What A Virtue-Signaling Open Letter From A Missoula Tech Company Leaves Out

by William Skink

Virtue signaling is a relatively new phrase, brought into mainstream usage by The Spectator’s James Bartholomew, and is defined by the Urban Dictionary as taking… a conspicuous but essentially useless action ostensibly to support a good cause but actually to show off how much more moral you are than everybody else. 

While this phrase has become a handy smear against elitist liberals, anyone can be seen as virtue signaling, even those who use the phrase to criticize their opponents. Using myself as an example, you could say every critical Obama post I wrote was just me virtue-signaling my superior ability to see the evil committed by Democrats.

The platform used and its reach, in terms of audience, are factors in effective virtue-signaling. A recent open letter from Missoula tech company, Submittable, is a good example. Trump’s disgusting promotion of body-slamming Gianforte gave Submittable CEO, Michael FitzGerald, a perfect opportunity to raise the profile of his company while simultaneously distancing that company from Gianforte’s High Tech Alliance. From the link:

Dear Members and Board Members of the Montana High Tech Alliance,

As you probably know, our president was in Missoula last week. During his speech, he celebrated the fact that your founder, Greg Gianforte, assaulted a journalist from the Guardian for asking a question (i.e. doing a his job). 

I know many of you personally and don’t believe you endorse violence, but I ask you to consider what your dues-paying membership looks like from the outside, including to our children and the world-class talent that we’re trying to attract to the state.

Ultimately, I know we’re all just trying to do what’s best for our companies, our staff, our clients and Montana. I realize there are clear benefits for companies to work together towards a common goal, such as improving the high-tech scene in Montana. But at some point, even with the loftiest goals, you need to draw the line between right and wrong.

I’d like to suggest that joining an organization founded by someone convicted of a violent act against another human be that line. Or, if we’re past that, maybe remaining quiet as our president celebrates your founder’s violence be that line. I don’t know. But if you’re sincere about truly attracting the best and the brightest from around the world and making Montana an incredible place to start companies, you cannot have a politician who has demonstrated a disregard for the First Amendment as the public face of what we’re all working so hard to accomplish.

What a fantastic opportunity for Submittable. The company gets to use the Missoula Current platform to create some great publicity AND they preempt any possible criticism for being a part of Gianforte’s Tech Alliance up until this point. This is a smart move by a savvy tech CEO creating a win-win for his company.

It is also a very good time for anyone in the tech industry to generate some good publicity for themselves, considering all the bad publicity that’s been oozing from Big Tech, like Facebook exploiting our data, Google enabling state suppression in China, rampant censorship of alternative media sites, Amazon trying to gobble up everything, Youtube targeting kids, young Seattle techies flirting with white supremacy, tech companies exacerbating the housing crisis (especially on the west coast) and on and on. 

Far from being the Big Solution for our modern era, Big Tech has become a private sector nightmare of data exploitation and suppression, hopping into bed with the US surveillance state and any other country desiring to suppress their domestic populations.

Regarding the latter, Israel’s tech industry is particularly odious, as recently reported by Haartz. The title of the expose says a lot–Revealed: Israel’s Cyber-spy Industry Helps World Dictators Hunt Dissidents and Gays. From the link:

Private Israeli companies, the investigation discovered, have sold espionage and intelligence-gathering software to Bahrain, Indonesia, Angola, Mozambique, the Dominican Republic, Azerbaijan, Swaziland, Botswana, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Panama and Nicaragua. In addition, the investigation corroborated earlier reports over the years about sales to Malaysia, Vietnam, Mexico, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, Peru, Colombia, Uganda, Nigeria, Ecuador and United Arab Emirates.

The great majority of employees with whom we spoke declined to have their detailed testimonies appear in this investigative report, because of the draconian secrecy contracts they signed. Other personnel, who agreed to tell about their part in the industry, appear under false names. While some CEOs spoke to us, others preferred to toe the secrecy line and spout the usual response: Israeli systems help thwart terrorism and fight crime; the sales were authorized by the Defense Ministry; the exports are carried out lawfully.

And the truth is that all of the above claims are correct. The law does not prohibit the sale of surveillance and interception equipment to foreign governments and law-enforcement agencies, the exports are approved by the Defense Exports Control Agency (a unit in the Defense Ministry), and the items in question are used to thwart terrorism and crime. For example, systems of the Verint company assisted in the effort to stop abductions in Mozambique and in a campaign against poaching in Botswana. In Nigeria, Israeli systems assisted in the battle against the terrorist organization Boko Haram. However, senior officials in the Israeli firms admit that once the systems are sold, there is no way to prevent their abuse.

“I can’t constrict my client’s capabilities,” says Roy, who is experienced in cyberware. “You can’t sell someone a Mercedes and tell him not to drive faster than 100 kilometers an hour. The truth is that the Israeli companies don’t know what use will be made of the systems they sell.”

“It’s hard to supervise,” adds Yaniv (a pseudonym, like all the other names cited here), who is employed in the industry and served in the Israel Defense Forces’ vaunted Unit 8200 in the Intelligence Corps. “Even when limitations are placed over the capabilities of the computer programs, the companies don’t know who they will be used against. Everyone in this field knows that we are manufacturing systems that invade people’s lives and violate their most basic rights. It’s a weapon – like selling a pistol. The thing is that in this industry people think about the technological challenges, not about the implications. I want to believe that the Defense Ministry supervises exports in the right way.”

So, in addition to being a brutal apartheid state, Israel tech companies are helping other despotic regimes suppress dissent and find undesirables amidst their domestic populations, like homosexuals. If this disturbing reality was broadly known in Missoula, would the Missoula Current still promote Israeli tech companies coming to Missoula?

None of these concerning trends in tech were enough to trigger a virtue-signaling open letter from Submittable. Even the assault itself didn’t stop Submittable from participating in the High Tech Alliance. It wasn’t until Trump came to Missoula and made headlines endorsing Gianforte’s assault that FitzGerald decided to hop on the virtue-signaling bandwagon and get ahead of any potential bad PR.

Submittable actually is a great company, and Missoula is lucky to have them innovating in our little valley. But this open letter strikes too convenient a chord, and leaves too much out, for me to see it as anything other than a smart PR move.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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