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As someone who has worked both in Silicon Valley and in The White House, Jason Goldman has a unique perspective on tech regulation. This week he shares his thoughts on the rise of monolithic social media platforms and how they’ve been used to advance political agendas and promote hate. He shares what he’s learned about regulation while working in the White House and reminds us that there’s hope in younger generations. 

Transcript

Jason Goldman If you design a car that kills people in the United States, you’re going to get regulated and you’re going to be liable for that design decision. And we just don’t have that same framework with regards to tech. And so that’s what we have to try to find. [music ramps up, plays alone for 15 seconds, fades out]

Paul Ford Oh, my goodness, Richard, we have an old friend [mhm] with us.

Rich Ziade Yes.

PF Who will have some genuine personal insight into some of the things that are going on in the world today. It’s, it’s Jason Goldman. Let’s not make people wait to find out. [Jason laughs] Jason, hello!

JG Now people are psyched. 

RZ Insert dramatic music. [Paul sings dramatic music]

JG Thank you so much for having me!

PF Oh, my God, this is, this is a dream. So look, we have to talk about two things with Jason Goldman. Let me give you Jason Goldman’s bio, in like a couple sentences. And then maybe Jason Goldman himself.

JG No, this is great. I like this. This is like going to my own funeral. Please. Continue.

PF Jason grew up in in Missouri, St. Louis area. His mother is a public school teacher, or principal. And he happened to be really, after getting an advanced degree in astronomy—God I know a lot about you—you got into the internet and were a part of the team that built Blogger. And then you lived inside of Google for a while. And then after that, that same team kind of came out of Google. And they built an amazing project. It was a product called Odeo, which is why we’re here today to talk about podcasting and the amazing power of the Odeo platform and how it’s built—

JG How it changed everything.

PF In the last fifteen years to change everything. And I mean, just, one of the most positive, exciting and wonderful things happen. I mean, there’s a lot of ways you could look at the Internet and be like, ”boy, that could have gone terribly.” But Odeo brought us all together. So no, actually what happened. Odeo, for people who don’t know was the product that was going to get built. But then somebody was like, ”hey, what if we did like a microblogging platform called Twitter?”

02:05 

RZ I think Apple, timing wise, that’s what was messed up Odeo, if I’m not mistaken.

JG It’s what really killed it. Yeah, it’s basically like a, like six months after Odeo was founded, Apple was like, ”we do podcasts, all of them now, they are ours.”

RZ And that was it.

JG They just Watson’d Odeo.

PF And they were like, ”we don’t we don’t really care, actually. But we’re just gonna have them.” 

JG Right. Exactly. [Jason laughs] Yeah. 

PF So in one of the great pivots of our time, off to Twitter, Jason becomes VP of Twitter Product, and really shapes the early product as it’s coming onto mobile and exploding. And Jason did a lot of stuff. But then he landed in a very, very small startup called the Obama White House [Jason laughs] where he ran the Office of Digital Strategy for a couple years. And you and I actually got to visit him and go to the Roosevelt Room and feel both engaged and complicit in a really interesting way. And I advised a bunch too and I loved it, right. And so what we’ve got here is someone who both has actually been on the inside of a lot of things and I think more than your typical guy in his 20s, who’s like, ”oh, boy, I don’t know how it happened, we just destroyed democracy,” Jason has actually engaged with and thought about, you know, and seen the regulatory models and the frameworks up close, that could affect the future with social media. Right. And to cap it all off, he’s just obsessed with Dune. [Jason laughs]

JG That’s obviously the most important part of my bio.

PF That’s actually why we brought you on, just to talk about that. With that intro, we’re just gonna talk about the Dune trailer for 25 minutes.

JG Yeah, exactly! It’s gonna be a breakdown of Denis Villeneuve’s career.

RZ Dune is looking less like sci-fi and more like, like just predictive modeling.

JG Right, yeah, exactly.

RZ It feels like, you know what, let me forecast out, realistically, not too far out into the future.

JG And actually, you can tie, you can tie both topics together, because Dune articulates a framework for internet regulation, because in the Dune universe, there’s this thing called the The Butlerian Jihad in which they destroy all thinking machines and computers, because they become too powerful.

03:58 

PF But not on Ix, right? I never got that. Ix still has the machines?

JG So that’s I mean, that’s like what’s controversial, the Ixians kind of like flirt with the line of what’s allowed under the great convention. [mmm!] And the technically their machines are very clever, but don’t model the mind of a man until they start you know, doing secret stuff. 

PF Listen, the thing about Dune, when he when it gets you, when you’re like, 13, 14 years old, is essentially it was like proto Wikipedia, like you’re just like, oh my god, it’s just a reference after reference.

JG It’s it’s sort of like, Lord, Lord, it’s like Lord of the Rings in that way in which there’s this complete entire world behind it that’s very thought through and if you’re a certain type of brain, you’re just like, ”must know all the things about all the houses.”

PF Look, Dune has the best ephemeral knowledge base of almost any giant content franchise, right? It’s just sort of like, it’s 10,000 years in the future. There’s all this stuff about spice that that big worms and it’s, it’s, it’s also that perfect combination.

JG I think I mean, like the one thing I’ll say about Dune that I think is the reason and so I host a podcast called Dune Pod with a friend mine named Haitch, who started it and wrote me into it, which I’m grateful for. And if you’re interested in Dune, I hope you check it out. But the thing I find, like kind of rich about Frank Herbert’s theory is that it’s based on this subversion of the hero myth. You’re meant to fall in love with Paul Atreides, who is the hero of Dune. But in fact, what Herbert is really doing is setting you up for a fall, like he’s setting you up for a fall, which is based on the idea that anytime you believe in a Messiah, or anytime you believe in a hero, you’re falling into a trap, even the hero that he creates.

PF Which brings us to the senior leadership at Twitter. [Paul chuckles]

JG Exactly.

RZ No, I, I want to ask this question, just to lay it all out. You’re no longer at Twitter. It’s been a while since you’ve been—

JG Yeah, I’ve been gone, I’ve been gone 10 years, I left December of 2010.

PF Is it recognizable to you? Is this the thing that you worked on? Or has it just become something totally different?

05:50 

JG I think it is still very recognizable. I think the the core of Twitter hasn’t really changed that much. I think, you know, is in somewhat to its credit and somewhat to its fault. The part that’s obviously difficult to reconcile or reckon with is how much of a platform it’s become for manipulation, disinformation, abuse and harassment. Now, I don’t want to remove my own, like, kind of culpability from building that. Because there are certainly people who were alerting us to those problems, even you know, in 2008, 2009. But as the platform kind of achieved critical mass and became the essential news service, and particularly for political news, it really took on a different dimension. And so the story of the last five years, at least, has been trying to keep up with that. And trying to address that in any meaningful way.

RZ It feels like there’s a different culture that’s taken hold in Twitter versus Facebook, and one that [yes] on the top on down, and that’s just outside looking in, I’m seeing two different narratives take hold, slowly, but that’s what I’m seeing. But tell me your your perspective there.

JG So I think the common ground is that both companies, you know, at some level, have some idea that like, the internet could be, the internet as a platform of self expression could be this positive thing in the world. And it’s hard to remember, but that was actually a fairly radical idea in the early 2000s. When I worked on Blogger at Google, even fellow Google employees did not embrace the idea of the internet as a platform of self expression. It was a place where you went to get answers out the Google version was to it was that there should be a more canonical, expert driven source of information, that only experts basically should create information on the internet. And that’s like, kind of the ethos behind their failed Wikipedia clone, Knol, is a good example.

PF Knol!!!

JG Yeah, shout out to Knol.

PF No one, no other podcast on earth is talking about Knol. Check it out!

07:44 

JG But yeah, I think everyone, not everyone, but the predominantly white men who are running these platforms, discounted the abuse vectors and misuse vectors as bugs, as opposed to equally powerful feature sets that a different type of user would embrace. And that was true at Google and with Blogger, and that was true later with Twitter and is certainly true with Facebook. Now the difference is, and so the commonality there is that all of those companies want to avoid an editorial role. That’s not true. All of those platforms make choices every day, millions of choices all the time about what gets to be on and what gets to be amplified, but they want to hold on to that idea that they don’t make editorial choices. So that’s all commonality. The difference, I think, between Twitter and Facebook, is that Facebook, in my view, is driven by a very acquisitive need for power. It wants to own more and more of people’s attention and time, both on a metrics basis, and also just on a ship market share basis. Twitter, obviously, like, I’m not gonna say it’s like a public good, or a public user, you know, it’s all roses, but the mistakes that were made were largely made out of incompetence, as opposed to malice, and was really, there was really more of an idea that it was ”we’re creating this, you know, public Town Square, or this forum or, you know, ideas can, you know, hang out and do whatever,” that turned out to have these fatal flaws, but it wasn’t based on the idea of just this acquisitive nature.

RZ You know, when you look at, I go to, I go to Fox News. I just need to, because I’m already riled up, I don’t need my same the same sentiments reinforced more and more, I just need to see the other side. The echo chamber is driven to a large extent by the audience that they need to bring back, right? If the plot starts to taste sour, they go away so we have to keep doing it. And that’s a business decision, right? What you have with these networks is they’re incredibly efficient at creating beautifully tight echo chambers that just started absolutely fit me like a suit, like just a custom tailored suit all the time. Is there an undoing here? I, you know, I know there’s gonna be things that start to pull it, rein it in and pull it back, but humans like to hang out with people who believe what they believe.

09:58 

JG But that is absolutely true. Humans do like to have affinity, self affinity. And some of the internet’s problems here, kind of predate Facebook or even the web, right? Like Usenet, you could see as a platform for self affinity groups, of people aggregating into into places where their their views are self reinforced. However, the difference is, is that Facebook is algorithmically driving people into those silos. And the engagement metrics that it rewards, allows things like QAnon, to be lifted up more frequently than other types of content, because that’s the type of content that people engage with more. And Facebook has also made very bad design, product design, decisions in the wake of 2016 that have made the problem worse, like in the wake of 2016, when the big fake news thing was going on Facebook made this decision that they were going to promote groups and try to get people into groups more frequently. And their explicit reason for doing it was because public sharing, people creating content on the timeline was going down, like people just posting on their timeline. But if you could get people into a group, they would become more active users. That’s the reason why they did it. The problem, though, was that then these groups became these self amplifying echo chambers, in which folks could be driven into conspiratorial cults, they could be driven into calls to violence, they could be driven into, you know, disinformation, without it being publicly seen, and without it being able to be as easily checked. And you know, in some places, like, you know, the genocide in Myanmar, this had incredibly real tangible real world impacts in which, you know, people were organizing based on Messenger in that case, on disinformation to you know, attack and kill a Muslim minority. And so those are product design choices that lead to significant real world harm that I think is different than just like Usenet where, yes, people can you know, or even Fox News where yes, people can find these things, but it’s not actively modeling what their brain wants and serving them up more dopamine hits of the same.

11:59 

RZ So devil’s advocate question, then I mean, I added a sixth gear to that race car, it should have never gone that fast. But man, it’s cool. And you’re gonna come back at me for adding that sixth gear? It’s a design choice. I’m a product designer, my success is—

JG Well this is a good argument. I think that’s the right way to phrase it. You know, I was in a meeting—and you asked about, like, sort of what I learned about regulation from working in the White House. I was in a meeting and the Chief of Staff’s office, and it was Denis McDonough, the Chief of Staff for the end of the Obama, longest tenured chief of staff and the end of term Chief of Staff for the Obama administration, and a great, great manager and a great leader. And he got together all of the kind of tech people, Silicon Valley people who worked in the White House and different components, because we were having a conversation about like tech regulation, like kind of overall and what the approach of the of the government should be. And someone was espousing a view that’s somewhat similar to what you were just saying, which is like, ”look, the reason that Silicon Valley has thrived, is because we have this non regulatory environment, and we can be innovative and take risks. And like, you can just, you know, release a new patch and move on.” And they kind of gave the whole standard, you know, can’t about that. And Dennis paused, and he said, ”Well, that’s great, that’s what Silicon Valley does. But we’re the United States government, we regulate everyone.” And that’s always really stuck with me, because his point was, we regulate banks, we regulate energy companies, we regulate auto manufacturers. So yes, like to your point, if you design a car that kills people in the United States, you’re going to get regulated, and you’re going to be liable for that design decision. And we just don’t have that same framework with regards to tech. And so that’s what we have to try to find.

RZ It’s always after the fact though, right? I mean, it’s always—

JG Yeah, of course, of course. 

13:42 

PF I mean, this thing became a vast cultural power in real time, right? Like there wasn’t, it’s very hard to scale your ethics and regulatory you like your internal model, when no one’s ever seen this before. And it’s moving that quickly. And there’s so much money. This wouldn’t have happened if there weren’t hundreds of billions of advertiser dollars pouring into it, motivating it to go, go, go, go, go. And actually, from any classic business perspective, you got to keep that growth coming for as long as you can. Because you don’t know when you’re ever going to grab it again. If you were to create a perfect situation for exactly this to happen. We did it. So how do you catch up? Right? How do you get a regulatory system in place where they can say, ”Okay, stop!” It’s not like Silicon Valley will ever slow down.

JG Yeah, I think that’s right. And like one of the things is, is just changing the way that the market values itself, like you’re right, like the companies will seek to, like, get as many users as possible and to hold on to lightning in a bottle. And the cost of adding more content moderators or more people looking at what’s actually going on on these platforms is not only idealistically against what they believe in, which is to avoid an editorial role, but it’s also not cost effective. But you have to just price it in so that it’s like, well look like this is if you don’t do that there’s a bigger cost to pay, you know is how this has been solved in other industries. There’s actually, I agree with you that like some of these hearings, have been dispiriting, I think they’ve gotten better at it. And I also think like, they’ve gotten better briefers. Two years ago, in 2018, Senator Mark Warner released a white paper with a series of suggestions of things that could be done up to, but not including antitrust, for regulating the tech industry. And there’s a lot of good, nuanced suggestions in that white paper that are still relevant today. And some of the ones that I like, are just mandating that companies of a certain size have to provide data to researchers in a public anonymized way. So that you can actually study what’s going on in these platforms and get ahead of it and more real time. Like that’s like a relatively simple one. But there’s a lot in this document that I would point people towards. So that’s, that’s the government level. The other thing that’s happened since 2016, is that individuals, people, have realized that these platform companies are unto themselves, governments are essentially sovereign states. Paul, you’ve made this point before, which is that if you’re an iOS developer, the most relevant law in the world is the Apple Store’s Terms of Service.

16:04 

PF We just watched this with TikTok explode. Right. Just the government literally said, when they said, ”We want to shut down TikTok” they had two centralized points, where they said, let’s do it, and to Google and to Apple at the App Store level. So it’s just like, oh, shit, there it is. It’s real now.

JG Exactly. That’s what makes it real. And so what people have realized is that if you have a grievance, you have to approach the companies as though they were governments and demand better rights treatment in that way. And so the one of the organizations, I think, is doing the best that this is Color of Change, which is led by Rashad Robinson. And they’ve adopted this civil rights frame with respect to Facebook, which is saying, look, like you are essentially like a rogue government that is not doing what is necessary to protect the rights of your citizens. And we’re going to shine that kind of light on what you’re doing and demand change in those terms. Not on these terms of like, there needs to be a unified truth, there needs to be, you know, there needs to be an epistemological clarity about what people believe. But because of your product choices, you are causing harm to us, the people, and we are going to demand better rights from you. I think that’s powerful.

PF So that’s a way to move forward. How would you design, go back in time, create a social network that doesn’t blow up the world? What would you do? How would you start?

JG You know, I mean, I think the difference is just you know, as you guys know, the scoreboard is, is ultimately what defines some of your product choices, the metrics that you define, to care about, are the ones that you end up building for. And so instead of saying, like, we’re gonna make tweets and retweets and engagement metrics, like skyrocket as much as we can, you would instead define some harder to quantify measurement of healthy conversations, or you know, the type of things that you want to have in the world and build around those. I think you guys also made this point in a previous podcast. But a lot of this also comes down to taste, like just being more explicit about what your platform is for, and just saying, like, we’re not down with the Nazi shit, we believe Black Lives Matter. And like those are our ethics. And if you’re not for that, like you should find another place to hang out, because we’re not going to create a, we’re not going to create a platform for this.

18:15 

PF It’s not about free speech. Right?

JG Right. Exactly. 

PF This is about the the quality of the platform for the the users that you want under capitalism. 

JG That’s right. 

PF Everyone got it real twisted.

JG The free speech argument is one of the great red herrings in like, the current—

RZ Oh, no doubt.

JG Discourse cycle, because, you know, I’m just on its level, like, you know, none of these platforms are governed by the First Amendment. The platform’s are not governments. But then, furthermore, they make choices about limiting speech all the time that no one cares about. You know, none of these platforms are platforms for pornography, which is a very American interpretation of a speech exclusion that wouldn’t make sense in other parts of the world. But like, no one has a problem in the United States with Instagram saying like, ”Yeah, no, this isn’t for live streaming porn, like obviously not.” That’s obviously a speech exclusion. That’s a huge category of speech that they’ve just bought, you know—

RZ You seem very upset about this particular exclusion, I’m just gonna— [Jason laughs] He’s getting riled up here, we should—

JG I’d also like to plug my OnlyFans… [Rich & Paul laugh] In which you can get, you can really get the spice that you’re looking for.

RZ Yeah, I mean, I think it’s very easy to sort of hide behind what seemed like loftier ideals to provide cover for a business. It’s just easy. It’s just way easier to do it. You know, I go back and forth because I stare deeply into Zuckerberg eyes and I’m trying to get where he truly is. I think he believes what he says when he says this is a place for people to come together and be good and help one another and care for one another. I think he means it. 

PF He’s larping as king of the world.

20:01 

RZ Is it larping? Is that what it is?

JG I think so.

PF Yeah, we’re just we’re caught in his game. Like it’s like a bad Zuckerberg driven simulation. I don’t even have a lot of anger and frustration with that human, like you just sort of see how they got exactly where they are. And, you know, I can only imagine the distorting effect of 100 billion dollars on you as a human being.

RZ Is it money though? I feel like that’s abstract at this point. It’s not money.

PF Bezos, clearly, it was like, I’m going for it. I’m going for the gold. I’m not gonna really have any friends. I’m going to be a human nation state, doing the things that I find interesting. And I’m going to go, I’ll get a good personal trainer, I’ll get 20. I’ll do this, I’ll do that. That guy is like, that person decided to be a nation state. I don’t think Zuckerberg did. And then he did and he’s like, ”Oh, you know, I’m really into Roman history.” Like I just, Bezos is actually like a billionaire intellectual in a weird way. Like he just decided, like, whereas I don’t think Zuckerberg gets it. He’s just really smart and got something happened. And now we don’t have democracy anymore.

JG I think it’s always useful to think about the origin stories of the companies involved, who those people were when they created these things, because I think it does inform something. Like, you know, jack was, you know, a punk who was very interested in SMS, and was very interested in the idea of AOL status messages. And he shared this sort of fascination with the early social web with, you know, Evan Williams, Biz Stone, and Noah Glass who all worked on, on those platforms. And like that ethos was at the beginning of Twitter, which is like, yeah, like, you know, it’s this thing, this connective tissue, it’s this, you know, it’s the map of the world and all those kind of like, you know, rosie vibes. But like, you know, Zuck’s thing literally was like, rate hot girls in my college, it literally was that. Like, we can’t pretend as though he started Facebook, because he wanted to create a platform for human conversation, like, there’s no basis in the historical record for that assertion. The other thing I’ll say is that I think he does, at this point, view himself as like, he’s like, ”Okay, well, you know, I wasn’t looking for this role. But like, I guess we are this arbiter of like, you know, what the rules are. And so we’re gonna just kind of, as you say, like, larp having a constitution and a Supreme Court and like, all of these, you know, kind of Boys State, like this whole thing that isn’t really going to solve any of our problems.”

22:17 

PF Look, he’s a bright guy too, and he’s meeting all these people who are very, very powerful. And I’m sure he’s going, ”you are a chowder head, I don’t want to forsake my power to you, I have zillions of dollars in a giant platform, I think I will continue to run it rather than have you tell me what to do.” And I think that’s like a, I would do that in his situation. It’s just like compound interest as culture, like, just like, ”woah, what’s happpened?”

JG The other thing is that, and you guys know this for having built stuff, when you’re building something and the first thing you struggle with is that no one else believes the thing that you’re building is worth a damn. And that like, you know, the thing that you’re working on is just, you know, something that no one will ever do. And that is, which is what we heard about blogs, and also Twitter, you develop this very robust defensive armor about the thing you’re working on, because you’re the one, especially if you’re the CEO, or the head of product, or one of the founders, like, you’ve got to live the ethos of the vision of the product, and you know, be willing to maintain this reality distortion against all kind of negative vibes. And that’s necessary in some way to create something. But it also makes you really vulnerable to not seeing the true flaws in the thing that you’ve built, because you dismiss those as bugs, as opposed to co-equal features, with the things that you actually want.

PF You know, if you want to nail down technology, if you take the proverb, ”you reap what you sow” it’s almost like we felt this culture that’s totally about sewing, like, let’s go in there, we’re gonna build, we’re gonna make amazing stuff and so on. And you just sort of like Don’t worry, like, we’re not even reaping emphasize, we don’t emphasize reaping, because like Google’s gonna buy you before you really have to get those harvests in, relax, just keep building, building, building, building, building. And then when you actually do face the consequences for all of the things that you’ve built, it just feels really off like it was only supposed to be either heroic, or it would fail. And you’d move on to the next one.

24:05 

RZ I think well, another thing that kind of skews it is once you have a very tidy and logical in your mind value system that can drive everything else. It’s very hard to penetrate. I feel like the one thing that Facebook reminds me of is—and this is gonna sound weird and political, but it’s not meant as such, it’s more as an observation—is Republicans. And what I mean by that is the Republicans feel like value system is very clear to them. And then when you have to go execute to defend it and execute on it and get things to happen to support it, everything is fair game, because the value system, whatever those values may be, are the real Northstar. They are the things that drive and so I feel I’m unseemly the games we played in the Senate and the hearings and the way we you know, we blocked this and did that. It’s for the greater good because the greater good is about XYZ That represents that value system. When I hear Zuckerberg talk, he goes into like a 50,000 foot altitude every time like about the lofty aspirations of the platform, and that they’re just, it’s complicated and messy, but we must keep, we must stay on them. 

PF This is why he’s not really a politician, right? He doesn’t actually connect to that individual user, but he’s thinking at that altitude. Jason, okay. Trump wins. Climate change, keep focusing on that Dune podcast. But let’s say Trump doesn’t win. It feels like a lot of these bills are going to come due. And there will be a regulatory focus around the way that tech works with the rest of America in the world that we haven’t seen before. Because the pressure is there. And with the democrats having a lot of control, I would really expect Silicon Valley to come under fire, like, what does that look like in your head as someone who’s sort of been in not just in DC, but in the White House? And then how do you think Silicon Valley is gonna fight back? Because it doesn’t love being regulated.

25:57 

JG No, it doesn’t. I think at this point, though, like the incumbents would welcome a wide swath of regulation. And in some ways, like the United States is behind because Europe is already doing a lot of this with GDPR and with other things, you know, they’re talking about banning Facebook overall, if they don’t get their shit together, as of this week. They wouldn’t be in favor of that. But the tech companies in general would be in favor of regulations that make the cost of doing business more onerous, because it just cements their incumbent status. It just makes it so that it’s harder for other up and comers to find purchase, because they can’t compete at the same level. So for me, I think, I think of two things. One is, we’ve been in a frozen moment with regards to social media for a surprisingly long time, in the kind of contemporary history of the of the internet, we haven’t had a platform evolution since the iPhone. And as a result, people have just kind of owned what they’ve owned for a incredibly long time, like you haven’t seen the sort of disruption of like Google comes and like, it’s the new search engine that’s just better, and everyone starts using it like that does not happen in a very long time. And I feel like some of the real problems that we have won’t be resolved until we have either a platform evolution, like we you know, I’ll start using, to use a Paul Ford phrase, inhalable computing or something else that allows us to move on to something beyond the squares in our pocket, or there’s some kind of antitrust that, you know, creates a new competitive landscape by mandate. Those are like kind of the big things, I think, change the moment.

RZ So you don’t think like what comes to mind is, I love looking back at sort of the unregulated periods before, like, you know, when you could get drops of morphine at the grocery store, before drugs were regulated, and you could, you know, advertising didn’t have to be accurate. And so you know, cigarettes were minty fresh and stuff would kick in, you don’t see something akin to like an FDA, something that is not thinking about breaking up, you know, monopolistic practices, but more, reining in and kind of putting guardrails?

28:03 

JG No, I do. And that that gets to my second point, which is that we should absolutely do those things like we should like try, like, you know, an FDA, like what is healthy? What is nutritious content look like on on the internet? And how do we let people know what they’re consuming? Or, you know, this public data idea, allow researchers to like figure out what’s going on and like issue public reports or require we should do all those things, even though that their incumbents benefit, even though the incumbents are the primary beneficiaries? What people will say and what the tech industry will say, and what other technologists will say is that like, government is too stupid to put those kinds of regulations in place. And the regulations will do harm or will be misapplied or whatever, to which I say, ”so what?” just try something like yeah, I’m more interested in imposing some kind of new constraint on the system to see what kind of creativity that inspires from some new generation of technologists who says, ”Okay, those are the rules were like, let’s try this, like instead to the decide.” Like, I think like, absolutely, there will be unintended consequences of regulation, that’s not a reason not to do it. And in fact, it might be a reason to do it, like some of those unintended consequences could be good.

PF Put a box around it, and you will find that people will come up with all kinds of solutions. And 20 years later, someone will be like, ”wow, they thought that would in the world. But it actually I can’t believe we were living that way, allowing that stuff to go down.”

JG And I also think the final, the third point I’ll make is the point I made before about, like the civil rights frame, which is that individual people in working together as groups need to approach these platforms as though they are sovereign governments that are not giving them the treatment that they deserve as like, you know, citizens and as humans, and like articulate—

PF How do you petition Apple?

JG I mean, you know, like, the way in which like folks like Color of Change have done is through economic powers like to try to organize boycotts and to try to say, like, look like you know, it’s explicitly a civil rights frame and say, ”we do not believe that you are treating us the citizens of this platform equitably. And so therefore, we are going to deny you business, we’re gonna deny you income, we’re gonna shine a spotlight on your unfair treatment to make it difficult for you in the press, we’re going to hurt your business. And you know, we’re going to hurt your economics until we’re gonna attempt to hurt your economics until you give us better treatment.”

30:10 

PF Okay, let’s let’s rank them in order of how dangerous they are to civil society, right? Like it feels like Facebook is definitely, of all the big ones is coming in as number one right now, like you’ve just it’s doing the most damage.

JG I think so, there’s a good argument to something Rich said earlier, which is that Fox News actually is more damaging than Facebook. Yokai Benkler has this book called Network Propaganda, which I would recommend to folks in which he looks at the 2016 election and says that Fox News is more of the determinant cause than any kind of, you know, misinformation posts on Facebook. But I think if you fast forward to where we are now, the number, I don’t think the radicalization of folks to QAnon happens because of Fox News. And to me that presents like more of a clear and present danger to the future of the Republic than anything else.

PF Let me ask you a very important question, which is, did you get blamed at the White House for the internet? [Rich laughs]

JG Yeah, at first, I mean, like, in this era, it was like, ”Oh, you know, the internet is here.” Like, I was like the internet personified, like, oh, like the cool things that happen, like online, kids or whatever, which is not great. A story that is slightly more serious is that after the 2016 election, I did have a conversation with the President in the Oval Office in which he was like, ”Well, you let it didn’t, I’m not really happy with how this has turned out.” [Paul laughs] I was like, ”No, I’m not happy with how this turned out, either.” And he said, he said, ”And you know, a lot of that is because of you.” And I was like, ”Okay!”

PF Woah!

JG Oh, you know, because of, because of, because you know, of Trump’s use of Twitter. And I was like, ”yeah, maybe.”

RZ Let’s end, I want to, I want to end this with good advice. I mean, Jason, you were inside, you got to know the White House, you got to know President Obama. I mean, that’s someone that won, he won without these gross grotesque tactics and all this manipulation, you have to hope that there is a good playbook out there that people can aspire towards and use, right, because it’s not like we’re looking back on, you know, President Obama from 1958 to 66. Right, it we’re, we’re looking back, just this is just the president before this one, you know, is there a way forward? I mean, maybe we’ll see that in November. I don’t know. But talk about that for a second, because this can’t be the way forward. Right? That’s not how you get to leadership in the future.

32:24 

JG Yeah. That’s right. I mean, I didn’t think like President Obama also was a, you know, he’s obviously a transcendent historical figure, but like to speak my own book, he was also well suited to like kind of the technological moment that he found himself in, because, in addition to the internet, amplifying outrage, and hate, the internet also enjoys hope, and stories of aspiration. And those types of emotions are things that you can tap into, as well, by, you know, tying to a broader narrative about what binds us together. And I think that’s obviously a key part of his story, and why he was elected twice. And also, you know, again, speaking of my own work in the White House, that’s what we concentrated on in the Office Digital Strategy in terms of telling a story of America and the presidency, that was about all Americans. And that tied into a vision of the country that was moving forward. And that was progressive, and but one that included everyone. So you know, he’s the same guy who, you know, in 2004, you know, so there’s not one United States of America, there’s one United States of America and not a red American, a blue America, those moves also work for the country as a whole. And they also work online. I think the other part of it, though, that gives me hope, beyond like, kind of the presidential level. And this kind of ties back to our regulatory thing, is that people individual people aren’t waiting for national leadership to kind of define or do this work for them, they are going to demand these things at all levels of government and including the local ones, and, and are trying to create the type of future that they want. And like, you know, there’s there’s been good progress in short time, not necessarily on the policies, but in terms of just defining an agenda and defining a movement. And so Obama talks about, like, sort of what gives him hope is the young people who are organizing and are motivating for change. And I think that is the thing that is the only thing that has moved the country forward, historically, you know, the thing that gives me, I always go towards when like, ”Things are fucked right now, like, how are we how are we gonna get out of this?” It’s like, you know, the civil rights movement exists as a historical fact, in American history. And that is a case in which the folks in the civil rights movement had to believe that they had worse odds, then certainly me, like, you know, a rich white guy from California, and yet they, you know, persisted and move things forward. [music fades in] And so it’s always just been young people moving things forward, despite the odds. And that’s the story of America and one that I think will continue to be.

34:46 

PF The hope is the spice that controls the universe. [Jason laughs]

JG Yes. That’s right. 

PF Wanted to bring it back to Dune. That’s real. That’s actually very beautiful and also very serious. We’re gonna get through these next couple months. You have to come back on when everything’s great and it’s all worked out and we’ll just talk fun stuff about Dune and video games. 

JG That’d be great!

PF Alright, Rich people know where to find us. Hello@postlight.com. These are the conversations we love. I feel oddly inspired, even though it’s a bad time. 

RZ Well, you know, we’re a little older is the last thought to latch on to what Jason’s saying, you know, there are a lot of young people who are in a bad way right now because this looks like this is skidding to the end, they don’t see an upswing, and it’s good to hear those words after you know, we were picking apart what’s happening to us today that, that there is a way forward that these immensely powerful platforms are actually used in positive ways and have been used in positive ways in the past. And I think people just need to hear that.

PF Alright, Jason, thank you come back on!

JG Okay. I will, anytime you want!

PF Okay, bye. [music ramps up, plays alone for 3 seconds, ends]