Technology companies are locked in an arms race to seize your attention, and that race is tearing apart our shared social fabric. In this inaugural podcast from the Center for Humane Technology, hosts Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin will expose the hidden designs that have the power to hijack our attention, manipulate our choices and destabilize our real world communities. They’ll explore what it means to become sophisticated about human nature, by interviewing hypnotists, magicians, experts on the dynamics of cults and election hacking and the powers of persuasion. How can we escape this unrelenting race to the bottom of the brain stem? Start by subscribing to our new series, Your Undivided Attention.
Are the Kids Alright?
We are in the midst of a teen mental health crisis. Since 2011, the rate of U.S. hospitalizations for preteen girls who have self-harmed is up 189 percent, and with older teen girls, it’s up 62 percent. Tragically, the numbers on suicides are similar — 151 percent higher for preteen girls, and 70 percent higher for older teen girls. NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has spent the last few years trying to figure out why, working with fellow psychologist Jean Twenge, and he believes social media is to blame. Jonathan and Jean found that the mental health data show a stark contrast between Generation Z and Millennials, unlike any demographic divide researchers have seen since World War II, and the division tracks with a sharp rise in social media use. As Jonathan explains in this interview, disentangling correlation and causation is a persistent research challenge, and the debate on this topic is still in full swing. But as TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and the next big thing fine-tune the manipulative and addictive features that pull teens in, we cannot afford to ignore this problem while we sit back and wait for conclusive results. When it comes to children, our standards need to be higher, and our burden of proof lower.
Your Nation's Attention for the Price of a Used Car
Today’s extremists don’t need highly produced videos like ISIS. They don’t need deep pockets like Russia. With the right message, a fringe organization can reach the majority of a nation’s Facebook users for the price of a used car. Our guest, Zahed Amanullah, knows this firsthand. He’s a counter-terrorism expert at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, and when his organization received $10,000 in ad credits from Facebook for an anti-extremism campaign, they were able to reach about two-thirds of Kenya’s Facebook users. It was a surprising win for Zahed, but it means nefarious groups all over the African continent have exactly the same broadcasting power. Last year, Facebook took down 66 accounts, 83 pages, 11 groups and 12 Instagram accounts related to Russian campaigns in African countries, and Russian networks spent more than $77,000 on Facebook ads in Africa. Today on the show, Zahed will explain how the very tools that extremists use to broadcast messages of hate can also be used to stop them in their tracks, and he’ll tell us what tech and government must do to systematically counter the problem. “If we don’t get in front of this,” he says, “this phenomenon is going to amplify beyond our reach.“
The Social Dilemma
A new documentary called The Social Dilemma comes out on Netflix today, September 9, 2020. We hope that this film, full of interviews with tech insiders, will be a catalyst and tool for exposing how technology has been distorting our perception of the world, and will help us reach the shared ground we need to solve big problems together.
Facebook Goes '2Africa'
This summer, Facebook unveiled “2Africa,” a subsea cable project that will encircle nearly the entire continent of Africa — much to the surprise of Julie Owono. As Executive Director of Internet Without Borders, she’s seen how quickly projects like this can become enmeshed in local politics, as private companies dig through territorial waters, negotiate with local officials and gradually assume responsibility over vital pieces of national infrastructure. “It’s critical, now, that communities have a seat at the table,” Julie says. We ask her about the risks of tech companies leading us into an age of “digital colonialism,” and what she hopes to achieve as a newly appointed member of Facebook’s Oversight Board.
When Media Was for You and Me
In 1940, a group of 60 American intellectuals formed the Committee for National Morale. “They’ve largely been forgotten,” says Fred Turner, a professor of communications at Stanford University, but their work had a profound impact on public opinion. They produced groundbreaking films and art exhibitions. They urged viewers to stop, reflect and think for themselves, and in so doing, they developed a set of design principles that reimagined how media could make us feel more calm, reflective, empathetic; in short, more democratic.
Digital Democracy Is Within Reach
Imagine a world where every country has a digital minister and technologically-enabled legislative bodies. Votes are completely transparent and audio and video of all conversations between lawmakers and lobbyists are available to the public immediately. Conspiracy theories are acted upon within two hours and replaced by humorous videos that clarify the truth. Imagine that expressing outrage about your local political environment turned into a participatory process where you were invited to solve that problem and even entered into a face to face group workshop. Does that sound impossible? It’s ambitious and optimistic, but that's everything that our guest this episode, Audrey Tang, digital minister of Taiwan, has been working on in her own country for many years. Audrey’s path into public service began in 2014 with her participation in the Sunflower Movement, a student-led protest in Taiwan’s parliamentary building, and she’s been building on that experience ever since, leading her country into a future of truly participatory digital democracy.
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Very insightful conversations definitely worth a listen