ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Cambridge Analytica claims that, with the help of 50 million Facebook users' data, it was able to target ads so specifically and so effectively that it helped swing the election for Donald Trump. The media have been more than happy to boost the claim, but many experts are skeptical. This week, a look at what exactly went on with Cambridge Analytica and whether we shouldn't be focusing more on Facebook. Plus, how social media works to undermine free will and what the future might hold for Facebook.

1. Antonio García Martínez, columnist at WIRED and former tech entrepreneur, on Cambridge Analytica's "psychographic" techniques. Listen.

2. Siva Vaidhyanathan, director of University of Virginia's Center for Media and Citizenship, on past regulatory efforts to reign in Facebook. Listen.

3. Franklin Foer, staff writer at The Atlantic, on what he sees as Facebook's war on free will. Listen.

4. Clay Shirky, author, educator and tech writer, on what real change for Facebook might look like and why he is still an optimist when it comes to the internet. Listen.

Music:

Tomorrow Never Knows by Quartetto D'Archi Dell'Orchestra Sinfonica Di Milano

Slow Pulse Conga by William Pasley

Passing Time by John Renbourn

Transparence (Instrumental) by Charlie Haden

English
United States

TRANSCRIPT

00:00:00on the media is supported by a Kimbo a podcast by Seth Godin over a million readers turn to sets daily blog for inspiration like the blog Campbell has no guests or fancy production just twenty minutes of life and business insights subscribe to a Kimbo in your podcast app
00:00:17or visit sets podcast dot com to learn more on the media is supported by northwestern university's online masters in public policy and administration preparing graduates to drive meaningful change at the local national and international levels learn more at S. P. S. dot northwestern dot EDU W. NYC studios
00:00:48this was a major breach of trust and I'm really sorry that this happened Facebook caught playing fast and loose with personal data big time is this a turning point for the social network we all hate to love and love to hate if you took China and you have
00:01:02the entire population of America and then you add in the entire population of America again that is our brains are constantly being commandeered by these technologies that have been reversed engineered to addict us one of the funniest things about the coverage of the story is that those who
00:01:18know the least about at but the most convinced of the supernatural powers of advertising or Cambridge and look at them and those no acts are the ones are more skeptical of the the problem with mark Zuckerberg is deeply uneducated he seems not to have considered the terrible being
00:01:34and then have done each other we have a basic responsibility to protect people data and if we can't do that and we don't deserve to have the opportunity to serve like it or not it's all coming up after this from WNYC in New York this is on the
00:01:54media on Brooke Gladstone and I'm Bob Garfield late last week in The New York Times and the observer of London released the results of a months long investigation into the political data firm Cambridge analytica the story was delicious and the cast of characters straight out of a bond
00:02:13movie there was the wealthy arch conservative puppetmaster they had the money from billion at Republican back several but most a and his daughter Rebecca is man on the inside Steve Batman oversaw Cambridge analytic as collection of Facebook data the arrogant operative caught red handed in the staying the
00:02:33video show reporter posing as a prospective client of Cambridge analytica and executives brag about using bribes and prostitutes to entrap politicians the guilt stricken whistle blowers I was naive I made a big mistake and that's why I'm talking to you and we were naive to or at least
00:02:52the fifty million of us Facebook users who were touched by the Cambridge analytica scandal when our personal information was divulged by Facebook without our consent and maybe weaponized against us during the campaign many Talking Heads saw these revelations as the answer to the question that had long played
00:03:12them namely how did Donald Trump to file all expectations and win the presidency it was the data stupid Cambridge analytical win the election for the president and were laws broken along the way a psychological warfare weapon something you say Steve ban wanted the ability to play with the
00:03:33psychology of an entire countries what can be done it again does it kind of identifies the kinds of voters who might be vulnerable to persuasion some might say manipulation Antonio Garcia Martinez used to work at Facebook as product manager heading its ad targeting business he's now a contributing
00:03:51writer for wired where he recently reported on the age old marketing tool that Cambridge analytica claims to have used to direct trump's campaign ads too susceptible voters psycho graphics yet one of the funniest things about the coverage of the story is that those who know the least about
00:04:07ads are the most convinced of the supernatural powers of advertising or Cambridge analytica dead and those like me or are some of my colleagues who most no ads are the ones are more skeptical of the claims on Facebook drawing psychographic profile says involved quiz apps that supposedly tell
00:04:22you what kind of personality you have or which Beatle or Harry potter character you most resemble but it all boiled down to the same thing in this whole psychographic thing it's kind of a refund demographics but instead of being age and gender and geography it refers to a
00:04:37certain psychological state of being that presumably the target of your ad is somehow in which gives a person an affinity for your product or in this case in a political philosophy Antonio Garcia Martinez is a contributor to wired a former Facebook product manager and author of chaos monkeys
00:04:54obscene fortune and random failure in Silicon Valley the model of the use is what's called the Big Five personality model you can actually look up on wikipedia ocean is the hand in a monic for five dimensions that you project a human personality on and and those are openness
00:05:10conscientious nous extraversion agreeableness and neuroticism and the idea being that if your neurotic you're either gonna feel strongly about guns or immigration or as the case may be and so by breaking somebody down into one of these five categories you can figure out whether they'd react positively or
00:05:26negatively to a certain political message that's the thought at least before marketers had actual real time consumer behavior data in hand they segmented consumers based on general demographics similarities neighborhood in media habits and so on it's not complete baloney is it yeah I I don't think it's completely
00:05:48wrong again if you refer to one of the classic psychographic models called the prism prison with Izzy segments now owned by Nielsen and you'll find there a mythology sixty six types of American consumer and yet if you read it you'll recognize yourself and some of them in the
00:06:01same way that you can read your horoscope and think it's true but has such gems like a shock and then pick ups for example as the sort of white working class rural voters there's kids in cold this acts as a sort of middle class suburban family the idea
00:06:15behind this model is and in fact what happened with games and lego is you know one of their researcher is in a slightly freelance capacity created a Facebook app something like three hundred thousand Facebook users had to opt in via Facebook platform and then based on the questions
00:06:30and that quiz that person tried to figure out what sort of Facebook date is associated with for example eroticism our openness are conscientious in us or the various dimensions of this model and then armed with that you sort of guesstimate well what sort of personality profile for example
00:06:45feel strongly about immigration or gun control the trump or as the case may be and then turn around and try to target that person on Facebook via the at system you would think that joining even these kind of rough hewn psychographic profiles with the other data sets the
00:06:59Facebook has would really adds Cambridge analytica claims really sharp and that low res image and to something deeply personal and illuminating the Cambridge we've rolled out a long form quantity of instrument to probe the underlying traits that inform personality he how I mean it's funny I think people
00:07:20tend to overestimate how much actual actionable target but they they have the only thing you can actually target on Facebook are things like age and gender which are admittedly important but are still kind of you know basic geography obviously and then what's known as interests mostly basically what
00:07:36pages you've liked and what that might be of interest to some marketers the fact that you'd like to say BMW's page on Facebook doesn't mean you're actually in market for a BMW right which is the risk really made in two thousand eleven when we got a lot of
00:07:49these technologies we realize that they actually weren't working for most marketers even assuming you do a poll on someone how do you actually find a neurotic person on Facebook right I want to find someone who wants to buy a BMW I I want to find someone who's neurotic
00:08:02because under Roddick person is anti immigration how do you then go around and find that person I'm faced with the challenge is still the same of course if if you have voter rolls if if you have other you know you the third party first party data you can
00:08:14bring that to Facebook by Facebook state itself I think people tend to overestimate how much value there actually isn't a card and it I guess I don't have to take your word for that this is Alexander Colgan the PhD researcher at the heart of this Cambridge analytical story
00:08:29the guy who was accused of misappropriating the Facebook data speaking to the BBC this week in practice my bass gas is that we were six times more likely to get everything wrong about a person as we work together can write about a person like I personally don't think
00:08:45Mike attardo became is an effective way to use such data sets needed to get because for an election I think it could only hurt the campaign the trump campaign you mean any campaign I think work Cambridge analytic has tried to sell as magic and it made claims that
00:09:02this is incredibly accurate and it tells you everything there is to tell about you but I think the reality is it's not that if you sit down you really work for the structure to affect those claims quickly fall apart I mean obviously Cogan might be kind of back
00:09:16peddling their given all the attention has its workers has garnered but on the reality is particularly in the political space it's often very difficult to figure out of something actually works right when you're selling shoes online it's relatively easy to show you an ad for shoes and then
00:09:29if you go and buy their shoes to actually connect those two things together and actually look at the return on your investment advertising no campaign no matter how well funded or sophisticated can actually really tell if their campaign drove voters to the ballot box and made them out
00:09:42or not so the last few days you've been making the media rounds explaining why the secret sauce was in either secret or particularly saucy but you know at least a year ago The New York Times ran a story saying that very same thing we also learned that the
00:10:00%HESITATION Ted Cruz presidential campaign ditch the models because there were unreliable so why do you suppose that you were at pains to go through with this yet again to be honest people would rather believe that dark mysterious forces using some diabolical technology made evil happen rather than you
00:10:19know a more mundane story you know I actually made a sort of joke about that you know what are we gonna believe that the center left parties in the US and the UK were pathetically complacent in reacting to global capitalism and spurred a populist revolt that because trump
00:10:33and brings it to happen or or do we believe that the protocols of the elders of Facebook story where somehow ad targeting came out of nowhere and elected a you know an autocrat and everyone just like to to all the way right to the one we're we're gonna
00:10:46go with I I think there's other forces here more than the reality of it that's causing all this media attention okay that's one of the week's journalistic miss directions the red herring part two is what we've missed about Facebook that the trump campaign absolutely did exploit to run
00:11:04what turned out to be an astonishingly efficient social media campaign it has to do with the Facebook algorithm and this is really kind of remarkable the actual cash value of being inflammatory please explain for starters the auction bidding system right this is a key part of how this
00:11:22whole mediascape works that the public doesn't understand and frankly should so how does the auction process works I think the best we might be explaining it via metaphor with the regular feed which I think most people understand in news feed you're obviously not saying all the stories and
00:11:34posts and shares that all your friends have put out there Facebook actually rank them for you because otherwise would be a torrent of information that you can't parse as a Facebook uses a model and an algorithm that calculates how likely you are to engage with that piece of
00:11:48content and my engage we mean share yourself click on a comment on it anything you interact with they will tend to show you more of what I think people don't understand is that that same dynamic played out on the advertising side in other words Facebook also calculates based
00:12:03on what it knows about you which adds you're likely to interact with ads on Facebook are are not just like ads in a in a newspaper on TV they often appear as a regular Facebook story right so you can share them you can comment on them and it
00:12:15appears like a regular post inside your feet but I think people don't realize is that that engagement metric affects whether that adds in a show up in your feet and also how much that ends up costing to the advertiser and weirdly it costs the advertiser less if people
00:12:30click on it more exactly because at the end the day phase because optimizing for what in the trade is called CPM that's cost per mil cost per thousand ads after all said and done a politician or product or whatever that embraces a rhetorical strategy that for for better
00:12:44or worse causes lots of engagement they will either get more media for the same amount of money or get the same media for less money than they otherwise would if they weren't sort of click baby so if I understand this right the business model of valuing engagement actually
00:13:00offers an advantage to incendiary ads and so called fake news right yes to the extent that negative rhetoric drives more engagement and say more nuanced are tempered rhetoric that indeed it would fare better on the Facebook at system yes okay that's one thing that the trump campaign exploited
00:13:18about Facebook another is something that you were in charge of a feature called custom audiences and later something called lookalike audiences explained how they leverage their investment with them right custom audiences a sort of a fancy marketing name for Facebook joining to the outside world of data miss
00:13:37simple example of this that all of your listeners are probably had if you go browse the internet and you go shop for something or whatever and you go back to Facebook and you see that same pair of shoes that same handbag you're shopping for peer inside Facebook that's
00:13:49what I mean diss outside world of data that historically didn't enter Facebook but starting two thousand twelve there's a couple different technologies one of them was custom audiences that allowed that to happen effectively what happens is the advertiser quite literally uploads a spreadsheet with names email addresses phone
00:14:05numbers etcetera and then Facebook tries to find those users inside Facebook is probably the most common tool that savvy advertisers with lots of data use on Facebook so what would that mean the political context well voter files for example that I understand have things like names and addresses
00:14:21could be uploaded to Facebook donors who actually donating money to trump all those people I got an individual granular level would be terrible on Facebook on top of that comes the second product you mention which is lookalike audiences and this addresses a really deep need for most advertisers
00:14:35most advertisers have some set of customers or voters that they know are into their brand or into their products question is how do I find more of them until after I've uploaded a cost money and thin and again that's based on my email list people come to my
00:14:47site Facebook then finds people who are like that and here is where the true value of Facebook's data comes and it turns out knew what they care about is not your photos of your conversations with your coworkers your partner what they really care about and what the user
00:14:59data for is figuring out other people who are like you that's a key thing I mean the reality is if you've got five friends more than likely they have the same consumption patterns or the same political views that you do envy the magical Facebook data you can expand
00:15:11the national targeting list into a yet bigger one okay so is this just marketers and politicians using finer and finer targeting as they'd be expected to or is all of this data overlaying the data joining whether by businesses are candidates or governments putting us all at a high
00:15:30risk of utter loss of privacy I think you put your finger on it you know even I former at the mercenary that amber was I'm willing to see that I think politics is definitely special right selling you on drugs it is different and selling on a pair of
00:15:42shoes and if the government sees fit to regulate political advertising differently than it does regular advertising that's not the greatest thing in the world and sale of what comes out of this whole Cambridge blow up is that the rules are typically applied to conventional media and political advertising
00:15:57also apply to Facebook I think that would be just fine but you know once you've taken the genie out of the bottle or this toothpaste out of the tube it's hard to put back in and so I I don't see politicians who by the way they are themselves
00:16:08the ones who would cook up deregulation regulating the very thing that put them in power Antonio thank you very much now thanks for at China clarify this it's amazing how the the press coverage of this is gone in so many directions Antonio Garcia Martinez is a contributor to
00:16:25wired former Facebook product manager and author of chaos monkeys obscene fortune and random failure in Silicon Valley the toothpaste is indeed add up to two Buck as university of Virginia media studies professor conceive of body and not that wrote this week in slate Facebook started squeezing that two
00:16:46years ago app developers for a long time could get access to tremendous collections of data about millions of Facebook users at any given time this was standard practice and policy at Facebook between at least two thousand ten and two thousand fifteen and that seems to have been lost
00:17:06in the story because the Cambridge analytica story is such a great spy novel that has this idea that there's brainwashing and manipulation going on right it's almost irresistible for years we've been raising these issues and everyone's been saying where's the harm well here we are we're finally at
00:17:23that moment there is this impulse in in the press because Cambridge analytica has mainly arch conservative clients including briefly the trump campaign and because the Mercer family has such a big stake in the company due to portray all of this is the latest evil manipulation from the far
00:17:42right but Obama used approximately the same techniques now no two thousand eight Facebook was pretty new and the idea was this is where the youngsters are right this is long before my mom joined Facebook and so Brock about much spent a lot of time interacting with people on
00:18:00Facebook the work Facebook groups devoted to supporting Obama and he bought a lot of ads on Facebook before that was a thing to do so he was the Facebook candidate and that by two thousand twelve I'm a campaign developed an app that sucked out all of the data
00:18:18at the same kinds of data the camber gentle lick and now has been using to allegedly profile voters right a lot of us were concerned about this in two thousand twelve and it was really hard to get anyone to care all the stories that came out were about
00:18:33the digital savvy of the Obama campaign after the Obama campaign Facebook decided let's take all this in house let's become the political consultant to the world you have to go to Facebook Cambridge analytical claim to be able to profile people by personality type which is about as useful
00:18:52as profiling people buy astrological sign there is no evidence that you can move behavior just because you tag people with a relative score for openness are conscientious Mr eroticism right isn't it better just to know someone really cares about gun rights are really cares about abortion that can
00:19:11move a voter and that's what Facebook gives people can you tell me what Facebook is allowed to do and what it's not allowed to do with the data it collects Facebook at a big trouble back in two thousand eleven the Federal Trade Commission got some complaints from Facebook
00:19:27users and from some privacy organizations they were worried that all of these application developers that had tied themselves on to Facebook farmville mafia wars or words with friends those games were sucking out all kinds of important data from people's Facebook profiles and that's because when you signed up
00:19:48to use these games you gave them permission to look at your profile and take out basic information what was not clear was that you were also granting these games permission to take out all the information about your friends that was something that the Federal Trade Commission wanted to
00:20:07call a halt to soak in two thousand eleven they got Facebook to agree to a consent decree and that consent agree basically said look for this book you can't have this sort of activity where friends data also gets exported you also have to get explicit permission from people
00:20:25when they interact with apps that are going to take their data out beyond that they put the burden on Facebook to make sure that when that data exits Facebook it doesn't go to a fourth party and if people cancel their Facebook accounts the Facebook goes out into the
00:20:42field and make sure that those game developers of app developers those personality quiz developers those political campaigns like the Obama campaign to do thousand well that those developers remove the data from their collections so this was something Facebook agreed to do under penalty of law back in two
00:21:02thousand eleven but clearly Facebook did not institute a program to make sure that your data would disappear if you deleted it from Facebook Facebook did not enforce contracts with third party app developers to make sure that fourth parties like Cambridge analytica didn't get that data so up Zuckerberg
00:21:22after disappearing from public view for three or four days on Wednesday issues a memo and goes on CNN with Anderson Cooper and sits for a Q. and a with the New York times in a sort of mea culpa saying you know we let this stuff get away from
00:21:41us we didn't closely audits these third parties like app developers who have possession of all of this extremely personal data but seem to me he was shifting the blame to them for breaking the deals that they signed instead of taking responsibility for all this going on you have
00:22:02seen Facebook operate in the public eye now for more than ten years do you think that he was being straight with the New York Times and CNN and all of us you don't deserve her promise to install a bunch of new safeguards for user privacy he didn't get
00:22:19into detail but just looking at the outline of what he said would happen I can't help wondering if Facebook wasn't already going to do all these things because in August European law is going to require a much higher level of scrutiny and many more restrictions on how companies
00:22:39like Facebook operate with our data they have a whole new set of laws coming into a fact it's going to change how all these companies operate in Europe and anybody whose data gets exported to Europe or anybody who communicates with anyone in Europe meeting Americans you know they're
00:22:55going to be protected by European law as well so I suspect that all that Superbird was promising yesterday is stuff that Facebook was already planning to do to deal with European law right now his biggest concern is Congress if these issues have existed for the whole history of
00:23:12Facebook and if the company a signed consent agreements and it has the capacity to do all of the things that sucker Berg on Wednesday claim to to be now undertaking you have to wonder well why hasn't it actually done this stuff till now is it because it's antithetical
00:23:30to its business model yeah there's only two things wrong with Facebook what it is and what it does right so what it demands of us is our attention it wants us hooked really the company is geared around the fact that there is a true belief at the core
00:23:45of the company and in mark Zuckerberg's heart and soul that the more time we spend on Facebook the better we will be to each other it's a missionary model right it's almost faith based model thousands of years of human history not withstanding mark Zuckerberg believes that the more
00:24:03we interact with each other the better we will be to each other do you think is really that messianic or that that's just a rationalization for the business model which is more like the heroin dealers business model it is antithetical to Facebook's business model it's antithetical to the
00:24:21dominant business model of Silicon Valley it's also antithetical to the ideology of mark Zuckerberg and I think mark Zuckerberg is a true believer in Facebook I see no reason to doubt his sincerity he's a deeply intelligent and sincere person who cares a lot about the state of the
00:24:38world the problem with mark Zuckerberg is he's deeply uneducated he seemed to have started on this route without pondering the terrible things that human beings can and have done to each other he seems not to have considered the possibility that are hard problems are not merely solve by
00:25:00proximity in connection it's a naive ideology that he holds but it's actually pretty pervasive in Silicon Valley because it was pervasive in the hacker communities of the nineteen nineties from which he emerged this notion that if ideas and information flow freely and without friction suddenly we would all
00:25:21know more and food would taste better I mean this was a serious line of thought in the nineteen nineties and it's still with us you can still see it in the core ideologies of Google and Facebook and a hundred other companies the last two years should have shaken
00:25:37him out of it but you know he still spends too much time having lunch with Henry Kissinger in Davos and not enough time reading Aristotle or reading National Geographic for that matter right and seeing the ways in which the world is a lot more complex place than he
00:25:52allows we now have had more than ten years of experience of Facebook leading private data get in the to third party hands and for marketers and governments and criminals to have a ever higher resolution picture of ourselves this is not new and yet we continue to have this
00:26:16conversation it doesn't mean it has to be that way doesn't mean that they have to call the shots for the world are great hope lies in our activity as citizens demanding that our regulators and our legislators take this problem seriously but I just don't see how Facebook can
00:26:33deeply confront the wide variety of problems facing it and the wide variety of problems that it has caused in the world without looking at its core functions its advertising system its data gathering system its algorithm and once you do that you basically have to dismantle Facebook if you
00:26:53want to address these problems in a serious way Siva thank you very much sure Siva value nothing is professor of media studies at the university of Virginia his forthcoming book anti social media will be published in September coming up we will visit the old argument of a new
00:27:14the internet threat or menace yes this is on the media on the media is supported by a Kimbo a new podcast by entrepreneur and best selling author Seth Godin over a million readers turn to sets daily blog to inspire their work sets new podcast a Kimbo is a
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00:29:08details this is on the media I'm Bob Garfield and I'm Brooke Gladstone on Wednesday Facebook founder mark Zuckerberg finally addressed the mounting controversy on CNN suggesting that some regulation might not be so bad after all actually I'm not sure we should be regulated I actually think the question
00:29:29is more what is the right regulation rather than yes or no should be regulated new Zuckerberg but just a bit of saving face either way it's a far cry from his luck we thought we knew the technologist far more interested in effectively supplanting the government then submitting to
00:29:48it in his newest book world without mind the existential threat of big tech Franklin for places Facebook in the history of techno utopian enterprises that began following the French Revolution Zuckerberg he writes is the heir to a long political tradition over the last two hundred years the west
00:30:09has been unable to shake in a biting fantasy a dream sequence in which we throw out the bomb politicians and replace them with engineers rule by slide rule that dream that somehow we could automate reason so after the incredible chaos of the French Revolution western society started to
00:30:33crave order they started to crave lives that were less chaotic less wild better organized and so that was the rise of a thinker called acoustic comp who wanted to have societies governments actually run by engineers mark Zuckerberg preach this beautiful philosophy that he was helping engineer the world
00:30:58so the world would be better connected and through our interconnections we would understand one another better we would become more peaceful he said that he wanted to remove the friction from life and that's one of the great dreams of technology that we would have these companies that would
00:31:13be able to anticipate our wants and needs and they would supply them to us and that's exactly what he tried to do he created this contraption called the news feed that took all of our data and try to use that data to figure out the things they gave
00:31:27us pleasure to figure out the things they gave us anxiety in order to provide hierarchy to the information that we can see and you say the source of Facebook's power silicon valley's power is the algorithm is the algorithm the problem what is an algorithm algorithm it in a
00:31:45way is the distillation of the engineering dream this idea that you can just come up with an automated robotic way of dealing with the messy complexities of human life but I think the problem is the hubris that's embedded in that approach this idea that we can find the
00:32:04perfect scientific solution to things sometimes just gives too much power to the people who were in charge of the system and sometimes the people in charge of the system they like to say that the running things in the name of science for really the running a company to
00:32:21make a profit and I think that's part of the sucker Berg delusion was that he presented himself as somebody who was governing his system in the name of reason but in fact he was really trying to you addict test to his platform and make as much money as
00:32:38possible you wrote even as an algorithm mindlessly implements its procedures and learns to see new patterns in the data it reflects the minds of its creators the motives of its trainers computer scientist you wrote talk about torturing the data until it confesses what is it that the computer
00:33:02engineer wants the data to say the engineers coming at it with a whole set of assumptions and there's a whole lot of social scientific work that shows that algorithms can replicate some of the racial and gender bias sees of the engineers who create the algorithms so these algorithms
00:33:24are not neutral parties in themselves and they continuously study us and ultimately decide a lot of things for us and you are frightened that we are out sourcing are thinking to the organizations that run the machines but what else is new we always knew that right apparently not
00:33:45I think that what we see in these recent controversies over Facebook is that we largely accepted Facebook's own view of itself we thought all right well maybe that date is being used influence us in some abstract sort of way but it's one thing to think that in a
00:34:04distant sort of way but that is quite another to see the ways in which that data that process could be weaponized and turned against us you quoted in your article that sixty percent of people according to the best research are completely unaware of the existence of the algorithm
00:34:23he it's true when people look at their news feed they go along with the myth that Facebook perpetuates that it's just your friends sharing information but of course it's not that it's being organized and it's being sorted and it's being given hierarchy in in that hierarchy there is
00:34:42a hidden agenda to commandeer as much of our attention as possible we have a hidden agenda to Frank we I know you do we want you to talk about free will which we've been digging into a bit lately you've argued that algorithms are meant to a road it
00:35:02and to relieve human beings of the burden of choosing so tell me what's at stake here human beings are both incredibly powerful and incredibly weak and our weaknesses are exploited by people all the time but a society we constantly try to fight back and so we create rules
00:35:25we don't like subliminal advertising we try to impose transparency as much as possible and we do the saying is because we believe in our power to make good decisions and a democracy and so we protect our capacity to make those decisions you wrote that it sucker Berg's fantasy
00:35:50that this data might be analyzed to and cover the mother of all revelations of fundamental mathematical law underlying human social relationships that governs the balance of who and what we all care about it's scary to think that something like that actually exists I don't think it exists I
00:36:13think though it reflects everything that we've been saying about this dream of having the engineer take care of us and you see it as is this arms race right now to create personal assistance each of the big tech companies wants to have what's the cupboard is called a
00:36:29Butler that wakes us up in the morning and that guides us through our days these companies because of their data and because of their algorithms would be able to offload all these decisions that we make over the course of the day and on the one hand wouldn't all
00:36:45of us like to free up our time to do things that would provide us with a true state of leisure and we could pursue the things that make us our best selves but on the other hand we may wake up one day and we say holy cow we've
00:36:59given up all this power and we find ourselves trapped in patterns of consumption that we dislike and maybe the control that we've given up is actually made us stupider them who we were going in because our brains are constantly being commandeered by these notifications these distractions by these
00:37:19technologies that have been reversed engineered to essentially addict us and so when we lose the time and space and the ability to contemplate the world I don't think we make good decisions especially democratic decisions I worry that it makes us less capable of being spiritual human beings come
00:37:40I worry that it makes us less present in the course of our conversations and I don't think that those threats are actually a radical ones I think that we all toil with our addictions to devices and so do you think we've approached a moment when we can stop
00:37:59and consider what we have brought or what has been wrought upon us or what we have participated in re kink yet to me that's part of the thrilling under current of the backlash against Facebook right now which is that you have a lot of people who are collectively
00:38:18awakening to the fact that our privacy has been invaded and that we want it back that we've been wasting our time on this platform it's exciting to see people taking agency or is it just the kinds of things that addicts say along the line of all quit tomorrow
00:38:40you're you're right that people can be delusional and thinking that they've broken the addiction when it's just a prelude to another binge but in this case I do think that we're making good arguments about this to ourselves we've drifted with things for a really long time without really
00:39:00reflecting on what we're doing and so we're not going to give up our phone lines but maybe will proceed in a way in which were a little bit more self conscious about how we use our time about the things that we surrender to these companies and we start
00:39:17to claw back a little bit of space in our lives Frank thank you very much my pleasure Franklin for its national correspondent for the Atlantic and the author of world without mine existential threat a big task coming up the future of Facebook this is on the media on
00:39:45the media is supported by a Kimbo a new podcast by entrepreneur and best selling author Seth Godin over a million readers turn to sets daily blog to inspire their work sets new podcast a Kimbo is a lot like the blog no guests no fancy production just twenty minutes
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00:40:20the media on Brooke Gladstone and I'm Bob Garfield it's too early to estimate the impact of the Cambridge analytica scandal on Facebook or on the rest of the tech platforms now mining and selling every nano second of our lives but one can't help but feel that whether through
00:40:38legislation and regulation or customer revolt something's gotta give it may seem as if it were ever thus but it wasn't in fact back in October of two thousand twelve I spoke to offer educator and all round new media visionary clay Shirky about whether Facebook's rising star would ever
00:40:59fall and he said it's hard to guess how long Facebook will be around to mean everything ends at some point but I don't think that there's any foreseeable future in which Facebook goes away or even becomes significantly smaller less important than it currently is make a list of
00:41:17their advantages enormous user base incredible economies of scale world class infrastructure advertisers are tripping over themselves to get involved no one wants to call themselves a competitor no make a list of the disadvantages right up handful of privacy not your crank can you think of the second thing
00:41:36to add to that list I can't well five and a half years later we figured you could think of a few more right no absolute lives gotten longer you know the challenge that Facebook faces is because they're operating the scale that no one is ever even really thought
00:41:53about before it was an unprecedented scale when we talked in two thousand twelve but it was at least a scale that was similar in size to nation states no there are not even countries as large as Facebook two billion monthly unique users if you took China and you
00:42:12add the entire population of America and then you add the entire population of America again that is space it's now operating at such a scale that ordinary people can't think through the ramifications of what could go wrong aside from just for Gail how did they get themselves in
00:42:29this position I think they've played fast and loose with the data with absolutely no consequences the playing fast and loose question really comes down to legality versus ethics every click thru license you've never read for every piece of software you one uses basically committed your first born I
00:42:50mean right no one reads those documents and this is where I think Facebook is in trouble now is is cold comfort to people who regard what Cambridge analytica is doing is being possibly legal but definitely wrong I still think Facebook is not going away they will have to
00:43:06be regulated ought to change some of their business practices but as many people have been pointing out Jeff leave Facebook is not an option for many people the idea that %HESITATION you can just quit and be part of your small community you know a friend of mine is
00:43:21saying look I have a rare disease and Facebook has been absolutely invaluable as a support group as an information group and the problem Facebook continues to solve is not the problem of helping people talking groups the problem Facebook solves is finding people to talk to in the first
00:43:37right and that service remains intact there is a degree of American narcissism here if the FTC were to come to some concentric with Facebook that said you must delete the profiles of all U. S. users their total population would go down by just a shade over ten percent
00:44:00ninety percent of that company operates outside of the United States and let's talk about outside the United States we know that Europe has imposed certain controls on Facebook's use of data right we have declined to do right but of course they're going to have to be subject to
00:44:19at least the European regulations on those will have an impact on many American users or won't it Germany is now in the position vis a vis data what California does for auto regulations when California sets minimum standards carmakers just say look you're going to have to do it
00:44:38for California we might as well have to do it for the whole United States Germany is now in the position of being willing to enforce data regulations that spread over a large enough area because of the E. U. expansion that will effectively rain and Facebook for all of
00:44:55us for all of us you know the the miracle of Facebook is that the six degrees of separation model now globally at some point if I start saying all these regulations only touch the friends of your friends friends that that's a bunch of people in Europe already and
00:45:10so having to tighten that up will mean that the whole network becomes less fluid for advertisers and more protective of what the users expect out of that service you always seem to me to be the ultimate optimist you know you believe that the internet has the potential to
00:45:32be a liberating and democratizing force that would transform governments the way some people feel about capitalism do you still feel optimistic I am much more nearly optimistic as I think anyone look at this environment would be many of the things that I and many other people were optimistic
00:45:53about in the last decade in peoples I know that'll never happen have not only happened they've been folded in the background we now all take wikipedia for grand you can't even get off fight going over we keep you any what I did not know and I think you
00:46:07know few of us know is this ability to concentrate hatred and being of the magnified at this scale I had underestimated but I will say again that the United States is only a small part of this now and when you see for instance what's going on in Zimbabwe
00:46:26or what's going on in South Korea both of which are having moments of emerging out from under control by autocratic regimes one democratically elected but autocratic reminded one genuinely autocratic you absolutely see the ability to coordinate resistance to those regimes as being part of that story so there's
00:46:50the degree to which I can be I think both very pessimistic about my country without thinking the story that's going on in the United States is the same as the store this going on everywhere in the world so what do you think do you think that Congress and
00:47:05or the FTC will try to take some action do you think that this is a Facebook world and it'll always be a Facebook world and mark Zuckerberg will say he's real sorry and just continue doing what he's always done this moment feels different but there is no will
00:47:24in a Republican led Congress to force Facebook to create a more skeptical environment I think Congress should tolerate an environment in which fewer things went viral and when they went viral they spread less quickly in less far that I think it's going to be the net result of
00:47:41this how do you do that you toned down the parts of the algorithm that look for the hottest newest most emotionally driving stuff the speed with which the ice bucket challenge read through Facebook was a result of a whole bunch of engineering choices about %HESITATION people seem to
00:48:00like these videos we're going to prioritize them you can dial it up or down and I think Facebook Manda dialing it down but that will cost Facebook time spent online and less money right the interesting question and this is the one that news October yourselves opened up his
00:48:20is time spent online the right metric to be optimizing for any longer because in fact Facebook is so far out in front that they may be able to worry more about whether or not they're slowly wearing out their existing users because they can't double their user base that
00:48:38they literally can't with China locking Facebook out and much of the people that they could pick up next essentially waiting for the economic tied to get them smart phones Facebook is at roughly the scale it will be operating at for the next several years so where does it
00:48:54go how does this show go could potentially change in the direction of user loyalty rather than simply squeezing every minute of every day it means taking a hit to revenue and it's not clear that a public company would ever do that even if it's obviously the right thing
00:49:11unless the government made it clear that the alternative was going to be much worse and that's where I think regulation comes in regulation is this deck that potentially lets Facebook say if we just slow things down and we'd stop treating all conversation is being you know potentially substitutable
00:49:33so when you meet somebody at a party who keeps going on and on about the federal reserve either letting that person in your kitchen to yell at you and three friends for giving them a megaphone to reach a million people that feels really weird which is essentially what
00:49:46Facebook now di how did they prevent that what they have to do is to make what's called the first neighborhood which is really literally just you and your friends not the next ring out be more of a defensive cordon than it currently is right now they regard the
00:50:01first neighborhood you again you and all your friends as being here's a list of doorways to Brooke so if anything comes to any of these doorways we can also get to perk if instead you start think of the first neighborhood the way it works in the off line
00:50:15world here's a list of bodyguards for Brooke they will only forward her things they think she's actually interested in you end up with much less content moving to the network you end up with much less click Beatty content moving to the network but you may end up in
00:50:30a world in which you and your friends have tighter relations on Facebook and the kind of friends of friends everybody seen the stuff falls into the middle distance and that's a good thing because it sounds like super cocooning to me there are places where you should go out
00:50:44in public and be exposed to point if you don't have to defend your own and whatever else with those people should not be able to follow you into your home constantly demanding that people engage in a conversation they don't want to have to they become exhausted to remove
00:51:01themselves from the public sphere so we need filter bubbles because we need someplace to talk with people who agree with us partly to rest partly because of some ideas are better worked out among people who see eye to eye and we need a public sphere where we can
00:51:16smasher ideas against each other and see which bits fly off right now you see people who have political malfeasance in mind consciously trying to take large scale patterns of argumentation and injected into the small scale you see this on reddit the giant collection discussion boards when politically minded
00:51:36groups go on raids where they simply attack people on other boards flooding them with people who disagree with them in order to disrupt the ability for those people to talk among themselves unsurprisingly boards having to do with feminism boards having to do with racism instead of people trying
00:51:51to discuss these issues in need of social response will often get flooded by the all right not trying to argue with them but simply trying to prevent them from even having the conversation so we need small scale cocoons and we need large scale public spheres and right now
00:52:10they may now be in a position where they face enough regulatory threat that they would start doing things that would voluntarily give up some of the addictive qualities of Facebook in favor of some of the qualities that my friend Joan was talking about if I have a disease
00:52:25and it is interesting for me to meet other people who suffer from this rare condition you know that's the baby that you don't wanna throw out with the bath water the people with rare diseases don't need virality you don't need things to move at lightning speed across hundreds
00:52:39of millions of people to find other people who were similar to you that you might want to talk to thank you clay thank you but you're still an optimist you know I think you call me a temperature clay Shirky is the vice provost of educational technology at NYU
00:53:08that's it for this week's show on the media is produced by allowing the casting of the Burgess Jesse Brennaman like a low insurance and lay a fatter we had more help from John had her hand Philippine novelists and Isaac nay pal and our show was edited by broke
00:53:25our technical directors Jennifer months in our engineers this week Sam bear and Greg rip and catch your Rogers is our executive producer Jim Schachter's W. N. Y. C.'s vice president for news on the media is production of WNYC studios I'm Brooke Gladstone and I'm Bob Garfield Facebook note
00:53:54on the media is supported by the Ford Foundation the John S. and James L. knight foundation and the listeners of W. NYC radio

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ABOUT THIS PODCAST

The Peabody Award-winning On the Media podcast is your guide to examining how the media sausage is made. Hosts Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield examine threats to free speech and government transparency, cast a skeptical eye on media coverage of the week’s big stories and unravel hidden political narratives in everything we read, watch and hear.
WNYC Studios is a listener-supported producer of other leading podcasts including Radiolab, Snap Judgment, Death, Sex & Money, Nancy and Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin.
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233 episodes
since Jun, 2016
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