So going to work for Facebook after working for the CIA is an... interesting career move. Why did they bring you on board?
role on paper was actually right for me.
My understanding was
that I would be building a brand-new team within the business
integrity division, whose responsibility would be to figure out
how to keep the platform from being exploited for political
purposes or to manipulate elections around the world.
That was just never
what the job turned out to be.
On day two, my manager let me
know she was changing my title from Head of Global Elections
Integrity Ops to manager. She basically said she was rethinking
what I'm actually responsible for and what I'm not.
I did not
get to talk about hiring my own team.
Everything was chipping
away at putting me in a corner and not letting me engage or do
the work I was there to do.
So why hire you, then? A PR stunt?
I don't think it was a PR stunt.
Honestly, it was the most
confusing professional experience of my life. Some people have
asked, do you think they hired you to silence you?
I wasn't this
huge critic of Facebook, but I was starting to headline events
and be interviewed more and more.
And I actually don't think it
was that either. I don't think it's that they don't think they
can fix it. I wanted to do way more than they were going to do.
That I'm sure of.
But again, not on day two. That's the
part I can't fully wrap my head around.
Once I walked in that
door, I was never once empowered to do the work I was hired to
do. And in fact, more than not being empowered, I was
It's Facebook, everyone talks about it
being a flat organization - everybody talks about how anybody
can go talk to anybody. It was never that way for me.
intentionally never let me participate in any of the meetings
that were specifically about the job I was hired to do.
I hear you're having a meeting about political
advertising, and what we're going to do about it ahead of the
That's what I was told I was going to be leading, and
she would not even let me come to those meetings.
I assume you had a few ideas for solutions? You were there for
I do feel like most of the stuff we were doing there was the
bare minimum that we could get away with, and I was pushing the
envelope, asking questions.
What about this, what about that?
And I don't think they wanted me to push the envelope. I can't
explain why they treated me the way they did.
interference part - this might sound odd - but that should be
the easier part to fix.
Of course people can always game it, but
there are basic tools you can put in place. There were
advertisers who paid in rubles.
Those are things that
shouldn't have been that hard to figure out.
"I think the more human beings
start to realize they're being manipulated,
the more this relationship [with social media]
is going to come under pressure," says Yael Eisenstat.
Every single solution
we were trying to come up with was,
minimum for the company to be able to check that box
putting the responsibility on someone else
For me, the question
is more the systemic underlying issue that's allowing all of
this stuff to happen. It is because these are companies whose
entire existence depends on keeping us engaged.
Keeping our eyes on
their platform, keeping our time spent on their products.
a comment provided to WIRED,
Facebook says that as part of its
elections work, it blocks millions of fake accounts each day
and is expanding its third-party fact-checking program.
"We have hundreds of staff
working day and night on these important issues," says Katie
Harbath, Facebook's public policy director of global
"We are developing smarter
tools, providing greater transparency, forging stronger
partnerships, and building better defenses.
We learn from
each election, and more than anything we are committed to
doing everything we can to prevent bad actors from
interfering in the democratic process."]
That's the fundamental problem with a free platform like Twitter
or Facebook or YouTube:
They're trapped in a business model that
requires them to manipulate our attention.
business model is to keep you engaged.
It's not even a question
of whether advertising is bad or good. It's a question of, what
do they have to do to keep you engaged long enough to get those
ads in front of your eyeballs?
Their tools are doing what they
can to keep us engaged, which is taking us down more and more
extreme rabbit holes, which is polarizing us more and more
because the salacious talking points and salacious click-baity
headlines are what keep people's eyeballs on their screens.
the more and more you can keep us outraged, keep us angry, keep
us polarized, it just makes it that much easier for a Russia to
come in and exploit that division.
For me the biggest
issue to fix is a business model that intentionally feeds on the
worst parts of who we are as humans.
And yes, people can say,
isn't it just human beings?
Is it Facebook's or Google's or
Twitter's or YouTube's fault that people love this stuff?
not their fault, but they are absolutely manipulating it and
exacerbating it and getting into our psychology in order to keep
us on their screens.
So I can't buy the "Isn't it just human
I think of this relationship
as parasitic. When you pick up your phone and check social
media you're not thinking,
"Welp, that's the dopamine talking,
it's just my human nature."
They've done this intentionally to
capture our attention.
I think the more that human beings start to realize they're
being manipulated, the more this relationship is going to come
I don't remember Instagram or Facebook or
Twitter or YouTube ever asking me what it is that I actually
care about, and actually what I want to see when I go on these
They like to use this excuse of, but we're giving you
a better user experience, we're making the ads more relevant to
you. They're deciding for me, and unfortunately the human mind
is not as strong is we all want it to be.
I can see when I'm
business model is to keep you engaged.
even a question of whether
is bad or good.
question of, what do they have to do
to keep you
engaged long enough
to get those
ads in front of your eyeballs?"
Your example of the
parasitic relationship, I think more and more people are talking
Even when we were on the Hill, when
Tristan [Harris] was testifying for this
Senate hearing on persuasive technologies, he spoke about a
lot that really resonated with the senators, this asymmetry of
This is not just some equal relationship where you're
giving them your data and they're serving you more products that
make your life easier, including better advertising that's more
relevant to you.
That's their selling point, but there's a
complete asymmetry of power, because they actually have so much
information on you that at this point they can even
predict your behavior.
But are the behavioral aspects informing discussions about
It's easy to say, OK these platforms are powerful, Facebook has billions of users, let's reign them in. But are
regulators really starting to look at this as a manipulative,
I think some are.
Yes, we all remember the Zuckerberg hearing,
and we remember how it looked like nobody on the Hill understood
Facebook. There are perfect sound bites like the senator asking
how they make their money.
Sure, there were some senators
who didn't sound brilliant on that stage. But I think we've come
a long way since then, actually.
The hearing we were just at,
the title was,
Optimizing for Engagement
- Understanding the Use of Persuasive
Technology on Internet Platforms.
What a very interesting
title in and of itself for a Senate subcommittee meeting!
already shows they're thinking about this issue. There were some
really sharp and insightful questions.
There is a talking
point in Silicon Valley that I hear over and over again:
better figure this out before government regulates us, because
they won't do it right, they're too stupid to figure it out.
not saying it's everyone in Silicon Valley, and maybe they don't
use the word stupid, but it's this they they they...
Government can't figure this out. While it's true that senators
aren't all engineers or data scientists, it doesn't mean they're
They're actually thinking about how this affects their
constituents, the country, our children, our democracy.