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tv   After Words Steven Levy Facebook  CSPAN  July 19, 2020 9:01pm-10:02pm EDT

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the growth and future of facebook. he's interviewed by offering financial times global columnist all "after words" programs are also available as podcasts. >> guest: okay, welcome, steve it is nice to see you. the last time we may have sat together is when we were working at "newsweek" in the company campaign or something. but as you know i am a big fan of yours. i was a huge fan of your first book on google and know to come
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back at this particular moment and talk about facebook the inside story couldn't be more timely. i am just going to start off we have a lot of places to go with this kind going to start with something timely. this morning as we came to the show you heard about the hacking of her and the fact trump has gone to facebook to get his message out. facebook got a lot of criticism for things over the years and i actually wrote a column recently about why mark zuckerberg hasn't fact checked. tell us about your relationship with facebook and free speech. i'm going to throw a big question to launch this off. >> guest: it is good to be here again with some virtuosi.
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like a lot of things you cannot just tease out any one problem of facebook dna in its origins. in the case of trump obviously it wasn't something they talked about but by the time the campaign got rolling in 2015, this became an issue for facebook blather on top of the way that it dealt with controversy and it first came out in 2015 when he posted something anti-muslim and it did violate the company's community standards for facebook decided not to mess with that even though it might have violated
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the standards because it was newsworthy and they were not going to tamper with that and then that's when he started on the path he made explicit. now he believes politicians should be able to say whatever they want to judge them by their speech even if it's harmful speech. as time goes on it becomes tougher and tougher for facebook to defend because it becomes a bullhorn for toxic speech. >> host: it's so interesting. in recent months and one of the companies decided to take different paths. it's been a very divisive issue and i'm curious when i wrote my own book i focused on the loophole which was t the carveot
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from the mid-1990s so it was a tiny startup entity to be and say whatever they wanted and not be held liable. but we all know as journalists these are giant media companies and a sewing curious as you dug into this issue, are these guys the town square or something else, how should we think about them? >> guest: 230, as you mentioned the regulation and the wall that was passed in 1996 before we had these giant platforms i don't think that is the main issue here. the main issue is what are these platforms going to do to police
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the speech and make a safe environment for their users. i think it gives them the opportunity to do that and it's a question of where they draw the line to do that. he always says you don't want me to be the arbiter of the speech of now 3 billion people. he's not the ideal arbiter of hebrekeen to this platform and s the arbiter. he's the person who decides where the line is and what can't be said on his platform. this is toxic. we are not going to have pornography on here and we are not going to have misinformation about things like what took facebook a long time to ban or
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information about voting because facebook still doesn't do that great a job even though it says it is trying or things like dog whistles like trump often sends out what makes people uncomfortable and the platform itself somewhat toxic. so it is a tough line to draw but that is what he built and he has to own up to death so i think that is the issue and the fact is he is not doing a great job of it because it just feels wrong and he has more and more difficulty than ie and that is why he is constantly taking steps back with the consequences of where his decision-making is.
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>> host: i want to come back to the disinformation, free speech and election. at the beginning of your took this picture you are always getting right into people's lives and the picture you painted is that it would be adoring the entrepreneurs around him, almost seeming ahead of date and this is something i always think about how this point at which you decided you wanted to write about it in one day. now we know they got more than the largest countries in the world so these companies are
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what did that mean? >> guest: as you mentioned i decided to write this book the inside story when zuckerberg posted at the end of the summer that a billion people had walked into facebook in a 24 hour period and even back then it was larger than any country now the number is bigger than any country like 3 billion. when i started doing the book is >> host: we will come back to that. >> guest: we went to africa
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and he came from italy where of course he met with the prime minister and this is what you would expect him to do and a few months before that he came to facebook on a visit and they had a policy and almost like some sort of god there was a tight community of entrepreneurs. it was a surprise visit in a little start up but they couldn't believe what it was and i realized later that wa it was kind of peak facebook because later that was the moment it
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flipped and went from a revered company and from that point on it wasn't disputing that these issues but it was an answer for all the things it did that for toxic and cause people problems and compromised people's data and privacy and that is when it flipped into the book became an exercise in understanding how that happened. going back to the early days of facebook to understand how this happened. >> host: i can relate that it's a tough thing when the story changes in the middle of the book cycle you have to scramble.
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>> guest: it gave me the advantage of covering facebook and interviewing the people with hundreds of interviews while this was happening, while the company's reputation was unraveling and watching the process in real-time. >> host: what did you learn about his childhood that could infer or help us understand where the company is to a? >> guest: i talked to his parents, and his mother told me a story which i found really resonated with the way facebook unfolded. he grew up in westchester county and the public school he went to didn't have a whole lot of advanced classes. so he wanted to go to private school.
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he was interested in the classics. his mother wanted him to go to a nearby school. the oldest sibling was going off to harvard that year and didn't want to lose two kids in the same year but he heard about the program his mother said was sais invite him to just interview interviewed the people and maybe you will like it. he said i'm going to interview the people i'm going to exeter and that reminded me a lot of the decision-making that i learned took place at facebook through all of history where quite often something would come up like this isn't good for the
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users. sometimes they would say this isn't right, this is kind of long and he would say let's go do it and as i thought, exeter. actually that is where he first became familiar with the program but the idea that when he makes his mind up that said so he has total power and controls the majority of the voting stock and is in the board of directors that cannot overrule them and when he says let's do it, they go to exeter. >> host: that is fascinating. speaking of total power, this wonderful anecdote, tell us about the eyes of the fou thero.
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>> guest: it was probably unnerving that you could ask him a question and he wouldn't answer it he would just stare at you. i think that human beings have he seems to sort of defy that sometimes when he looks at you and a lot of people say they have the same problem. the first time i met him in 2006 i asked softball questions about facebook, how many students etc. if you look at me and wouldn't answer the questions, like what's going on here am i in the twilight zone. he got better and minimizing that over the years but every so often you get to that stare. they described it to me. >> host: that's something.
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i encouraged him to and encouraged him on that. for those that don't know he was sort of an early mentor and an elevation at stake. >> guest: the elevation passed and roger invested personally. >> host: that's right. >> guest: roger benefited greatly in a way that --
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>> host: he was out talking against his own book at that stage saying i became concerned about what i was seeing on facebook. i felt there was something wrong here. he apparently wrote a letter and this is sort of like a kind uncle coming to you and saying i think we have a little bit of a problem and according to this day went verthey went a very con him quickly, shut him down. it's hard for me to kind of metabolize how someone can get that information from a trusted figure and not take it seemingly more seriously. what conclusion did you come to about this? >> guest: facebook downplays the degree to which roger was an influence.
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in roger's book i think that he had a more accurate account of his degree of influence. they have been described as zuckerberg's main mentor. some of the stories he tells are true. they did tell me he did connect roger with mark and he did have a meeting with him when yahoo! was trying to buy facebook and they did have a role among others in helping to connect despite the time he was contemplating, he wasn't a regular advisor and so basically they were getting a letter summed up to maybe it was
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important earlier in the days of facebook is now someone in close contact a false comfortable to the head of partnership and so these things he was complaining about were indeed under discussion at facebook and they had already decided that he was going to not do anything about the misinformation circulating in 2016. so it wasn't a new thing he was bringing up. it was something that they have already made a decision. it was a disruptive decision and he was right to call it out but it wasn't like he was saying here's something you don't know about it was something they knew and decided not to do anything about. that misinformation was happening during the election but by and large helped trump and hurt clinton.
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>> host: i want to get to this in a minute, what made them make that decision? is a big decisio decision they o particularly if they are liberal or libertarian, but we are not going to do anything about it. >> guest: three things are happening with the election. first thing, trump is using facebook in a way that it's supposed to be used he told me he was in all of it and he shared it with me during the course of the book that it was beautiful and essentially the trump campaign played facebook where the clinton people played
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it like cardboard in the street. the trump campaign accepted and hope to shohelped show them thed outs of how to use it. they did thousands of ads every day. hundreds of thousands whereas the clinton campaign didn't use it while at all. part number two is misinformation. people found they could make money by circulating fake stories that didn't exist that make hillary clinton look bad, supposedly in a child trafficking ring the final had
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as much exposure to the users as the misinformation campaign, but there were hundreds of thousands of people who sell this stuff and it's super disturbing that they are using facebook to help metal within election. as for the unrolled facebook really late and so i think after, and we can talk about how they treated them, but the second thing, there was a big debate about facebook. in a meeting they described, the person running the meeting was told n., the head of the dc operations, and his dna was he was a republican, and a lot of people in the washington office felt he told his job wa thoughto carry water for the republicans. he had a very close relationship
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and used to date her in college. back from the tough period that she had to recover from her husband died she was back then, but it shifted where people knew and took responsibility during the period. they were pretty much operating with new authority and they won the argument. that would be like the playing field to help one candidate and that was wrong. the playing field was tilted. the rest is history. >> host: let's talk about the revelations posted 2016. we want to get deep into that as
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well. how did you view all of those characters? >> guest: it was an amazing story in and of itself. it was in a way a comedy and a sense of errors but there were crazy characters involved and what became the biggest scandal in that narrative in history you argue whether other things they did was more damaging but this is the one with the most traction. that scandal happened not only in 2018 at cambridge and a look at how they got the information but in 2010 when facebook gave
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away information about the users and tha the demand when a facebk user signed up to use a survey or application for a third-party date would give that developer not only the information of the person or persons whole social network so we could argue that user signed up for a survey and was responsible because he or she clicks off on a plate saying general information but they gave away the information. they had no idea this was happening. they complained this was too much so they went ahead and did it anyway but by then they could
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get access and they figured out you could get that information by doing this innocuous survey so that is how the information fell into the hands of one of the biggest funders of the far right and then donald trump used it to. >> host: but think of it more dramatically are you worried they could let donald trump? >> guest: which parts of that are going to be used, i think the biden campaign is going to
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use it better than the clinton campaign. the trump campaign has a big head start from 2016 and building on it over the last four years. but the biden campaign could never close and they stop the campaigning. this is all part of the conversation but i think it's into the economic conversation about the fact that there is an incredible information on either sides.
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we've got large entities into doesn't have the same amount of information. adam smith, markets don't work properly or fairly if there isn't = access to information or shared understanding of the transaction and the value of what is being exchanged. let's delve into that and what is coming up for possible regulations and how it might play out. >> guest: right. well, zuckerberg said its money that motivates me. i think obviously the finances are important and he sees it as a way that they can continue to grow and maintain its users. that is what is important to h
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him. the advertising models there is a moment where is that i don't understand, you don't charge money. how can you make billions of dollars and he sai that he saide run ads. facebook says these are good for people because we know a lot about you and we can show you relevant ads which are things you'd like to see and that can be of service to you. in some cases that happens and they will send you an ad for things you like that you wouldn't have known about otherwise. they also know so much about
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cuba advertisers can use that information to sort of prove your weak points and that is something people don't want but it is part of facebook. that's where things run into problems and people learn about and become alarmed about it and i think that is the way the trump campaign used facebook in 2016 and i think it is th that y political advertisers in general want to use facebook. they feel you've got an underlying bias they will exploit that and try to get you to vote for their candidate. >> host: i want to connect a few dots politically i want to talk about 2016 and monopoly
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power and the evolution that lead back to sheryl sandberg. she remains a figure that has come into some criticism, but she is good at not being in the spotlight and get i know from the close reading of the first she was right there in the middle of the golden goose that created and help monetize that targeted advertising and was the basis of what we call surveillance capitalism. she then took that and so i'm always struck and have to say i am rather cynical when i hear her in particular in these many congressional testimonies say when they are confronted with
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this or that latest scandal, we couldn't possibly know and we did this we could. so anyone held for the chief economist for the playbook for this is all there is a should we be blaming sheryl moore she is there for the liberalism and everything we are talking about now. >> guest: she was a major participant in that and a major business model. i found someone who was with sheryl the day of her orientation. usually for many years it was chris cox and now again i think the chief officer in early employee who is the person who
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would probably take over facebook if mark zuckerberg were not a ceo. he gave the speech to inspire people and when she was in the session it was kind of unusual here is the person coming in to be the chief operating officer who's the new employee they have to say a few words and talk about how facebook previously had been about discovering where to express your intent to search for something. i want to do something in this category, and google would know that because you are searching for it and they give a much more targeted ad. she thought facebook was there and they could know enough about you if they had the data to be able to do not only what they were doing before but that's what she built with other things
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which got more and more information about not only the behavior and facebook but throughout the website as you search the browser that information would be reported and they ended up buying other databases to get a complete picture of you so she definitely had a hand in math and was the person in charge of lobbying washington and made a deal early on. those include that kind of lobbying washington policy stuff and business model so definitely she is responsible for a big chunk of facebook and eventually he admitted this probably was an error of not monitoring that stuff more closely because when
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things went awry and a lot of the things we are talking about were in that category, it was the vote the radar and he was able to marginalize. >> host: interesting. cheryl was the chief of staff for larry summers who was the basic economic adviser in the clinton campaign and architect of a lot of regulations in the financial sector. what was done in the financial sector and what has been done in the technical sector is a little bit of okay let's keep the market open. it's great for america to have giant software companies, yet at another level there wasn't a lot of awareness not everybody can be a software developer that
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conversation in your book you go back and you did look at some of the regulatory battles that we've seen in 2011. so far it seems the tech companies in general have been able to promise we will do better and go off and then pretty much do whatever they want in terms of getting big, sitting on competitors before they can actually become real threat. how wilthreats. how will that play out in the future do you think? >> guest: they went to a reputational after about and it took a long while to understand what was happening. 2017 is also the year that all of this was happening.
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a lot of people were criticizing facebook more intensely, but he went on this pretty tone deaf to her of the 50 states. >> host: did you go on that would have? >> guest: i mean come he was traveling -- on a couple of points in the tour i had a long interview in kansas but then i think towards the end in the fall. that was a moment of not just for facebook, but facebook dragged down the whole sector with them because they became the poster child for wait a minute for calls to information they have. what can we do with this. we don't like this. so we already got underway becausunder waybecause of that e motivating factor. that's why the regulatory forces that you are talking about are
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pretty serious now on the trump side, the ftc side and the congressional side of people looking closely. >> host: just in the last couple of days we have had major transatlantic rulings so that european union was trying to get apple to avoid dodging and they were not able to push that through. we had safe harbor which is the sort of data sharing between the eu and the u.s.. that is off the table now. some of this about how we are going to do tax transatlantic lead is down to this particular administration but it also seemo beg the existential question of how tech is going to work into the values around governing are going to be. it seems like we are moving to
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kind of i call it a try for a world where you put the u.s., europe and china going different directions. one of those major advantages has been the network effect, the ability to cross borders everywhere and grow exponentially. what is this going to mean for them? >> guest: it is a challenge. facebook is very concerned. i think if they were constrained not only by antitrust concerns but the geopolitical situation it would be doing all it can to buy a tiktok and make their own version to emulate competitors they had better success integrating them into the facebook family. so, it is a problem when you
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have such a big chunk of the world's population. like you said there is a network effect that is difficult to dislodge. >> host: it's interesting i remember about a year ago a senate hearing that i think was a report that ran up after zuckerberg left his desk and looked up his notebook and was being asked if anybody asked about china or we are the u.s. national champion, we need to be kept data in order to compete. do you think that is fair? >> host: it's an argument that could play that i think it shouldn't affect the way we say they should get away with more because we are worried about china. >> host: interesting. i want to ask a few personal
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questions about kind of your process on the book and how maybe we could start with the fact it took you a year to get permission to do this. what was that like? >> guest: when i undertake a project like this and i did a similar thing with google, i think you get the best information by talking to your subjects and talking to them a lot. i found a useful and wanted the same access in this book that they would give me free reign to talk to anyone i wanted to in the company and use it for the buck no strings attached.
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they didn't get to read the book until it was printed a year or two before it was released in the public. i didn't fact check the book which i would have done anyway, hired fact checkers to make sure if we are making errors and things i say people said they actually said and does a question of saying i would like you to trust me and it's something you should do not just for me but you go to history and in part maybe that were designated. elliott was to have policy and they said okay. >> host: what is the most surprising thing you've learned as somebody that has been deep
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in the topic for decades? >> guest: i think it's interesting how facebook was shaped so much by zuckerberg personally and how well he managed to channel himself throughout his company. you go there and there's a whole lot of buildings. the first was a quarter-mile long and there's about to be a third. it feels like you're walking outside and there's all these posters very orwellian almost. there is the analogue of research lab where many of them are taken from things that
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zuckerberg says that he's able to get across to. the motto for a long time was moved fast and embrace the. they realized at a certain point but probably didn't play very well so they changed it to move fast and stable infrastructure. but it really was the way they did operate and notably returned to code like move fast. the website didn't work for a little while you could just reboot it because with new tools zuckerberg grew up with, it doesn't really matter if you have a bug in the code because unlike microsoft word you don't
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have to wait months for the new version can come every 15 minutes. metaphorically you could argue they didn't move fast. some people say democracy. >> host: it's interesting because in the post covid world there is a lot of talk of moving from efficiencies and companies like facebook are like the apex of that. it's all about being frictionless. very few employees growing scale very quickly thanks to these technologies. when you move into a conversation about resiliency which is everything from the good corporate governance to some have questioned the governance and whether zuckerberg should have so much
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power to the social corporate to how should the wealth of these be shared what would you say to that and what is the conversation and facebook about that? >> guest: for the first time facebook finds itself, particularly zuckerberg and his decision-making is at odds with the employees. it used to be the idea coming from the weekly q-and-a where you could ask him anything and he would be very frank with his workforce about what he thought and what was going on. how it's routine and he has to assume it might be leaked which
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actually does happen and got to the point some of the mp employs to a virtual walk out. they stopped working in a protest of the policies zuckerberg had about political advertising and that's unprecedented in that company. so i think that is probably bigger than regulators, bigger than competition. he is a long-term thinker. he spent a couple billion dollars for the reality company because he thought that that was going to be a competitor ten years from now so if he doesn't get the best engineers he can't fulfill that vision or compete
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so he's very worried if he loses his workforce and if they feel facebook isn't a moral place to work for it. >> host: a lot of critics have said as you say it is and regulators were the marketplace thamarketplacedouble curved feei because it is all about human capital and who can get the best engineers to work for them. there was a piece recently by the former product development at facebook and he posed some interesting ideas about this battle between the virtual world and the physical world and this is about the transition we are going through a. we knew we were going to much more digital economy is made up lots of things you could touch and feel that this now happened
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overnight and these come with different principles that seems to me facebook is a good encapsulation of the. though also in the sense you have a powerful leader at the top. it's about being cross-border and national and kind of the opposite of the mainstream political conversation which is very much about the nationstate. what does facebook tel this telt where the world is headed? >> guest: i think that is a great question. as you say, when you are on facebook, you are a in this virtual world people talk about their friend and you ar you're l network now. it's something that isn't based necessarily own people you spent a lot of time with or in the
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same place with. you may even have )-close-paren that you never miss because they are part of your network on facebook. as facebook tries to expand the ways you come in contact with that and your virtual world becomes your world as you say it's sort of team up for this stage where yo you're not suppod to be at the house much. that's important, but you that u mentioned is something else in terms of governance. i think facebook is trying to respond to that with doing things like the oversight board insertion limited cases they have the ability to overrule the ultimate decision-maker on content positions, what each individual piece could come up or down at the board might even be able to make a suggestion
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about the policies. it remains to be seen. it's been a pretty long time for the board to be set up and start making its rulings. around the time he started to think about governance and right conversations during the course of the book and it was brought up about governance asking about not he had done a lot of thinking about it and he contacted people who were experts on governance and had dinner is in his house and have conversations they could learn more about that. >> host: interesting. where do you think facebook is headed in terms of going to other industries?
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we've seen them develop their own currency went libra but i would rather see a coalition. it's interesting because it is pushing the boundaries of where we are going. facebook might not be the right player to run it up where are they going that we should be watching? >> guest: they tried to run that through the policy in the days of the incredible skepticism. also symbolic of the neutrality that we are not going to be in control of it and the people who
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will take advantage of it. i think virtual reality will be very important for facebook as time goes on and we are waiting to see what people say is the inevitable of these things which are as more and more of what we do becomes virtual, facebook wants to be right in the center of it. >> host: we've only got about four or five minutes left. let me ask a couple of final question to. the conversation about children in social media has taken off in recent years. kids think it's a little old-fashioned now.
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they've moved on to whatever they are using. should we worry and do you worry about the effectiveness on the technologies socializing? i had an interesting conversation with a teenager that said i was throwing a birthday party for my dad in icon that wanted it to be private but i felt if i didn't put a video on might be that it wouldn't be real and it wouldn't exist. it's a fascinating way they changed the nature of the reality. >> guest: as you mentioned, instagram, which facebook bought in at the time they offered a million dollars to the company. it's still about influenza culture at the center of it and
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as you say, it isn't a real meal unless you take a picture of it and put it on instagram. it's how much of the feed to the big companies and how much of it is i wouldn't call it a natural evolution but the inevitable kind of technology coming in. if it wasn't from facebook founded by zuckerberg, i think it would be founded by someone else. the idea was in the air to do it better. the ubiquitous internet, connectivity, mobile devices, they just had the kind of social networks we have now and products we see with instagram and what's up and tiktok. we are on this course and this is the sort of my subject baby
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for facebook started i had been writing i guess for decades now about this transformation of the digital world and this is one piece of it redefining who people are so it was one chapter of this bigger story that gives the story of our times of this giant transformation and i would be lucky to get kind of a front-row seat to this major change. >> host: you have indeed. i'm going to give you about a thumbs up. it really was terrific. last thought, anything i haven't asked that you want to leave the readers with? with? >> guest: what i tried to do in the book, to me there is such a great story to this unusual
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person developing something in his dorm room and very quickly accelerating it. when zuckerberg says you can't blame us, but in six months silicon valley was being advised by some of its best minds. to accelerate this in our lives where as some impulses he had might have been considered idealistic, took us to a place where it is in a strange land and is the object of intense criticisms. i finished with a couple of interviews and we got to a level
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of candor in this notebook that i discovered they had used in 20062 alkaline facebook. he destroyed the notebook that i managed to get copies of the pages of it and showed him his own work envisioning facebook and i feel he kind of melted when he saw it. i have a copy on my phone it goes back to the days when things were simpler. now the reality is much broader and complicated. >> host: navy eyes of sorrow pass you over. [laughter] they are still on you i fear they are still on you. it's been great to talk with you and i hope they get to do it again sometime. >> guest: thank you. >> this program is available as a podcast.
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all "after words" programs can be viewed on our website at >> a look now at some publishing industry news. donald trump, junior announced he will release a book next month critical of presumptive democratic presidential nominee joe biden. the book titled liberal privilege will be available at
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the end of august to coincide with the republican national convention. andrew weissman, the former prosecutor for special counsel robert mueller, plans to publish his account of the two-year investigation into russian interference in the 2016 as potential election. the book "where the wall and," will be available september 29. in other news publishers weekly reports how the offers are getting creative with the release of new books during the corona virus pandemic. ..
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this is his tenth appearance during the event at the reagan foundation we look forward to having him. in the eighties and nineties newt gingrich quickly climbed his way to the upper echelon of republican leadership


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