This week, Dahlia and Amy talk Facebook’s bid for world domination and what Mark Zuckerberg’s latest appearance before Congress revealed. Ahead of the 2020 elections and in the wake of influence campaigns that have led to violence around the world, it’s been asked if the social-media giant is capable of growing responsibly. (Hint: nope).
Extra reading: I’m the Comedian Who Just Confronted Harvey Weinstein. Here’s Why I Spoke Up. [New York Times]
Jenny Slate’s Netflix Special Stage Fright is a quirky mix of her stand-up and documentary footage with her family.
Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland is part art-world exposé, part murder-mystery, and all-engrossing.
“Which Witch” by Florence + The Machine
This Halloween, Global Fund for Women is giving the president something to be REALLY scared of: women who fight back! Look, we all know this man is a danger to women all around the world. And we’ve endured a year-round nightmare while he attacks abortion rights at home and abroad – attacks which are, in reality, an assault on every woman’s fundamental right to healthcare, freedom, and self-determination. Trump wants to control our bodies and our lives by slashing abortion rights. Join Global Fund for Women in calling him out for it. Sign our petition on behalf of women everywhere and tell Trump: “HANDS OFF MY HEALTHCARE!” Visit globalfundforwomen.org/handsoff to sign today.
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DAHLIA BALCAZAR: This Halloween, Global Fund for Women is giving the president something to be really scared of: women who fight back. Look, we all know this man is a danger to women all around the world. And we’ve endured a year-round nightmare while he attacks abortion rights at home and abroad, attacks which are in reality, an assault on every woman’s fundamental right to health care, freedom, and self-determination. Trump wants to control our bodies and our lives by slashing abortion rights. Join Global Fund for Women in calling him out for it. Sign our petition on behalf of women everywhere and tell Trump, “Hands off my healthcare.” Visit GlobalFundForWomen.org/HandsOff to sign today.
DAHLIA: Welcome to Backtalk, the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I’m Dahlia Balcazar.
AMY LAM: And I’m Amy Lam.
DAHLIA: And we start every episode by sharing our pop culture moment. Amy, what’s yours?
My pop culture moment features a comedian. Her name is Kelly Bachman
. She just kind of became a little bit famous because she was doing sort of like a showcase for emerging actors and comedians in New York City when she was in a room where she thought that she was gonna be in a room with other supportive folks also doing the same showcase. But when she looked out in the room, which I think ostensibly wasn’t even that huge, she saw the droopy, haggard face of Harvey Weinstein looking back at her.
DAHLIA: Oh no!
I know. It’s so bad. So, I guess Harvey Weinstein was actually invited
by the person who sets up this showcase, who runs this thing. And he was sort of sat in some corner booth flanked by some minions who were kind of protecting him. And throughout the entire night, I don’t know when Kelly Bachman went on stage, but nobody thought to sort of like talk about him. They were just kind of acting like he was not there, and everybody knowing that he was there. So, in part of her set, she just kind of like, “Wow, I think we need to talk about the elephant in the room.”
AMY: [Chuckles.] Yeah. And she’s like, “And it’s, fucking Freddy Krueger is here.” [Laughing.] She literally called him Freddy Krueger.
DAHLIA: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. [Laughs.]
And later she talks about, I think she was on Twitter, or she did some interviews where she talked about how she was very nervous and anxious
. I personally cannot even imagine being in her shoes and having to confront him, knowing that nobody else was even bothering to acknowledge his existence in the room, for obvious reasons. And so, then she had to sort of do an impromptu thing where she changed her set so that she could talk about him. And there’s a clip of her saying this is where she does call her Freddy Krueger. And I think it’s just so disturbing because he’s sitting there at a showcase where there’s emerging talent, and this is like the pool in which he preys. And it’s just so gross. And there was a also report that two other women separately who are not related to Kelly went out and confronted him. And both were like, you know, quote, “gently guided away from him”—
DAHLIA: Oh my god.
—and guided out of the club. And they were kind of told to leave. And so, it just kind of goes to show how [laughing
] cancel culture is not a real thing. We always talk about like cancel culture’s too harsh on these men who are affected by #MeToo
. But here, Harvey Weinstein is not even like five years later showing up at a showcase for emerging actors and comedians. This is so gross and disgusting, and I don’t know why these spaces are opening their arms to somebody like him who has been known to have this predatory behavior. And one of the women who was kicked out, she said that one of the men who was by him, the one who kind of like guided her out, just kept repeating to her, “Due process. Due process. Due process.”
DAHLIA: Oh no!!! [laughing] Oh my god.
AMY: Yeah. Like saying that Harvey Weinstein deserves due process and to not harass him and yell at him and call him names. But I think that this notion of due process for Harvey Weinstein is a little moot because we know that the judicial system often fails survivors when it comes to sexual assault. ‘Cause there’s statute of limitations and bad police work, or there’s a lot of he said she said. But I think for a lot of us, just the sheer number of women who have come out and accused him with very similar and credible stories is enough for us. Sometimes we don’t need this, quote-unquote, “due process” against a man who historically, tons and tons of people have come out and said, “Yes, he did this. And yes, we know he did this. And yes, we helped him do this.” And it’s just so gross.
But [laughs] I wanna rewind this back a bit. This is my favorite pop culture moment because for Kelly Bachman, who was up there trying just to do her gig and then having to confront him, and she did it. And it wasn’t easy. And to the other two women who were kicked out of the club for confronting him face to face, I just wanna say that I’m sure it was not easy for them, but they did it. And that they got their voice heard and that Harvey Weinstein knows that maybe he can’t show up to these spaces without being noticed.
So, that was my favorite pop culture moment. But after I found that moment, there was another moment came up that I was like, this is too juicy not to talk about. And it’s actually so about booing—
AMY: —[Laughing.] a big, powerful man! And it turns out it’s also Dahlia’s favorite pop culture moment.
And it’s almost like a petty political p-minute, which is that it was game five of the World Series, and the game was between the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros. And this game was in D.C. And Trump showed up
. Side note to say Trump has very visibly not gone to a baseball game since 2017, since he was inaugurated. And I’d exactly read that it’s because he’s scared of the response he’ll get because it’s like a really public thing, you know. You’re on the Jumbotron, and everyone can see you. And then, of course, you can hear if they are cheering or applauding. And so, Trump has been really deliberately avoiding throwing out a first pitch or whatever at any of these baseball events. But I think maybe he felt like maybe he was expecting some praise because of what was happening with ISIS. Or maybe he was like, oh, it’s my hometown. I’m in D.C. They’ll be nice to me. I don’t know what he was thinking.
DAHLIA: But he was announced during the fifth inning. And so, they put him up—and he was there with Melania as well—they put him up on the Jumbotron. And people not only started booing, but people started chanting, “Lock him up!”
DAHLIA: And people were photographed, or people were seen with a sign that said, “Veterans for Impeachment,” a sign that they were holding up behind home plate. And I’ve seen a bunch of videos of Trump’s reaction, like from the Jumbotron. And he doesn’t react too big, but he does have to keep this fake smile on his face. And he’s applauding while the whole stadium is booing him.
AMY: And the booing is just, ah, it’s such sweet music [laughing] to my ears.
AMY: And if you haven’t seen this clip, you need to find this clip. [Recorded clip of booing starts to play as Amy talks.] I think the booing is even more pronounced because it’s during a break during game play. And in a lot of games, like NBA games, they do this too where they bring out military service people, and they’ll feature them being like, you know, “We welcome this person home.” And they’ll show them on the Jumbotron, and then people in the arena or the stadium will cheer for them. So, Trump is being shown in between military service people, so you hear the entire stadium cheer for the military folks. And then there’s a break in, and it shows him. And immediately, just this barrage of booing. [Booing shifts to “Lock him up” chants.] And then they show another group of military folks, and it goes back to cheering. [Recorded clip ends.] So, there’s no mistaking that he’s getting booed because you can contrast that with the very loud and obvious cheering for [laughing] the military service people.
DAHLIA: And! And there’s another layer of pettiness on top of it, which was that in this game, the person who did throw out the first pitch was the chef, José Andrés—
AMY: Yes, yes!!!
—who has been in a legal battle with Trump because he was gonna be the chef or I was gonna work on a restaurant that was gonna be in a Trump building, and then he pulled out when Trump started being an unhinged racist. And they’ve been engaged in legal battle
DAHLIA: And he’s very popular. People really like José Andrés. And so, in fact, Trump’s legal enemy threw out the first pitch, and then they booed him. [Chuckles.]
AMY: Ah. So good, so good. This is the highlight of the World Series, which, TBH, full disclosure, [laughing] I did not know it was happening. I was like game five? But this is as good a time as any to get into the World Series. [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: I’ve been seeing like I think, Joe Scarborough, there have been pundits who have been like, “Booing the president? Is this who we are, America?”
DAHLIA: And I feel like, what are you talking about?! That’s the most benign thing you could possibly do is boo someone in public. [Laughs.]
AMY: And Joe’s also complaining about how the chanting of “lock him up” is very disrespectful.
DAHLIA: But he’s a criminal! [Laughs.]
AMY: He’s a literal criminal! Even before this impeachment inquiry, he’s done very criminal things.
DAHLIA: Yeah! Yes.
AMY: I mean it must sound like I’m like 5 years old. But he started it!
AMY: He started the “lock her up” chant when he was running against Hillary. So, this must taste very bitter for him, but damn! He needs to, I mean he just has little hubris. And maybe this is like the one moment where he’s just like, wow, the actual people who aren’t fed into my rallies really don’t like me.
DAHLIA: Yeah, totally.
AMY: Yeah. Because I’m a human garbage pile. So, good for everybody who was there. [Laughs.] And I dare him to show up again at places where people aren’t forced or sanctioned to cheer for him.
[cutesy bells ring]
And we wanna take time now to thank folks for rating and reviewing us on iTunes. It really helps with our visibility and let people know to listen. And this review that I wanna read is from somebody named Mao Bought Marble. And they say that, “I imagine others feel the same way I do about what’s happening in the world now, especially within and by the current U.S. administration. Whether I like it or am horrified by it, ‘horrify’ barely seems an adequate description, these actions represent me as a U.S. citizen. However, there are amazing and wonderful things in the world that I feel represent me and my heart so much more than where I was born. And one of these things is this podcast.”
AMY: And so, they go on to say that— I know. It’s so good! They go on to say that I listening to us helps them to understand voice for social justice and feminism, anti-racism and anti-hate in all its forms. And I do speak for Dahlia and myself—
AMY: —to say thank you so much [laughs] for listening! And I think that big part of this is that because when we talk about these topics, we’re also parsing out ideas and trying to hash it out and figure out where we stand. And to know that other folks are listening and perhaps part of what we’re saying resonates with them and represents them in some way, that means a lot to us. And we are so heartened to hear that you get where we’re coming from. I think essentially that’s why we do this!
AMY: Because, yeah, we’re trying to understand things. And so, when people write in and say we do understand, not only do we understand, but I agree with you, it’s like, oh, okay! Then I guess what we’re saying and our ideas are making sense in how we’re thinking about this issue. So, appreciate it so much when you leave a review and rating on iTunes. It helps boost visibility for Backtalk. And we’d love to read more. [Laughs.] So, if you have a moment, please head to iTunes and give us a review.
[cutesy bells ring]
Last week, Mark Zuckerberg
sat in front of Congress’ House Financial Services Committee, which I did not know was a thing. I mean, all of the committees that happen in the House….
AMY: They all have really convoluted names. But so, this one was called the House Financial Services Committee. So that they could question him on Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency called Libra. So, as the CEO of Facebook, he had to answer questions as a way to assure the House committee that Facebook would meet financial regulations and not be some kind of maniacal ogre corporation trying to take over the world by controlling currency and money. Which is actually such a terrifying thought. But while he was there, many of the Congress people took this opportunity to question Zuckerberg on how and why Facebook is so seemingly set on destroying us as a culture and society.
AMY: And it opened up a larger conversation on the effects of social media, the social media giant, on democracy, how information is being dispersed, and how it treats its own employees even. So, it was actually really stunning to see Zuckerberg being questioned and to see him stumble and be unsure of how to answer very basic things about whether Facebook fact checks political ads as part of their policies. And in this case, Mark Zuckerberg said they do not.
And actually, this is not the first time that Zuckerberg has appeared before Congress. He appeared before Congress in 2008
after the Cambridge Analytica scandal
. And the Cambridge Analytica scandal was when it was known that like tens of millions of Facebook users’ information were being used by political campaigns to target information and content at them. And Facebook didn’t known that, in a way, they were kind of hacked. And so, this wasn’t the first time that Zuckerberg appeared before them. So, you would think that he’d be just a little bit more prepared. But some of the takeaways to this congressional hearing and questioning was just how unaware Zuckerberg was of his own company. And also how seemingly unprepared he was for the questioning, considering that there are so many people with so many hostile feelings toward Facebook.
AMY: So, he faced super tough questions from Congress people Joyce Beatty, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Katie Porter, and of course, Maxine Waters, who’s the, I think she’s the Chair of the House Financial Services Committee. And at this point, I actually do wanna play a clip of Maxine Waters, where she opens up the hearings, and she has some very, very strong words for Mark Zuckerberg.
MAXINE WATERS: [recorded clip plays] Each month, 2.7 billion people use your products. That’s over a third of the world’s population. That’s huge. That’s so big that it’s clear to me and to anyone who hears this list that perhaps you believe that you’re above the law. And it appears that you’re aggressively increasing the size of your company and are willing to step on or over anyone, including your competitors, women, people of color, your own users, and even our democracy to get what you want. All of these problems I’ve outlined. And given the company’s size and reach, it should be clear why we have serious concerns about your plans to establish a global digital currency that would challenge the U.S. dollar. In fact, you have opened up a serious discussion about whether Facebook should be broken up.
So, we know that Zuckerberg’s biggest fear is for Facebook to be broken up. Elizabeth Warren has said that that’s something she’s interested in pursuing as part of her political campaign
. And last month, audio was leaked from a Facebook staff meeting where Zuckerberg said that the idea of them being broken up was an existential threat to Facebook
and that it was really important that they battle that. And so, I started— I’ve got just like so many thoughts about Zuckerberg.
It is at— okay. I can’t overstate. It’s an existential threat to Facebook for them to be broken up. And so, since 2016, 2017, when Facebook started getting rightfully in trouble for their role in the 2016 election and advertising during the 2016 election, they’ve been facing a lot of heat, especially from Democrats, and they’re very afraid of getting broken up. And so, they have started cozying up to Republicans so that they can protect themselves if there’s ever any kind of move to break them up. And so, this is unreal. I can’t believe this. Since July, Mark Zuckerberg has been hosting Republicans at his home
for two to three-hour dinners where they’ve been talking about conservatives’ issues with Facebook. And let me tell you some of the people that he’s had over to his house. He had Lindsey Graham. He had Fox News host Tucker Carlson. He had conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. He’s had huge conservative players over to his house so that he can befriend the Republican Party and sort of slip onto their Libertarian bandwagon of absolutism about free speech.
AMY: And it’s like a part of his MO, because after the disaster that happened in the 2016 election, it’s widely known that Mark Zuckerberg went on what a lot of people called his apology tour, where he seemed really contrite and apologetic about how Facebook mishandled the situation with the Russian bots and the spread of misinformation then. And then also sort of a little bit of dressing the real and tangible harm and violence that the misinformation that people received through Facebook has rot, especially with the situation in Myanmar where there were the Buddhist extremists—which I never thought I would [laughing] say that phrase—where Buddhist extremists put a lot of misinformation about the Muslim minority population there and where it force a lot of them to flee the country and have to become refugees. And there was genocide against that community. And then also, there was violence in India due, in part, to misinformation that was spread on Facebook. So, Facebook has, as a platform, been a way through which a lot of terrible information has been spread. And for a while, Mark Zuckerberg was like, yeah, we kind of didn’t understand how powerful we are.
And it seems, though now, that he’s pivoted. He’s like, you know what? Fuck that.
AMY: I’m no longer apologizing. I mean, essentially, right? He’s like, I’m no longer apologizing because Facebook is about free speech, and we’ll do whatever the fuck we want ‘cause we were protecting the First Amendment. And this thing where he’s meeting with conservative folks is him being like, see? I’m hearing from both sides.
AMY: And I’m not just some weirdo Silicon Valley Liberal. I wanna hear both sides.
AMY: And in the end, like we talk about this all the time, but in the end, it’s really about capitalism. It’s really about him making money. Because just recently, I wanna say within the past couple days, it’s announced that Facebook will have a news tab on their platform. And the news tab is theoretically supposed to a little bit declutter our Facebook news feed so that we can go to a very specific spot for news. But this news tab isn’t some benign thing where they’re gonna give you very free and fair information. It’s like they’re gonna be partnering with certain news outlets so that their news will show up on the news feed. And on this news tab, they’re gonna be, Facebook is theoretically going to be paying news outlets to be using their content. And one of the people that they’re gonna partner with as of right now, unless it changes, will be Breitbart News. And Facebook is, and Mark Zuckerberg is, framing this as it’s a free speech issue and not a disinformation issue. And that’s why cannot take what Mark Zuckerberg wants to do with this company and its mission and its ideas and values, because it’s all about making money for Facebook. And it’s all about Facebook trying to be a bigger and more powerful company. It isn’t about loftier notions than that. It isn’t about protecting free speech. And I just, it’s to the point where anytime Mark Zuckerberg says anything, I’m just like, how is this making him money? That’s it! It isn’t about any more than that.
DAHLIA: I think Mark Zuckerberg has been able to get by for a really long time on his image, which is sort of like Boy Wonder, Harvard genius prodigy, Silicon Whiz kid, you know? And he still looks kind of young. And when he does things like go on his apology tours, he does things like sort of, I feel like his energy is very Facebook is learning and growing. And we’re listening to you, and we’re here to create a better community. And just a lot sort of earnest optimism is sort of like I feel like has been what I perceive. But I’ve been thinking a lot about that image and how much of a sham it is because check this out. Another thing I cannot believe. I was reading about sort of the players involved in this move of Zuckerberg to sort of become more friendly with Conservatives. And I was reading about how there are actually three very prominent Republican operatives who work at Facebook and how, as much as Zuckerberg is the, ha ha, the face of Facebook and can go out and be like, these were my decisions and these are my policies, and I’m learning and I’m listening, the fact is, this is a huge, huge, huge company. And very experienced, very smart, very savvy people work there and tell him their thoughts.
Okay, so check this out. The vice president for global public policy at Facebook is a guy named Joel Kaplan. Before working at Facebook, he was the deputy White House chief of staff for the George W. Bush administration.
AMY: Oh my god.
DAHLIA: And he got slightly famous because he was filmed, seen in support of Kavanaugh at Kavanaugh’s testimony before Congress.
DAHLIA: He was in the background, like as a supporter of him.
DAHLIA: Okay, listen to this! Vice president for U.S. public policy at—all of these are Facebook staff—vice president for U.S. public policy, Kevin Martin, he’s a good friend of Joel Kaplan, who we’re just talking about. He was appointed to the FCC by George W. Bush in 2001, and he had a reputation for working to deregulate the communications industry. And this one is also so bad! So, those are two vice presidents at Facebook, and this is public policy director for global elections. Do you hear that? I cannot believe that title.
DAHLIA: Public policy director for global elections, Katie Harbath, was the chief digital strategist for the RNC and was the digital director for Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign!!!
DAHLIA: And so, there is this layer that I think we did not know or I did not know was there where it was like as much as Zuckerberg acts as if all of these are like, we’re trying things out! And you know how there’s that tech, silicon start-up phrase, that’s like “break things, move quickly, you know?
AMY: Uh-huh, uh-huh.
DAHLIA: I feel like there’s that sort of energy. Whereas we have every reason to think that so much of what is going on has been very carefully thought out by literally digital directors at the RNC. White House chief of staff. That’s very senior-ranking people who have very senior positions at Facebook. It’s unreal.
AMY: It’s so unreal, but also unsurprising. [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: Yeah, very, very real. Once you think about it, makes so much sense!
AMY: And lots of people have said this already, but when we talk about Facebook and we talk about its power and its influence, we should never, ever forget that Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook—
AMY: —as a way [laughs] to rate his classmates, especially female classmates. So, essentially, it was a hot or not. And it’s called Facebook because essentially, he called the, you know when college students go and get their photo I.D. taken, and I guess all those pictures show up somewhere. He culled all those pictures and put it on the Internet, and it was just a site where I guess fellow students went and rated their classmates based on appearance of their shitty student I.D. pictures. [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: Okay. Even worse. I mean, oh my god. First of all, Recommendation for the Social Network, that movie about Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook. But Mark Zuckerberg. Okay, an AIM conversation— Is it actually literally AIM? Yes! An AIM conversation that Mark Zuckerberg had with a college friend in 2004 was leaked. I guess, when was this, in 2018. And listen to this conversation. This is me. I’m gonna actually read what happened. So, it’s a friend talking to Zuckerberg about how Facebook is going for him. And this is the point at which he started requiring information from people, not just their Facebook. So, Zuckerberg says, “Yeah. So, if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard, just ask. I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, Social Security numbers.”
AMY: Oh god.
DAHLIA: And the friend said, “What? How’d you manage that one?” And here’s what Zuckerberg said. I am totally reading this aloud. Google it. “People just submitted it. I don’t know why. They trust me. Dumb fucks.”
AMY: UGH! That is the thesis of Facebook.
DAHLIA: That is the— Yes! Yes!
DAHLIA: “I don’t know why they trust me.” [Laughs.]
AMY: It’s the thesis of Facebook then and now. And to see him sit there at the congressional hearing where he went there essentially to talk about this new cryptocurrency, Libra, that he wants to, that Facebook wants to roll out. And I think that’s also, that definitely got lost in the discussions about the congressional hearing. ‘Cause actually I saw so many clips of the hearing that I’m like, why is he there? I didn’t know why he was there! And it’s because he needed to talk about this cryptocurrency. And so, this company is doing lots of big things. Essentially, he wants to sort of bring financial freedom to…. Also, I think he’s mentioned the global south in a way, because lots of folks don’t have access to financial institutions or banking.
AMY: And so, that’s what Libra would do. And so it’s like when you think about all the big things and powerful things that Facebook does and how he’s sitting there in front of Congress answering questions, you kind of give him this sort of moral or like this moral authority as somebody who must know what they’re doing, right?
AMY: But in the end, it’s like I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg understands or understands that we understand that maybe him as a person and Facebook as a company are morally vapid and not something that I think we should stake so much in. Especially when it’s a company founded on “I don’t know why those dumb fucks give me all this information!”
DAHLIA: Yeah! [Laughs.]
AMY: They have no moral standing to be so powerful.
DAHLIA: Yeah. Yeah, and listen to this moral vapidness. So, a lot of the questions that Zuckerberg was getting, most excellently by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, were about fact checking. And what’s happened is that Facebook, in response to Republican feedback, have changed their ad policy. And the slight change is that now you can’t— Oh, the ads that are not eligible for fact checking our ads—and I’m reading—”from a website or page with the primary purpose of expressing the opinion or agenda of a political figure.” And so, here are two ads that were legally allowed to run because they qualify as that. One, an ad targeting senior citizens that claimed “Trump was considering closing the Southern border next week” in quotes. And an ad that said that Democrats are trying to repeal the Second Amendment. And those are legal because this page can be like, “That’s my opinion.” And the people seeing these ads, which study after study show, especially older people, are unable to accurately verify or fact check on their own. And of course, it makes total sense that you’d see essentially a billboard, and it would be true, you know? So, that’s so morally bankrupt to be like, “Well, it’s their”— You know, it’s like that line in The Big Lebowski. It’s like, well, that’s just like your opinion, man.
DAHLIA: But that doesn’t mean it’s true that President Trump is considering closing the border next week. You know, that’s a lie.
AMY: And it’s a blatant lie, and he’s allowing this on his platform, because— Actually, I think a few days or a week before he appeared before Congress, he had this really big talk at Georgetown, which was like tons of news outlets covered it—and I think Georgetown even had it streaming so folks can watch it—where he talks about free speech. And essentially, he frames Facebook as being this very noble corporation who’s not only very interested in free speech, but they stand for free speech. It’s a platform for free speech. And that’s why they don’t fact check!
AMY: Because they think that it’s important for you to get this information, and then you will do the due diligence as an informed citizen to figure out if it’s true or not.
AMY: And that just…but that’s not how free speech works on a platform.
DAHLIA: Yes!!! Oh my god!
AMY: [Laughs.] He’s taking this notion of free speech and collapsing it so that it works for his company so he could make more money and get more eyeballs on it and be more destructively influential!
DAHLIA: Among the misinformation that Facebook is spreading is the idea that Facebook can grant you or deny you free speech, which is not the case. The government is the entity that owes you the right to free speech. Facebook is a free website!!! They do not owe you free speech. And to frame things into this, again, like this Libertarian, kind of Conservative mindset, free speech absolutism, like anything should be able to be said, that’s how you know that there are Republican operatives who work there! Because it’s so smart to meld those together and so slimy.
AMY: Yeah. And so Facebook!
AMY: I think Facebook becomes a synonym for those other adjectives. And so, after he had the congressional hearing where he essentially was like, yeah, we are not going to fact check things, and specifically, we will not fact check political ads, a group of Facebook employees got together and wrote an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg because they’re very concerned about this. Because think about people who work for such a big corporation. I think there’s some sheen to it. You know, like I’m working for Facebook. It feels good to work, theoretically, it feels good to work there. And I think that listening to his testimony, some employees were rethinking that, what kind of company are we working for? What are we doing here? What is our work enabling? And I just wanted to read a little part of this letter, open letter, that the employees wrote. You know, part of it where they’re like, this is our company. They’re taking ownership, that they work there, and they’re actually proud of the work. And they don’t wanna be not-proud of their work.
And part of a letter, they say, “Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing.” Wow. Imagine that.
AMY: “Misinformation affects us all. Our current policies on fact checking people in political office or for those running for office are a threat to what Facebook stands for. We strongly object to this policy as it stands. It does not protect voices, but instead allows politicians to weaponize our platform by targeting people who believe that content posted by political figures is trustworthy.” And it’s like, why does it take a group of your own employees to point out that this is not good policy?
And you know, I do think back about— ‘Cause while I was listening to all this, I was wondering, okay, when politicians have ads on TV, do those get fact checked? When politicians advertise in other places, do those get fact checked? And actually, in some places, on broadcast television, sometimes they don’t get fact checked, or there’s some platforms that just don’t even allow political ads because they don’t wanna have to go through this. And so, I get that I think that maybe Mark Zuckerberg could say, “You know when you’re watching your nightly news, and then there’s ads in between? Those ads don’t get fat check either.” But I think there’s a difference between watching the nightly news on TV, broadcast TV, and seeing an ad come up versus having targeted, very specific targeted ads at you. Like say your profile says that you’re elderly, and it knows that maybe you trust everything you see on screen and know that specific ads are targeted at you, and you’re Conservative, saying that these Liberal politicians are gonna take away your Second Amendment next week, I think that there’s a responsibility that Mark Zuckerberg is shirking off for Facebook in saying, we don’t need to fact check that. It’s up to that citizen to Google and figure out if it’s true or not. But that just like, that completely, I think, does away with the responsibility that Facebook have.
I think he’s trying to do two things. He’s trying to say we’re a big, powerful company, but we’re not that big and powerful! Like you guys can actually figure some of this shit out. Then why?
AMY: Then why do this? I think that it’s like he’s trying to do this thing where it’s like a bait and switch saying like, we just give you this information. You can look it up! Without acknowledging how powerful Facebook is in presenting information and how many eyeballs looks at information without delving any further into the information than they see on their platform. Actually knowing more about Facebook, I think every day and every month and every week that I’m on it, I’m so waiting to deactivate my account without question. There’s just, it’s become to the point where the usefulness of Facebook has been outweighed by [laughing] the treachery of it. And how I just think it’s such a evil company and corporation. ‘Cause I think that’s how we have to think about it. ‘Cause I think sometimes we’re like, oh, it’s just social media! But it’s not just social media, especially for this specific company, because it’s using us and our information and the way we consume information as a way to target us for possibly nefarious things to sway elections, to incite violence. And I think that these are things that in order for Facebook to move forward in good faith, they need to really address and own up to. And instead of saying we’re just a company that believes in free speech, they need to say not only did this happen on our platform, not only are we taking proactive measures to make sure this doesn’t happen again, but we patently are against things like this happening on our platform. Not only is that not happening, he’s doubling down and saying, no, we’re gonna make it even more quote-unquote “free speech-y” without regulation. And that’s kind of really scary because of how powerful a platform Facebook is.
DAHLIA: And at the same time, it’s like Facebook so often has this two-faced kind of policy where they’re saying like, oh, say whatever you want! Free speech for everyone. Over and over in Zuckerberg’s testimony, he was saying, we believe that people should be able to read what politicians say and decide for themselves. Which is so corny, because it’s like yeah, decide for yourself who to vote for based on information that’s true! But at the same time, you know, with the introduction of Breitbart into the Facebook news feed, even though it’s saying free speech for all, it’s actually at the same time saying, but these are our trusted outlets, including this place that is constantly accused of lying and endangering people’s safety.
AMY: Yeah. And the thing I think that’s also being ignored is that when these types of news items and ads pop up in our feeds, they’re treated differently than if we see an ad on television. ‘Cause when we see ads on television, there’s a commercial break. We understand this is a paid advertisement, right? But I think that because of the way the platform works and the way we’ve seen information on Facebook, it all just feels like all true information. Like here’s my friend with their baby. Here’s my friend on a walk. Here’s my friend telling me something that quote-unquote “factually happened” and sharing this very factual piece of news. And I think that not acknowledging the ways in which that platform can make people believe very specifically in what they’re reading is very much in bad faith, and it’s very much being like, not our fault! We only made this platform to rate people [laughs] based on their appearances!
DAHLIA: [Laughs.] Oh my god.
AMY: And it just so happens now that there are ads from politicians. And you know what? You guys should figure out what this is saying, whether it’s true or not. We only take ad revenue from it. [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: Okay. But remember, Zuckerberg thinks that all of his, that his users are dumb fucks.
AMY: [Laughs.] I think that is the number one takeaway.
AMY: It was true in 2000-whatever, and it’s true now in 2019. And it’s gonna be true in 2020. He doesn’t give a fuck about us. He only gives a fuck about the supremacy of Facebook. Full stop. Period. He just wants that company to be bigger and bigger and bigger so that it becomes a company that’s too big to fail. And that’s why when you mentioned at the beginning of this segment the threat of breaking up Facebook is not anything he even wants to entertain.
DAHLIA: Yeah. Exactly.
AMY: Yeah. It’s like, no, we cannot break it up. But I think that maybe we can break it up if we no longer use it! ‘Cause I am not interested in being a part of something like this that is operating under such false pretenses of free speech, when in fact, it’s actually purposefully having a platform where misinformation happens, and they’re shrugging off responsibility for it.
[cutesy bells ring]
At the end of every episode, we share something we’re reading, watching, and listening to. I just finished reading the book Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland
. I think what I really liked about it is that it’s about a painter, and I really like books that are about especially artistic professions like actors and artists and feel like you’re in their life. But the book is about a woman painter who has a, she’s like 35, and she’s almost like at a good spot in her career. And she has a show that she’s already sold some paintings from, and she’s finishing up. She has a few more months to finish her show, and then her apartment burns down! And so, she’s already sold these paintings. And it’s about what she goes, her scheme to remake her paintings that she’d been working on for two years, to remake them in a few months. And to do this, she goes to an arts collective and there, discovers and solves an art mystery about the death of a well-known performance artist. All of this is, you know, not real, not a real person.
DAHLIA: But it was so good! It was really interesting passages about painting and about art. Plus, you know, murder mystery. [Laughs.]
AMY: I was gonna say: so much intrigue—
AMY: —and like trying to get yourself out of a really fucked up pickle. [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: Yeah. Very bad. What a bad, just a series of bad pickles. [Laughs.]
AMY: That book sounds amazing. Actually, hearing you talk about it reminds me of how I didn’t realize this until I was way older, that some artists don’t even make their own work, if that makes sense. Yeah.
DAHLIA: Oh yeah. Of course.
AMY: Some of my favorite artists like painters or sculptors or installation artists, they actually don’t make their own work. They have teams of people who make their work. Perhaps the artist will come up with the idea, and they’ll art direct it, but they might not be the one who like gets their hands in nitty gritty in it. And I’m just like, what the fuck? [Laughs.] Yeah.
AMY: I mean I guess—
DAHLIA: Do you wanna hear something disgusting?
AMY: No, I was gonna say I guess that’s just how it is, but I’m so naive I didn’t know that.
DAHLIA: Okay. Let me recommend a small recommendation, Amy. There’s this documentary called The Price of Art. I think that’s what it’s called. And it’s about the art business. And it features this artist, Jeff Koons, who’s very famous and very popular. He makes those metal balloon dog sculptures. And he doesn’t make many of his own art. And! He had a crew of studio assistants, like 15 or something who he fired when they tried to unionize.
AMY: Oh my god. [Laughs.] The art world is kind of a sham. [Laughs.]
DAHLIA: [Laughs.] That’s very, actually, that ties in way more to this book than you could ever know. That’s why it’s called Fake Like Me. It’s about the sham of the art world.
AMY: Okay Extra, extra. Breaking news on Backtalk. The art world is kind of a sham.
Speaking of shams, but non-shams, [laughs
] my watch pick is actually sham free. It is Jenny Slate’s new special on Netflix. It’s called Stage Fright
. So, Jenny Slate I think first came into national consciousness when she was cast on SNL
many, many years ago.
DAHLIA: Oh yes.
AMY: And she was summarily fired soon after she was cast on there. And I think part of the reason why she was fired was because she accidentally said “fuck” [laughing] live on TV, which is such a good reason to be fired!
AMY: But she’s had a very, very, very good career since then. Thank god, because I actually love her quirky sense of humor. She’s just so fun, and she’s just she’s, you know how sometimes people will talk about celebrities or actors and be like, “Oh god, I just feel like I know her. She’s like my friend.”
DAHLIA: Oh yeah.
AMY: I don’t feel that way about a lot of celebrities.
AMY: But with Jenny Slate, I’m like, oh my god, I really want to be her friend.
AMY: You know what I mean? Like, I wanna go have a coffee with her—
DAHLIA: Oh yeah, totally.
AMY: —and go to like a vintage shop with her afterward. She just seems like so much fun! But if anybody has any bad gossip about her, I don’t wanna know. [Laughs.]
AMY: But this is a special that she did for Netflix. And it’s part standup/part documentary where you get to meet her family. You get to meet her sisters and her father and mother and her two grandmothers, who she loves so much. And it’s so much fun. It’s very funny. And I love her sense of humor. It’s like, I don’t know, I don’t know how else to describe it, but I was thinking it’s very feminine and sexy.
AMY: And she doesn’t shy away from talking about being weird and horny, which I was just like, yes! [Laughs.] This is amazing.
DAHLIA: [Laughs.] Totally.
AMY: And a bonus is that she talks about the haunted house that she grew up in. Like a literal—
DAHLIA: Oh my god!
AMY: Yes, a house that her parents bought when she was a kid and that they grew up in. And it’s literally haunted. It has ghosts in it. And I was like, oooooh! There’s even like a scary element!
AMY: And it helped to kind of like influence her personality.
AMY: And I was like, wow. ‘Cause a part of the special, she’s kind of like, I wonder what [unclear] would be if I [laughing] hadn’t grown up in a haunted house!
DAHLIA: Oh, my god. What a great sentence.
AMY: Yeah. It’s so good.
DAHLIA: Okay. I’m gonna go watch that right now. Extra bonus is that she has a book coming out next week called Little Weirds. I am already holding it. I’m on the waitlist for it at the library. I’m so excited to read it. But since this is kind of like our Halloween episode, I wanted to end with a creepy song. Okay, I, years ago, read an interview with the musician Florence Welch—she’s the singer of Florence and the Machine—where she said that while she was writing her album, How Big, How Beautiful, How Blue, she had started with the idea that it was going to be like a musical witch rendering of The Crucible. She actually said, “Like The Crucible, but a musical.”
DAHLIA: And she said that her producers talked her out of it. And that decision, that decision haunts me! Obviously, horrible call! But she released a demo, one song Which Witch that she said was like one of the songs that she was working on for her Crucible musical. So, I’ll never stop yearning for The Crucible musical to exist in real life. But in the meantime, I’ll have to be content with this version, Which Witch. [Chuckles.]
[“Which Witch” plays]
♪ “Waiting ‘til the beat comes out/
And I’m on trial….” ♪
AMY: Thanks for listening.
DAHLIA: Thanks for listening.
♪ “Who’s a heretic now?/
Am I making sense?/
How can you make it stick?/
Waiting ‘til the beat comes out/
Who’s a heretic, child?/
Can you make it stick, now?/
And I’m on trial/
Waiting ‘til the beat comes out” ♪
Thanks for listening to Backtalk. This show is produced by Cher Vincent. Bitch Media is a reader- and listener-supported feminist nonprofit. If you wanna support the show and our work, please head over to BitchMedia.org and donate.