Discover more from Anchor Change with Katie Harbath
Zuck on Joe Rogan
I listened to Mark Zuckerberg and Joe Rogan talk for three hours so you didn’t have to
I used to tell people that I would do any job at Facebook, no matter how small, to have access every Friday at Q&A to hear what Mark was thinking about regarding the trends in tech. Especially the way Q&As were before the leaks and COVID made them get more structured.
This was one of the first things I thought about when I started to listen to Mark Zuckerberg’s three-hour interview with Joe Rogan that dropped Thursday. Over the course of the discussion, he covered a ton of topics from the metaverse, how he spends his time, his reflections on living through the different growth phases of Facebook, the role of algorithms, and much more.
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Given that it’s a very long discussion and most people probably don’t have time to listen to a three-hour conversation I did it for you - twice actually! First I live-tweeted it and then I listened again this morning to do the time stamps. Below you will find time stamps for what I found to be the most interesting part of the conversation. The first hour was pretty slow. It was a lot about Oculus, AR/VR glasses, and then hydro foiling and jujutsu. But the last two hours were chock full of fascinating things.
Here were my overall observations:
This was very much a bro-fest between Rogan and Mark. Rogan pushed Mark on a variety of things and definitely asked him about many of the favorite complaints of people on the right, but it was far tamer than when Jack Dorsey and Vijaya Gadde went on.
That said Rogan is a very good interviewer. Other than the Dorsey/Gadde interview I have never listened to his podcast. The conversations are very relaxed - this is the most relaxed I’ve seen Mark in an interview - but he definitely then uses that to gently press his guests on certain topics. For instance, Rogan asked Mark repeatedly how he handles the stress and pressure of running such a big platform.
There was tension in this interview between Mark doing things because it’s what users want and then also really focusing on things to drive the future. The former was more about ranking algorithms and deciding what content to show people in feed and the latter was more about the metaverse. I just kept thinking about this quote, "There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader."
Mark is a long-term thinker. A lot of discussions throughout about not making decisions because they are right in the short term, but set the company up better in the long run. I would have loved Rogan to press Mark more on how that squares with the data-driven performance indicators they use that oftentimes incentivize short, not long-term thinking.
Lots of talk about good time management. How to balance being reactive versus being proactive. When to listen to criticism and when not to. How to balance what information they are consuming.
I was surprised Rogan didn’t ask Mark about the Trump deplatforming. The topic came up in passing about the Taliban still being allowed on Twitter and Trump isn’t, but there was no deep dive here.
Rogan is clearly starting to become a must-do stop for tech CEOs and influencers. Mike Isaac and I were talking about this on Twitter a little bit yesterday when he pointed out that Marc Andreessen also recently went on.
There’s apparently some confusion going around about what Mark said about how Meta handled the Hunter Biden laptop. Meta’s been responding forcefully to it.
I think this is the longest interview Mark’s ever done and it’s a really good insight into how he thinks about these things. Especially around ranking algorithms and why he doesn’t want to be the one to be making value judgments. There’s so much more that Rogan could have gone into with Mark but overall seemed like a pretty softball interview and a good way for Mark to get a lot of information out about his thinking in a mostly-friendly environment.
In other news quickly, had this interview not dropped this week’s newsletter likely would have been about a new report that my colleagues at the Bipartisan Policy Center and I released this week about how tech companies and election officials can work together to protect election integrity online. In it we give a series of recommendations for what folks from both entities can do not just for the midterms but as we start preparing for 2024. Check it out.
Also, we slightly updated our tech and elections historical database to now include a column for authors of the blog posts and other content.
00 - Oculus. Why Mark wanted to focus on virtual reality/metaverse.
1:00 - Managing stress and the importance of physical activity. Talks about hydro foiling and jisitsu
1:13 - Challenges of managing at scale billions of people. Goes into how he thinks about managing his time and being proactive in pushing forward what he thinks is needed for the future vs being reactive. Discusses how he balances working on existing products versus new things.
1:16 - Evolutions of existing products. How the explosion of the creator economy will remake the economy around the world where more people can pursue creative endeavors and alternative ways of work. Sees it as one of the most positive trends that comes out of this decade. Mark
1:17 - Building AI systems to recommend better content to people. Discusses how Facebook and Instagram will become primarily a discovery feed of new content and creators.
1:19 - Algorithms. The role they plan in discourse. Mark talks about building them and the concept of explore versus exploit. Meaning designing the recommendation algorithms with the long term in mind to try to identify a variety of things people are interested in versus just showing them what they want to see today and exploiting that for short-term gain.
1:22 - Rogan pushes on criticism that algorithms make people more angry and divide communities. Mark says to think about services not just about the information conveyed but the emotional experience people have using it. Talks about how he doesn't want to build something that makes people angry. Goes into how the news industry is incentivized to run negative stories and have a critical tone to it. Over time have come to realize that news and politics is not what people want. They want to connect with other people and explore interests.
1:23 - Goes into how design can make a big difference and how clicking the angry emoticon isn't factored into whether they show that content to other people. Good discussion on what to do if the anger is justifiable.
1:28 - Rogan asks why have an algorithm at all. Mark says that's where Facebook started and they didn't have the technology to do that kind of ranking. If you don't have ranking it gets gamed in different ways - such as businesses who will post constantly so it's always at the top of people's feeds. Talks more about how the feed algorithm works.
1:31 - The power Mark has in controlling the flow of information. Mark views their job to empower people to express what they want and get the content that they want. Any time they try to impose their opinion the product does worse - and that's bad for them in the marketplace. Says the algorithms should be agnostic of what the content is and just let people express what they want. Though in rare cases he makes editorial judgments like not upranking the angry content.
1:38 - Role of foreign actors in trying to exploit the platforms. Mark discusses the various teams at Meta who investigate this type of behavior.
1:41 - Discussion on the tradeoff between having more false positives or negatives when building systems to take down violating content. Challenges of identifying legitimate pages/accounts. Talks about how you're never going to have a perfect system and it's all a question of tradeoffs.
1:45 - Mark talks about how he doesn't want to be making these value judgments and that isn't what he got into all this to do. He wants to build technology to connect people. Has to be involved in arbitrating what is or is not ok but prefers to do it as little as possible.
1:47 - What Meta did around the Hunter Biden laptop. How it was different than what Twitter did. Discussion about the process and how you need to have one in case the content is bad but also protects against the potential that the content eventually turns out to be true.
1:54 - Rogan continues to press Mark on how he handles it when there are so many people who have different viewpoints on what should or shouldn't be allowed. Mark goes to the importance of innovation in governance structures such as the Oversight Board and that teams at Meta shouldn't be making many of these decisions. They don't want to be the "Ministry of Truth" for the world. Mark talks about how the U.S. is more polarized than most countries in the world.
1:57 - Rogan asks why Mark thinks the U.S. is more polarized. Mark says there's a media environment issue that predates the internet. Also how our government is set up with just two parties. Supports open primaries. Says people shouldn't blame social media as the prime cause of polarization.
2:03 - Mark - It's not that national and civic issues don't matter, but there probably is a healthy balance. People derive a lot of happiness from the people around them and what's happening in their communities. But the vast amount of information available about what's happening everywhere requires people to do better time management on the information they consume.
2:06 - Balance of being open to criticism but not letting it consume you. Says a lot of people who criticize him and the company aren't trying to help Meta build something better.
2:09 - Challenge in building products because what people tell you they want to spend their time on versus what they actually spend their time on can be different. Why Mark tries to downplay the political controversy about the platforms - most people don't care as much about big global issues as they do about what's happening with their family or within their circle of friends.
2:14 - Notion around filter bubbles and that people only see one type of thing has been debunked and most people see a diversity of content and opinions online.
2:15 - Rogan pushes on fact-checkers and how they can be biased. Asks Mark how Meta picks who the fact-checkers are. Mark says Meta gives fact-checkers guidelines to not focus on things that are opinions. Also about how Meta doesn't block misinformation but uses labels.
2:21 - Harmful content and how taking it down doesn't cause much controversy. However, there are issues such as operational mistakes (something is incorrectly taken down) and areas like misinformation where there isn't widespread agreement on how to handle it.
2:25 - Shadowbanning. Mark talks about how demotions work. When it's just the post versus all the content from someone. Mark does get pings from friends and others who have issues. When he looks into stuff people attribute the reason to bad intent, ideological bent, or value judgment, when in reality it was a bug. Also, it's not shadow banning if something doesn't get the distribution they want it to because it wasn't popular. Scale is so big that there will be millions of mistakes and Mark hasn't figured out how to crack that nut to better communicate what is happening behind the scenes.
2:30 - Rogan asks what it was like going through the stages of growth for Facebook. Mark reflects that when he was building Facebook they thought that someone would do this for the world sometime, but it wouldn't be them because they were just college kids. But once they started building it started taking off and people kept using it even after they left college. Went from being a college thing to a fad to it's never going to be a good business. They did it because they cared more, believed in it, and were willing to spend the time to do it.
2:38 - Rogan asks Mark how long he thinks he'll be doing this. Will there come a time when the stress is too much? Mark says he'll do it for a while. Says there are phases to the company which started with building Facebook and then trying to do the same with other platforms which are when Instagram and WhatsApp were acquired. Now feels those are very constrained because they are happening on the phone. Next, it's going to not only focus on those but working on the metaverse where you can have deeper experiences that you can't get on the phone. This is what he's going to dedicate the next ten to fifteen years of his life. Thinks more about his life now in terms of projects he wants to take on over 10 years.
2:49 - Not focused on the metaverse because it's a near-term opportunity, but if they do good work on this then it sets them up well for the future.
What I’m Reading
Brazilian Report: Google to verify political ad funders of Brazilian state candidates
Everything in Moderation: Lauren Wagner on shipping trust and safety products and reimagining the social web
Foreign Affairs: Only Bipartisanship Can Defeat Authoritarian Aggression
New York Times: Why Social Media Sites Are Removing Andrew Tate’s Accounts
Fox Business: Trump's social media app facing financial fallout
The Africa Report: Kenya 2022: Whistleblower’s confession questions IEBC credibility
Rob Leathern: Reducing Thrash in "Cannot Fail" Software Projects
New York Times: Willie Nelson’s Long Encore
New York Times: Why do we love TikTok audio memes
Tech Policy Press: The True Costs of Election Mis- and Disinformation
Washington Post: Former security chief claims Twitter buried 'egregious deficiencies'
Center for Democracy and Technology: Lost in Translation: Automated Content Analysis in Non-English Languages
Stanford Internet Observatory: Unheard Voice
Atlantic Council: Chinese discourse power: Ambitions and reality in the digital domain
Cazadores de Fake News: Influence operations associated with the Americas, Twitter August 2022 [Reports in Spanish]
Stanford Event, September 1: Journal of Online Trust and Safety Special Issue Webinar
UW-Madison Event, September 13: Election Matters 2022
Electronic Frontier Foundation: General Monitoring is not the Answer to the Problem of Online Harms
There are **many** open positions at Freedom House. Check them out here: https://freedomhouse.org/about-us/careers
National Endowment for Democracy: Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program
Democracy Works: Openings for software engineer and director of HR
Atlantic Council DFR Lab: Variety of positions open. More info at link.
Atlantic Council: #DigitalSherlocks Scholarships
Meta Oversight Board: Variety of positions open. More info at link.
National Democratic Institute (NDI): Variety of positions open. More info at link.
Protect Democracy: Technology Policy Advocate
Topics to keep an eye on that have a general timeframe of the first half of the year:
Facebook 2020 election research
Oversight Board opinion on cross-check
Senate & House hearings, markups, and potential votes
September 6 - 8: Code 2022 - Vox/Recode Silicon Valley Conference
September 11 - Sweden elections
September 13 - New Hampshire Primary (Hassan defending Senate seat)
September 13 - 27: UN General Assembly
Sept 20 - High level general debate begins
September 21-23: Atlantic Festival
September 27 - 28: Trust Con
September 28 - 30: Athens Democracy Forum
September 29 - 30: Trust and Safety Research Conference
October: Twitter/Musk Trial (Dates not set yet)
October 2 and 30: Brazil
October 15 - 22: SXSW Sydney
October 17: Twitter/Musk Trial Begins
November 8: United States Midterms
March 10 - 19: SXSW
March 20 - 24, 2023: Mozilla Fest
Events to keep an eye on but nothing scheduled:
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