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How social media is impacting Democracy

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Justin Rosenstein, One Project Co-Founder, joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the new anthology 'The New Possible' and how social media is impacting our Democracy.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Let's turn to big tech and the role, really, that big tech is playing in today's society. We've been talking about this numerous times over the past couple of weeks because there's been focus on it in the wake of the 2020 election and also the riots on Capitol Hill. And for more on that, we want to bring in Justin Rosenstein. He is the co-founder of one project. He's also a former engineer at Facebook and co-creator of the like button, which we're going to talk about in just a few minutes.

But first, Justin, let's focus on big tech and, really, the danger that it could potentially pose or that does pose to today's society. I guess, in your view, where does the problem lie?

JUSTIN ROSENSTEIN: We're seeing from-- thank you for having me on. We're seeing huge problems only increasing from, whether it's addiction to technology or the rise of polarization, the ways that tech is affecting children's psychology. And I think that underlying all of that is the fact that the business model of technology, of these social media platforms, is that they make more money the more that people spend time staring at their screens.

And the truth is that we spend more time staring at our screens when it's polarizing us, when it's outraging us, rather than when it's informing us or educating us.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Justin, I saw you in Social Dilemma, so you've got a convert here. I deleted all of my social media apps from my personal phone. Two-part question for you. So wouldn't it be just simple-- make some kind of regulation against the algorithms that reinforce the hateful kinds of things that keep us pushing the button, the like button, or the give me more of that kind of speech? But also, you know Zuckerberg. Does he really care about this?

JUSTIN ROSENSTEIN: I think it's a lot more complicated than regulation. We've seen the ways in which regulation has failed to reel in the climate crisis, has failed to reel in the ways that people are exploited all over the world in the service of maximizing profit. And when it comes to regulating social media, the problem is even deeper and more nuanced and complex. I think until we address that the fundamental way in which not just social media works, but really, our economic system works, right?

We live in this world in which a whale is worth more money dead than alive, in which a tree is worth more money dead than alive. That's the reason you continue to see the devastation of the environment, where someone's life is worth more money when they're being exploited for the sake of profit than when they're being supported by society to live a life in a rich way.

And so, what we're seeing with big tech and social media is just the logical natural extension of that, where now we are the tree, we are the whale. We spend more time staring at our screens. Our attention is effectively being mined by companies in the service of increasing profitability.

And that's so fundamental to the way that the business model works, that even trying to craft regulation or even if you had major revelations from the leaders of these companies, it's so counter to the structure of what their fundamental incentives are, that that's not going to be sufficient to solve the problem. We need to be looking much more deeply at the fundamentals--

ADAM SHAPIRO: Got you, Justin.

JUSTIN ROSENSTEIN: [INAUDIBLE] systems.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Just curious-- Mark Zuckerberg truly care about this issue?

JUSTIN ROSENSTEIN: I think that the leaders of big tech, fortunately, by and large, are a caring group of people, who are trying to do their best in this world to maximize benefit for the world. And yet, when you're the head of a company who has to report to Wall Street, whose basic financial incentives are being defined by how many times you can get someone to click on ads, the capacity for cognitive dissonance is so high that I don't think in the end, it ultimately matters. Because ultimately, these corporations are-- even when they're run by CEOs that seem to have total power, they're ultimately beholden to Wall Street and to constantly trying to increase the quarterly returns.

SEANA SMITH: Justin, you talked about economic democracy. You laid it out also in your new book. But I think the key question here is, how do we achieve it? We know what we need to do. But what are the first couple of steps that we can take in order to kind of, I guess, start the process, at least?

JUSTIN ROSENSTEIN: Yeah, today, "The New Possible" comes out, which is a book of not just about technology, but from 28 global leaders who've come together to try to spell out what could a better world look like. Because 2020 has been such a wake up call. And yet, there's so many people who are saying, let's go back to normal. When do we get to go back to 2019? But it's the normal that got us to where we are-- economic inequality, social injustice, destruction of nature, the climate crisis, the fact that democracies are fraying under social media.

We live in a time of increasing crisis, even though we live in a time in which technology keeps getting better and better. And so, a group of leaders from all over the world have come together to try to say, what could a better world look like, a radically better world. But this is not just pie in the sky, utopian visionaries. This is people who have created or studied real systems that really work in practice. And so, it outlines a vision for how we can take small steps to get from here to where we need to go.

Say big tech as an example. Right now, there's tons of talk about tech being a democracy. Congress is looking at antitrust regulation, antitrust reform. But the traditional approaches that people have taken to antitrust involve breaking up tech companies or involve breaking up companies. If we break up big tech, we're actually going to see only fiercer competition. We're going to see more innovation around how can we race to the bottom of the brainstem to mine more and more people's attention.

So instead, we need to look at, well, what is the future we want to live in? I think the future we want to live in is one in which technology works not for shareholders--

ADAM SHAPIRO: Justin.

JUSTIN ROSENSTEIN: --not for CEOs, but for the people.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Did Twitter do the right thing when it banned Donald Trump? And did Amazon do the right thing when it removed Parler from its servers?

JUSTIN ROSENSTEIN: That is a perfect example. You're going to have some people who think that Twitter acted too late in removing Donald Trump, and you're going to have some people who are upset that Twitter acted at all. But really, in all these cases, the problem is not when they decide or who they decide to remove. It's the idea that Jack Dorsey or this small group of unelected tech oligarchs have complete control over deciding who does and does not get a massive platform for speech on the internet. That's what's problematic.

What it means to live in a democracy is that the institutions that govern our lives are governed by us, the people. But instead, we're living increasingly in a world in which these core institutions are governed by shareholders of giant tech companies or the CEOs of companies, when we need to have a radical shift to, instead, those decisions being made by the people, but in a in a radically democratic way.

SEANA SMITH: Justin Rosenstein, we really appreciate you taking the time to join us, co-founder of One Project. And congratulations on your new book out today.