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Your Undivided Attention

Author: Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin, The Center for Humane Technology

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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.
29 Episodes
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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

The Social Dilemma

2020-09-0904:265

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'

Facebook Goes '2Africa'

2020-09-0235:434

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.
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.
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.
Beyond the Boycott

Beyond the Boycott

2020-07-1009:202

#StopHateforProfit is an important first step, but we need to go much further.
What would inspire someone to singlehandedly initiate an armed standoff on the Hoover Dam, or lead the police on a 100-mile-an-hour car chase while calling for help from an anonymous internet source, or travel hundreds of miles alone to shoot up a pizza parlor? The people who did these things were all connected to the decentralized cult-like internet conspiracy theory group called QAnon. Our guest this episode, Travis View, is a researcher, writer and podcast host who has spent the last few years trying to understand the people who’ve become wrapped up in QAnon and the concerning consequences as Q followers increasingly leave their screens and take extreme actions in the real world. As many as six candidates who support QAnon are running for Congress and will be on the ballot for the 2020 elections, threatening to upend long-held Republican establishment seats. This just happened to a five-term Republican congressman in Colorado. Travis warns that QAnon is an extremism problem, not a disinformation or political problem, and dismissing QAnon as a fringe threat underestimates how quickly their views can leapfrog into mainstream debates on the left and the right.
The Bully’s Pulpit

The Bully’s Pulpit

2020-06-2256:143

The sound of bullies on social media can be deafening, but what about their victims? “They're just sitting there being pummeled and pummeled and pummeled,” says Fadi Quran. As the campaign director of Avaaz, a platform for 62 million activists worldwide, Fadi and his team go to great lengths to figure out exactly how social media is being weaponized against vulnerable communities, including those who have no voice online at all. “They can't report it. They’re not online.” Fadi says. “They can't even have a conversation about it.” But by bringing these voices of survivors to Silicon Valley, Fadi says, tech companies can not just hear the lethal consequences of algorithmic abuse, they can start hacking away at a system that Fadi argues was “designed for bullies.”
[This episode originally aired on November 5, 2019] Maria Ressa is arguably one of the bravest journalists working in the Philippines today. As co-founder and CEO of the media site Rappler, she has withstood death threats, multiple arrests and a rising tide of populist fury that she first saw on Facebook, in the form of a strange and jarring personal attack. Through her story, she reveals, play by play, how an aspiring strongman can use social media to spread falsehoods, sow confusion, intimidate critics and subvert democratic institutions. Nonetheless, she argues Silicon Valley can reverse these trends, and fast. First, tech companies must "wake up," she says, to the threats they've unleashed throughout the Global South. Second, they must recognize that social media is intrinsically designed to favor the strongman over the lone dissident and the propagandist over the truth-teller, which is why it has become the central tool in every aspiring dictator's playbook.
When you’re gripped by anxiety, fear, grief or dread, how do you escape? It can happen in the span of a few breaths, according to meditation experts Jack Kornfield and Trudy Goodman. They have helped thousands of people find their way out of a mental loop, by moving deeper into it. It's a journey inward that reveals an important lesson for the architects of the attention economy: you cannot begin to build humane technology for billions of users, until you pay careful attention to the course of your own wayward thoughts.
How can we feel empowered to take on global threats? The battle begins in our heads, argues Christiana Figueres. She became the United Nation’s top climate official, after she had watched the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit collapse “in blood, in screams, in tears.” In the wake of that debacle, she began performing an act of emotional Aikido on herself, her team and eventually delegates from 196 nations. She called it “stubborn optimism." It requires a clear and alluring vision of a future that can supplant the dystopian and discouraging vision of what will happen if the world fails to act. It was stubborn optimism, she says, that convinced those nations to sign the first global climate framework, the Paris Agreement. We explore how a similar shift in Silicon Valley's vision could lead 3 billion people to take action.
The Spin Doctors Are In

The Spin Doctors Are In

2020-05-0752:575

How does disinformation spread in the age of COVID-19? It takes an expert like Renée DiResta to trace conspiracy theories back to their source. She’s already exposed how Russian state actors manipulated the 2016 election, but that was just a prelude to what she’s seeing online today: a convergence of state actors and lone individuals, anti-vaxxers and NRA supporters, scam artists and preachers and the occasional fan of cuddly pandas. What ties all of these disparate actors together is an information ecosystem that’s breaking down before our eyes. We explore what’s going wrong and what we must do to fix it in this interview with Renée DiResta, Research Manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory.
An information system that relies on advertising was not born with the Internet. But social media platforms have taken it to an entirely new level, becoming a major force in how we make sense of ourselves and the world around us. Columbia law professor Tim Wu, author of The Attention Merchants and The Curse of Bigness, takes us through the birth of the eyeball-centric news model and ensuing boom of yellow journalism, to the backlash that rallied journalists and citizens around creating industry ethics and standards. Throughout the 20th century, radio, television, and even posters elicited excitement, hope, fear, skepticism and greed, and people worked together to create a patchwork of regulation and behavior that attempted to point those tools in the direction of good. The Internet has brought us to just such a crossroads again, but this time with global consequences that are truly life-and-death.
We agree more than we think we do, but tech platforms distort our perceptions by amplifying the loudest, angriest and most dismissive voices online. In reality, they’re just a noisy faction. This Earth Day we ask Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, how he shifts public opinion on climate change. We’ll see how tech platforms could amplify voices of solidarity within our own communities. More importantly, we’ll see how they could empower 2 billion people to act in the face of global threats.
Stranger than Fiction

Stranger than Fiction

2020-03-3101:02:441

How can tech companies help flatten the curve? First and foremost, they must address the lethal misinformation and disinformation circulating on their platforms. The problem goes much deeper than fake news, according to Claire Wardle, co-founder and executive director of First Draft. She studies the gray zones of information warfare, where bad actors mix facts with falsehoods, news with gossip, and sincerity with satire. “Most of this stuff isn't fake and most of this stuff isn't news,” Claire argues. If these subtler forms of misinformation go unaddressed, tech companies may not only fail to flatten the curve — they could raise it higher.
What difference does a few hours of Congressional testimony make? Tristan takes us behind the scenes of his January 8th testimony to the Energy and Commerce Committee on disinformation in the digital age. With just minutes to answer each lawmaker’s questions, he speaks with Committee members about how the urgency and complexity of humane technology issues is an immense challenge. Tristan returned hopeful, and though it sometimes feels like Groundhog Day, each trip to DC reveals evolving conversations, advancing legislation, deeper understanding and stronger coalitions.
Trust Falls

Trust Falls

2020-01-1451:225

We are in the middle of a global trust crisis. Neighbors are strangers and local news sources are becoming scarcer; institutions that used to symbolize prestige, honor and a sense of societal security are ridiculed for being antiquated and out of touch. To replace the void, we turn to sharing economy companies and social media, which come up short, or worse. Our guest on this episode, academic and business advisor Rachel Botsman, guides us through how we got here, and how to recover. Botsman is the Trust Fellow at Oxford University, and the author of two books, including “Who Can You Trust?” The intangibility of trust makes it difficult to pin down, she explains, and she speaks directly to technology leaders about fostering communities and creating products the public is willing to put faith in. “The efficiency of technology is the enemy of trust,” she says.
The Cure for Hate

The Cure for Hate

2019-12-1941:177

“You can binge watch an ideology in a weekend,” says Tony McAleer. He should know. A former white supremacist, McAleer was introduced to neo-Nazi ideology through the U.K. punk scene in the 1980s. But after his daughter was born, he embarked on a decades-long journey from hate to compassion. Today’s technology, he says, make violent ideologies infinitely more accessible and appealing to those who long for acceptance. Social media isolates us and can incubate hate in a highly diffuse structure, making it nearly impossible to stop race-based violence without fanning the flames or driving it further underground. McAleer discusses solutions to this dilemma and the positive actions we can take together.
Rock the Voter

Rock the Voter

2019-12-0552:202

Brittany Kaiser, a former Cambridge Analytica insider, witnessed a two day presentation at the company that shocked her and her co-workers. It laid out a new method of campaigning, in which candidates greet voters with a thousand faces and speak in a thousand tongues, automatically generating messages that are increasingly aiming toward an audience of one. She explains how these methods of persuasion have shaped elections worldwide, enabling candidates to sway voters in strange and startling ways.
The Dictator's Playbook

The Dictator's Playbook

2019-11-0550:431

Maria Ressa is arguably one of the bravest journalists working in the Philippines today. As co-founder and CEO of the media site Rappler, she has withstood death threats, multiple arrests and a rising tide of populist fury that she first saw on Facebook, in the form of a strange and jarring personal attack. Through her story, she reveals, play by play, how an aspiring strongman can use social media to spread falsehoods, sow confusion, intimidate critics and subvert democratic institutions. Nonetheless, she argues Silicon Valley can reverse these trends, and fast. First, tech companies must "wake up," she says, to the threats they've unleashed throughout the Global South. Second, they must recognize that social media is intrinsically designed to favor the strongman over the lone dissident and the propagandist over the truth-teller, which is why it has become the central tool in every aspiring dictator's playbook.
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Comments (21)

Ajo Mathew

No news room should compete when it comes to false information. journalism never has to deal with falsity

Oct 16th
Reply

Ajo Mathew

immediate that our brains are wired to react

Sep 30th
Reply

Ajo Mathew

It must be the best time to adopt a rescue animal because pets are the few things gives you unconditional love and just look at you with love.

Sep 30th
Reply

ezzie83

just watched the documentary - well done to you both! very informative and you are both very impressive.

Sep 13th
Reply

Ollie W

Good cause, I tried to sign the petition but upon clicking submit nothing happens. Hope the site's not overwhelmed.

Jul 30th
Reply

Maciej Czech

China does not allow Facebook, right, but only because they control everything absolutely! Even companies are more like gov institutions. China is absolutely not a good example!

Mar 4th
Reply

Maciej Czech

OK, now this show is finally getting serious

Feb 17th
Reply

Daniel Burt

Thanks for doing this. I just discovered your podcast and plan to slowly catch up on old episodes first. One thing that might interest you for future episodes -- the impact of these algorithms and design choices on college students, especially focusing on the fact that impulse control, for thought, and other executive functions don't develop fully until about age 25. My gut says that certain populations are more succeptible to having their lives destroyed by these technologies.

Dec 14th
Reply (1)

Andi-Roo Libecap

Fantastic (+ scary + depressing af), informative episode on an urgent topic from @tristanharris of @HumaneTech_ and #BrittanyKaiser of @OwnYourDataNow. Highly recommend you listen!

Dec 9th
Reply

Sarah Gagnon-Turcotte

I wonder if those pages controled by Russia still exist and push content.

Sep 18th
Reply

Maciej Czech

Someone tell that French guy that everybody can exclude things recommend on YouTube with even providing a reason. Since years. And it works. You are focusing on radocalization which makes less then 0,01% of all that positive outcome from that great access to information. Also people just need to discuss and thing why people radicalize, what are the reasons. Not just censor things which they don't like.

Aug 23rd
Reply (1)

Louis William

26:20

Aug 21st
Reply

Maciej Czech

OK so they are just in favour of just censorship. What is so bothering? Finally everybody have access to information and ways of providing discussion. When some rough trusts are mentioned all of sudden "it's enough!"?

Aug 20th
Reply

Christopher Herkenrath

Please stop that part 1 (...) part n crap. If I can wati for a Hardcore History episode or keep the wits up through a Joe Rogan episode I'm sure we'll manage here.

Aug 3rd
Reply

Irfan Muhammad

You can never wish the company changes the wya we use them. They'd never do that. It's we who must change

Jul 31st
Reply

Nipun Tj

fantastic talk YouTube is big problem now . thank you for sharing with us ..!

Jul 27th
Reply

everachelt

so good

Jul 12th
Reply

Nipun Tj

Wow great podcast .. Thank you .. more episodes please 🤗 cheers from Sri Lanka !!

Jun 18th
Reply

Vibe.Ray.Sean I.V.

one of the most important issues of our time

Jun 7th
Reply
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