How Facebook Ruined Everything (with Kara Swisher)
Andy calls up Kara Swisher, whom Newsweek once called Silicon Valley’s “most powerful tech journalist,” to discuss the myriad issues surrounding companies like Facebook, Twitter, and even Donald Trump’s new social media platform Truth Social. They get into the Facebook Papers, if government regulation is coming, and where she sees Big Tech heading in the near future. Plus, Andy tells a story he’s never told before about interactions with Facebook while he was in the White House.
Keep up with Andy on Twitter @ASlavitt and Instagram @andyslavitt.
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Check out these resources from today’s episode:
- Learn more about Pfizer’s COVID-19 oral antiviral pill: https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/11/05/pfizer-covid-pill/
- Read an interview with Kara on the Facebook Papers: https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2021/10/kara-swisher-on-mark-zuckerberg-facebook-papers.html
- Read Kara’s columns in The New York Times, including many about Facebook: https://www.nytimes.com/column/kara-swisher
- Learn more about Truth Social and SPACs: https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/trump-s-truth-social-platform-could-make-millions-or-go-ncna1282853
- Check out Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari: https://www.ynharari.com/book/sapiens-2/
- Find a COVID-19 vaccine site near you: https://www.vaccines.gov/
- Order Andy’s book, Preventable: The Inside Story of How Leadership Failures, Politics, and Selfishness Doomed the U.S. Coronavirus Response: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250770165
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For additional resources, information, and a transcript of the episode, visit lemonadamedia.com/show/inthebubble.
Andy Slavitt, Kara Swisher
Andy Slavitt 00:18
Welcome to IN THE BUBBLE. This is your host, Andy Slavitt. Let’s start with some pandemic news. Last week, we saw the results of the antiviral that is being tested from Pfizer. And it showed really extraordinary results. This is a pill you take, within five days it’s more than one pill, it’s a handful of pills you take for a few days beginning within five days of diagnosis. And the results were that in the placebo group, I think 16 people died, who didn’t take the pill, and nobody died who took the pill. And hospitalizations are greatly reduced. And so it’s called a protease inhibitor, it basically stops the virus from multiplying. And if it really works, the way it looks like it made work, it really changed the whole course of the disease. I mean, it could make COVID eventually, soon, something that is just not lethal. Really interesting, really important. Brings me to the next thing I want to talk to you about. I want to talk to you about the show, IN THE BUBBLE show. I know you’re probably like on a treadmill or something. So you’re like just get to the interview. But as I think about what the promise of the show is, and what we should be doing, if anything ongoing, was trying to take stock of what it is that the show can do what the premise of the show is.
And I think I’ve come to a couple of at least preliminary conclusions with a lot of your help and feedback. We got a complex and messy world; we got a lot of stuff happening. And sometimes it’s pretty scary stuff. It’s pandemics. It’s climate change. It’s a broken democracy, it’s lots of divisions within our country in the US. It’s things happening around the world. You know, I could go on and on about the kinds of things that seem very threatening and to scare us, oftentimes, it’s hard to process them. It’s hard to know how they impact our lives. It’s hard to know what to be worried about or what not to be worried about. And it’s easy enough to just say, do I tune out? Do I tune in? What do I tune in and on? What do I tune out from? How do I take it all, in, you know, headed to some sort of dystopian mess. And I think one of the premises of the show, I think is, well, the New York Times, in their book review of my book Preventable, referred to me as an ultimate insider or something like that. I don’t know that they made it very flattering, but let’s just take it at face value.
You know, I think one of my jobs on the show is to take whatever privilege and access I have to what’s really going on and what people are really saying, and just bring it to you. Just bring you those dialogues, whether it’s with Mayor Lightfoot in Chicago about the big fight that’s bruising, whether it’s with someone at Facebook when Facebook’s getting attacked, whether it’s with Frank Luntz about how conservatives are thinking and how to talk to people who aren’t getting vaccinated. These sort of inner dialogues, that people who will talk to me, turns out will also talk to me on microphone for some strange reason. And my job is to just try to find some insights, get them really talking, get things out in a very personal way. Because I think having that knowledge means I think it’s all a little more calm, that there are solutions, there are things people are working on. So the pandemics not over. But, you know, there is continued promising news, and there’s continued threats. We’ll keep talking about those. Maybe primarily, but the question is, these other things that I have people willing to talk to me about, like, for example, the pandemic, like the impact of the kind of really significant impact of Facebook, and what’s to be done about it.
Andy Slavitt 04:19
And I can talk about those things, too. And you’ll have to tell me, whether or not they resonate, whether they work, so I really welcome your feedback. What isn’t that if I’m being honest, I welcome you telling other people about the show. Because you know, the show, I think there are people who probably were like, hey, this show was really good to listen to during quote, unquote, during the pandemic. And then now do I still need to listen, is there still a reason to listen? So if you think there’s a reason to listen, tell people about, it’d be great. And tell us how we’re doing. Tell us what you think of that. We have Kara Swisher on today to talk about the Facebook paper And it’s really enlightening. She’s very, very influential technology journalist. She writes opinions for the New York Times, she contributes to New York Magazine, she hosts a podcast called […]. And she’s goes another podcast called Pivot, […] on both of those. She’s really interesting and opinionated. And it’s great. Once you get her talking about things and you hear see how her mind works and how much insight she has. It’s great. I think you’ll find that on this show today. So let me hear what your thoughts are on the show as it continues tell people about the show if you’re willing and then enjoy this interview with Kara Swisher.
Kara Swisher 05:51
Hey, Andy, how you doing?
Andy Slavitt 05:52
How you doing, Kara?
Kara Swisher 05:53
Good, I’m just sucked up into Facebook. If I go on the show, […] I’m gonna like
Andy Slavitt 06:02
know, whether I’m hopefully they’re being kind to you. And now I feel a little self-conscious, because I’m going to start exactly with where you’re getting a lot of questions, if that’s okay. Explain to people what the Facebook papers are, what we learned from them?
Kara Swisher 06:15
Well, it’s their myriad. I mean, that’s the problem. It’s all over the place. It’s what happened is Facebook is hired, unlike a lot of tech companies actually, although many do have it. A lot of researchers that are looking at everything that’s happening, Facebook is so aware of all the data that flows through it, and spend a lot of time analyzing it to see how users behave, etc. And so they’ve hired a lot of people, you know, including psychiatry, all kinds of different peoples. So sociologists, everything else, and researchers, basic researchers, academics and things like that, to look at what’s happening on their system and to do testing and to understand if they move an emoji here or do this here. And so they’ve got they created themselves a lot of data about their users at as well as using that data to make a ton of money, as you’ve just seen by their earnings last week. And so what they what they’ve done is, is done this, and then one of the people who was a program manager around their civic integrity unit, which was to try to mitigate bad players on the platform around election misinformation, it has been leaking. I think it’s 10,000 documents around Facebook. And it’s and lots of areas, whether it’s issues that they had in India, where they were dealing with hate speech, or whether it was teen girls on Instagram, and the impact, which is complex. It’s not just one thing or another, but they were studying that, they were studying the use of emojis and what they do, they were studying the impact of election algorithm changes. And so that’s what’s being real and, and including whether young people are on the platform, all kinds of data about the uses of Facebook. And so it’s a treasure trove for reporters to look at it and what the Facebook executives knew about what was happening on the platform, and then didn’t do enough to mitigate the problems.
Andy Slavitt 08:00
Now, it seems like nobody likes Facebook, right? It seems like that sort of now. But like, you can only have to stipulate that anymore.
Except it’s billions of users, people are using it. You can’t say it’s not a successful product.
Probably like cigarettes, right? Everybody hates them cigarette manufacturers, but they, you know.
They did. They did,
You know addicted to the product.
There’s addiction element, too, by the way, FYI, everything’s in here. It’s like every day, you’re like, oh, Jesus, what else do they do? But there’s addictive elements to all of technology.
I just I find that like, when I read some of the description, some of that, like popular press articles about the Facebook papers, because I haven’t read the papers. Like I find like it’s a mix of some facts, some opinion, some, like implied smoking guns, but it’s a little it feels a little all over the map. And, you know, it feels like okay, everything is like we thought it was bad there. But it’s like probably 20% worse even than we thought. But I can’t find one thing that says to me, that gives me this sort of deeper understanding of what’s going on there.
Well, that’s because it’s so big. I mean, what is it’s like saying, what is the internet? I don’t know. It’s everything right? And so Facebook has become the de facto internet for much of the world, by the way, and some of the stuff they were doing. One of the things that was particularly two things that were pretty egregious is one they created this whitelist of celebrities and politicians that could say and do anything they wanted on the platform, except they told everybody publicly an ad including their oversight board. No, we don’t really do that. But in fact, they really did that. And so when you give these people broad brush to do whatever they want on the platform, it creates all kinds of chaos, when certain people can say the worst things, including lies, and that included Donald Trump, who sort of did everybody a favor by being so behaving so badly because now we could see that Facebook didn’t actually have rules in place to deal with it even though they had rules in place or didn’t enforce their laws. And so that was one thing. Another thing was the ability to quickly create false personas, which a lot of the researchers did and see how quickly hate and disinformation were attracted to it. Like that’s really pretty disturbing, all the time Facebook thing, no, this doesn’t happen. And then their own researchers are like, it kind of happens. This is what we’re doing with our algorithms. The other thing was what happened before and after the election when they had a civic integrity team in place, dealing with misinformation, and then they suspended it right after the election, and all the people and they said, no, no, no, this isn’t over until the inauguration, what are you doing, and Facebook, you know, wanted to get back to growth. These are individually, these may seem small to you. But overall, it’s a very dastardly picture of a company.
Andy Slavitt 10:45
It’s just that there’s so much of it.
There’s so much of it, because they’re everything, like they’re everything. And the worst thing I think is some of the stuff that isn’t getting as much attention is their impact on other countries, you know, and they had teared countries to where they were going to do something to do a better job in. You know, and if you were at the bottom of that tear, well you’re, you’re out of luck, you know, on election misinformation, and the uses of these platforms, especially Facebook, because it’s the biggest to attack journalists or attack activists, to attack an opposition. This happened with Maria Ressa who I just did a big long interview with, she won the Nobel Peace Prize. And so this is just, it’s just like, it’s everything. Like, it’s like saying, What’s wrong with the world? And if you had one person running it, like, Mark does,
Well, sometimes becomes their defense, which is weekend police truth and all that which neglects to me it neglects the broader point, which is they are still making a lot of money on this. It’s not like they’re providing a free service, that where they allow people to express free speech. They’re selling people’s attention to advertisers.
Well, exactly. They try to wrap themselves in the cloak of the First Amendment. And it’s kind of ridiculous. They’re in an ad business, right? And they’re trying to attract attention and engagement. That’s what they’re doing. And their idea that they’re trying to protect free speech is just, it’s a lot of codswallop, I think, you know, I mean, fine. Okay, great. Everyone gets to say what they want, but you can’t have, no society, and this is a society, Facebook is a society it is a culture, it is a group gets to save and do whatever it wants. I mean, nobody gets to pee in the streets or blast past stop signs except for me, or, you know, stuff like that, like we have rules in society that need to be enforced. And when they’re not, you know, all hell breaks loose.
Andy Slavitt 12:27
Well, right. If they were ABC and on TV. So it’s a matter of kind of where they are, as opposed to anything else. They’re in the same exact business is ABC.
ABC can be sued and Facebook can’t. That’s nice.
But they’re doing the same thing. They’re selling people’s attention to advertisers for profit, what do you think is going on internally, disease papers and everything else paint a picture of these guys? No. And they’re kind of hunker down and defensive that these guys know, in kind of a justifying it that they know and that they’re really trying to solve it and work on it, but not in a way that upsets the apple cart or that they really, you know, they don’t have much awareness of these bad things.
Oh, they know what’s going on. I think what’s happening though, with this company, which has been one of the more docile workforces, I would say, in Silicon Valley, never leaking, very satisfied, very praiseworthy of Mark is starting to fracture, people there are leaving in a huff, essentially, in writing essays about killing the world, essentially. And then obviously, all these internal documents where Facebook employees are saying, hey, just a second sir, which they never did before. And so there’s really kind of what I would call it, but many people have called it as an internal rebellion going on. And that’s why you’re seeing you know, Francis […] or others, and there’s going to be more. These one thing these internet companies do is write a lot of emails. And so you’re going to see how the sausage is made. And it’s not going to be as pretty as they’re trying to portray it on the outside.
I want to tell you a brief story, which I’ve never said before. When I was in the White House, we were in a pretty well publicized battle with Facebook. To try to get them to at least tell us what amount of information was going on their website. And they said they wouldn’t said they couldn’t. And I got involved and Nick Clegg got involved. And actually, Nick was kind enough to come on the podcast and talk about this interaction, which was, but something happened in the middle of all this that I’ve never said, which is that when we had two different occasions, we had meeting coming up with Facebook. Before the meeting, a Facebook employee sent a note through a third party. So it was anonymous, telling us exactly what their strategy was to avoid having to address the White House’s concerns. And it’s pretty damning stuff, including some attacks on me personally, and ways that they were going to try to work around me. And it got sent to me prior to these meetings by someone I know in Silicon Valley, who was sent this directly from Facebook. And I let the meeting go on. And it happened exactly the way almost word for word scripted. And what was amazing was that there’s these leakers, what’s inside Facebook, they were so distraught that they were basically going to be dodging some very legitimate questions for quite a period of time. And I called Nick and told him, I said, you know, this is really disappointing. And this is happening. It’s undermining everything you’re telling me.
Kara Swisher 16:02
It wasn’t bizarre, that’s how they operate. He knows about it. I’m sorry, I maybe he doesn’t particularly know about this one. But they have legions of people, they have more people in PR than you do in the FTC, more lawyers, more lobbyists. This is all they do is figure out ways to squirrel out of things that they’re responsible for. And any way they can beat you is how they want to do it. Now, this is not uncommon.
Well, getting caught is embarrassing the right reaction to getting caught, at the very least, at the very least. I mean, if he hadn’t expressed embarrassment, then, you know, so whether he was truly embarrassed or whether it was his job to express the pairs spend as a fair point.
Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen files on myself and everything, just like whatever. Good luck. Good luck. You know, I mean, it’s really kind of ridiculous, this is what they spend their time doing, rather than focus on the real problem, which is, what can we do to mitigate the problems with anti vax from Meishan. That’s, you know, people can expect by the way, what they do is they try to mash it together to guess why people can have worries about the vaccine. Some people may not want to have the vaccine, and have very legitimate reasons for it. We’re tips over into lunacy is when it becomes complete misinformation by malevolent players who are trying to confuse and upset people who are already emotionally distraught over lots of issues. And I think it’s called propaganda we use, we call it misinformation, disinformation, is propaganda is what it is. And it’s malevolent propaganda, because sometimes propaganda can be used for happiness, I guess?
And well targeted. Perfectly targeted. So if your issue with the vaccine is fertility, you’re gonna get the messages on fertility. If your question about the vaccine is your needle phobe, you’re gonna see an image of a six-foot needle that looks nothing like the needle. It is malevolent.
I’m not even slightly surprised. They did that to you. It’s not like dirty tricks. It’s just tricks. And that’s what they try to do all the time. They’ve done it like there’s a guy named Roger McNamee, who was an early investor who’s been quite vocal about problems at Facebook for years now. They’ve tried to make peace, crazy care. He’s this, he’s that I was like, he’s a little crazy, but not that crazy. You know? Like, they do stuff like that all the time. And it’s totally general operating procedure for them to be doing that, to flood people to make it seem like what you’re saying is over the top or ridiculous when it’s simply not.
Andy Slavitt 18:20
I get the sense that, with all of this, the chances of anything really changing are limited. And perhaps it’s spoken exactly because of what you said, which is I’ve never been on the Facebook platform, not because of any principle. Although, although I wouldn’t go on and on principle, but I just never, I just never bothered. I mean, one platform is enough for me. Like, Twitter, and like, that’s fully absorbing. Of course, I’m going to be on truth is I’m sure you will, too. But we’ll talk about that. Truth for those who don’t know, is Donald Trump’s new platform. And it is truth. You gotta go like this when you say it, though. Yeah, like, do a little flick with your finger. But because I think people are in fact addicted to it. I don’t I mean, first of all, like, is it? Is it really a lot? I mean, how important is it to find that person in high school that you didn’t like back then anyway?
What do you mean? I don’t know. You know, I think it’s a very useful service for a lot of people like taking away from all the issues that it’s caused a lot at the heart of it. The idea is an important one, which is a worldwide communication system where people can reach each other. It’s called the Internet, actually. But in this case, it’s owned by a single company, and they’re giving people all kinds of tools. And I think what’s interesting about it is that this is not so much different from AOL back in the day, it’s just a bigger, better version of it. Because everybody’s been sort of going for this idea. Now, a lot of people feel there should be a lot more competition in this area. And one of the things that Biden ministration and others have done is started to put people in place that think that way, that think there should be a little more competition. And interestingly, I just interviewed, you know, Senator Klobuchar, representative Buck, very opposite sides of the, and David Cicilline, opposite sides of everything. And they’re all sort of aiming that idea. And obviously Biden is hired Lina Khan at the FTC, Tim Wu at the White House, and Jonathan Kanter at the Justice Department.
Kara Swisher 20:25
They’re all about changing antitrust laws in order to create a better system of competition. And as is everybody, and one of the things, that’s a problem here, if you want to blame Facebook, you can like look, blame, blame, blame. But the fact matter is, our government has led us down in terms of regulating, tech at all, and that includes the Obama administration, and the bush, both Bush Administration’s they haven’t done anything to attempt to regulate these companies. And in fact, the amount of laws that regulate the internet are exactly zero. And there’s one that’s very positive to it, which is section 230, which allows them broad immunity, otherwise, there’s no regulations. And if you’re, if they’re these are the richest and most powerful companies in the world, they have no regulation on them. Wow, that’s fantastic. You know, they’re virtual monopolies in many cases, and marketplaces, and no regulation who gets to do that, you know, sign me up for that.
Right. So by that token, they’re just doing what they’re allowed to do. And I think about the power AT&T had when they were broken up in 1984. Now, I’m dating myself, but they don’t have anything like the power that Facebook has today.
No, not at all. And what’s happened is, it’s not just Facebook, it’s Google. It’s YouTube, you know, Google and YouTube, Amazon. It’s apple to a lesser extent, but I mean, what’s happened is we’ve allowed sort of these areas of, of companies to dominate one area, social, Facebook, search, Google Commerce, Amazon, and they’re going to argue with you about how much of the market they have, Amazon always like there’s a big retail sector, but the fact matter is Amazon sucking up all the oxygen that they can eat week by week of the pandemic, for example. And so why are all these companies separate? Why aren’t they competing with each other more? Why is there not three or four search services? And I think that’s something that has to do with government, that government has to step in and government is sort of abrogated its responsibility to help consumers around data, around privacy, around misinformation. They wouldn’t allow tainted meat. I mean, they do sometimes, that happens, right? But there are regulations. Whether these people get around them or not, it’s not necessarily the issue. It’s that they exist. And in the case of tech, there are none. And so let’s have some around data of privacy. Let’s have some around mergers, you know, more scrutiny of mergers. Let’s have some around data transparency, hacking information. And then let’s then we can revisit the problems we have with these companies.
Andy Slavitt 22:53
So to focus on Washington, all of these hearings that are going on, do we presume that they’re building towards some bipartisan legislation? We’re hearing what’s her name from Tennessee and blinking the senator from Tennessee?
Marsha Blackburn, who is really she’s not I mean, she’s, she may be mainstream of today’s Republican, but she’s pretty far to the right, and Senator Klobuchar. And with Warner, who’s in the middle of all saying very similar things, all frustrated, Blumenthal, So it may be the last bipartisan issue. I mean, who knows? Maybe the last one left?
Yes, it is actually, it is.
Do you think this is a build up to legislation does that legislation?
Well, there’s legislation, there’s five, I mean, I just we can but laid out all of them. There’s like five or six bills right now in the house. And there’s accompanying bills in the Senate. For some of them. Some of them are very simple, like raising marriage merger fees. Some of them are data transparency, some of them have to do with the fact that you can’t run a platform and also sell on that platform. That’s focused on Amazon. There’s some that that look back at some mergers and take them apart. You know, like the Instagram purchased by Facebook. And so there’s a lot going on. And then more and more every day. There’s one that’s trying to reform section 230, badly, I would say, it’s a bad piece of legislation. But there’s all kinds of stuff happening. And then the question is, what can they pass? What can they get done? And what won’t get watered down by the tech companies? Because a lot of the big ones are saying regulate me because they know they can handle it. They have 100 million lawyers, you know, working for them. I think the question is, does it hurt the small companies that will have a harder time with these new laws? I think the key one is to produce a privacy bill, a national Privacy bill, not just one in California or other states and to produce a data transparency bill.
Andy Slavitt 24:48
Privacy and data transparency,
Knowing what they’re doing. You know, Apple’s doing our work for us by creating new rules on the Apple platform. It affected Snapchats earnings this quarter, where you have to opt in that was Apple, not that the federal government, it was Apple
Can you explain to the folks that weren’t following that, what they did?
Apple changed its way when you download an app, you have to opt in to them taking your information. You can’t right now it’s an opt out. And that’s very hard to find and do once you’re into these systems. And so Apple is requiring them to tell you that you have to opt in, and you have to click a button affirmatively. And so that’s just a little step. And that’s Apple doing it for everybody. Now, why is Apple doing that? It’s, it’s in its interest, for sure. But why is a private company doing stuff the federal government should be doing.
Legislating in this area feels hard, because it feels like we know the things to be reactive to. But we also hard to understand the sort of secondary effects of making a regulatory change. And you’re exactly right, the people who are bigger, will figure out how to win or at least win relative to others in that arena, right?
Kara Swisher 26:02
So, we have to promote competition, we have to promote innovation, we have to fund smaller companies, we have to break up companies. These are all things we’ve done in the past in lots of industries. And by the way, where a lot of the innovation is going on or in industries that are much more competitive, in the car, in the electric car space. There’s a lot of players there now, eventually it’ll be fewer. But there’s a lot and a lot is happening. A lot of innovation is happening quickly, in the cloud area quite competitive, not as competitive as some people would like. But there’s at least five or six companies vying for innovation, areas in healthcare, there’s a lot of, you know this, there’s a lot of competition in healthcare. Not enough, by the way, but certainly much more so in the sort of cutting edge of things. And so when you allow competition, you allow, you know, all kinds of things to happen. And the government has to be part of that. It’s a government used to be an important part of that. Yeah, Maria Mazzucato, who I interviewed, an economist was talking about this, the government has long been a partner to innovation and helping it happen. And it should, space is another area another area of great innovation, you know, going on right now, it’s competitive. And so as long as the government can step in and help competition happen, that’s really the best-case scenario.
Speaking of competition, let’s talk about Truth Social. Have you been on Truth Social?
Not yet. I been on getter, which is the Jason Miller, one that he had hoped Trump would come on, which he didn’t. I have not, there’s nothing It doesn’t exist, essentially yet. It doesn’t exist yet.
I saw the app and it promised it would cancel the cancellers.
Kara Swisher 28:02
Yes, yes, sure. Whatever. Of course, they’re hiding behind section 230. They also said they can take off anything they want. They have a thing about capital letters, which is bizarre given its creator, presumably I don’t think he probably knows anything about the technology about what’s happening there. He’s just a nameplate just like using fun.
Is he funding any of those?
No. Are you kidding? No, this is madness. This is a man who has bought and paid for, you know, kind of thing. That’s how he’s operated his life. A very sketchy. What’s happening. It’s very, it’s not sketchy. It’s that it’s, it’s shadowy, like who’s around it? It’s a SPAC. And if you’ve heard of specs as people can back companies into SPAC, like companies, there’s a lot of companies like say an electric truck company that has a hard time getting capital. So they back into a SPAC that’s already existing SPAC as a special purpose acquisition company. It’s already public, and it say, went out to raise $250 million. And people like the people who did the SPAC, we can be very well-known people like a guy named Chamath Palihapitiya, very well-known investor can be, it could be a little less, who is this person who’s raising the money goes public, people buy the shares, and there’s a lot of speculation within SPAC, there’s tons of them now. And then you back a company into it. And then that company gets to go public without going through the IPO process, which is often a good process to keep out problematic companies.
And so they SPAC, Truth Social into this company called Digital Acquisition Corp. I think that’s the name of it. And the guy who runs it has done SPAC before. And he was also CEO of another company that was actually oddly enough based in Wuhan, China, which is neither here nor there but so anyway, so they backed it into it and so now it will be going public and the price has risen. It’s become a meme stock among fans, etc. And people just speculating because it will go up because Trump fans will buy anything or buy a hat, they’ll buy a t shirt or buy a share of this. And so now he has to actually create the business which if you looked at their plans, which are quite vague from what I could tell, it’s to create a video companies, create a cloud company, social network, but there’s no specifics on the technology or anything else. But it’s worth a lot. This company is now worth a lot even though it might be money they can’t use at some point.
Andy Slavitt 30:28
I could see the financial exploitive play, or the, but it also feels like a long, elaborate way to go to send out a basically a press release, which people will read anyway.
Yeah, he might create it, he might create a service. Here’s the thing, he just misses, he just can’t quit Twitter, but they quit him. You know, that’s the thing. That’s where he wants to be. And that’s where his power has been. And that he’s not going back on Twitter ever again. I don’t care if he runs for president, they’re not letting him on there. No way.
He’s only gonna be talking. So his voice. He’s gonna be talking to his people, his supporters.
He really likes Twitter, Twitter’s really, you know, he was, in a bad way, he was good at Twitter. And of course, just the way JFK use TV or FDR radio, Trump used Twitter by being the biggest troll in history, but nonetheless, good at it. And so now he’s sort of left without a place. And also Facebook has kept him off until 2023 at least, YouTube has kept him off indefinitely, I believe. And so he doesn’t have a place he can go. So he’s trying to create one and I just don’t think it’s gonna, it’s hard to make fetch happen on that particular issue.
Well, it feels like this respite from Trump has done us a lot of good. I mean, it’s just peace of peace of mind wise, I don’t know about you. But, I feel like, I feel like it’s been the constant every day of Trump was a lot to handle.
Yes, but he’s still there. I mean, I think that’s what’s the problem is that he’s still there. And the Republican Party continues to follow along, speaking of Facebook election, misinformation, all the big lie, even if they don’t believe it, there’s something quite unpleasant to tap into here, that really is I’m using them pleasant as a euphemism for really awful. And I think, I think whether he comes back or not, the impact he has had is going to be the same kind of impact Reagan had, but you know, now Reagan looks in comparison, rather benign, I guess, in some ways. And so I think it’s a problem, because it’s, you know, got to make things work in this country. And when you have a group of people willing to do anything, and another group, people are constant argument with each other, you have a real problem and a society where people are super nervous about what’s going to happen and not clear, I think there’s a whole group of people in the center that are just miserable. And then there’s the very noisy, right, and the noisy left, and I don’t put them equally, by the way, because I think the stuff that right does is really somewhat appalling on every level. But nonetheless, there’s a group in the Senate that doesn’t know what to do, like, you know, they care about their kids, they care about the COVID going away, they care about getting back economically, they care about the environment, they you know, and their own homes and things like that. And so that’s who I think is really suffering here in this situation.
Andy Slavitt 33:24
Yeah. But I feel like, I don’t know, personally, that for a long time, maybe longer than I should have. I was in the camp of all the positives from technology, and these technology companies outweigh the negatives, the negatives are there. But I loved the positives, I loved so much of being informed and being able to hear from different voices. And then, you know, probably maybe late to the game, I started to feel like the negatives that people talked about and predicted. We’re catching up to the positives. And now it just feels like the outlook for and I’m talking very simply in the one question of how will this affect society? How will all of this make us a better place to live or a worse place to live? To me, it feels like Mark clearly, it has now moved into the camp where it’s hard to be anything but pessimistic about this
Kara Swisher 34:23
It doesn’t have to be, it doesn’t, because you know, Facebook changes algorithms and the election fraud stuff dropped rather precipitously, it can be done if you architect it correctly. And if you architect anything in a city correctly, you can have a..
Just the fact that they can, just the fact that they can decide feels to me like the scary part.
Well, especially because the government is the one that invented the internet, right? Which they ride upon. I think one of the problems we have is that we unfortunately, these businesses tend toward a massive player, right, one single network, and we have to figure out something where they can interoperate or something can buck off which I think people have been talking about super apps where there is, the worst, there’s six companies competing on for the role of being your communications, commerce, etc, kind of stuff. That’s one way to do it. And what you can’t give, you can’t push away is the idea that maybe we could get to a place and appeal to people’s better nature by not feeding them a constant stream of hate, and an engagement to get them engaged. And I think that is completely possible, just the way propaganda can be, not propaganda, but it can be used for good or evil. It’s like fire, it’s either what is the famous quote, it can either warm your heart or burn your house down, right? So which one is it going to be? Or it’s a knife, it’s going to kill you, or it’s going to help you cut a peach or whatever?
Andy Slavitt 35:44
Do you see evidence that it’s going to start warming?
I do like, look, when the printing press started, there was all kinds of worries about how the printing press would affect things. And in fact, a lot of the stuff that was printed was sort of that one book that was about witches that put, you know, murdered so many women back then there was a lot of that. When TV started, there was a lot of worries about propaganda. And obviously Joe McCarthy used it rather effectively. And then he didn’t. I think when people I think young, I have a lot of faith in young people to really understand what’s happening here. I think a lot of the problems are with older people who really get easily manipulated by these mediums. I think young people have a much better sense of this, we have to push media literacy much higher, we have to get these companies to value good information without legislating because that’s impossible, we have the first amendment that in that case, these companies aren’t protected by the First Amendment. And we have to have a sense that of community that has been missing from this country, by the way, for a long time, I think we have this sort of, and it’s interesting, because that’s one thing, Mark Zuckerberg get me on the phone late at night and start talking about community. And I was like, I don’t know what country you live in. But we are the least community-oriented country in the world, other countries, sure you’ve been in them, and everybody pulls for each other, our country’s very individualistic in an incredibly selfish way, which is positive and quite a negative when it comes to crisis, as you’ve seen, like, look at what you had to deal with, right? Every time you wear masks. Are you kidding me? Like, are you kidding me? Like, I’m just like, no, it’s just bizarre that people do that. But it also makes perfect sense.
Well, you know, it feels like there’s about a 20% of the public in the US, who we have sort of completely lost from the perspective of belief in the institutions that most of us took for granted, belief in science, belief in experts. In fact, it’s less than nonbelief. It’s, it’s more it’s even, it’s evolved, obviously, to conspiracy theories and, and things like that, which are, which are quite attractive. The gap between how you live if you’ve been college educated or not, is massive, the gap between how people live if they’re paid by the hour, versus if they’re paid a salary is massive. And, you know, if you told me that there was some force, technological force that could bring us together to help us understand each other better. I would say, Well, that sounds really promising, and look, I don’t think it’s definitely the fault of the technology, I think the way we’ve decided to use it is to balkanize. And I will say that, like when I was in the White House, trying to figure out how to get people to think about being vaccinated. There are a lot of people who I was very focused on, who felt like needed straight answers to simple questions, so they could make a decision for themselves. But then there seemed to be this very thick wall of people who I think long proceeded the pandemic long proceeded Trump, but frankly, was just a wave that Trump wrote 100% And that feels like the intractable problem in our society that I don’t know how, that if we don’t figure how to solve.
Kara Swisher 38:54
This is not fresh or new. Go back and look at coverage press coverage of, you know, the revolution, there was all kinds of like, terrible stuff going on during the revolution, the Whiskey Rebellion, we have such a lack of sense of our history, you know, look at the Whiskey Rebellion. That was a version of this, like it’s the same, it’s got the same strains of nationalism of all kinds of distrust to the government of I’ll do what I want that kind of thing. This is not a fresh new look for the United States. And you know, we’ve been one it’s really interesting to someone was like, This is the worst thing we’ve gone through, unlike the Civil War was kind of bad. Salem Witch Trials were really bad, like McCarthyism, bad. Like, you know, this is something that is persistent. I think the difference now is that you have communication systems, run by people who have no sense of editorial or editorial responsibility, and also that are allowed to proliferate everywhere. And so it’s like, you know, you can have a billboard or a newspaper or a TV station, but it doesn’t have the trying to reach this thing does. And so what Renee DiResta just called it was amply ganda. Which I think is a terrible word but actually works is amplified propaganda amplified and weaponized and then weaponized by malevolent players, it creates a real, there’s never been a communications system that has been a news distribution system that’s so effective and so efficient and so targeted, and so open to manipulation, run by people who don’t seem to be monitoring the manipulation very much at all.
Andy Slavitt 40:33
Right. Well, you know, it reminds me of, I don’t know, if you read Sapiens.
I’ve interviewed Yuval several times.
Sure. I would have guessed you would have. So yeah, but it reminds me very much of that book where he kind of casts the kind of current incarnation of development of the species as basically centering around the idea of selling people on a common idea whether that common idea is religion, whether that common idea is something called democracy, whether that common idea is communism, and that what unites us in and what allows us to fight wars is to convince people that they’re on our team. And they used to be able to be done, but it was done kind of efficiently by the ones or you know, by the election every four years. Now, the ability for everybody to be able to do that. And for really bad people, I mean, and bad and effective people and you could argue that Trump was a taste of it, but he had you know, perhaps was good, but not good enough at it. But you know, if a Hitler comes along with these kinds of platforms, as is happening.
It actually happening with Duterte in the Philippines, obviously, to Maria Ressa, you have they have come along. They look, let me just be clear, Hitler didn’t need Instagram to do what he did. Mussolini did not need Snapchat. Stalin did not need TikTok, right?
Andy Slavitt 42:06
That’s quite an image.
Well think about it. They didn’t need all this stuff. But boy, what if they had it? Oh, my goodness, like you think about it, right? This stuff proliferates through lots of propaganda proliferates, through whatever system, including in China, like pieces of paper on a board in public, like, this is not a fresh new look for humanity. What it is, is an amplified version that gets weaponized that then you could hide the malevolent actors, behaviors, they can hide in lots and lots of ways. And so you never know the truth. You never know what’s correct. And what I have to say what are the favors Donald Trump has done us done for us is that he got on these platforms, he broke all their rules, they did nothing about it. And he did it in plain sight. And we could see that they had no rules that they were enforcing. I think we should send them a thank you note for that. And I know people will be angry about that. But the fact matter is his bad behavior has shown us that there is no, there’s nobody running these places the way they should be. And they don’t have responsibilities and shown us the people in charge, don’t have the guts needed to be running these incredibly powerful and far-reaching platforms. I’m not sending flowers to Donald Trump.
I love that description, though. You know, amplification propaganda. And the third piece you mentioned weaponization, which is, which is how they did I mean, I think this all started because he wanted to decide which girls went to Harvard. Were better looking than other girls.
Well, that was one of the companies. Yeah, he started. There was that was called Face mash. I think it was called Face mash. But I mean, you know, at the heart of this, you know, every fortune begins with a crime. He really did. He really did steal information. When he started this, he was using a book at Harvard that he didn’t have the IP rights to. And he did it anyway. I mean, I think a lot, I think about it a lot.
Andy Slavitt 44:00
That’s what he thought as an 18-year-old was okay
Before I let you go, one of the things you’re great at, is giving us context that we don’t always see, because we’re in the middle of it. I wondering when we when we look, I mean two things, if it’s 10 years from now, and you and I are talking and we’ll probably get something done by Mark Zuckerberg, we looking back at this period, what we say what really happened here and then how will all of these things be likely to be playing out and impacting the way we all live in ways that are even different than we could live today?
Look, there’s great hope for technology. We have a climate change issue that is existential and there are a lot of tech solutions, tech will be an important part of solving these problems or LCV, consumption issues, behavioral issues, etc. So tech can do a lot of great things like […] it really does have great promise and that’s the kind of I use this metaphor a lot but like you’re either Star Wars or Star Trek person, right? So you have a Star Wars and or a Star Trek. And so in Star Trek everything works out. They’re very it’s a diverse group of people that solve problems together as a team. And the villains are bad, but we beat them. And then sometimes we even convince them to come to our side, like, you know what I mean. And it’s a sunny view of technology it’s a sunny view of humanity, with all its faults always manages to come up like styrofoam rises to the top. Then there’s the Star Wars version where technology is quite malevolent. And actually, there’s a Death Star and the Death Star often wins and the bad guys often win. And the good guys are barely clinging on the last movie, they’re barely clinging on, right. And so if anything, and you know, another evil empire is common, right, you just know it. And if there’s a dark side, and a light side, but the dark side often wins, like often wins to the light side.
But it’s a constant struggle. And it’s a very dark vision of the future dystopian version of the future. And so what I often say to technologists, especially young ones, who I have a lot more faith in going forward because they understand what the impact has been. I often say to them, Listen, if your product is going to be made into an app, if you can think of an episode of Black Mirror from your product, think about, the worst thing that could happen, then don’t make it, make it different, figure out a way to mitigate that thing. And if you can, but if you can think of a way this could make become an episode of Black Mirror, stop right now and do something else. And I think they laugh about it. And they think it’s funny, but I think it’s actually what if you can anticipate being a true adult and in society is anticipating consequences. And either doing it anyway, or figuring out ways to mitigate the problems. And the problem with a lot of these tech companies is people that abrogate their responsibility for consequences and don’t care, and don’t care and then want others to clean it up. And that’s, you know, that’s not a fresh new idea.
Andy Slavitt 46:52
So in other words, Zuckerberg thought he was in the communication business. And he didn’t realize at the time that he would end up being in the war business, he would end up being in the election business that he would end up being in the vaccine and health business. He didn’t anticipate that. He knows it now. Didn’t adjust. And you got all kinds of Black Mirror stuff going on.
Yeah. And also, he’s woefully uneducated. Sorry, like, there is a good reason to go to college, if you’re going to run the world, but you might have some, you might want to have some training to do that. And, again, look, I always get in trouble when I say he’s not people like to call them evil. I think that is really not the point. I don’t think he is. And I don’t think it’s the point, what he’s built is truly problematic. And he’s incapable of running it, as would many people be, most people. And so what do we do about that? He has created a Frankenstein, this goes back to Mary Shelley, who was anticipating the problems with electricity, by the way, that was the technology the moment that was very fresh and in people’s minds about changing society. And it certainly did. And so one of the things that’s important to think about is what do we do now that this is here? Let’s take over government a little bit and start to decide just like we did with cars, and seatbelts, just like we did with we’ve done it with cigarettes, we’ve done it with oil, we’ve done it before. And to pretend this is diff, it’s just bigger and the richer, that’s the only difference, and it has more impact. And so what are we going to do? And that’s really government has to, at this point, I don’t care what Mark Zuckerberg does, I care about what our elected officials do about it. And they haven’t done hardly anything.
And that’s a good place to place the responsibility. Because if not him, it’s going to be somebody else. It’s so crucial. And the more complex things get, the more, it’s great that people like you are out there. I mean, you know, I focus on my one little thing. And you realize that, in this world, your one little thing is affected by every little thing. And, you know, we could we could have survived a pandemic, with 51% of people getting on board, or 70% of people getting on board, you know, we might have the society that could pull that off. But unfortunately, this is a pandemic, where much larger portions of people need to basically, not even get on board with the same political stance, but just essentially agree to some very, very modest things, given the same page at all want to have a pandemic. And we couldn’t do that. I think this is one of the places we got to look for things we got to do better at.
Kara Swisher 49:21
Perhaps you imagine the world was a lot more friendly than many people like being a gay person. I know the world wasn’t friendly. I think a person of color knows the world wasn’t isn’t as friendly as you think it is. You know, I grew up being gay during a really difficult time for gay people. Now, it’s, of course better. But if you’re a trans person right now, you know, the world isn’t as good a place in the cooperative place as other people do. And so I think that’s the issues. It’s not because of these internet technologies, because everyone has a voice. We can now see it. Right? It’s all out in the open things that were hidden or not hidden anymore, and I think that’s a little bit. It’s a big eye opener for a lot of people.
Andy Slavitt 50:00
Yeah, I think that’s right. I think any of us, myself, among them, who isn’t learning a greater amount of empathy, and horrified during the process, I mean, I’ll just tell you the one really horrible feeling that I have had several times during this pandemic, is just thinking back to how people were treated during the AIDS crisis. And when people say we’ve never had a major pandemic here that’s killed a lot of people before. We have, it wasn’t that long ago. And the fact that we don’t even still think about that, because it was so easy to other people.
It was a very difficult time. And I lived, I was a young person, and just coming out. And it was a, it was a real eye opener to humanity, the way that people were treated, and the way they were allowed to die so easily. And you know, my favorite play of all time, of course, is Angels in America. And I think that last line at the end gives me hope, like the world always spins forward, we will not be silent anymore. And I think that’s the same thing that’s happening here. And I think that’s the thing is people of conscience and people who are in the center, just quietly miserable, have to speak up and start to say, we need to, we need to treat each other better. We need to demand more from these companies and we need to not let anything goes just to have anything go. So anyway.
That’s a perfect message to end on.
Alright, Andy, thank you so much.
Okay, let me tell you what’s coming up on the show. We’re going to do a recap of the Summit on climate with the guy and his partner who have put together probably the most clear plan on how to fight climate change. It’s an amazing episode. I think you’ll love it. John Doerr and Ryan Panchadsaram, Hugh Hewitt, will be on next to talk about conservatives and how conservatives are responding to current events in the pandemic. And then Bob Wachter, old old friend of the show, you may remember when I was in the White House, he came on the show for us. He is talking now provocatively about how to move on from the pandemic in the end of the pandemic, three great shows. I hope you enjoy them all. I will talk to you Wednesday on our big climate show. I think you’re gonna really like it. Take care
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. Hope you rate us highly. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kryssy Pease and Alex McOwen produced the show. Our mix is by Ivan Kuraev and Veronica Rodriguez. Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs are the executive producers of the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, and additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter or at @AndySlavitt on Instagram. If you like what you heard today, please tell your friends and please stay safe, share some joy and we will definitely get through this together.