In my social circles, many people have read James Scott’s Seeing Like a State, which is subtitled How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human World Have Failed. A key concept from the book is “legibility”, what a state can see, and how this distorts what states do. One could easily write a highly analogous book, Seeing like a Tech Company about what’s illegible to companies that scale up, at least as companies are run today. A simple example of this is that, in many video games, including ones made by game studios that are part of a $3T company, it’s easy to get someone suspended or banned by having a bunch of people report the account for bad behavior. What’s legible to the game company is the rate of reports and what’s not legible is the player’s actual behavior (it could be legible, but the company chooses not to have enough people or skilled enough people examine actual behavior); and many people have reported similar bannings with social media companies. When it comes to things like anti-fraud systems, what’s legible to the company tends to be fairly illegible to humans, even humans working on the anti-fraud systems themselves.

— Dan Luu, Diseconomies of scale in fraud, spam, support, and moderation