in the film were day-to-day workers, so they’re working on one exclusive project… Me, on the other side, I was working on some of the most revenue-impactful projects for Google. But I saw it from a systematic perspective,” Toscano said. “I was overseeing multiple projects and I was overseeing juniors who were overseeing multiple projects and I got to see how they all clicked.” 

Toscano feels his role as a consultant gave him a “10,000-foot view” of the systematic issues at Google.  

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“Sometimes we’re seeing the plan three to five years out,” he said. “Also, we’re sitting in meetings about other company’s meetings, internally, and we’re hearing the things that are happening in the industry that will never get out to the public.” 

He enjoyed the job at first, rising quickly up the ranks, but about six months in something clicked.  

“It really started to hit me how big of an impact we’re having on the world,” he said. “We’re talking about global impact, platforms that have two to three billion users actively in any given month. And you’re talking about shaping that way that you distribute the information to them.” 

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Toscano noticed that while Google and other tech giants do a lot of good for the world, there are “fundamental issues” causing significant damage.  

“When you’re impacting billions of people, it creates very large-scale problems and we’re seeing that right now in the way that elections and communities are getting so aggravated and aggressive,” Toscano said. “We’re also polarizing our people and changing the way information is distributed and therefore changing the way society understands itself and communicates within each other.” 

Toscano decided he couldn’t morally commit to take a salary for work that creates so much animosity and decided he would walk away and sound the alarm about the dangers of big tech long before the Netflix documentary landed it in the cultural zeitgeist.  

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“I said, ‘Nope, this is not for me, I’m gonna help make change,’” Toscano said.

In 2017 Toscano founded the Better Ethics and Consumer Outcomes Network, also known as BEACON. The group hopes to “create a better future through technology” and bills itself as a “social innovation organization that operates at the intersection of human-centered design, social impact, and public policy.”  

Toscano doesn’t think “The Social Dilemma” can force change by itself but says it will be remembered as the moment that the public realized what was happening. He’s hopeful the film started a conversation that will ultimately lead to change  

“We need to figure out how to fix these issues,” he said. “I know where we’re at now is dramatically different because when I first started this, I was the crazy guy. I was the conspiracy theorist… what the movie did, it just made it public.”  

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Toscano has made a name for himself in the tech industry by explaining complicated matters in easily digestible sounds bites, complete with helpful analogies and relatable examples.  

“That’s because I’m from Nebraska, I’ve had to come back and explain my life to people,” he joked.  

Toscano explained that years ago during the pre-internet era, only a handful of media companies existed in the United States. Network newscasts and major newspapers dictated the conversation, with esteem journalists typically making the key decisions. Everyone had access to the same information, so people were able to passionately debate a topic using the same set of facts.  

“We could lean right or left and talk about the issues. We might not agree, but we could talk about them,” Toscano said. “Now, the internet is based on sorting information with algorithms based on likes, engagement, comment shares, things like that. You don’t actually know what is true, what is good or what is bad.”  

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Toscano referenced a stat from the film that fake news is shared six times more than actual news, as radical sensationalism often leads to engagement.  

“The internet has totally changed the way you make news and information,” he said. “We’ve lost journalistic integrity. We’ve lost production time, we have this 24-hour news cycle where journalists who are trained and professional and know what they need to do are now competing with citizen journalists who have gone viral with some fart videos or something and become an influencer. It’s just ridiculous.” 

Toscano feels that most people lack the knowledge needed to even be aware of certain issues, pointing to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once promising to hire 20,000 content moderators as an example.  

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“To the average individual, it’s like ‘Oh my god we’re hiring 20,000 people, that is a lot. Thank you Mark Zuckerberg, you’re doing a great job,’ but the thing that we have to consider that most people lack context into why that response is so poor,” Toscano said. “If you think about it, these people who are like the police or emergency responders of the internet, we need more of them.” 

He explained that New York City once had about 15,000 emergency responders to take care of roughly nine million residents. 

“We know that those emergency responders fail at times, because of time and space, they’re human, Zuckerberg said he would hire 20,000 to take care of 2.1 billion people,” Toscano said. “What he did was go to Congress and throw out a big number that any average business owner would say is good and Congress just accepted it willy-nilly with no context.”  

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“These companies need to take that billions of dollars worth of revenue that they’re earning and hire more humans,” Toscano said. “We need to create American jobs and there is plenty of opportunity to do this at a pay grade that is reasonable and creates well-paying jobs and also creates a better system of the internet.”  

“The Social Dilemma” is now streaming on Netflix 



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