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11 Tech Heroes Of 2017 Who Aren’t CEOs

Meet the plebes among us who did something that changed the tech industry, spoke truth to power in a remarkable way that effected real change, or just made the world a little more interesting.

Posted on December 29, 2017, at 2:19 p.m. ET

If you want to know which CEOs, founders, or celebrities are the most important people in tech this year, there are plenty of lists for you. And they’re great! No shade! But what about the plebes among us, the non-C-suite people who did something that changed the industry, spoke truth to power in a remarkable way that effected real change, or just made the world a little more interesting? This is them.

1. @TrumpsAlert, the bot twitter account.

IvankaTrump appears to no longer follow @UncleRUSH. (This bot cannot tell if this was an unfollow, suspension or block.)

The premise is simple: It’s a bot that tweets an announcement whenever Trump or a member of his family or close cabinet likes a tweet, follows a new account, or unfollows someone. It's rare that someone would notice these kinds of actions on Twitter, but they offer insight into the Trump administration’s mental state: what people they listen to, what news they’re reading, and which flattering tweets they like. How we consume Twitter says a lot about us, perhaps even as much as what we tweet; TrumpsAlert gives us regular glimpses at what the people in top levels of government are thinking about and following.

2. Susan Fowler, the former Uber engineer who led a reckoning on sexual discrimination in tech.

Shalon van Tine

In February, ex-Uber engineer Susan Fowler wrote a detailed blog post that alleged her former employer had a problem with systemic sexual harassment and discrimination. In it, she said that Uber's HR failed to deal with or reprimand sexual harassers, and that the company's culture routinely devalued and mistreated women. The post went viral, and it seemed to embolden others to speak out about harassment in the tech industry and hold powerful figures accountable. It was also undoubtedly one of the things that led to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick's resignation a few months later. The 26-year-old started a reckoning in tech that a thousand Lean In groups could have never done. Fowler now works as editor-in-chief of Increment, a digital magazine about technology, and is working on a memoir for Viking Books.

3. James Bridle, the artist and writer who started a crackdown on exploitative YouTube Kids with a Medium post.

Courtesy of the British Council

Bridle wasn’t the first person to point out that there are some fucked-up videos on YouTube aimed at kids — the Outline had written about deranged ripoffs of popular characters, and just a week before Bridle’s Medium post in November, the New York Times wrote about YouTube’s lack of moderation for its kids app. But Bridle, who is not a typical tech journalist, described the problem in a riveting and compelling way that grabbed people’s attention and went viral. BuzzFeed News followed up on his story with our own reporting, and YouTube quickly announced changes, including banning certain top accounts and hiring more moderators. There’s still more work to do; BuzzFeed learned that some top creators of exploitative content for kids were making as much as $100,000 a month before getting their accounts demonetized in the last few weeks.

4. Bahtiyar Duysak, the guy who deleted President Trump’s Twitter (for 11 minutes).

Screenshot from deleted YouTube

Many people have called for a shutdown of Trump’s Twitter account, but one man dared do something about it. Duysak was a contractor on his last day at Twitter. In an interview with TechCrunch, he said that when someone reported Trump’s account, he went into the customer service dashboard and started the deactivation process. The account only disappeared for 11 minutes, but in that short time, a contract worker managed to silence the preferred mouthpiece of the most powerful person in the free world. Some hailed Duysak as a hero; others derided him as an enemy of free speech or a degenerate — though of course most responses seemed to hinge on how people felt about Trump.

5. Nathan the Beach Cat, an Instagram cat who loves to swim.

6. Kate Wagner, the McMansion Hell blogger, who fought against Zillow for free speech and won.

Wagner’s popular Tumblr, which featured scathing and informed reviews of McMansions she found on Zillow, delighted architecture fans. Then Zillow sent her a cease and desist, saying she couldn't use the photos that realtors had uploaded. Wagner, 23, deleted her blog, sparking an outcry from fans who found Zillow’s tactics unfair. The Electronic Frontier Foundation took up her cause and wrote a letter to Zillow stating Wagner’s case for why her blog isn’t violating copyright. Zillow relented, and her blog is back up.

7. Crazy Days and Nights and Blind Gossip

These two celebrity gossip sites that specialize in “blind items” have been around for years. The stories seem sometimes dubious, and often it’s impossible to tell who they’re about. But occasionally, official news comes out that validates older blind items’ truth — which makes all the other blinds seem more credible. After 2017's revelations about the abuse and harassment by Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and more, there was a flood of “blind items revealed” that confirmed some older stories.

The reveal of long-simmering blind items gave a unique vantage point into how these “open secrets” in Hollywood worked — clearly plenty of people knew, but they couldn’t name names. That's finally starting to change.

8. April the Giraffe

Animal Adventure Park

There have only been a few truly viral Facebook Live events — BuzzFeed exploding a watermelon, Chewbacca mom, and the long wait for a pregnant giraffe to give birth. When Facebook Live first started, Facebook pushed it hard, giving livestreams extra weight in the algorithm to push the content format in front of people. But in 2017, the only memorable Facebook Live event was people watching a zoo live cam, a format that’s been around on the internet for years. Congrats to April and her baby Tajiri.

9. Snapchat’s dancing hot dog.

The only thing we cared about on Snapchat this year was a glorious, dancing, augmented reality hot dog. That little boogying weiner did more for Snap that Spectacles.

10. Fawzi Kamel, the Uber driver who recorded Travis Kalanick being a dick.

View this video on YouTube

When Uber’s then-CEO Travis Kalanick got into a car with two women in early February, the driver was recording a video. Kalanick shimmied to music in the backseat, to everyone’s cringe, and when his friends left the car, the driver confronted him about changes to the system that didn’t favor drivers. Kalanick did not take the criticism graciously. His parting words to Kamel were, “Some people don't like to take responsibility for their own shit. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!” When the video leaked to Bloomberg, Kalanick issued an apology and promised to seek leadership help. Kamel’s video was one of several revelations, along with Susan Fowler’s viral blog post detailing an allegedly toxic workplace at Uber and a lawsuit accusing Uber of stealing trade secrets from a self-driving car competitor, that ultimately led to Kalanick resigning as CEO.

11. Scott Rogowsky, the favorite host of HQ Trivia.

Taylor Miller / BuzzFeed

The comedian is the main host of the viral quiz app, and he’s amassed such a devoted and loyal audience of fans that it’s become hard to tell if people love the app because trivia quizzes are fun, or because Rogowsky is entertaining to watch. On days when other hosts fill in, the chat clamors for him, and people tweet their laments that an inferior host is on. It seems like the founders of HQ might also be worried that Rogowsky is more important to the app than the format — when the Daily Beast asked the app founder for comment about a profile they were writing on Rogowsky, the founder exploded in rage, mentioning that Rogowsky was in the midst of contract negotiations. With rumors that HQ is having trouble fundraising due to bad behavior at their previous gig, it seems that Scott “quiz daddy” Rogowsky might be HQ’s best asset.

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    Katie Notopoulos is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Notopoulos writes about tech and internet culture and is cohost of the Internet Explorer podcast.

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A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.