On 24 Jun 2016, the day after the referendum shocked the world, Fast Company wondered How Brexit Could Impact The Creative Industry. They asked me, Marina Willer, Ije Nwokorie, Matt Webb, and others for our thoughts. You should give it a read as they’re all so much more smarter and wiser than me.
My full thoughts from that day are below:
We have over 100 creatives in our London studios. A great mix of experience designers, visual designers, copywriters, creative techs, strategists, and more. We have talent that hails from Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. Our work is much stronger because of that rich tapestry of cultural influences. The freedom of movement principle has been critical in creating that diverse perspective.
If the UK chooses to not honor that principle then its ability to attract global (not just European) talent could suffer. In an industry already struggling to fill roles that could be a real problem. And not just from a staffing perspective but quality as well. Diversity of thought is critical to good design. Closing the aperture on ways of seeing isn’t good for us or our clients.
The focal point of client engagements could change as well. Many companies have used London as their central European hubs. That could change the center of gravity from London and the UK to say, Frankfurt and Germany instead. Agencies always follow suit with their clients out of practical necessity. That could create a native talent drain as well.
Given all the above what we produce could change as much as who produces it. Business critical initiatives will always follow the creative and client talent. The nature of the work could become more mundane and less transformative. I truly hope I’m wrong about all of the above. My personal design heroes have come through the UK… I’d hate for that to change now.
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At the time I wrote that we were all in shock. We didn’t know the full-scope of the interference in the referendum vote. That knowledge came later thanks to Carole Cadwalladr and her tenacious investigative journalism.
You really should watch the whole thing because she’s just brilliant at her job. And that job, in my opinion, is comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Cadwalladr gets to the heart of the problem:
And this entire referendum took place in darkness, because it took place on Facebook. And what happens on Facebook stays on Facebook, because only you see your news feed, and then it vanishes, so it's impossible to research anything. So we have no idea who saw what ads or what impact they had, or what data was used to target these people. Or even who placed the ads, or how much money was spent, or even what nationality they were.
She ends the talk with a direct address to the executives of all the big tech platforms that have put us in this fucking mess:
And that is why I am 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. Because 100 years ago, the biggest danger in the South Wales coal mines was gas. Silent and deadly and invisible. It's why they sent the canaries down first to check the air. And in this massive, global, online experiment that we are all living through, we in Britain are the canary. We are what happens to a western democracy when a hundred years of electoral laws are disrupted by technology.
Our democracy is broken, our laws don't work anymore, and it's not me saying this, it's our parliament published a report saying this. 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.
And maybe you think, "Well, it was just a few ads. And people are smarter than that, right?" To which I would say, "Good luck with that." 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.
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Since Brexit, Facebook has only extended the risk of worse manipulations happening. They’ve decide the hill they want to die on is a full-bodied defence of allowing outright political lies to dominate their platform. Zuckerberg has even said his companies “commitment to free speech will piss people off.”
No, Zuck. Free speech doesn’t piss us off, you dense shit-weasel. We love free speech. It’s what lets me call you a dense shit-weasel.
What pisses us off is your corrupt business model based on outrage. What pisses us off is your continuing ability to use free speech as a defence for your wanton profiteering off of lies, propaganda, stochastic terrorism, and hate speech does. That’s what pisses us off.
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My name is Daniel Harvey and I write 20 Minutes into the Future. I’m a product designer and have written for Fast Company, Huffington Post, The Drum, & more. If you're pissed about the current state of tech and want to see us do better then you’ve found a kindred spirit.