Worldviews of the Tech Elite might Qualify them as a New Class, Study Claims

In a new study published on 20 January in the journal PLOS One, a group of researchers from Germany and the United States introduce a new analysis of the worldviews dominant among those considered to be part of the global tech elite emerging from the Silicon Valley and beyond.

“To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to study tech elites with digitized text data. Social scientists have started to use social media data to scale ideologies of political elites, or citizens, but not of economic leaders,” wrote the researchers in their paper.

The study aims to clarify the following: 1) whether members of the tech elite share a common, meritocratic view of the world, 2) whether they have a “mission” for the future, and 3) how they view democracy as a political system.

Tech entrepreneurs seems to share a common worldview. Image: pixabay.com

For the purposes of answering these questions, Hilke Brockmann, Wiebke Drews, and John Torpey used the Forbes list of the 100 richest people in tech, identifying 30 members with an officially verified English Twitter account.

In total, the researchers scraped 49,790 tweets from all 30 accounts belonging to the tech elite, and the same number of tweets from a random sample of the general U.S. Twitter-using population.

Two other sources of data were the mission statements of 60 private foundations set up by people included in the above-mentioned list, and the statements made by 17 tech billionaires (once again from the same list) who have signed The Giving Pledge – a philanthropic initiative started by Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffet.

Given the massive amount of information, the researchers deployed automated text-analysis, sentiment analysis, and machine-learning approaches. “We used a common “bag-of-words” model (BOW) which focuses on the frequency of the occurrence of words but ignores context and grammar”.

As predicted, this approach yielded a fairly coherent picture. “We find that the 100 richest members of the tech world reveal distinctive attitudes that set them apart both from the general population and from other wealthy elites”.

This includes a preoccupation with meritocracy, efforts to “make the world a better place”, and a denial of any positive connection between wealth and power, which is not shared by the general U.S. Twitter-using population.

“Based on these results, we conclude that the tech elite may be thought of as a “class for itself” in Marx’s sense – a social group that shares particular views of the world, which in this case means meritocratic, missionary, and inconsistent democratic ideology.”

The researchers also highlight three limitations of their study: 1) some of the people on the list remained inaccessible because they use other social media platforms, can’t use Twitter in China, or don’t use Twitter at all (mostly older entrepreneurs); 2) Twitter accounts may be managed by PR firms, making moot the veracity of the views expressed; 3) it remains unclear whether the tech elite’s denial of a relationship between democracy and money is strategic communication or, in fact, their actual belief.

Brockmann, Drews, and Torpey are now calling for further studies to find out “whether the attitudes of this unusual group change over time”, and what policies could be devised to align their opportunities to shape social outcomes with democratic aims.

Source: Brockmann H, Drews W, Torpey J (2021) A class for itself? On the worldviews of the new tech elite. PLoS ONE 16(1): e0244071. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0244071

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