College graduates are increasingly repelled by Big Tech’s ethical issues

College graduates are increasingly repelled by Big Tech’s ethical issues

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More grads are avoiding companies such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon as prospective employers due to increasing concerns about the morals of what they consider the Wall Street of Big Tech.

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How we got here: Big Tech companies' reputations have tumbled in recent years. According to a Pew Research Center survey, the percentage of people who believe that they make the world a better place dropped by 21% from 2015 to 2019.

Silicon Valley's losing its appeal, some students say. In what the New York Times called a "techlash," a growing animus toward large technology companies, college graduates who can afford to choose where they want to work after they finish school are no longer opting for Big Tech firms as often. The paper reports while there is still interest in working at these wildly successful companies, young tech workers are beginning to see ethics as equally important as good pay. Even students who want to start building their career at Google and Facebook want to make changes within, Slate reported last year.

Why? The NYT pointed to several legal and ethical troubles these firms have faced in recent years, including Facebook's mishandling of data, Amazon's failed project in New York City, and Google's internal problems. The paper also pointed to Sacha Baron Cohen's remarks at this year's Golden Globes, where he called Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg a “naïve, misguided child who spreads Nazi propaganda and only has imaginary friends," comparing him to the main character in “JoJo Rabbit.”

Worth noting: The NYT, however, didn't mention comedian Ricky Gervais' criticism of the Big Tech at the same event. “Apple roared into the TV game with The Morning Show, a superb drama about the importance of dignity and doing the right thing, made by a company that runs sweatshops in China,” said Gervais.

Students' comments: “Working at Google or Facebook seemed like the coolest thing ever my freshman year, because you’d get paid a ton of money but it was socially responsible. It was like a utopian workplace.” Now, however, "there’s more hesitation about the moral qualities of these jobs. It’s like how people look at Wall Street," said 21-year-old Chand Rajendra-Nicolucci, a senior at the University of Michigan.

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“It felt like in my freshman year Google, Palantir and Facebook were these shiny places everyone wanted to be. It was like, ‘Wow, you work at Facebook. You must be really smart. Now if a classmate tells me they’re joining Palantir or Facebook, there’s an awkward gap where they feel like they have to justify themselves," said 23-year-old Belce Dogru, who has a degree in computer science from Stanford.

“These companies go out of their way to try and woo software engineers, and I realized it would send a powerful message for me as a potential employee to tell them no,” said Anna Geiduschek, a Stanford software engineer. She declined a job offer from Amazon, telling them she won't consider coming to the company unless they stop working with Palantir.

“The work you do at a place like Facebook could be harmful at a much larger scale than an investment bank. It’s in the pockets of millions of people, and it’s a source of news for millions of people. It’s working at a scary scale," she added.

Web developer Kelly Carter said "no" to Tesla.

“As tech firms get more negative reviews in the media and it becomes clear what their political toll can be, students may have more circumspection about taking these jobs. At the same time, they’ll continue taking these jobs because of the security and reputation that comes with them. And universities will keep sponsoring all this recruitment," said Amy Binder, a sociologist at the University of California, San Diego.

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