This week, Apple’s new credit card is being investigated for an allegedly sexist credit algorithm. Last week, Netflix was facing criticism for limiting artistic freedom by removing an episode of Patriot Act, Hasan Minhaj’s talk show, that criticized the Saudi government. The ethical standard for companies is rising, indicating a merging of private and public lives, which will shift the demands on the media and entertainment industry.
Sections of people’s lives they once considered private—television shows, chicken sandwiches, social media, banking—are becoming political.
When a Chick-fil-A franchise donated to an event that discriminated against gay marriage, “gay-rights advocates turned on the chicken chain,” and called for national boycotts. The company was also under fire just last month when UK customers organized to protest Chick-fil-A’s financial involvement with the National Christian Foundation, an organization that has ties to anti-LGBTQ groups in Uganda.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson, features interviews and reports on the countless mass social media callouts of people who have acted inappropriately. “Something of real consequence was happening,” Ronson wrote about the social media shaming, “The silenced were getting a voice. It was like the democratization of justice.”
Sectors of society that used to be apolitical are being more heavily scrutinized, as people are considering the political implications of their actions.
For many, this blending of private and political affairs is natural. Most people are directly affected by political action, and there are few who can afford to completely separate their private lives from what happens in government. Those who can separate the two often come from significant financial privilege, a trend evident when examining the actions of corporations.
One corporation, Apple, is facing an investigation from a US financial regulator over complaints that their “algorithms [were] used to set limits might be inherently biased against women,” according to BBC.
David Heinemeier Hansson, a professional in the tech industry, called Apple Card a “sexist program” and said, “what it does is discriminate.”
Politics are not the companies’ top priority since they have the means to settle any discrimination lawsuit that comes their way. They assume that consumers will not be operating under a political lense when using their products, which affords them the liberty of leaving certain ethics out of the equation.
A similar scenario unfolded last week when Netflix was criticized for limiting freedom of speech.
Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act, a comedic and political talk show that Minhaj himself has called a “woke TED Talk,” has become wildly popular. The show has covered immigration, affirmative action, the Trump administration and the current state of affairs in Saudi Arabia.
The episode that covers Saudi Arabia, which includes Minhaj’s discussion of the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the death of a Washington Post journalist, was taken off of Netflix. According to CNBC, the removal was in response to a “legal request” made by the Saudi government.
Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, said at a conference, “We’re not trying to do ‘truth to power’. We’re trying to entertain.” Twitter was quickly ablaze with criticism on Hastings’ comment.
Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in an interview with CNBC “Netflix’s claim to support artistic freedom means nothing if it bows to demands of government officials who believe in no freedom for their citizens.”
Twitter user Sean H. Huntley said, “I’m sick of American companies treating the values, protections and privileges that made them possible in the first place as expendable.”
Yet Netflix continually employs the aesthetics of progressive politics to curry favor in Western markets.
I'm sick of American companies treating the values, protections, and privileges that made them possible in the first place as expendable.
— Sean H. Huntley (@sean_h_huntley) November 7, 2019
Hastings’s insistence that entertainment should remain separate from political conversations displays another stunning example of a financially powerful person feeling at liberty to separate politics from private matters.
These financial giants are insulated from the influence of politics by their status. While members of the public cannot disentangle politics from their private lives, executives can afford to pay their way out of political conflict.
Just as wealth allows executives to circumvent contentious political issues, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, wealthier people in the states that ban abortion can afford to travel elsewhere to have an abortion performed. For the celebrities whose homes were destroyed by the increasingly frequent fires, they can easily pay for new housing and material goods, while tens of thousands of people are displaced.
Financial status enables people to disengage from politics because they are personally unaffected. However, as seen in recent news, the majority of people who cannot separate their private lives from politics are beginning to hold others accountable.
Consumers are expecting more out of their entertainment, which brings a unique challenge to today’s media and entertainment companies. When choosing what streaming services, brands or actors to support, people are looking at how their choices align with their political views.
As media platforms are called out on their privilege, they will have to navigate an audience with an increasingly political mindset. Consumers hold the power in the relationship as the source of profit, making what one chooses to purchase a political statement. Perhaps if consumers continue to hold executives to this new political standard, the companies will understand that public and private matters for most are one and the same.