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Episode 140 October 23, 2018 | 29min
Show Notes

Tech is Giant, Monolithic, and Scary: This week, Paul Ford and Rich Ziade meet with Louise Matsakis to discuss how tech reporting has evolved alongside the hyper-growth of tech companies. How has the role of journalists changed? Which companies are difficult to talk to, and which are the easiest?

Louise says that journalists are now frequently playing the role of content moderators, forcing platforms to do more introspection and make broader changes. We touch on a few issues in tech reporting today such as: what can be done to stop the culture of harassment prevalent on big platforms, how should scaling companies deal with oversights that screw people over, and what is it like to be the Facebook Press Secretary?

Louise Matsakis Yeah, I mean, did you know that Steve Jobs wanted there to be uniforms?

Paul Ford [In low tone] Noooo!

Rich Ziade Is that true?

LM Yes, it’s true—

RZ See, now we’ve got a scoop on our hands.

PF Ok but wait a minute: were they . . . black turtleneck, blue jeans?

LM No, I don’t think—

RZ No.

LM I’m assuming he wanted uh I mean I don’t know but I envision it as a space suit type, like an Apple jump suit.

PF [Breathy whisper] Oh god.

RZ Like a mechanic, like that zip up—

LM Yeah! Mm hmm.

RZ Ok. That—that could work [laughs] [music fades in, plays alone for 18 seconds, ramps down]. Hi, Paul.

PF Hi. We’re back here again.

RZ We are.

PF I’m psyched about our next guest. We don’t talk to a lot of journalists, I wish we talked to more.

RZ Like the real deal journalists? No.

PF Here’s what I wanna do: I wanna talk to this person who is a journalist—

RZ Mm hmm.

PF For Wired.

RZ Mmm! [Music fades out]

PF And I wanna talk to them about how the tech companies keep their secrets . . . and who is the hardest to talk to, who’s the easiest to talk to, like how all that works.

[1:02]

RZ And interesting times to ask that question, right?

PF It’s just a big world and there’s a lot to cover—

RZ That’s a boring question ten years ago.

PF No, that’s right. Nobody cared.

RZ Nobody cared.

PF Now it’s like why—why won’t they tell us everything?

RZ Right.

PF Louise Matsakis, welcome. Thank you for being on the show.

RZ Welcome.

LM Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

PF You talk to giant technology companies as if they were human.

LM Human is a stretch but I do talk to most of the big tech giants on a regular basis.

PF How does one become a technology journalist at Wired Magazine? It’s a pretty good thing to be.

LM Yeah, I’m really, extremely lucky. A couple of things: so I studied philosophy, I didn’t know anything about tech. I then tried to cite a Jean Herman piece in my thesis and my thesis advisor very kindly said to me, “This is a long form journalism piece. You do not belong in this. You need to do something else.” [Mm hmm] But I just really liked the internet and then I started working at Motherboard which is Vice’s tech site [mm hmm] um I worked at Mashable for a while. I just really liked it and it’s funny cuz I only started doing this a couple of years ago and it was super nerdy and niche [mm hmm] and people were like, “Oh what does that mean? Does that mean a technology journalist? You like use data or something?” And I was like, “No, I like wanna cover Facebook,” and that was still kind of something that business reporters did. Being a quote/unquote “tech reporter” kind of meant that you were a business reporter that covered the tech industry [mm hmm]. And what’s really cool about Wired is that they have been doing it for a really long time. But yeah it was just kind of an accident that I fell into. I’ve never covered anything else.

[2:23]

PF Let’s say Apple. Apple’s a really big company. Wired tells a lot of stories about Apple. Apple’s—Apple’s big in technology. Just a little company kind of on the way—

LM Yeah, something telephones or something like that. I’m not sure.

PF So I’m assuming your boss leans out of his door and says, “Louise! Go talk to Apple and find out what the hell’s goin’ on with this iPhone X.”

RZ Like the chewed cigar guy.

PF Yeah [laughs]. This is really not her boss. I know her boss [Rich laughs]. It’s not um—

LM It’s a very nice Slack message that I get uh that’s like, “Hey Louise, can you look into this?”

PF And let’s actually break that down a little bit, right? Cuz you’re talking to their PR department. So is there—is that one person? Do you just call like Apple PR after looking it up in the White Pages? Like how—what—how does that even happen?

LM So, you know, if you cover a company regularly you probably have the people you work with [mm hmm]. You know if you’re working with Facebook or you’re working with Twitter or Apple, there’s kind of a group of people who address what you address and you kind of—there’s a tit for tat and you start to get to know them but these companies are always going to outnumber you. I would say it’s fair to say 20 to one. So you might deal with five different PR people on a story and you’re the one reporter and I tend to notice that a lot of them know a lot about their company but not necessarily the greater—what’s going on in tech. Like I’ve tried to talk to them about trends or be like, “You know I’m talking about this—” And they’re like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I’m like, “Oh so you go home at five.”

RZ So they’re—they’re in their world. Especially Apple. I gotta imagine that’s like . . . like vacuum sealed [yeah] much more so than—

LM Have you seen the meme that’s like chaotic good, neutral good, you know what I’m talking about?

RZ No.

LM And it’s like—they’ll put like different pastas or different things into like chaotic good, chaotic neutral in these different categories. I think it’s fun to think about uh the tech companies that way like [yeah] chaotic evil is definitely Amazon [yeah]. Like chaotic neutral is probably Facebook [yeah]. You know, chaotic good is maybe like the EFF [laughs]. You know like—

RZ Right, right.

[4:13]

PF This is exciting though. Why is Amazon chaotic evil?

LM Because they have their tentacles everywhere [mmm] and they’re disrupting so many different parts of our lives and one of my favorite threads about Amazon that rarely gets talked about in New York but, you know, if you have a company in different cities all over the country is that they get a ton of money from local governments to open a new warehouse or to open a new data center and like that’s just such a tentacle—

RZ Tax breaks and all of it.

LM Yeah, there was a report earlier this month, or maybe last month in Bloomberg that they’re actually getting their electricity subsidized. Like other people in town are paying their electric bill—

PF I mean but—

LM—which is crazy.

PF—but think of all the good they do and all, you know, they need money to—to just—

RZ I—I—I love telling this story. I—I ordered a router and a case of Pellegrino for—on Prime Now and they both showed up the same day and I hugged the delivery person.

PF Well a person in a cage at a warehouse literally put that into a box for you [laughter].

RZ Just it’s—I feel this wasn’t a topic 15 years ago. That—that the notion of what are these tech companies doing to our lives? Right.

LM So, I will say to push back on that a little bit. I’ve looked at some of the early research and there were like studies in like 1991 that were like, “People who spend time on the internet are more upset—”

RZ Are gonna die—yeah, yeah, yeah.

LM Yeah. I think this has happened but it’s just gotten so much bigger and so much wider. I mean more people—

[5:33]

PF Well also were they wrong? [Laugher]

LM Yeah.

RZ TBD, Paul.

PF Yeah.

RZ Ugh.

LM Yeah.

RZ But it—you’ve got really clear, perfectly clear drawn out villains now. You don’t the study.

LM Yeah I mean it’s—I think it’s hard when you’re the richest person in the world and you buy, you know, the biggest mansion in a city it’s kind of hard to not be branded as a villain.

RZ Scrutinized. Yeah.

LM Yeah but some of them I think have done a really good job and it’s interesting to look at like the CEO of SalesForce which you know employs more people in SF than any other company and until he bought Time Magazine the other day, everyone was like, “Oh! Woah! This guy’s got a lot of money. What’s going on here?” Like there are some of these companies that aren’t so—

RZ He’s laid low.

LM Yeah, they’re not in your pocket all day but they do have a lot of power that you don’t think about and I think those are some of the more interesting threads that I think are gonna [right] start to come out in the next couple of years. Like there’s, you know, there’s tons, dozens of Facebook reporters now. How many reporters are dedicated to SalesForce? SalesForce could have bodies in their freezer right now and we have no idea.

PF There’s just this like giant part of how business gets done but it doesn’t have that Zuckerbergian narrative around it and so I—I think people just aren’t as excited.

RZ Well their interface is the enterprise, not the individual.

LM It’s B to B, right?

RZ Right, so that’s just companies eating each other alive. That’s just how it goes in business—

PF If you disrupt business, that’s a lot—it’s different than disrupting culture.

[6:54]

RZ Yeah. I mean, look: ul—ultimately they are carrying and bringing in tons and tons of effectively customer data but it’s just different than—

PF Louise, what’s the biggest boring story that you can’t get anyone to pay attention to?

LM The subsidies I think—I think that’s really interesting and people don’t realize. Like, you know, I was watching Elon Musk talk about his rocket and sending all these people into space and I’m like, “Yeah, you got, you know, what is it? Five billion dollars that we’ve paid for that. Like these are grants from NASA.” And I think that the biggest—it’s super boring but I think there’s this narrative of maybe government is not as bad it’s—we—we’re kind of putting it as government versus tech—is—is tech gonna get regulated? And I think the story that’s lost there is actually the government is tech way [right] more than you realize. And that’s boring and it’s like, you know, for a civics class but I think we’ve lost that in like, “The senators versus Zuckerberg!” You know that’s what it’s become.

PF I just would’ve assumed that Elon Musk was sort of pure libertarian and would never sulley his hands with that—that dirty government money but it—obviously not. Right? Like it’s [chuckles] how it needs to go.

LM Well and the—the narrative is like, “Private space flight!” And it’s like, “Yeah, no, we’ve all paid for that.” You know like that’s—that’s not bad. Like, yeah, let’s get people into space. Like that’s cool. I’m into that but let’s not pretend that he did that, you know, or same thing with Tesla, with all these companies. Like, yeah, I wanna drive an electric car if I drive a car again but we need to talk about how is that really getting done. It’s not the one genius at the top of the company. It’s all of us, it’s taxpayers. It’s a lot of different programs that have actually happened. You know people forget that the internet was a government project [music fades in].

PF Oh—

RZ It’s boring.

LM It’s boring, yeah. It’s not exciting to talk about.

RZ It’s just not exciting and there’s not a lot of scandal to it [music plays alone for five seconds].

PF Lemme tell you about a technology company that doesn’t need a big PR department because we’re really damn transparent.

RZ And we’re doing the right things.

PF You call us up and you say, “Guys, I need to understand something.” And we say, “Lemme help you out.”

[8:51]

RZ And we help you out.

PF So, how do we help?

RZ [email protected]

PF And what do we do?

RZ Uh we’re a design and technology shop [that’s right] in New York City.

PF We build those big things that make everything work.

RZ Mm hmm [music fades in].

PF Alright. Let’s stop talking to each other and talk to to Louise [music plays alone for six seconds, ramps down]. What is the hardest tech company to talk to?

LM Apple or Amazon.

PF Ok. I think people don’t know, too, like if you talk about something, you kind of—especially as a journalist for Wired, you need to reach out and be like, “Hey, I’m writing a story about this. I’d like to get some comment.” And then what happens?

LM So I think the biggest misconception is that oh so there’s like one line in the story so like they emailed her that line or something and that’s what happened and sometimes that is what happened but usually there’s like three conversations of us on the phone, there’s like—especially if there’s something that I discovered that was against their Terms of Service—

PF So they wanna shape this story, even if they don’t wanna be on the record.

LM Sometimes it’s—it’s a little bit more innocuous. It’s more just like, “What—what’s going on? Like we are so big [Paul laughs], what are talking about? Can you like—[Rich laughs] We just don’t even know what you’re saying—”

PF Oh so it’s news to them too.

LM Yeah, it’s often news for them too. They’re like, “Oh! Wait, who was that? Can you send us a link?” Like that’s—often or like a screenshot [Paul laughs] like that’s—but I think, you know, it’s two billion people in some cases.

[10:09]

RZ It makes sense! Right?

LM Yeah.

RZ It’s impossible to keep track of that.

PF And also these are PR people. They’re not like product managers in the weeds with the product, it’s—

RZ Right.

LM I think that’s also an interesting structure is that usually there’s like a PR person or a couple of PR people who are assigned to specific products.

PF Mm hmm.

LM And sometimes they’re actually embedded with the product teams [oh!] and then I often find that like they sit with the product team and I often find that’s a better relationship cuz I’ll be like, “K. Ok. One second.” And I know there’s like going and talking to the people they’re sitting with and getting, you know, an answer about what’s going on.

PF “Hey Sally! How come—” Yeah. Ok.

LM Yeah. And Apple is organized that way as well and so is Amazon, a lot of these companies have kind of figured out the structure of how to talk to journalists. But yeah you just get stonewalled really heard with a lot of these companies or they’re like, “Oh let’s talk about this,” but it’s all off the record.

RZ Right.

LM And that’s just kind of evidence gathering for them. Like they’re just kind of, “Alright, we got this girl talking to us and she needs a comment but we’re not gonna give her a comment.”

RZ “Or give us a minute.”

LM Yeah.

[11:03]

RZ “Let us figure out what’s up and then we’ll chat.”

LM Or they’ll—they’ll let you publish and then they’ll call you after and be like, “Ok now we—now we’re more mad than we thought we were gonna be.”

PF [Laughs] Oh no!

LM Yeah and I think there’s a lot of back and forth that happens when you see that one comment maybe there’s, you know, six more conversations, there’s five more hours of work that you didn’t get in that. And I think from the outside it can look like these companies are more stonewalling than they are. So a lot of the time they wanna talk to you and figure out what’s going on.

RZ So—so this is interesting, I mean, the media uh is something that’s talked about a lot these days. I mean it used to be where you just kept knocking at the door and hope—hoped someone would come out and talk to you about anything. Whatever you were chasing. Now, it’s just the world is just so leaky and stuff just gets out. I mean what I’m hearing here is that you’re—you’re a source. For them.

LM Yeah, there’s been columns about it, about how journalists are often playing the role of content moderators [yeah] cuz they’re like, “Oh you guys got a problem here! Like we looked into it. [Right] We conducted an analysis. We got a third party, you know, uh a data analyst to look at this for us and—and we’re doing the work for you.” I think that the only reason YouTube for example cleaned up their act significantly is the result of like ten back to back investigations that showed they were like showing really creepy videos to children and putting like toothpaste ads next to Nazis—

RZ Not their own investigations.

LM No! Ten back to back investigations by journalists.

RZ To just—

PF So finally somebody goes, “Ok guys! A problem here.”

RZ Hon—honestly, man, exactly and so you start to see patterns and you’re like, “Ok well—Are you responsible for this? Should you be policing this? Should you be governing this world?” And then that question always lights it up for people. I’m gonna play devil’s advocate here. Is it fair—this doesn’t seem fair. I built the tools. The tools are great. And this isn’t fair. Is this fair?

LM That’s a really hard question and I think that there are degrees. Like I don’t think it’s—uh I’m definitely not a reporter who’s like, “It’s always, absolutely the platform’s fault and their responsibility!” And I think that it’s not a good way to do it and I also think then every single story you write is, “Haha! I got you!” Right? And everything is just like—there’s still Nazis on X platform. Like congratulations, like there’s still Nazis on the internet. And I think that’s not—you’re not pushing the conversation any further but I do think that it does fall squarely into their problem when they’re making money off of it. And I think the problem is that you can argue that they’re always making money off of it because they’re making off of your attention. So if people are paying attention to it, they’re making money. But I do think that it becomes more severe in a YouTube situation where it’s like running an ad. Right? Like that’s like, you know, you’re running an expensive pre roll ad from a Fortune 500 company. That seems to me more blame than you have a couple Nazis that just popped up and you haven’t got rid of them yet or something. Like I there are really degrees of where this is and also, you know, what is the harm? Are you radicalizing a bunch of teenagers? LIke that’s pretty bad. You know? Are you—you know, is there fake reviews that are screwing over third party sellers on Amazon. Like that seems pretty bad. You know it kinda depends on what the issue is. And I would also say that if you just wanna make money, I think that these platforms are gonna make more money if they’re more responsible about this stuff. I think that it was, you know, in the end how much money did YouTube lose off of all those scandals? Probably not that much. But I think in the future they’re probably gonna get better clients and they’re gonna, you know, having these kinds of protections in place. Maybe! I mean that’s the hope is that this is also good for the business.

[14:28]

RZ Right.

PF Well you’re defining a continuum between like people are bad which is increasingly not news and the system is broken. Which is news.

RZ You think most people think YouTube is broken?

PF No . . . that’s why you need journalists.

RZ You know in reading the news, you see these horrible campaigns that kick off that are very divisive and then try to smear someone to death and people are moving out of their houses because they’re getting death threats and so on. And then you draw that dotted line back to Twitter or back to whatever platform. Let’s say Twitter for a moment. And if I’m Twitter, I can’t keep up with this.

PF Oh so you’re Jack Dorsey.

[15:08]

RZ I can’t—Well, if I’m Jack Dorsey I’m gonna say nothing for the next minute.

PF [Laughs] And just sort of look in your eyes.

RZ And just sort of look at you and then eventually talk.

PF We’re gonna talk about textiles.

LM And well ok, [others laugh] I—I honestly, I have the answer for you.

RZ Oh!

LM I don’t think that Jack Dorsey can, you know, make people not bad. He’s never gonna make everybody good on Twitter [uh huh]. I have a good example for you. Twitter allows you to take any tweet and embed it in a news story. No matter what, right?

RZ Mm hmm.

LM Like you can just take a tweet and embed it in a news story [ok] and a lot of times what happens is that people get their tweets embedded without their permission. It’s, you know, “People are mad about this!” And then they embed 20 tweets or something and, you know, if it’s something political then those people get harassed, right? Because it’s an easy—you can just click on their profile and it goes right to that person’s profile.

RZ Ok.

PF Actually we did an event with the Knight Foundation, they did a big research effort into this. Sure. Yeah.

LM Yeah and I think that—

RZ Ok.

LM—that’s a product decision that you made. And it’s—it’s one of the reasons that Twitter has stayed so relevant even though it’s not that big is that journalists are on it, journalists take those tweets, those tweets get embedded all over the web which, you know, is good in a sense but you could build a product that limited people from getting so harassed. Like maybe if you clicked on that tweet, it didn’t just take you to that person’s profile or there was like a different mechanism. I’m not a—you know, I’m not a product designer but I think that that’s a good example. It’s not gonna stop people from being evil—

PF Somebody with 500 followers who is suddenly being linked on like Buzzfeed or the New York Times is—is being exposed in a way that they never expected when they signed up for Twitter.

[16:34]

RZ Is that Twitter’s responsibility? Or the publisher’s responsibility?

LM Well I think both but I do think that they’ve publicized and allowed and wanted that to be a feature of how it worked is that they wanted it to be super embeddable and they like made these beautiful things, so when you embed it in a webpage it looks really nice and it lays in with the text and—you wanted it to spread as far as possible but at the same time whoever built that function didn’t think as much about how that could be abused. And I think that’s the kind of conversation we have to have and I think—

PF Yeah I mean who cares—

RZ But that’s not. No. Hold on.

PF Yeah but who cares whose responsibility it is? It’s a product problem.

RZ No, I—I don’t know if it is because ultimately I’ve got 500 followers and—and when you’ve got 500 followers your reach is very limited. As far as Twitter’s concerned, that’s about all I’m gonna ever be able to do to get you higher exposure. Now let’s move onto Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed’s reach is at its worst . . . hundreds of thousands reading an article tens of thousands really failing—

PF Sometimes ten million.

RZ Sometimes ten million. How does that end up landing at Twitter’s feet?

LM I mean of course I think—I think it’s definitely both but I think you built that function, you popularized that function, you told journalists. I don’t know—you know, this has been around for a long time but I’m assuming they had a whole roll out that was like, “Look: you can embed this stuff.” And I think that’s, you know, what did you want it to be used for? But I do think, of course, there’s the blame on the bad actors. You know I think that Section 230 of the Communications Act, you know, is a good thing. I think we should continue to, you know, allow platforms to not be responsible for all the content on there or else they’re just gonna get sued into non-existence. You know I don’t think that that’s a good thing but the conversation around like the specific way that the product was designed I think is important because that’s what we can fix. I’m not gonna stop people from sending death threats but I can go after a data brokers that make my address really easy to get on the internet for 10 dollars or whatever. I can’t, you know, stop them but I think mitigating that and a lot of this stuff happens—a lot of this harrassment, a lot of this bad stuff really happens in like ten seconds. You see a hoax, Facebook makes it so easy: you spread it, it’s easy and then it’s over. I think it’s making those really small product changes and the interface changes that are gonna help cure a lot of this, honestly.

[18:39]

PF You know what’s brutal here is that the culture of embedding a tweet . . . that’s a really early web culture thing. Like it’s, “We’re gonna create a web of documents and you’re gonna be able to embed these tweets.”

RZ Mm hmm.

PF And that was Twitter being a good [yeah] citizen of the internet.

RZ Scribd and Slideshare and—

PF Yeah.

RZ Everything had to be embeddable.

PF Obviously. We’re gonna participate! And we’re—we’re good. We’re your friends and then something changes [yeah]. There’s hyper growth and the culture changes and suddenly this lovely idea where everything’s connected just becomes poison.

RZ I think that that ship may have sailed. I think—I think even if they dialed that back, I think, you know, the screengrab is real and you’re not gonna get rid of that. And they’re not gonna close search down. While screengrab, nobody can do it. Um and you see it when they delete a tweet, right? It becomes a screengrab because it’s not there anymore on Twitter but it was grabbed. Somebody snapshotted their laptop screen and it’s over.

LM And there’s also a balance, right? Between, you know, showing your work and having, you know, having this stuff be available. I think there’s not—I don’t want it to able to be like, “Ok, we’re just gonna hide everything.” Like that’s not the right move either [right] but I think we’ve lost—it became lopsided I think in terms of free speech and in terms of like you know journalists showing their work and embedding all of this stuff and that was kind of happened at the expense of security. And I think re—rethinking about a lot of the web and a lot of the architecture of the web um and I think we’re starting to have these conversations. Like Google wants to change the URL. I think that’s a great move. Like there’s lots of—the only reason phishing attacks work is because like you are out and no one reads URLs, they don’t make any sense anymore [right]. I think—I hope we have a real conversation about like really thinking about all of these different elements of the webpage and like going through the internet and how do we make that a more secure and better experience. Especially as we have so many more people on the internet now who have no idea what’s going on . . . because they’re— you know, my mom doesn’t really understand what an app is . . . but she’s, you know, on the internet and she’s like looking at different websites and stuff and I think we’re gonna have to deal with a lot more people like that who are using all of this stuff and we have to have it be better.

[20:41]

PF See it’s hard for me because the URL makes the structure transparent and you can see what’s going on under the hood.

RZ But we’re—we’re the older dudes, right? We [I know] have a particular affection for the URL as the piping and as part of the piping.

PF We like seeing the seeds. We like seeing the nuts and bolts.

RZ We do.

PF Yeah.

LM You could have those just like labeled as like you know, “This like weird code that you’re looking at means that you’ve clicked on this link from an email.”

PF Right. Right.

LM You know you could have this stuff be better labeled and I think that’s what’s really interesting to me is these super minute decisions cuz they have such an affect on how we consume the information, how the internet works.

RZ Are people fundamentally bad?

LM I think an extremely small number of them are always going to be very bad but I think that a lot of the quote/unquote “scandals” on the internet or the way that I see things unfold on the internet are way less sinister than you think because it’s the context gets so distorted and a lot more people seem to be in that horrible category than they actually are but I do get really creeped out a lot and wonder. You know sometimes I’m on the subway and I’m like, “God, there was this horrible troll who was so terrible to me today, like are they sitting on the subway? Like what do they look like?”

PF Mm hmm.

RZ They’re probably on the subway [Louise laughs]. To answer your question. Maybe not on your particular ride but they’re [laughing] probably on the subway.

[21:54]

LM And that’s like upset—cuz it’s just the internet makes it so uh anonymous and it’s really strange to um I always think about this Adrian Chen Gawker piece where he unmasked one of the most famous Reddit trolls and he had like gross like I think he had like up-skirt like underage girls—like the worst of the worst. And he was unmasked and it was just such a fascinating story about he was just like sweating in his office when the journalist called. You know? And—

PF It’s just a guy. I remember that. It was just someone with an office job but who liked like pictures of dead women. Like it was terrible.

LM Yeah I remember there was this whole situation where all of these female video gamers were getting swatted which if you don’t know is when someone calls, lies to the police, and says there’s a bomb in your house so a swat team gets called to your house which is a horrible form of harassment—

RZ This was a thing for a little while. It may still be a thing—

LM It’s still a thing.

PF Yeah.

RZ They don’t report it as much but—

LM Uh a lot more police departments know about [yeah] more which is great. And I remember it turned out that it was like an underage kid in Canada and they couldn’t extradite him cuz he was a minor. And it was like god! Like what is—we just connected the whole world and like what have we done?

PF Right. Yeah.

RZ Should there be laws that criminalize the behavior? And leave the businesses alone?

LM I think that right now the kind of laws that we have against sexual harassment or against stalking or against this sort of stuff are not designed or written to deal with a lot of this behavior and I think [right] from, you know, experience talking to these women and there’s some men, they have a really hard time bringing cases. Like to get to the point where you can like unmask someone, be it their IP address [yeah] is like so hard, it’s tens of thousands of dollars before you can even get there and so I do think there are—

RZ Because of technical challenges or legal challenges?

LM Legal challenges [yeah] cuz you have to like prove harm and that could be hard [yeah] and like if they’re targeting all sorts of people, it’s like, you know, they have to get—you have to organize with those people, you know, it’s—[yeah] and I think that in some cases it’s like clearly a hate crime, right? Like clearly this person’s [yeah] committing a hate crime and we just don’t have the mechanisms to deal with that but I mean I hope that there’s like better ways to deal with this cuz there’s still so many gross sites where the people who host them don’t care, Cloudflare doesn’t care [right], they’re just gonna stay online, Google still indexes them. We’ve dismantled a lot of—attacked a lot of this other stuff and there just remains kind of these cesspools that people are still really hanging out on.

RZ Yup.

[24:06]

PF It’s also just moving real fast and the law moves real, real slow and that’s—that’s just this constant tension.

RZ It’s often reactive, right? The streetlight goes up after the accident.

PF Yeah. What are the good technology companies? Which ones are easy to talk to?

LM It’s really hard to see who’s just full of shit and who kind of knows what they’re actually talking about but a lot of the security companies can be really fun to talk to and they’re poking at really fun problems. Um you know people who are doing cyber security and they have a lot of cool people working there—

RZ And they kinda wanna talk.

LM Yeah! They wanna talk about their research, they come out out with a lot of research—

PF They share information, too, those companies. Like they have mailing lists and they’re into—

RZ Yeah.

LM Yeah or they’ll like—they’ll like both find a vulnerability at once and we’re like, “Hey, it’s cool guys, no worries.” You know like they’ll—they’re pretty cool. I also, this is really controversial, but I will say that I think Facebook and Twitter have gotten better since they have kind of stepped in the mud and I honestly think that’s better. They’ve started doing more like press calls. I also think that’s a reflection of their power. Like I almost think that Facebook should have like normal press conferences the way that like a politician does. So that it’s all in the open and we all get to see what’s happening.

PF That sound crazy but it’s actually a very good idea, right? Like yeah, of course, why wouldn’t they? They’re so big.

[25:16]

LM They’re a pseudo-government, why—why not? I mean we’re already treating them in a lot of ways like that. You know we talk about their new rules the same way that we talk about new laws. You know why can’t we have a press conference about, “Hey guys! We updated our content moderation policies or whatever. Let’s have a press conference about it.”

PF Could you imagine the Facebook Press Secretary, what that role is like. Oh my god.

RZ Yoof!

LM It was news that the other day that they are hiring Head of Human Rights for Policy.

PF Ok. Ok. Sure.

LM Like so you know if that’s not—

PF We should get one too. Here at Poslight [laugher] with our 50 people [laughter].

LM If that’s not a, you know, a “government job” quote/unquote, a pseudo-foreign policy international rel—what is? Right?

RZ Yeah.

PF And that person’s gonna come from the World Bank. I mean—yeah—

LM The UN. Yeah. You know the Human Rights Watch, where do you come from? [Yeah] So I think that’s kind of the direction that they’re moving in so they’ve become more like politicians in the sense that they’re more willing to talk, more willing to—

RZ Yeah.

LM—have a dialogue. Which is good. But anyone who does—the more you get into hardware I would say the harder you are to talk to. Like hard—cuz that’s like a big market thing. If anything comes out about the hardware that like screws everything up and they don’t want anything to leak ever cuz they have these big circus, crazy events where they, you know, hold up their shiny new telephone and tell you all about it—

RZ Right. It has to unveiled right there.

LM Yeah.

PF How horrible to blockchain companies make your life?

[26:30]

LM So I’ve written about cryptocurrencies and blockchain companies probably a handful of times and it has destroyed my email. That is really a space where if I’m doing a cryptocurrency story, there’s like three people who are not idiots or who are not gonna lie to me. Like literally three [mm hmm] and finding a fourth one is a full-time job.

RZ Phew! Ouch!

PF Well, I can’t say that’s surprising.

LM Yeah I mean the only people you can kind of trust are like cryptographers, right? Like literally academic cryptographers who they’ll be like, “No, no, this blockchain is like full of holes.” And you’ve seen in the analyses that media coverage has an impact on the price and they know that.

PF Oh so they’re—“If I can get this in Wired, I won.”

LM Yeah [yeah] like they—they know that.

PF So the best way for people to keep an eye on you feels like the Louise Matsakis page on wired.com.

LM Yeah, that would be better. I think that that’s a good place.

RZ Wow. It’s just getting [music fades in] more and more complicated.

PF It is. I think there’s a really important thing here which is like you can engage with this world and come to understand it if you work really hard for a couple of years. People see tech as giant and monolithic and scary.

RZ Well, it is!

PF It is, right?

RZ I mean I feel bad for Tim Berners-Lee and—and just the guys who are like, “If we connect the world, it’s just gonna be a better place.” And then now everybody’s shitting on everybody.

PF Right but I mean I’m just, yes, that’s right—

RZ And who’s responsible for what and—and you know how does it all weave together? It’s really hard and this has been really interesting to kind of peel it back a little bit.

PF Anyway, Louise really does good work covering tech and people should go check out her stuff. Like it’s just like every couple days it’s like, “Oh that’s what’s going on in Facebook. I know now.” It’s good. It’s really good. It—it helps you understand this giant, terrifying industry. Um alright [Rich laughing] [email protected] is how you can deal with this giant, terrifying industry if you need services.

RZ We’re here for you! [Laughter]

PF Yeah! . . . Uh we’ll never keep secrets from you and our PR department will tell you everything you need to know. [email protected] We love you.

RZ Have a great week.

PF Bye! [Music ramps up, plays alone for eight seconds, fades out to end].