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CNET executive director, Wall Street tech writer to speak

By Staff | Jan 18, 2019


Journalist Ian Sherr will present “Growing Influence of Social Media and its Impact” at the BIG ARTS “Talking Points” on Feb. 19 at 10 a.m. in Strauss Theater, at 2200 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel.

Sherr shared that years ago, when he started covering the tech industry, “My friends and family would say, ‘Oh, that’s a cute job.'” Now the executive editor at CNET, who has written for the Wall Street Journal, Reuters and other major outlets and has covered tech companies including Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google, he is well aware that the topics of concern cannot really be called “cute.”

“We’re living at a time when the tech industry is really at the center of a lot of the anxiety in the world,” Sherr said in an interview from his home in San Francisco. “Some of the largest scandals in the history of this country are happening in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco Bay Area. We have the Russian interference in the election. We’re having conversations around (issues with) Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit.

“With a lot of people, it kind of snuck up on them. We knew mobile devices affected the way we interact with each other. But I don’t think we came to grips with this until the past couple of years,” he added. “Now we’re talking about fundamental questions of civilization.”

The change in people’s view of the Internet has been dramatic according to Sherr. He cited Pew Research figures from a little more than four years ago when 76 percent of Internet users it surveyed thought the online social climate was “mostly kind.” Now, two-thirds of U.S. adults in another Pew survey said that online harassment is a “major problem.” Despite their answers, more than 2 billion people every month log on to Facebook, he noted.

As if rude comments on websites and online bullying were not bad enough, Facebook has been used to conduct ethnic cleansing in Myanmar and incite violence in Sri Lanka, Sherr added.

“You can end up with people using misinformation to actually kill people. It’s shocking,” he said.

And this from a medium that was supposed to bring us together, if we believe Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Sherr continued. So whose responsibility is it to fix this technological Wild West?

“How do you deal with people who aren’t acting in good faith?” he asked rhetorically.

The onus is on the tech companies and also on us, Sherr explained.

“How do we want to handle these things? Media literacy is really important,” he said. “We need to ask ourselves, ‘What makes a news story reliable or unreliable?'”

“We ourselves have a stake in this and it’s our responsibility,” Sherr added.

Do not wait on the courts to fix it, he stressed. Spending quite a bit of time in Washington, D.C., Sherr will tell you that plenty of legislators do not understand technology – and it is difficult to regulate something that you do not understand.