Making the World a Better Place: This week, Paul Ford and Rich Ziade discuss how the integrity of platforms like Facebook and Twitter has been compromised by their growth. Was the company ignoring user concerns or just waiting until they impacted profits?
Rich Ziade This is regulation. This is —
Paul Ford That’s right.
RZ — the debate, the political debate about regulatory pressures, or should we leave businesses to be free to do what they want? There is a red line.
PF You know what’s cool about that though?
PF Well that all starts to get locked down, everybody’s freakin’ out, and they’re goin’ in front of Congress, and so on. This is where you can get in there and start to make new things.
RZ [Laughs] Round and round we go!
PF No, this is it. I mean, you know, Microsoft started to fade a little bit once it got into antitrust.
PF It started — you know, just sort of lost its way, couldn’t figure it out, and suddenly, now — now you got Google Docs. It’s pretty good.
RZ Yeah. It’s true.
PF So, I mean, you know, one of the good things about this and one of the reason’s they hate it is that it’s gonna create opportunities for people who aren’t distracted.
PF By giant regulatory frameworks to do new things which freaking thank god! I’m so tired of logging into Facebook! [Music fades in, plays alone for 28 seconds, ramps down]. Rich, how’s Facebook’s stock doing today?
RZ Today, I don’t know. Lately: not good. Not good at all.
PF How come?
RZ I would say the innocent Facebook user has lost [music fades out] trust in Facebook’s ability to take care of the community and govern the community properly, such that the stories have come up again and again about information being “fake”, information being “polluted”, people being “manipulated”, and what is most fascinating about this is that people put it on Facebook.
RZ The fact that there is that expectation. Like, why didn’t you take care of the community?
PF It’s the platform.
RZ Why didn’t you take care of the platform? And that is — the political pressure and the news and the press about it is one thing, but people deciding that the governors of the Facebook world weren’t taking care of it well enough, such that they’re emigrating out of it, is a very big deal.
PF Well I think that’s, you know, you just have a lot of congressional hearings and bad news and you’re under criticism and you’re — people are saying you’re enabling genocide, and all sorts of stuff. So that’s bad. But the market actually often is ok with bad news or sort of things that are culturally weird. What they — what the market has to be saying here is, “We don’t think you’re gonna grow that much anymore.”
RZ The market is very scared of what’s happening to Facebook. Yes.
PF Cuz I mean the market is like, “I bought this stock at, you know, 2.50. I needed it to go up to 2.60. I don’t think you’re gonna get another billion users that you promised me.”
RZ Yeah! And it’s not because the features are gettin’ flat, it’s that trust is disappearing.
PF Something’s falling apart like at the core, right?
RZ Yeah this isn’t about growth, this isn’t about like, “I expected five percent growth and I got — I got one.” This is about my emigrating out [yeah]. The numbers are declining. Why are people leaving?
PF This is key, right? It’s not slow growth. It’s departure. It’s like The Pew Foundation did a study and they found that — what was it? Like one out of four humans —
RZ Are taking a break, at the very least.
PF They’re taking a break. Yeah. Or deleting the app.
RZ Deleting the app is something which a lot of people do that and then they reinstall it but taking a break, to me, is more severe.
PF Yeah exactly. People storming off is just a key part of internet everything.
PF [In mocking, wide-mouthed voice] “I don’t wanna do anymore. It’s nonsense. I hate it!” You know? Especially, you know, I love when they write like a good five page farewell note.
RZ Yeah and — and —
PF “It’s not — it’s not me, Facebook. It’s you!”
RZ Yeah. Because they feel beholden and — and a lot of that, you know, comes from, “Hey, I gotta take back my life. I’m on it too much.” [You know what it is?] But this is different.
PF But this is — and you see it on Twitter too it’s like that particular paradigm is like, “I used to be here in the community and I had a certain amount of power, but the things that I do now aren’t getting me the same attention and excitement that I used to and I keep trying to do them and I feel that it’s all pointless and bad. So, I’m gonna take my ball and go home because you’re not giving me what I need anymore.” That’s what those are always about. But this is more like — and I’ll tell ya, I have my own experience with it, I don’t know how often you’re on it but I just decided not to care about Facebook too much like I know it’s a giant platform, everybody asks me to like write about it and have opinions about it, but as a user I’d go in, see a couple of pictures of kids, and, you know, like family’s on there. It’s good. It’s fine that way [yeah] and then I just kinda kept driftin’ off. Like I couldn’t lock in and then it sends you the mo — if you go away for like three days, it starts sending you emails about everything.
RZ They’re trying to pull you back in.
PF Oh! But — but it doesn’t know anything. So it’s like, “Eric shared a video of an amazing chihuahua.” And you’re like, “Don’t do that. Don’t [yeah] — I don’t wanna know that. I didn’t wanna know that about Eric.”
RZ Well that’s the move, right? Alerts.
PF Yeah. But then the news because everyone’s kind of [chuckles] drifting a little bit, is just garbage. It’s just like — and then now they’re getting vaguer. It’s like, “Steve liked the other Steve’s thing and it has [yeah] 150 likes on it.” And you’re like, “Alright, now I have to look at it.”
RZ Yeah from the outside looking in, it looks like a crisis to me.
PF Let’s be clear: platform companies only have transactions and metrics in order to understand how they’re performing. They have no sense of individuals. And if the numbers are down it’s like —
RZ That’s the shit.
PF Oh my god! Everyone is running around on fire [yeah]. The only one I’ve never heard — I’ve heard, like, anecdotally about enormous, you know, things like this at Google, or things like this at Facebook. Apple’s the only one where, I think, everyone’s so insulated that when the numbers are down, like, you don’t even know. They — one day you just come there and you’re part of the giant —
RZ The number’s been down ever?!
PF Well, this is the thing, I think probably I’m sure —
RZ The last 15 years?
PF I’m sure like Apple Watch didn’t do as well as they expect —
RZ Softened. Softened.
PF Yeah, something softened. And I imagine you just come in and where you used to have six or seven hundred people there’s now this enormous white space [Rich snorts] with no desks at all, like it’s just —
RZ Yeah, I doubt something that dramatic has happened there but.
PF But, I dunno, you don’t get that sense but I mean all the other big platform companies when the metrics are weird, people freak out. So you gotta imagine, sure, [yeah]. I’m sure this is not a good time at Facebook and everybody’s coming up with ideas and they’re at a scale where there’s no precedent. It’s not like you can like pull out the delta protocol [yeah] from the binder and be like, “Well, you know we were at 1.5 billion, we’re at 1.4 billion [yeah], you know, let’s execute, you know, Operation Ferret.” Like who the hell knows?!
RZ Well I —
PF Meanwhile the leadership doesn’t look good right now, too, that’s another thing [no]. The market is like ehhh.
RZ But the leadership, I mean, look: what’s their mandate?
PF What’s Mark Zuckerberg’s mandate? Is to make an amazing brisket.
RZ He does make good br — we will include [he’s — Paul laughing there is like a — ] in the podcast link.
PF Like a 70 or 80 minute video of him just like —
RZ It’s really weird.
PF Just smokin’ that meat.
RZ Yeah. He just keeps saying meat over and over again.
PF Uh god. You know his media trainers must occasionally just be like, “I did the best I could.”
RZ Yeah [laughing]. Oh yeah! He’s a — he’s a steep hill.
PF No, there’s somebody who’s like, “I — I actually made Al Gore sexy but this one [yeah I can’t get past it]. I just can’t get it over there.” “Smoked meats. Smoked meats.”
RZ Yeah. It’s — it’s real hard.
PF I mean he’s clearly able to have human relationships, he probably loves his children, it’s just — [it’s just] it didn’t scale. It doesn’t scale!
RZ No. No.
PF And at — at that level of success you want them to almost be archetypal. Like, if you’re that famous you should look like George Clooney [yeah] or you should be out of central casting like Bill Gates.
RZ Yeah. The Nerd. The Nerd.
PF Bill Gates! Bill Gates was like a perfect nerd. And everybody’s like, “Oh well that’s — that’s who — ”
RZ “That’s a nerd!”
PF “There you go!”
RZ “There’s your nerd.”
PF And he was like, “I don’t care. I have an enormous amount of money and I like — [yeah]” You know — you know what else, too? Is everybody uh there’s apparently some small group inside of Facebook that’s like calling for ideological diversity.
RZ — that mean?
PF Well it’s — it’s —
RZ Inside of Facebook employment?
PF Yeah it’s like 100 people in a group and they’re like Ayn Randian uh objectivists.
PF Yeah and they want — they think that Facebook’s too liberal as a culture and that there’s no diversity. It’s like when that — that goofball wrote the memo in — at Google.
RZ Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
PF And so um but what I love is actually as I was thinking about this, Facebook does — it has a very progressive liberal cultural. It’s very young, very millennial. But at some level it is like the objectivist fever dream. What they’ve produced. It’s like one man’s Galtian vision.
PF As the giant world-spanning network that everyone must live inside of.
RZ And that vision is disconnected from what drives Facebook to grow which is —
RZ — pure — I mean commercial interest, right? I mean we had Robyn Kanner as a guest and — and she said, “What do you think — ” She — she quizzed me. And she said, “What do you think Amazon’s mission is?” And I said, “To sell stuff.” And she said, “It’s so funny you say that. Everyone says that.” And I felt slightly foolish and she said — I’m like, “Well what is the mission?” And she said, “To become a part of your life.” [Mm hmm] And at that point I really wanted to take the podcast to a certain place where I say well to become a part of your life why?
RZ Which is ultimately —
PF Well, you don’t get to ask that.
RZ I don’t get to ask that.
PF No, that’s it. The platforms are designed so that when you ask that question they’re like, “No, to become a part of your life.”
RZ Yeah, my uncle who I only see on holidays [yeah] can have an — a — a life goal of becoming more a part of my life.
PF No, no, Amazon, man. It’s like a — it’s like a dude who licks your ear.
RZ [Chuckles] Yeah. Yeah. [Music fades in] There is an end — [Paul makes gross licking sound] There is an end game here.
PF “Please don’t lick my ear anymore.” And they’re like, “What if I did it with a drone?” [Music ramps up, plays alone for five seconds, ramps down]. Hey, Rich!
RZ Yes, [music fades out] Paul. [Pause]
PF I’m the CEO of Postlight. And you’re the President. I’m gonna ask you as a courtesy to tell me a little bit about what Postlight does.
RZ Postlight is a design and technology shop in New York City. And we strategize, draft, draw out, design, and build stuff. We’ll do all of those things. And we love the fact that we could do it from beginning to end. From like, “I’ve got a problem” all the way to, “Check out this prototype.” All the way to, “Here’s the real thing.”
PF That’s right.
RZ Bang it out.
PF If you need hundreds of thousands or millions of people to read things online, buy things online, update and manage accounts online, fill out profiles —
RZ Talk to each other.
PF Exactly. Communication amongst them. You’re trying to understand large data sets and you need it to look good and really reach out to people and you want someone who cares about that. That’s us.
PF 101 5th Avenue, email@example.com. Get in touch. And we’ll get in touch back. That email goes straight to me and Rich [music fades in]. Let’s get back to this big discussion about Facebook [music plays alone for seven seconds, ramps down].
RZ And so there is this like lofty [music fades out] mandate that Zuckerberg trumpets, right?
PF Oh it’s, “We’re gonna make a new system of governance and there’s gonna be a new everything.”
RZ “It’s just to make people connect and everybody’s great or whatever.”
PF The thing is you can write that mission statement in your freakin’ sleep [yeah]. It’s just like, [in nasal voice] “To connect the world to people who ideas and love and [who wanna connect chuckles] commerce with engaging brands!” And you’re just like —
RZ And then Sandberg shows up!
PF Oh yeah.
RZ [Laughs] This was like ten years ago. And she said enough.
PF I can’t hate her. She’s a good operator.
RZ She’s a true — I — there’s nothing to hate.
PF No —
RZ She came in and said, “Woah, woah, woah, woah, we’re public. We’re worth quote/unquote ‘billions’ on paper. It’s time to turn the knobs. And off they went.” And she turned it into an advertising juggernaut, right?
PF [Heavy sigh] This is what’s tricky, right?
RZ — in years, right? In a matter [I can’t stand Facebook] of a few years.
PF I can’t stand Facebook. Everybody gets angry about Lean In but I’d go work for Sheryl Sandberg.
RZ I’m sure she is a Ruthless operating machine.
PF [Crosstalk] She is a machine! Like the scale [yeah!] she can operate.
RZ It’s great. I mean and that’s what it is but what you have is you wake up from that capitalist stupor [right, right] right? And then you realize, “Ok. What do we got around us here? Did we just amass two billion people and everything’s going great and I get to advertise um new sneakers?”
PF No. No.
RZ Something happens when you do that.
PF It’s not just. The narrative of scale with a public company is incredibly fragile. Like you just — you get to that point, you’re at two billion and the market just goes, “How about 2.5?”
PF And then you’re like, “Actually, that’s gonna be really hard because they don’t have medicine and food and [yeah] we don’t really have the devices for them right now.” And the market’s like, [hesitatingly, high-pitched] “Yeah.”
RZ But the market wants what it wants, right? It wants, “I’ll give you a dollar, make me two dollars.” That’s what the market wants, right?
PF [Crosstalk] “You told me more. I want more.”
RZ It’s very basic but then [yeah], you know, is the market thinking about, you know, Macedonian hackers?
RZ Probably not.
RZ They’re just thinking, “You know what? Protect your flank here. Don’t let this turn into a debacle.” [Yeah] Right? And so what happened is — and I don’t the exact details but their head of security was start writing memos in 2016. He’s like, “Guys, we got a problem.” [Oh sure] And he couldn’t get anyone’s attention and he kept writing ’em and writing ’em and then he did this blast. He wrote a — a particular email that he blasted to all the executives, even executives who weren’t supposed to get these sorts of emails, and just didn’t know what else to do and — and — and —
PF Rich, have you ever been to Niagara Falls?
PF Ok, it’s loud.
PF Ok, imagine if Niagara Falls was made of money. Just money pouring over it.
RZ [Chuckles] Right.
PF Ok? And here, I’m the security guy, you ready?
PF [From a distance, faintly] “Guys, there is a problem!”
RZ “Well somebody threw a soda can!” [Laughs]
PF [Makes deep hissing sound, muffled voice] “Guys, there’s a problem!”
RZ Fair enough.
PF That’s what happened with that guy. He’s like [exactly], “Right, right, right, hey! I’m head of security. You need to listen to me,” and they’re like, “I can’t hear over the [chuckles] enormous Niagara Falls cash waterfall.”
PF That is really loud.
RZ And you could make the case that oh these were just selfish people with like just foaming at the mouth to make money but you could also make the case that they were just optimistic about how humans were gonna be when you put two billion of them in a very nice place where the gestures are “I like you”, “I love you”, “I’m crying for you”, “I’m laughing at the funny [no — look, dude god saves — ] thing you did”, it was just — it’s all optimistic. There’s no middle finger, right?
PF [Crosstalk] God save the world from rich people with good intentions. I think it’s just that — it’s another one of those.
RZ [Stammers] I don’t think it was purely — I think they thought, “Let’s put ’em all together [no], let’s let people see like their aunt’s casserole come out of the oven on Facebook and everything’s gonna be good!”
PF And they’re not sit — they’re sitting there watching the progress and there’s — of course there’s problems! There’s two billion people! [There’s gonna be some problems!] There’s gonna be problems. It’s like when somebody’s ill. It’s like uh, you know, when you have cancer and you’re like, “Well we’re gonna treat that [yeah]. Don’t worry.” And then it just goes out of control.
RZ It just goes out of control and you know what? It’s — it’s the exact same narrative around Twitter.
PF Yeah [sighs].
RZ Twitter said, “You know what? We’re going to make everybody a publisher. Everybody’s a broadcaster [yeah]. And off we go.” And it is a cesspool. I mean there’s — look there’s [Paul sighs heavily] stuff on Twitter — there’s good stuff. I could just fall the knitting sort of cohort on Twitter and I’ll be fine but there’s a lot of a lot of just infections everywhere on Twitter, right? Like it’s just — and they’re ugly and they’re — and they’re — they’re mean and they’re — they’re violent in their language.
PF And cruel.
RZ And cruel!
PF There’s actual — there’s more cruelty on Twitter than you’d ever expect.
RZ But I’m gonna give Twitter — the Twitter leadership the same pass. They were probably optimistic about how this was gonna turn out.
PF Well here’s the thing: it’s not about you and me giving them a pass, cuz we’re sort of in the mix and we’re like, “Oh we get it. Things happen — ” And, you know, my thing is always like ethics don’t really scale well. Like it’s just — like platforms are huge [yeah] and it’s really, really hard to come up with good ethical systems and people are like, “Well, you know, we warned you!” But the reality is there aren’t that many people who even investigate and think about this stuff. There’s like hundreds, not millions. You know, it’s just sort of like [no] and you’ve got millions of people in the industry and like a couple hundred voices of like academics going [makes voice sound like it’s in the distance], “No, hold on a minute!” [Yeah] Meanwhile the Niagara Falls of money is just smashing into the —
RZ Exactly. But! What you’re starting to see now is a couple things. One) the commercial flow is under threat [right]. People are leaving Facebook. Problem one. So there’s a motivation right now to fix this because it’s actually gonna make you less money.
PF Well and let’s take a minute and take a breath here, right? Like you might be runnin’ around with your hands in the air but what you’ve got is a very, very serious product problem, and your product’s at a scale that it interferes with things like the governance of the world and the way that human beings act and behave. Like you —
RZ This was my second point — is like why [yeah] is — why are the heads of Facebook and Twitter in front Congress? [Yeah] And now you’re not talking about your revenue. It’s not that [no] your revenue’s declining, is that you’re talking about the political and social impact of the stuff you’ve got. Like —
PF Well and the reality is that you’ve also been spending like the last ten, 15 years thinking about how you’re gonna create a world of better communication and so on and meanwhile like the government didn’t understand it. They understood it as like a promotional tool and they —
RZ They just didn’t know where it was gonna go [yeah]. Frankly, I think the founders of these platforms and the people that run these companies didn’t understand it either.
PF Well this is real, right? [I mean] Nobody knew what they had.
RZ They were ahead of like, “Ok. We gotta put hundreds of people to look out for porn.”
RZ It’s just not gonna happen. It’s just — it’s existential. Porn can’t make it on here [yeah] and so they were ahead of porn.
PF That’s right or Germany was like, “No Nazis. No Nazi stuff.” And they were like, “Alright, well we gotta block all the Nazi stuff.”
RZ And they just — it was — it was explicit, it was bound. So it [stammers] you didn’t have to have — you didn’t have to write laws around it. Just, if it’s porn: no! [Yeah] Even if it sort of looks like porn: no, right? [Yeah] So those they got ahead of.
PF Well and they’d hire a couple of thousand people in the Philippines to look at pictures to say yes or no.
RZ It’s a real investment, right? [Yeah] To take care of the integrity of the platform but what they didn’t anticipate is all these other sort of dynamic things that can take hold, that are much more subtle, but actually much more insidious.
PF Well also let’s be clear: these are not cunning business leaders, they’re utopianists. You know they really do [yeah] believe that they’re building a future.
RZ I — I — think that’s right. And look they get to make a ton of money at the same time. Good for them. But I — I think they got it wrong. Right? And we’re seeing that.
PF As far as they could tell they were doing everything right until they weren’t. What happened is they created systems that were unbelievably easy to game, and they actually had lots of good warnings. Like people who were like, “Hey, I’m really tired of being told I’m garbage everyday by strangers [yeah]. I don’t think that’s cool.” And they were like, “Well, you know, uh free speech.”
PF And it just like — they — they ignored it because I think they were getting so many other messages, positive and financial and progress and leadership or, you know, from the world is showing up on the platform and they’re going to conferences and everyone’s going like, “Of course there’s problems. Of course.”
RZ What they’re saying is, “Deal with it.”
PF But what they didn’t [yeah] assume was that like they had reached a scale that a foreign state intelligence agency would start to game them in the same way that it used to participate in the great game between the KGB and the CIA. Like I mean, you know, Twitter doesn’t have a CIA level apparatus to respond to and predict risks to the platform.
RZ That’s right.
PF There’s no Langley for Twitter. There’s, you know —
RZ No, I mean they probably have, you know, they have that code of conduct [no — ] and then they have a staff that polices that code of conduct [yeah] and — and the like.
PF And then there’s a guy who takes care of Jack Dorsey’s beard.
RZ Dorsey probably has a weird backyard video too that we haven’t seen [Paul chuckles]. We’re in a weird place, man. The leadership around [Paul sighs] these very important platforms — they’re the ones we’re looking to right now. Sheryl’s the only one who looks like human being out of everyone, frankly.
PF And the thing with — with Sandberg is if she can lock into what truly needs to change, you know, I think that basically she’s a wealthy but relatively ethical human being who will protect the company at all costs, and I think that she will go, “Let’s create whatever operating structure we need in order to never have this happen again. [Yeah] Cuz I like when the stock market goes up and when the New York Times doesn’t say that we’re evil [yeah]. Those are the two things I really like.”
RZ Yeah I mean she’s been criticized for responding late to this and — and they really were late. Like there were just one too many 60 Minutes pieces before you really actually had them mobilizing and dealing with it.
PF This is sort of fascinating, right? Cuz we’re in — especially like with Twitter, we’re like one or two degrees of separation from many of the people who are [yeah] in the leadership, right? And so you’d think at some level — like people like us are like, “Oh hey guys, that’s bad.” You know [yeah] you just — I’m writing about it. There’s a — there’s a conversation going on and they are immune to the conversation.
RZ Which is bananas, no?
PF There’s a bubble. There’s a real bubble and I think what you do is, “Oh I hear those voices out there. They’re very important. We really care about listening to all the voices.” But you’re hearing so many things and god knows as a human being — and I know this myself, I don’t wanna walk down the street and have somebody tell me that I’m at a higher risk for a heart attack because of my obesity. I wanna walk down the street and have somebody say, “Hi Paul! How you doin’?” Right? [Rich laughs] [Chuckles] I know! That the first thing is real, but I can’t really like constantly deal with it everyday. I need to like get some stuff done. I gotta come to work. I can’t — like I can’t —
RZ It’s just — they just didn’t know what they had on their hands.
PF Yeah so no — some people are out here going like, “Hey guys, you’re gonna actually kill our civil society. It’s really bad.” And they’re like, “Dude [stammers], it’s possible. It’s real. [Yeah]. I can see why you think that way. I have a meeting and then I have another after that and then actually I have meetings for like [Rich laughs] the next 36 years.”
RZ “And we gotta plan the holiday party.” [Laughs]
PF “We got the holiday party and I mean, you know, there’s like — you should see the Amex bills in this place. So we gotta like — I hear you, that we’ve killed society. Like I get it. No, I get it. I’m serious. I’m really sorry but I’m gonna get this iced coffee and um you should send me an email and I’m gonna go talk to the Don’t Kill Society people later in the week and just don’t worry. We’re gonna take care of this,” and then you get into that meeting and you’re like, “Hey guys, [laughs] you forget — you forget to mention don’t kill society.” Like who’s gonna own that? Who’s in charge of not destroying our culture? Like nobody raises their hand.
RZ And — and is it on them? I think ultimately what arises is this —
PF Yes. When you build a giant platform and it succeeds, unfortunately —
RZ Are these the right — are these people equipped to write what are effectively laws?
PF Probably not.
RZ Probably not.
PF First of all, the government could just step up a little bit, like maybe take a Code Academy camp. I mean just like something here.
RZ One way to do this is what they call a code of conduct, right?
RZ What you’re seeing is and — and I get to wear my lawyer hat for five seconds [go] is the terms and the code of conduct that are easiest are the ones they can most effectively enforce. So if you are threatening violence on someone, that’s very explicit, right? [Mm hmm] Because what they wanna do is avoid the perception of subjective judgement [yeah] of what’s on there, right? Because —
PF Dude, they just finally banned Alex Jones forever but it’s the day after he like physically screams at Jack Dorsey outside of the — the hearing.
RZ Right. Yeah. No —
PF And it’s like, “Really guys? Now? Today? Today’s the day?”
RZ I know. I know. The thing is it’s — it’s more subtle than that, though. Like that’s not gonna be enough. Violent threat is not gonna be enough [yeha] to really get this to a good place.
PF See this is the thing: this is the horrible discussion and then you see —
RZ So is it gonna be law?
PF I don’t know cuz you see the Zuckerberg testimony with Congress. He’s sittin’ on his big boy chair and he’s like, “Hey, I’m ready to work this out with you guys.” Because they just truly are literally going like, “Please tell us what you want.” But you don’t have a Congress that is ready to truly create a regulatory framework in the interests of like the republic and the world. Right now. We just don’t have it.
RZ This is complicated and this uncharted territory. I think eventually the only way to get ahead of this is actual laws where you’re committing a crime when you do it.
PF I gotta say I think that that is correct and I think that’s a — that’s the cost of a civil society.
RZ So I wanna draw a dotted line to Thomas Hobbes.
PF Yeah and you know this is gonna be brutal because all the little like meme lords out on Twitter who are like you know good lefty soldiers who are like, “Someone should cut off your head, Alex Jones!” They’re gonna — then there’s gonna be like, “Well is that allowed?”
RZ Yeah, right.
PF You know and they’ll be like, “Well obviously it’s a joke.” And it’s like, “Was it?”
RZ Right. Exactly.
PF So it’s — You — you can call for one thing but it’s just gonna be a disaster and a nightmare and like people will go to jail [yeah] and it will be — and all the other problems that the government has with putting people in jail who do certain kinds of things and — and like all those things are gonna be applied to this. It’s just —
RZ This is really hard.
PF It’s just [this is — ] gonna suck — That’s the next 15 years. Or people just [chuckles] drift the hell away from Facebook and start using like Signal and five person groups.
RZ Oh look that’s — look part of this is people feeling like this is not a good place [yeah]. Peewee league football is declining because I don’t want my kid to smash his head and get concussions [no, that’s right]. So, are we getting — are we drifting towards a point where it’s like, “Don’t go there. That’s a bad place”?
PF It always seems impossible, right? That the giant thing could fall apart but it really could.
RZ Well people don’t wanna be in a mean, hostile, insincere place, right? [Yeah] And — and so they say, “Just don’t go there. That’s not a good place.”
PF You know what I would say? This is kinda abstract but it’s really worth thinking — there’s Facebook as a system and then there’s Facebook as a company. Facebook as a company will figure stuff out, and they’ll be Messenger and there’ll be apps and so on. But then there was Facebook as a system of the world where everybody — billions of people were talking and interacting and sharing information. That’s collapsing today. [Yeah] Like we’re seeing it collapse. Now IBM used to have a kind of an IBM way, now it’s a giant consulting firm that makes mainframes [yeah]. Microsoft used to be about this ideology —
RZ They’ll pivot is what you’re saying [yeah]. They’ll figure other ways — they’re hold is so big and their access to people is so big that they’ll do other stuff.
PF That one monolithic system of the world —
RZ Let me ask you this: would you pay ten dollars a month for a safe space?
PF Yeah, sure. I mean honestly, sure, I mean especially if it like [chuckles] came with Spotify [Rich laughs]. You know what I mean? Like [sure!] it’s — like give me all of my media in a bucket and then let me chat with my friends. You know Facebook is very costly if you are a provider. Like I feel that the people on Facebook who are often talking about like things that are bad and so on. I’m like — I feel so obligated all the time [yeah] and that’s not real in the way that like other stuff is real. It’s just sort of like they’re just kind of moping. I’m like, “What’s my — what is my job here?” [Yeah] As a parent, as a father, as a company owner, as a community member.
RZ So you have environments that have been created. Right? Sort of these virtual environments that have been created that are starting to look really unattractive to a lot of people. Point one. Hence the decline in use. Hence the decline in stock value.
PF I don’t even think really unattractive, I just think mildly exhausting and that’s enough after a while. You know how like you watch a TV show and then you get to like season three [yeah] and you’re like, “Uhhhh,” and you drift away.
PF That’s what the — it’s a mass —
RZ I think that’s part of it.
PF This is the true danger, right? Like if somebody hates you violently, people hate Twitter violently, it shows that there’s a sort of pressure and drama in that product.
PF Or you can be like Google and just sort of be like part of the infrastructure like you know — you know they’re just — you just [yeah] use Google all day, it’s in your phone, blah blah blah. But Facebook it’s just sort of like, uh well. Ok.
RZ Yeah, I mean the shine’s coming off is what you’re saying.
PF You’re just like, “Uh god, I dunno — ”
RZ But I think it’s more than that. I think it’s also like I can’t hear another Facebook scandal report in the news anymore. Like what is this place? Where — where am I going here? Like —
PF Well cuz it’s so surreal too when you get — remember when after Zuckerberg did that testimony and suddenly all around New York City there were ads for like, “Facebook really cares! Really changes.” Like you get on the Subway —
RZ It’s just creepy, right? [Stammers] And it’s —
PF Yeah, no, I kept expecting like as I’m getting on the R Train for the — for the ad on the TV to be like, “Hi Paul, [chuckles] Facebook wants you to know that we’ll never track you.” You know?
RZ So I mean forget about users for a second. I mean what about how these platforms were used to manipulate voters and Russian interference and all that?
PF Here’s the thing is that — and their reaction was PR because they just don’t understand at this — like how to work at the scale. Like they screwed so bad and maybe they didn’t screw up but the system that they built was so exploited and their reaction was not enough.
PF Culturally, collectively, we seem to have gone — despite the fact that are president is cool with it, we — we actually don’t like a foreign state agent manipulating our news. You know, we’ve done it ourselves many times, we’re pretty good at it, we know what it takes, and we’re like, “Don’t do that to us.”
PF And —
RZ Well, I mean, everybody’s been trying to do it to everybody [yeah, sure]. Let’s be clear [no, I know] and these are sort of small scale overture — aggressions [yeah] and we react accordingly and we’ll say, “You know what? No soy beans for you. [That’s right] Or something.” [That’s right] I think the point we’re making is this turned out to be way bigger than a startup.
PF That’s right.
RZ And that the people at the wheel, I don’t think they’re evil. I think they’re — they’re mandate is to squeeze maximum value for investors and [also — ] not break the law.
PF They’re accountable to a very different set of things, essentially they’re running nation states —
RZ Exactly. And it turned out they had created a nation state.
PF And also stock holders aren’t voters, right? They haven’t been elected to this position, they’re not accountable, the things that they do aren’t public in the way that we expect governments to be [correct] but they’re operating at a kind of quasi-governmental and there’s, you know, foreign state actors interfering with them. What you’re seeing is that like that system just doesn’t work. Like the business plus the giant social network plus the two billion people as a sort of new way forward for governance and so on. It doesn’t have the immune system that, as impractical and messed up as it is, our government does.
RZ Exactly. And I think it’s — it’s nice to see how the immune system kicked in [yeah] in — within government, as flawed and ugly as it is [it’s ugly!] but it’s good to see that, you know, we talk about dictatorship and fascism and all that but that’s really not what it is.
PF No, but there’s millions of people that go their jobs and make sure that like, you know, the paperwork gets filled out [right, exactly]. Like they’re still going [yeah] and — And so like the system just kind of moves along and it’s designed that way and they think all the things that could go wrong and they — they really try to, you know, to serve. A lot of people do [yeah] and Facebook says it serve but it really doesn’t know who its master is.
RZ It’s not ready for it. It’s not — it didn’t expect [no] to have this responsibility.
PF Yeah, it’s — it’s system of governance doesn’t have checks and balances and you just see that explode here.
RZ Yeah and I — look, I’m gonna come at them for a second here. It’s not because they — they didn’t expect — anticipate it or they got blindsided. It’s because anything like that slows down growth [that’s right] because if you start to put those rules and those speed bumps in different places, growth slows down.
PF This is the pure ideology of California.
PF This is the Silicon Valley dream, right? Not only are you hearing a rushing flow, Niagara Falls style of money just pouring in, but everyone around you, from your initial investors to all of your employees are saying, “We’re on this path together.”
RZ Yes. Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Changes are going to come, whether from within or whether from without, from government and the like, that will slow down growth.
PF There’s a lot of friction and mess where we are, too, but boy, are they on a path and I think that [that’s a big one] they got kicked in the face hard. They were on a train just moving down the tracks [yeah] and suddenly like there were no more tracks anymore and [chuckles] they did — they want that train to keep going [yeah, exactly]. And so, you know, there’s no easy answer here, I think what we’re tellin’ people is: yeah, watch for the next ten to 15 years as a regulatory framework emerges.
RZ I think that’s exactly right and that framework will slow growth [yeah] and that is what needs to happen [Paul sighs] uh it’s just inevitable.
PF When you see it about the NSA, and terrorism, and child pornography online, and things like that like we — there are certain things that we find intolerable as a culture related in — [exactly] no matter how much you talk about like the taur network and blockchain like [hmm] in general we do everything we can to keep that kind of information and those sort of actions from propagating.
RZ It’s to protect the greater good.
PF That’s right. And so —
RZ And that’s the only way.
PF That’s the system we’ve got and our opinions kinda don’t matter individually, like these are gonna be collective actions by elected officials.
RZ That’s right.
PF That’s — that’s the weird thing is you’re gonna start to see — it’s the stock market today but ten years from now it’s elected officials saying, “This is [music fades] how it’s gonna go.”
RZ That’s right.
PF Alright, Rich.
RZ That was a lot.
PF It was and it’s —
RZ But you know what? We gotta solve some big problems sometimes.
PF I love — I love these conversations because it’s — we live in the shadow of these platforms. We all do.
RZ I mean it’s real. We live in them.
PF Yeah we do and so it’s — and it feels that, as companies, unlike governing — unlike governing bodies, they don’t really welcome the criticism.
RZ No, they got their thing.
PF Yeah, they don’t want you talking about it so it feels good. It feels gooood to talk about Facebook. Get it all out there. Like me.
RZ I like you.
PF Poke me.
RZ [Laughing] Poking’s gone, I think.
PF No, I think you can still poke. You gotta dig around a little bit.
RZ Poke away, everyone. Have a great week.
PF hello — firstname.lastname@example.org. Bye! [Music ramps up, plays alone for four seconds, fades out to end].