The Indicator from Planet Money - The Social Media Crisis

Social media played a big part in the demonstration and riot at the U.S. Capitol last week. For many it was a surprise, but to social media watchers, it was simply the culmination of 10 years of influence.

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This is the indicator from Planet Money. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith social media and the role it plays in our economy our society and even the bakra see itself has been the subject of a lot of debate since the mob attack on the US Capitol on January 6th. And as we prepare for the inauguration of a new president this week questions about the regulation of social media companies and how to balance that with free speech and the free market are looming large Tristan Harris is the president of the center for Humane technology. He's also part of a new book of essays called the new possible visions of our world Beyond crisis after the break. I talked with croissant about the role social media plays in our divided country how we got here and what's at stake right now?

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Tristan Harris, thank you for joining us this week. As we prepare to inaugurate Joe Biden as president of the United States. There are still huge security concerns and just social concerns a beast on the mob attack on the US Capitol couple of weeks ago. You studied social media and social media companies for a living. What role did you see social media playing in that attack? You can make quick statements like you do social media was used to organize the events of January 6th of that. That's not what I saw. What I saw was the 10-year culminating process that led to the people operating with such certainty about either the election being stolen or the world is run by a bunch of pedophile globalists were 10 years into this mind working process. And I think that's what people are paying attention to it's not just that there is one actor inciting violence in the form of Chromatin to apply for me and him is that this entire business model profited from giving each of us and we're certain

Reality, which when you give different people a certain view of reality that's incompatible with the other. It just drives a more Division and violence because on its face social media isn't necessarily incentivizing anything except for more people to join.

Atwood said about this dick the clicks right into it every time you swing your finger up and you swipe and it has to show you something at the table to show you you might say while I pick my friends. I pick the continent clicked on iPad for what I share it so therefore I'm responsible for what I'm seeing but that's not how it works at all behind the glass. Slab Facebook has a most powerful supercomputer in the world pointed at your brain and tries to calculate which thing could I show you it would be most likely to keep you swiping as opposed to stop you swiping and if I show you something the challenge of your view of reality, you're not going to stay so we went through this process for 10 years where each time you swipe your finger people get a Sunday that confirms affirmation. Information and then you start associating that with these radioactive topics of bullets race or the election or inequality and that has shattered our shared assumptions. It's not just that we have slightly different sets of facts. We have a very very different assumptions of what's been happening and who did what and whether the balance sheets are equal over the last 10 years.

Interesting moment that I think Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was on an island or something when all this happened you could have made the call to ban President Trump from Twitter from this island and it it was kind of an interesting moment of realizing how much power this one individual had and I believe he himself said this is a bad president. Let me do these companies want regulation. Do you think they're comfortable with the amount of power they have

You're both Jack and and Mark Zuckerberg have actually said for many years that they shouldn't have this much power. They should be the ones to decide you can make of that what you will if we want this moment of the platforming the president to not be viewed as some kind of power grab by one political side. I don't think that's what's going on here. But I don't think there's a way to prove that to anyone unless there's actually an honest Democratic process. Imagine if you know Nancy Pelosi could just unilaterally wake up in the island of Tahiti one day and say, you know what? I'm going to impeach Trump from Tahiti, right? That's right. You can't have one person just arbitrarily make decisions on behalf of billions of people and I think Jack is actually authentic Lee saying that he doesn't think that's how it should work. And that's why I think we need to draw up a whole, you know, Constitutional Convention of all sorts of issues. We need a new fairness Doctrine for the digital age for a networked age is a whole long and genda of things that we need to cover about how to make

digital sphere operate democratically and for the people interested not just autocratically with tech companies who don't want to basically step into the shoes of responsibility that they now occupy these maybe not like traditional companies but like utilities

Take me to two issues one is governing them which is kind of questions utilities. They're so powerful there. So essential to the central information infrastructure that governs our democracy, obviously, if you're taking over at level of spaces of public squares in public interest, they should be governed according to you know, what the public interests are. So making them in public utilities is a, you know, definitely in the direction of where we would want to go but we also have to ask beyond the question of governance is the system itself compatible with a democracy that works meaning we have a A system that produces kind of a cultural cancer a short attention spans more addiction more polarization more outraged we can talk about governing that as a public utility or we can talk about changing it from being the cancer in the first place to something. That's not a cancer. What would it look like to have it deep in our concentration longer attention span deeper thought process. He's not just a hyper focus on the present less polarisation more constructive speech. You know, that's what we think of as kind of Humane technology.

I mean, it does seem a little tricky to create regulation around this honestly because these are companies this is dealing with people's ability to communicate with each other in the way that they want. I mean why not just let these companies make money as they will and let these conversations happen as they will because we won't survive as a civilization if we just let the self-driving car of this business model in you we already saw what happened January 6th, dating 10 years of that process. This is clearly a moment. We cannot survive as a civilization is a democracy if we love that to do not even sure that we can as it is because we've already infected ourselves with the kind of divisive now where where our minds are not able to agree with each other. Even if you subtract social media right now, we are clearly seeing such different understandings of reality and we're not really interested in advancing our perspectives watching lots of the media that I have the last week. It's not really evident than anyone wants to be an open-minded Leetsdale. Where might I be completely wrong about my understanding of where the other side is coming from.

And that's what really worries me because what you're talkin about kind of not hearing each other and not be in this early open to hearing the opinions of the other side. I mean that does seem very human to me, you know, like much older than Twitter Facebook. We always had partisan media we've never had supercomputers pointed that our brains perfectly able to stimulate our emotions and no more about us that we know about ourselves. It knows that that in a resonant frequency the minor 7th of of which anger to a tube to put into your into your nervous system next because it's literally playing chess against 3 trillion calculations of which one will do the best job of that. And so it's Checkmate against the human nervous system because it simply has seen more patterns of which emotions which kinds of text will tend to produce the results. They want for its business model. This is possible to escape but only if we collectively recognize that this is a completely unsustainable unsurvivable situation. We don't fundamentally change this business model.

Ultrasound, thank you so much for talking with me today. I really appreciate it is the president of the center for Humane technology. He's also part of a new book of essays called the new possible visions of our world Beyond crisis.

This episode of the indicator was produced by Dave Blanchard and fact-checked by Samsung by the indicator is edited by Patty Hirsch and is the production of NPR

President-elect Joe Biden is set to be inaugurated. This transition of power comes a week after President Trump was impeached for inciting and Insurrection. That's White House shifts to Vidant. The NPR politics podcast will be there every day to break down the biggest news from Washington.
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