Do Good Intentions and Data Trump Democracy?

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This morning I wrote a newswire about the massive charitable pledge made by Zuckerberg and Chan in celebration of the birth of their daughter—their firstborn.

In that billionaire philanthropists, Zuckerberg included, have often invested heavily in the public sphere, this should worry any of us concerned about democracy and community voice—not because Zuckerberg is an evil human being but because no one should have enough money to, through sheer financial influence, be able to trump democratic principles. That the couple will be giving it away could be as much bad as good news; t

The idea that good intentions, even when tied to data, will get anywhere near guaranteeing that outcomes are good has its own fatal weakness written into it—which is that people resist what they do not choose, and many of us may consider that annoying at times but in the end that resistance to being dictated to is a good thing. It is the soul, in fact, of civil society.

I am not attacking the Zuckerberg-Chan clan but rather raising a big red flag about the increasingly dissonant connection between big philanthropy and a vibrant civil society.

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