Indeed, in recent years, companies have taken up cultural and moral issues, and more and more often expressed a quasi-spiritual vision of what is good or bad on societal issues such as gender, diversity, change. climate change, immigration or women’s rights, to name just a few, promoting this morality in their internal manifestos, their advertising or institutional speeches, their actions and their products. We all have a thousand examples in mind of internal or external corporate campaigns in favor of this or that development in society.

This structural trend can be summed up in an expression that is beginning to be widespread: “activist CEOs”. This is how fascinating cases or controversies have recently emerged that confront companies with their responsibilities, not just economic, but broadly social, political and even moral.

Repeatedly in the United States, the entrepreneurial ecosystem has fought political and judicial institutions in a debate over religious freedom and proposed its own moral vision of the world.

While certain conservative states had modified the legislation allowing a company to invoke an obstacle to its religious freedom, the strong mobilization of the flagship groups of Silicon Valley, in particular Salesforce, who saw discriminatory laws and called for a boycott of these states (including Indiana, North Carolina and Georgia), for example, led some weak-willed governors to backtrack.
A very famous controversy also gave rise to a Supreme Court ruling, extremely criticized in the country, which concerned this same religious freedom: the Hobby Lobby affair. The chain of stores did not wish to cover certain medical treatments imposed by Obamacare (including the abortion pill) for its employees, which it considered to be contrary to the religious convictions of its family shareholders. And I could cite many other equally resounding disputes.

This moral affirmation on the part of companies, which have become opinion leaders and almost prophetic references, has been accentuated by the technological phenomenon which has developed in parallel, notably what Henri Verdier and Nicolas Colin, influential personalities of the French digital economy, have quite aptly called the “age of the multitude”. It designates this era based on a digital economy with the dual characteristic of being able to put a product on the market very quickly and to transform the crowd into an actor of this product, which allows its exponential deployment. We have thus seen the birth of an Airbnb offering a number of rooms that no hotel group would be capable of providing, an Uber deploying its imitation taxis throughout the world… or a Facebook revealing itself to be the agora that Greek democracy would have dreamed of .

More recently, Nicolas Colin completed his reflection and defined a technological company by three characteristics: deployment capacity (scalability), user experience and data collection. These specificities actually lead technology companies, sometimes even unintentionally, to become the real arbiters of public morality, for the simple reason that they benefit from public trust (user experience), knowledge (database) and legitimacy (multitude) to respond to the moral issues of our time… which they have sometimes provoked!

In this respect, it is interesting to read Eric Schmidt, former executive chairman of Alphabet Inc., the holding company that oversees Google, to recognize that he and his fellow competitors (notably Facebook and Twitter) have been overtaken by the rise of fundamentalism Islam which has relied very heavily on social networks and it is therefore imperative that they react to it with vigilance, thinking about what is right, what must be censored or redirected, or even what defines freedom.

But we are currently seeing that all these platforms are having difficulty distinguishing what is true from their own opinion. It is also exciting to see Airbnb, which has penetrated a historically regulated hotel market without regulatory constraints to become the main player, making commitments to Handicap International, notably under the leadership of its empathetic number two Belinda Johnson, to offer more housing accessible to the disabled and thus “regulate” ourselves in place of politics. Finally, it is mind-blowing to witness the creation, in Denmark, of a position of technology and digitalization ambassador (tech ambassador) or even, in the United Arab Emirates, of a ministry of Artificial Intelligence.

Added to this is the phenomenon of blockchain. Appeared in 2008 with the digital currency bitcoin’, developed by a person (or a group of people, it still remains a great mystery to this day) presenting themselves under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, this technology makes it possible to transmit information transparently. , secure and decentralized, that is to say operating without a central control body.

The blockchain thus dematerializes the ancestral system of trusted third parties, ignoring the need for monitoring institutions, in various sectors which, from money today, will extend to music, real estate, casinos, energy or the supply chain (logical chain) tomorrow.

We thus see the emergence of “private” organizations everywhere which become actors in public life and morality. From now on, design thinking and tech require companies to be more morally conscious, because they have an impact on the “multitude”. “Who is my neighbor, who is the most fragile, who is man, what is freedom, what is justice, what is happiness?”, are so many questions they face. And to be honest, we must recognize that their leaders take these subjects head-on and with passion… but sometimes claiming to be bad anthropology and the bad gospel.

This text is an extract from the book “GOD, THE COMPANY, GOOGLE AND ME” written by Thomas JAUFFRET.

We invite you to read the following article Develop Cooperation and Meetings“.

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