Non-profit

Center for Humane Technology

Location:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

Tax ID:

82-3492182

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Budget (2019):

Revenue: $2,932,088
Expenses: $1,934,121
Assets: $1,375,632

Website:

https://www.humanetech.com/

Location:

San Fransisco, CA

Type:

Technology Watchdog

President:

Tristan Harris

Center for Humane Technology (CHT), formerly known as Time Well Spent, is a group that supports restrictions on social media to combat supposed political extremism and the negative psychological effects of internet usage. CHT considers the current form of social media to be a major societal problem that needs to be addressed through a combination of government regulation, corporate responsibility, and consumer activism. [1]

The organization was founded and is largely staffed by former employees of major technology companies. Major left-of-center foundations including George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network, and the Ford Foundation have supported CHT. [2]

History

Center for Humane Technology credits its origin to co-founder and president Tristan Harris, who originally founded Time Well Spent as an unofficial organization in 2013. That year, while Harris was working as a design ethicist at Google, he gave a presentation arguing that Google and other websites should avoid using design methods which exploit deficiencies in user attention spans. Harris would appear on “60 Minutes” and give his own TED Talk over the following years. In 2018, Harris co-founded CHT as a 501(c)(3) with entrepreneur Aza Raskin and technologist Randima Fernando. [3]

For instance, social media notifications make the “trivial seem urgent” by using signals usually reserved for important matters (bells, alarms, etc.) to signal ordinary developments (ex. “likes” or friend requests), and social media encourages constant social comparisons through artificially crafted presentations of individuals. Such design elements increase engagement and revenue for social media companies, but according to some research, can cause depression, anxiety, and other psychological problems in users. “Extremist content” is allegedly particularly effective at driving engagement. [4]

Social Media Policy Advocacy

Center for Humane Technology claims credit for inducing numerous social media and technology companies to introduce user interface changes designed to limit the harms of their use. In 2018, Facebook altered its News Feed algorithm to promote higher quality content, YouTube added “time watched” and “take a break” notifications, Instagram added an “all caught up” notification, and Apple added app time limits and parental controls. [5]

CHT is currently organizing a petition for Facebook to implement a new two-level sharing limit, meaning that Facebook posts can only be shared by individuals who are two degrees of separation from the original poster. Theoretically, this reform will prevent the spread of extremist ideas which tend to proliferate on social media, while retaining a sufficient level of freedom of speech. [6]

Center for Humane Technology supports a larger role for the government in regulating online speech and social media companies. The group opposes many online privacy laws on the grounds that they are too complex for most individuals to understand, and they tend to ignore supposed “power dynamics” and “asymmetries” between individuals and corporations that render consent meaningless. [7]

The group supports anti-trust legislation, both to encourage consumer choice and to consider broader social issues such as data protection. [8]

The group advocates for bans or moratoriums on certain technologies (such as facial recognition software) until sufficient research can be done to ascertain their long-term social impacts. [9]

The group opposes Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which prevents websites from being legally treated as publishers of information posted on their website by users, thereby protecting the website from third-party-induced liability. CHT argues that Section 230 doesn’t account for the harms imposed by free speech on other third parties, and therefore website hosts of speech should be responsible for some degree of speech management. [10]

The Social Dilemma

In 2020, Center for Humane Technology co-founders Tristan Harris, Aza Raskin, and Randima Fernando appeared in the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma. The documentary, which was strongly informed by CHT’s beliefs, argued for government regulation of social media companies. [11]

Funding

Center for Humane Technology receives funding from numerous left-of-center nonprofits, including the Open Society Foundations, the Omidyar Network, the Craig Newmark Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Pritzker Family Foundation, and the Pritzker Innovation Fund. [12]

References

  1. “How Social Media Hacks Our Brains.” Center for Humane Technology. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.humanetech.com/brain-science. ^
  2. “Thank You To Our Generous Lead Supporters.” Center for Humane Technology. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.humanetech.com/who-we-are#our-story. ^
  3. “Who We Are.” Center for Humane Technology. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.humanetech.com/who-we-are#our-story.

    Theory of Social Media

    First popularized by co-founder and president Tristan Harris, Center for Humane Technology promotes scientific findings which argue that social media algorithms are exploiting natural cognitive biases to drive engagement, often at the expense of the mental wellbeing of users. [note] “How Social Media Hacks Our Brains.” Center for Humane Technology. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.humanetech.com/brain-science. ^

  4. “How Social Media Hacks Our Brains.” Center for Humane Technology. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.humanetech.com/brain-science. ^
  5. “Who We Are.” Center for Humane Technology. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.humanetech.com/who-we-are#our-story. ^
  6. “Pressure Facebook to be #OneClickSafer.” Center for Humane Technology. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.humanetech.com/oneclicksafer. ^
  7. “Policy Principles. Center for Humane Technology. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.humanetech.com/policy-principles. ^
  8. “Policy Principles. Center for Humane Technology. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.humanetech.com/policy-principles. ^
  9. “Policy Principles. Center for Humane Technology. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.humanetech.com/policy-principles. ^
  10. “Policy Principles. Center for Humane Technology. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.humanetech.com/policy-principles. ^
  11. “The Social Dilemma.” IMDB. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11464826/. ^
  12. “Thank You To Our Generous Lead Supporters.” Center for Humane Technology. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://www.humanetech.com/who-we-are#our-story. ^
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: June - May
  • Tax Exemption Received: June 1, 2018

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2019 Jun Form 990 $2,932,088 $1,934,121 $1,375,632 $44,704 N $2,854,496 $75,000 $0 $334,711 PDF
    2018 Jun Form 990 $894,347 $570,886 $355,819 $32,358 N $878,383 $15,964 $0 $162,971 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Center for Humane Technology

    77 VAN NESS AVE STE 101 # 1601
    SAN FRANCISCO, CA 94102-6042