Meanwhile, the same companies that bolster predatory inclusion also play host to explicitly racist and sexist material, because of the ways that algorithms reflect human biases, and because of the innovative and well-funded efforts of right-wing activists to game search engine results and exploit online advertising. In the attention economy, it doesn’t necessarily need companies like Facebook to control disgusting content—if it draws eyeballs.
Tarnoff’s book is part of a re-democratizing project, from its sourcing to its recommendations. He cites widely, from experts in predatory inclusion like Tressie McMillan Cottom and Safiya Umoja Noble to Marxist theorists like Felix Guattari and Stuart Hall, but to understand what Uber has done to its workers, he turns to Doug Schifter. Schifter had been a black livery car driver in New York for decades, and wrote regularly for Black Car News about the catastrophe that ensued when Uber created a massive increase in drivers and forced prices down. People like Schifter could no longer make a living, no matter how much they drove. On February 5, 2018, he drove to City Hall and shot and killed himself.
Tarnoff delves into Schifter’s columns to show drivers’ growing desperation as their profession collapses as a middle-class job. “There are too many feeding off the same pie,” Schifter wrote before his death, “and there is not enough for everyone.” Tarnoff demonstrates the damage Uber did because it was designed as an online mall. It exercised total control over its private space: Drivers were rated, and Uber could kick them off the platform. Uber was a middleman: The company facilitated the exchange between passengers and drivers, making both dependent on the growing behemoth. Finally, Uber created network effects: It rapidly scaled up, often by bulldozing local taxi regulations. Many times, Uber evaded those rules by describing itself as an internet company, or a “Transportation Network Company,” rather than a traditional taxi company.