Transcript: Ron Deibert: Fix Social Media, Save Democracy | Jan 27, 2021

Steve sits in the studio. He's slim, clean-shaven, in his fifties, with short curly brown hair. He's wearing a gray suit, white shirt, and dark blue tie.

A caption on screen reads "Fix social media, save democracy. @spaikin, @theagenda."

Steve says MAYBE ONE DAY HISTORIANS WILL LOOK BACK ON THE PAST 20 PLUS YEARS AS THE WILD WEST OF THE INTERNET AGE, WHERE MIGHT OFTEN MADE RIGHT, SOME WON FORTUNES, AND OTHERS STRUGGLED TO KEEP WHAT WAS THEIRS. IT'S PERHAPS NOT A PERFECT METAPHOR, BUT IT HINTS AT THE CHAOTIC, SOMETIMES TERRIFYING LANDSCAPE THAT'S BEEN CREATED IN WHAT RON DEIBERT HAS CALLED OUR NEW MACHINE-BASED CIVILIZATION. RON DEIBERT IS ONE OF THE WORLD'S LEADING THINKERS ON SUCH MATTERS. HIS NEW BOOK IS CALLED "RESET: RECLAIMING THE INTERNET FOR CIVIL SOCIETY," WHICH HE EXPLORED IN THE 2020 MASSEY LECTURES. HE IS DIRECTOR OF THE CITIZEN LAB AND A PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO'S MUNK SCHOOL OF GLOBAL AFFAIRS AND PUBLIC POLICY, AND HE JOINS US NOW FROM THE PROVINCIAL CAPITAL.

Ron is in his fifties, with short gray hair and a trimmed goatee. He's wearing glasses and a gray sweater.
A picture of his book appears briefly on screen. The cover is white and red.

Steve continues RON, IT'S GOOD TO SEE YOU THERE AGAIN. HOW ARE THINGS GOING DURING THIS PANDEMIC FOR YOU?

Ron says GOING AS WELL AS CAN BE. MAKING THE BEST OF IT AND, YOU KNOW, WORKING HARD AND ENJOYING LIFE. EMBRACING WHAT WE CAN OF THIS.

Steve says GOOD. A GOOD ATTITUDE TO TAKE. YOUR BOOK DOES COVER A LOT OF GROUND IN TERMS OF WHAT HAS GONE WRONG WITH THE INTERNET BUT I'M INTERESTED IN YOUR WORD "RESET." WHY THAT WORD?

The caption changes to "Ron Deibert. Author, 'Reset.'"
Then, it changes again to "Social media and the Internet's totally bogus adventure."

Ron says THAT WORD CAME TO ME PRIOR TO THE PANDEMIC ALTHOUGH IT'S BEEN USED A LOT, PEOPLE THINKING ABOUT HOW THEIR LIVES HAVE CHANGED, KIND OF TAKING A STEP BACK AND REFLECTING ON WHAT THEIR PRIORITIES ARE AND, YOU KNOW, HOW THEY'D LIKE THE WORD TO BE DIFFERENT. IT SURE SEEMS LIKE WE'RE IN A KIND OF CRAZY TIME RIGHT NOW. IT FEELS TO ME THERE'S A KIND OF GESTALT IN THE AIR. I WANTED TO EMPHASIZE THAT FEELING THAT PEOPLE ARE HAVING. AND THIS IS MY IMPRESSION I'M GETTING IN SPEAKING TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY MEMBERS AND PEERS, THAT EVERYONE FEELS THAT SOMETHING IS KIND OF WRONG WITH THE WAY IN WHICH SOCIAL MEDIA IS CONSTITUTED, WHAT IT'S DOING TO OUR LIVES, AND NOT JUST SOCIAL MEDIA, THE ENTIRE COMMUNICATIONS ECOSYSTEM. SO I THOUGHT THIS IDEA OF TAKING A STEP BACK. THE TERM COMES FROM, OF COURSE, IN COMPUTERS, IT MEANS, YOU KNOW, SHUTTING DOWN, REBOOTING, STARTING OVER. AND THAT'S THE KIND OF FEELING I WANTED PEOPLE TO HAVE AS THEY WENT THROUGH THIS BOOK. WE'VE GOT A CHANCE TO STRAIGHTEN THINGS OUT. WE'VE MAYBE GONE OFF COURSE OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF DECADES. LET'S SEE IF WE CAN DO THIS DIFFERENTLY. TIME OUT, IF YOU WILL.

Steve says TIME OUT. OKAY. IT'S JUST... JUST BEFORE WE DIVE DEEPER INTO THE THEMES OF THE BOOK. IT HAS BEEN MY IMPRESSION OVER THE LAST... WELL, PARTICULARLY SINCE WE WENT INTO THE SECOND WAVE OF THIS PANDEMIC, THAT SOCIAL MEDIA HAS BECOME... I MEAN, IF IT WAS PREVIOUSLY EXPRESSION ON STEROIDS, IT'S DOUBLY OR TRIPLY SO NOW. PEOPLE JUST SEEM EVEN MORE FOUL-MOODED THAN EVEN BEFORE. ARE YOU PICKING THAT UP AS WELL?

The caption changes to "Ron Deibert. The Citizen Lab."

Ron says YEAH, ABSOLUTELY. IN FACT, THERE WAS AN INTERESTING THING THAT HAPPENED EARLY IN THE PANDEMIC WHERE I SAW SOME FOLKS MAKING OBSERVATIONS THAT, HEY, THERE'S A GOOD SIDE TO THIS, THAT WE HAVE ALL OF THIS TECHNOLOGY. MAYBE THERE WILL BE A REDUCTION IN CARBON EMISSIONS BECAUSE WE'RE NOT FLYING AS MUCH OR DRIVING OUR CARS AS MUCH. AND I WAS THINKING, OH, MY GOODNESS, WHAT WE'RE DOING HERE IS WE'RE AMPLIFYING ALL OF THE... YOU KNOW, ALL OF THE CHARACTERISTICS, INCLUDING THE BAD ONES, AROUND NOT JUST SOCIAL MEDIA BUT OUR ENTIRE COMMUNICATIONS ECOSYSTEM. SO IF YOU LOOK, FOR EXAMPLE, AT, YOU KNOW, AS I'M SPEAKING TO YOU, I'M LOOKING OUT MY STREET AT THE AMAZON VANS UP AND DOWN, UP AND DOWN MY STREET DELIVERING PACKAGES, PEOPLE ARE WORKING FROM HOME. JEFF BEZOS' PERSONAL WEALTH WENT UP SOMETHING LIKE $60 BILLION IN THE FIRST SIX MONTHS OF THE PANDEMIC ALONE. BUT THE PROBLEM IS NOT JUST AMAZON BUT THE ENTIRE EDIFACE OF THIS ENVIRONMENT THAT WE'RE RELYING ON TO COMMUNICATE, ORGANIZE OUR LIVES, HAS SOME REAL STRUCTURAL PROBLEMS. IT'S KIND OF LIKE WE'VE QUICKLY BUILT A SECOND FLOOR ADDITION TO OUR HOUSE BUT THE FOUNDATION HAS BEEN ROTTING FOR QUITE A WHILE. SO IT'S EITHER GOING TO COLLAPSE ON US OR MAKE US SICK, WHICH IS, YOU KNOW, REALLY UNDERSCORES THE POINT I'M TRYING TO MAKE IN THIS BOOK. WE'VE GOT LIMITED TIME TO GET THIS RIGHT. IN FACT, THE PANDEMIC HAS ACCELERATED OUR DEPENDENCE ON THIS TECHNOLOGY IN WAYS THAT ARE POTENTIALLY VERY HARMFUL. WE NEED TO TAKE A STEP BACK AND ADJUST AND MAYBE TAKE A DIFFERENT TACK.

Steve says LET'S PULL A QUOTE OUT OF THE BOOK HERE AS WE CONTINUE OUR DISCUSSION. SHELDON, BOTTOM OF PAGE ONE, PLEASE...

A quote appears on screen, under the title "Not what it seems." The quote reads "On the surface it may seem like they're serving us (their customers) something useful and fun, but deeper down we have become their raw material, something akin to unwitting livestock for their massive data farms."
Quoted from Ron Deibert, "Reset." 2021.

Steve says WHAT DO YOU THINK WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE UNDERLYING BUSINESS MODEL OF SOCIAL MEDIA?

The caption changes to "Ron Deibert, @RonDeibert."
Then, it changes again to "I drink your... data!"

Ron says THE UNDERLYING BUSINESS MODEL IS REALLY, IN MY VIEW, THE KEY THAT ONE NEEDS TO HAVE IN ORDER TO UNLOCK ALL OF THE SOCIAL PATHOLOGIES THAT STEM FROM IT. THE BEST WAY TO GET AT IT WAS EXPRESSED BY A BUSINESS MANAGEMENT PROFESSOR IN A BOOK SHE WROTE "CALLED THE AGE OF SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM." SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM IS A NICE DESCRIPTION FOR THE UNDERLYING BUSINESS MODEL OF ALL SOCIAL MEDIA APPLICATIONS AND INCREASINGLY MANY OTHER SECTORS OF THE ECONOMY AS WELL. SO THE WAY TO THINK ABOUT THIS IS, REGARDLESS OF HOW THE COMPANIES PRESENT THEIR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES, HOW THEY DESCRIBE THEMSELVES... YOU KNOW, CONNECTING US TO FRIENDS AND FAMILY MEMBERS AND SO ON, PUTTING ALL THE WORLD'S INFORMATION AT OUR FINGERTIPS, AT ROOT THEY ARE PRIMARILY ABOUT ONE THING, AND THAT IS TO GATHER AS MUCH INFORMATION AS THEY POSSIBLY CAN FROM US, THEIR USERS, IN EXCHANGE FOR THE USE OF THEIR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES IN ORDER TO MONETIZE THAT DATA, TO SELL IT TO ADVERTISERS AND OTHER BUSINESS CLIENTS AND INCREASINGLY TO GOVERNMENTS. AND THAT UNDERLYING BUSINESS MODEL LEADS TO A LOT OF OTHER SECONDARY CONSEQUENCES AND EFFECTS THAT EXPLAIN A LOT OF THE PROBLEMS THAT I IDENTIFY IN THE BOOK AROUND SOCIAL MEDIA, AND THAT'S WHY IT'S IMPORTANT TO START THERE.

The caption changes to "Watch us anytime: tvo.org, Twitter: @theagenda, Facebook Live, YouTube."

Steve says ONCE UPON A TIME THAT SEEMED LIKE A PRETTY REASONABLE DEAL, RIGHT? WE GET THIS FANTASTIC FREE SERVICE TO BE ABLE TO CONNECT TO ANYONE WE WANT IN THE WORLD, WE CAN GIVE OUR BABY PICTURES TO ANYONE WE WANT. THERE DIDN'T SEEM TO BE MUCH OF A DOWNSIDE. NOW WE'RE CLEARLY GETTING A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT THE DOWNSIDE IS AND I WONDER WHETHER PART OF IT... I MEAN THE BUSINESS MODEL THAT YOU DESCRIBED IN SOME RESPECTS DOES IT COUNT ON US OR RELY ON US BEING EVEN MORE TOXIC AND STIRRING UP EVEN MORE EMOTION AND GETTING MORE PEOPLE SUCKED INTO THIS MORASS THAN BEFORE?

Ron says IT COULD BE. IF YOU THINK BACK TO THE CORE RATIONALE OF THE BUSINESS MODEL, WHAT THE IMPERATIVE IS HERE, IT'S TO CAPTURE AND RETAIN USERS, BECAUSE THAT'S THE OBJECT OF THE BUSINESS IS TO ACQUIRE DATA FROM US, PUSHING MORE AND MORE SENSORS CLOSER AND CLOSER TO US, OUR REFRIGERATORS, OUR CARS, OUR TOASTERS, OUR FITBITS, INCREASINGLY TALKING ABOUT NEURAL IMPLANTS. SO THE IDEA HERE IS TO GET AS MUCH DATA FROM US AS POSSIBLE. IN ORDER TO DO THAT, IN ORDER TO CAPTURE AND RETAIN USERS' INTERESTS, THE PLATFORMS INVEST A LOT IN UNDERSTANDING HUMAN EMOTIONS AND WHAT ARE CERTAIN MECHANISMS AND WAYS OF DESIGNING THEIR PRODUCTS AND WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF CONTENT THAT CAPTURE AND RETAIN OUR INTEREST. NOW, HUMAN NATURE BEING WHAT IT IS, WE TEND TO BE, UNFORTUNATELY, ATTRACTED TO CONTENT THAT IS EXTREME, SENSATIONAL, EMOTIONAL, CONSPIRATORIAL. AND SO THE PLATFORMS' ALGORITHMS SELECT OUT THAT KIND OF CONTENT AND PRIORITIZE. IN OTHER WORDS, THEY PROPEL IT FORWARD. AND THAT HELPS EXPLAIN WHY MANY OF US EXPERIENCE TWITTER AND OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS AS, IS OFTEN DESCRIBED, A KIND OF TOXIC MESS.

Steve says IT WAS ALL WELL AND GOOD UNTIL IT STARTED TO SUBVERT AND UNDERMINE DEMOCRACY, EH?

The caption changes to "Toxic by design?"

Ron says THAT'S RIGHT. I MEAN, THIS IS... YOU KNOW, ONE OF THE OTHER MANY CONSEQUENCES, INADVERTENT, I'LL SAY. THE DESIGNERS OF THE TECHNOLOGY, THE CEOs, THEY DIDN'T SET OUT TO, YOU KNOW, UNDERMINE THE PUBLIC SPHERE AND RUIN THE ENVIRONMENT, THE ECOSYSTEM FOR OUR DELIBERATIONS OR SUBVERT DEMOCRACY, IF YOU WILL. BUT IT'S OFTEN DIFFICULT TO CONTROL THE CONSEQUENCES OF ANY TECHNOLOGY, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT'S PUSHED OUT TO BILLIONS OF PEOPLE. ONE SPECIFIC THING I TALK ABOUT IN THE BOOK IS THE WAY IN WHICH SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE ENTIRE COMMUNICATIONS ECOSYSTEM HELPS PROPEL FORWARD AUTHORITARIANISM. AND IT REALLY HAPPENS IN TWO WAYS: ONE IS AROUND WHAT WE JUST TALKED ABOUT. THIS ENVIRONMENT ON THE CONTENT LAIR, IF YOU WILL, THE FACT THAT YOU HAVE CONTENT THAT'S PUSHED FORWARD AT A RAPID PACE, THAT'S EMOTIONAL AND EXTREME AND SO ON. IT MAKES IT DIFFICULT FOR PEOPLE TO FACT-CHECK, TO STOP, SLOW DOWN, AND REALLY EXAMINE CLAIMS. BUT IT ALSO TURNS OUT TO BE THE PERFECT ENVIRONMENT FOR THOSE WHO WISH TO SOW CHAOS AND DIVISION AND UNDERMINE SOCIETY. A LOT OF THAT IS WITH RESPECT TO RUSSIA, ITS DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGNS. RUSSIA IS NOT ALONE. THERE ARE MANY GOVERNMENTS OUT THERE THAT ARE BEGINNING TO SEE SOCIAL MEDIA AS A KIND OF GIANT DISINFORMATION LABORATORY, AND THE AIM HERE IS NOT REALLY TO PUSH A PARTICULAR IDEOLOGY. IT'S NOT TO PUSH AN AGENDA. IT'S SIMPLY TO CONFUSE, DISTRACT, DISORIENT, AND ULTIMATELY KIND OF BRING ABOUT A POLITICAL PARALYSIS THROUGH FATIGUE. SO YOU START QUESTIONING, YOU KNOW, WHAT'S REAL OR NOT, WHAT'S THE TRUTH OR NOT, CAN I BELIEVE ANYTHING? THAT SERVES THEIR END. THE OTHER WAY IN WHICH IT REALLY HELPS AUTHORITARIAN PRACTICES IS BY THE INHERENT INSECURITY. SO, AS I SAID, THE AIM OF THESE TECHNOLOGY PLATFORMS IS TO PUSH MORE AND MORE SENSORS OUT, MORE AND MORE APPLICATIONS, CONSTANTLY TO GET CLOSER AND CLOSER TO US. SO YOU HAVE THIS ECOSYSTEM THAT IS INVASIVE BY DESIGN BUT HIGHLY INSECURE. SECURITY IS LARGELY AN AFTER-THOUGHT. MARK ZUCKERBERG HAD THIS FAMOUS PHRASE TO DESCRIBE FACEBOOK'S MISSION, TO MOVE FAST AND BREAK THINGS. SO THEY'RE NOT REALLY THINKING ABOUT SECURITY. THAT'S WHY WE SEE ALL THESE DATA BREACHES HAPPENING ALL THE TIME AND IT'S POORLY REGULATED. SO THOSE CHARACTERISTICS TOGETHER CREATE ENORMOUS OPPORTUNITIES FOR WELL-RESOURCED, MALINTENTIONED ACTORS TO ABUSE POWER, TO EFFECTIVELY GET INSIDE THEIR ADVERSARIES' NETWORKS AND NEUTRALIZE THEM. THAT'S WHAT WE AT CITIZEN LAB HAVE BEEN TRACKING OVER THE DECADE IS THIS GROWTH IN THIS VERY INSIDIOUS TYPE OF TARGETED CRUCIAL ESPIONAGE TARGETING JOURNALISTS, HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS AND OTHERS. AGAIN, THIS IS NOT A DESIGN FEATURE. IT IS NOT SOMETHING THEY SET OUT TO DO. IT'S AN ACCIDENTAL BY-PRODUCT OF THE ENVIRONMENT THAT WE'VE KIND OF SLEEP-WALKED INTO, IF YOU WILL.

Steve says LET'S INTRODUCE ANOTHER THOUGHT, THIS ONE FROM THE WELL-KNOWN HISTORIAN Harari WHO SAID...

A quote appears on screen, under the title "We are hackable." The quote reads "Our society is based on the ideas that the voter knows best, that the customer is always right, that ultimate authority is... with the feelings of human beings and this assumes that human feelings and human choices are these sacred arenas which cannot be hacked, which cannot be manipulated. Maybe the most important fact about living in the 21st century is that we are now hackable animals."
Quoted from Yuval Noah Harari, Wired Magazine. October 4, 2018.

Steve says DO YOU AGREE WITH HIM ON THAT?

Ron says I DO IN PART. I THINK WHAT HE'S GETTING AT THERE IS THE IDEA THAT SHOSHANNA ZUBOV MENTIONS THE... THE AUTHOR OF SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM, THAT WITH THESE PLATFORMS HAVING ACCESS TO SO MUCH DATA ABOUT OUR MOST INTIMATE LIES, THEY ARE ABLE TO NUDGE US IN CERTAIN DIRECTIONS, SHAPE THE WAY THAT WE THINK. CERTAINLY THAT'S SOMETHING WE NEED TO BE AWARE OF AND BE MINDFUL OF THE NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES AROUND IT. NO DOUBT ABOUT IT, I CAME AWAY AFTER LOOKING INTO THIS AREA, CONVINCED THAT AT THE VERY LEAST THE COMPANIES ARE PUTTING A LOT OF RESOURCES FROM BEHAVIOURAL PSYCHOLOGY AND REAL-LIVE EXPERIMENTS, KIND OF AB TESTS ON A GRANDMAS SCALE, BILLIONS OF PEOPLE, TO SEE IF THEIR PREFERENCES CAN BE SHAPED IN THIS DIRECTION OR THAT. THE REALITY IS A LOT OF IT IS A BIT OF SNAKE OIL TOO. SO THE COMPANIES, ESPECIALLY IN THIS KIND OF CESSPOOL UNDERLAYER OF DATA BROKERS, LOCATION TRACKERS, AND ADVERTISING COMPANIES OVERSELL THEIR PRODUCTS, OVERSELL WHAT THEY'RE DOING. THE MORE SERIOUS RISK AROUND HACKING INDIVIDUALS, HACKING HUMANS, IF YOU WILL, HAS TO DO WITH WHAT I DESCRIBED, QUITE FRANKLY, THE FACT THAT WE ARE CARRYING AROUND WITH US THESE DEVICES THAT DRILL INTO OUR LIVES. PUT ASIDE FOR A MINUTE WHETHER THEY CAN MANIPULATE US EMOTIONALLY. THE FACT THAT WE CARRY AROUND THESE HIGHLY INVASIVE DEVICES THAT SURROUND US IN OUR HOMES, CREATES THIS ENORMOUS OPPORTUNITY FOR EXPLOITATION BY BAD ACTORS. AND I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT PEOPLE WHO WANT TO MAKE US THINK A CERTAIN WAY. I'M TALKING ABOUT, SAY, SAUDI INTELLIGENCE WANTING TO FIND OUT WHAT THE WASHINGTON POST JOURNALIST JAMAL KHASHOGGI IS PLANNING, WHO HE IS MEETING WITH, AND WHAT WE CAN DO TO EFFECTIVELY NEUTRALIZE THAT. THIS WILD WEST OF TARGETED ESPIONAGE THAT I'M DESCRIBING IS OUT OF CONTROL, AND I'D SAY THAT'S AT LEAST THE MORE PRINCIPAL CONCERN RIGHT NOW. HARARI MAY BE LOOKING OVER THE HORIZON AND IF THAT'S THE CASE, I AGREE WITH HIM.

Steve says I WONDER IF ONE OF THE SOLUTIONS TO THIS POTENTIALLY IS ALL OF US... WELL, WHY DON'T WE HEAD DOWN TO THE SHORES OF LAKE ONTARIO AND JUST TOSS ALL OF OUR PHONES INTO ONE OF THOSE FIVE GREAT LAKES. IS THAT A GOOD IDEA?

The caption changes to "Just go throw your phone in the ocean?"

Ron says NO, IT'S NOT A GOOD IDEA. FIRST OF ALL, YOU'D VIOLATE THE WARRANTY OF YOUR PHONE. IT'S GOOD FOR THAT REASON. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY, LOOK, WE LIVE IN A VERY SMALL AND INCREASINGLY SHRINKING GLOBAL PUBLIC SPHERE. I THINK IT'S TIME NOW WE'RE BEGINNING TO RECOGNIZE, EVEN THOUGH WE'RE SPLIT UP INTO SOVEREIGN STATES, WE HAVE A SHARED HABITAT AND WE'VE GOT THESE REAL EXISTENTIAL PROBLEMS THAT WE FACE COLLECTIVELY. IF WE'RE GOING TO SOLVE THEM, WE ARE GOING TO NEED SOMETHING LIKE THE INTERNET, SOMETHING LIKE SOCIAL MEDIA. WE ARE GOING TO NEED SOMETHING LIKE THE DEVICES I CARRY AROUND WITH ME IN ORDER TO EXCHANGE INFORMATION, TO MONITOR OURSELVES AND THE PLANET. THERE ARE MANY GOOD FORMS OF SURVEILLANCE. THE PROBLEM IS, AS PRESENTLY CONSTITUTED AROUND SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM AND SOCIAL MEDIA, WE'VE CREATED AN ENVIRONMENT THAT'S REALLY DYSFUNCTIONAL TO THOSE LARGER AIMS. SO WE DON'T WANT TO THROW THE BABY OUT WITH THE BATH WATER. WE NEED TO INSTEAD THINK ABOUT BRINGING BETTER GOVERNANCE AROUND THIS ECOSYSTEM, ARCHITECT IT IN A MORE THOUGHTFUL WAY THAT BRINGS OUT THE BEST OF THE TECHNOLOGY AND HELPS US REALLY IMPROVE OURSELVES COLLECTIVELY.

Steve says WELL, LET'S FOLLOW UP ON THAT. ONE OF THE THINGS YOU DO CALL FOR IN THE BOOK IS THE NOTION OF ALL OF US PRACTISING JUST A LITTLE BIT MORE RESTRAINT. NOW, THAT IS SOMETHING THAT VERY FEW OF US HAVE FIGURED OUT HOW TO DO SO FAR. WHAT MAKES YOU THINK WE'RE CAPABLE OF IT GOING FORWARD?

The caption changes to "The one principle to rule them all: Restraint."

Ron says WELL, THE REASON I THINK WE'RE CAPABLE OF DOING IT IS HISTORICALLY SPEAKING, HUMAN BEINGS HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT PROBLEMS NOT QUITE LIKE THIS BUT ANALOGOUS ONES THROUGHOUT HUMAN HISTORY, GOING ALL THE WAY BACK TO ANCIENT GREECE. AND WHAT I DO AT THE END OF THE BOOK IS NOT SO MUCH PUT FORWARD A SERIES OF RECOMMENDATIONS AS I SAY, LOOK, THERE IS A RECIPE, A TRADITION OF THINKING ABOUT SECURITY AND LIBERTY THAT PEOPLE HAVE DRAWN FROM OVER MILLENNIA, TO THINK ABOUT THE PROBLEMS AROUND THE ORGANIZATION OF OUR POLITICAL LIFE. AND SPECIFICALLY THIS IDEA OF RESTRAINT COMES FROM THAT FAMILY OF THEORIZING KNOWN AS LIBERAL REPUBLICANISM. SO RESTRAINT IS REALLY AT THE CORE OF THIS FAMILY OF POLITICAL THEORIZING OR POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY, APPLIED NOT JUST TO GOVERNMENTS BUT TO THE PRIVATE SECTOR AND TO CIVIL SOCIETY AND TO OURSELVES. AT THE CORE OF THIS NOTION OF RESTRAINT IS THE IDEA THAT HUMANS ARE SUBJECT TO FAULTS, YOU KNOW, WE HAVE LIMITATIONS BECAUSE OF OUR NATURE. WE TEND TO BE SELF-INTERESTED, GREEDY, WE TEND TO ABUSE POWER, CORRUPTION IS ENDEMIC TO HUMAN SOCIETIES, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU HAVE LARGE ORGANIZATIONS LIKE THE STATE OR BIG COMPANIES, AND SO THE IDEA FROM LIBERAL REPUBLICAN THINKERS IS THERE ARE RESTRAINT MECHANISMS THAT WE NEED TO DESIGN INTO OUR SOCIETY TO PREVENT THE CONCENTRATION AND ABUSE OF POWER. AND THAT'S REALLY WHERE THIS SEEMINGLY SIMPLE CONCEPT OF RESTRAINT ACTUALLY IS EMBEDDED IN A MUCH LARGER, DEEPER HISTORICAL TRADITION THAT I DRAW FROM.

Steve says NO, IT SEEMS LIKE VERY GOOD ADVICE, BUT I DIDN'T SEE TOO MUCH RESTRAINT ON THE 6TH OF JANUARY ON CAPITOL HILL IN THE UNITED STATES, AND I'M NOT SURE WHERE YOU... I'M NOT SURE WHERE YOU GET THE OPTIMISTIC VIEW THAT WE'RE CAPABLE OF PRACTISING THIS. WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?

Ron says WELL, TO BE SURE, THERE ARE STEEP CHALLENGES HAVING TO DO WITH WHAT I JUST DESCRIBED ABOUT HUMAN NATURE. YOU KNOW, HUMAN BEINGS ARE PRONE TO ABUSES OF POWER, PRONE TO HAVING OUR EMOTIONS RULE AND SO ON. THIS IS WHAT LIBERAL REPUBLICAN THINKERS HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT FOR CENTURIES. WHAT YOU SAW ON JANUARY 6TH IS A PRODUCT OF MANY DIFFERENT CAUSAL FACTORS, MANY DIFFERENT REASONS HAVING TO DO WITH THE CONSTITUTION OF U.S. SOCIETY AND RACISM AND ON AND ON. SO YOU CAN'T JUST BLAME SOCIAL MEDIA FOR WHAT HAPPENED THERE. HOWEVER, THERE IS NO DOUBT IN MY MIND THAT WHAT WE SAW, NOT JUST WITH THOSE EVENTS BUT THE ENTIRE ADMINISTRATION OF DONALD TRUMP, IS A MANIFESTATION OF SOME OF THE UNDERLYING PROBLEMS THAT HAVE TO DO WITH HOW WE CONSTRUCTED OUR COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGIES. SO THESE PEOPLE REALLY KIND OF FED OFF OF SOME OF THE CONTENT THAT HAS BEEN CIRCULATING ON ALT-RIGHT FORUMS, REALLY WHIPPED INTO A FRENZY, AND FRANKLY THE HIDDEN TRUTH OR THE SECRET TRUTH IS THAT THE COMPANIES HAVE LONG PROFITED BY THAT TYPE OF EXTREME CONSPIRATORIAL CONTENT. DONALD TRUMP HIMSELF MADE THOSE PLATFORMS A LOT OF MONEY BECAUSE OF THE ATTENTION THAT HE DRAWS. AND THEY HAVE HAD A ROLE TO PLAY IN AMPLIFYING SOME OF THAT CONTENT BASED AGAIN ON THIS UNDERLYING BUSINESS MODEL WHICH IS DESIGNED TO PROPEL FORWARD SENSATIONAL, EXTREME, EMOTIONAL CONTENT. THAT HAS DAMAGES. AND SO IN ORDER TO CORRECT FOR SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPENING, IN PART WE NEED TO LOOK AT OURSELVES AND THE TECHNOLOGIES THAT SURROUND US.

Steve says HOW DO WE LOOK... I MEAN, DON'T TAKE THIS THE WRONG WAY. BUT I JUST CANNOT IMAGINE TOO MANY PEOPLE WHO STORMED THE CAPITOL DOME ON CAPITOL HILL IN WASHINGTON, I CAN'T IMAGINE TOO MANY OF THEM READING YOUR BOOK. AND IT'S NOT BECAUSE IT'S NOT A GOOD BOOK. IT IS A GOOD BOOK. BUT IT IS BECAUSE YOU'RE OUTSIDE THEIR ECHO CHAMBER. AND I'M NOT SAYING THIS TO PICK ON THEM. I'D SAY THE CONVERSE, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DEBATE AS WELL. THERE'S PROBABLY NOT TOO MANY PEOPLE WHO VOTE DEMOCRAT WHO ARE WATCHING FOX TV JUST TO FIND OUT WHAT THE OTHER SIDE IS SAYING. HOW DO WE GET OUT OF THOSE ECHO CHAMBERS TO HEAR EACH OTHER OUT AND PRACTICE THAT RESTRAINT YOU THINK IS NECESSARY?

Ron says THAT IS A REALLY GREAT QUESTION AND I DON'T PRETEND TO HAVE A SIMPLE ANSWER TO THIS. YOU WRITE SOMETHING LIKE THIS AND GO ON A SHOW LIKE YOURS AND I DELIVER THE MASSEY LECTURES IN ORDER TO REACH AS WIDE A POSSIBLE AUDIENCE AS I CAN, BUT OBVIOUSLY THERE ARE GOING TO BE CERTAIN SEGMENTS OF THE POPULATION THAT ARE JUST GOING TO TUNE OUT, YOU KNOW, THEY'RE NOT... THEY DON'T FIND THIS CONSTRUCTIVE AT ALL. ONE WAY TO THINK ABOUT THIS, AND THIS IS AN IMPORTANT RESTRAINT MECHANISM IN ITS OWN RIGHT, IS THE IDEA OF CIVIC VIRTUE. I THINK GENERALLY SPEAKING, WE'VE KIND OF LOST SIGHT COLLECTIVELY OF, FIRST OF ALL, WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CITIZEN, WHAT IT MEANS TO BE PART OF A LARGER COLLECTIVE... NOT JUST WHAT RIGHTS WE HAVE, BUT WHAT RESPONSIBILITIES WE HAVE TO THE LARGER SOCIAL ORDER; AND SECONDLY, HOW WE ACTUALLY CULTIVATE THAT IN CITIZENS, IN HUMAN BEINGS. REALLY, THERE IS NO OTHER WAY AROUND IT THAN THROUGH PUBLIC EDUCATION. AND I THINK IN PART WHAT WE'RE SEEING WITH THE RISE OF POPULISM AND EXTREMISM OF VARIOUS SORTS IS THE NEGLECT AROUND THE ATTENTION WE NEED TO PAY AS SOCIETIES TO EDUCATING PEOPLE IN THE IMPORTANCE OF TOLERANCE, DIFFERENCE, AND CIVIC VIRTUE. SO CIVIC VIRTUE HAS BEEN AT THE HEART OF REPUBLICAN THINKING SINCE ANCIENT GREEK TIMES, AND THE REASON IS BECAUSE THIS IS WHERE RESTRAINTS ARE NEEDED AROUND OUR OWN BEHAVIOUR. WE CAN'T JUST BLAME THE TECH PLATFORMS. WE HAVE TO LOOK AT OURSELVES AND HOW... AND THE PRIORITIES THAT WE'VE PUT FORWARD AS SOCIETIES IN TERMS OF EDUCATING PEOPLE.

Steve says NO, I APPRECIATE VERY MUCH WHAT YOU'RE SAYING, BUT THERE'S JUST SO MUCH MONEY IN THE CABLE COMPANIES CONTINUING TO FOMENT... I WAS GOING TO SAY REVOLUTION, BUT LET'S JUST SAY UNREST. THERE'S SO MUCH IN IT FOR BIG TECH TO CONTINUE TO FOMENT THE TOXICITY THAT PASSES FOR DIALOGUE ON SOCIAL MEDIA THESE DAYS. YOU AND I COULD BOTH LIST OFF SEVERAL SECTORS IN AMERICAN SOCIETY WHOSE SELF-INTEREST IS IN PERPETUATING THE STATUS QUO AND THE FOOD FIGHT. IN SOME RESPECTS I'M ASKING THE SAME QUESTION AGAIN, BUT I'M NOT SURE WHERE YOU GET THE OPTIMISM TO SAY I THINK WE CAN GET OUT OF THIS MESS. I DON'T KNOW WHERE THAT'S COMING FROM, RON. HELP ME OUT.

Ron says LET ME FIRST SAY THAT I CAN MAKE THE PICTURE EVEN BLEAKER IF WE ADD INTO THE EQUATION CHINA AND WHAT'S GOING ON IN CHINA AND THE TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION COMING OUT OF CHINA SHOWING THAT YOU CAN HAVE THIS ONE PARTY AUTHORITARIAN SYSTEM WITH TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION AND CHINESE PLATFORMS ARE SPREADING GLOBALLY. SO THE CHALLENGES ARE, NO DOUBT, DAUNTING. I DON'T PRETEND IT'S OTHERWISE. HOWEVER, THE QUESTION I WOULD THROW BACK AT YOU IS: WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE? DO WE JUST SIMPLY RESIGN OURSELVES TO THE WORLD WE LIVE IN AND THE CHAOTIC MESS SURROUNDING US? DO WE LITERALLY TAKE OUR DEVICES, THROW THEM IN LAKE ONTARIO AND SAY, "TO HELL WITH IT, I'M DONE." MANY PEOPLE MIGHT CONCLUDE THAT'S THE ONLY VIABLE OPTION. I DON'T BELIEVE THAT. I DO THINK WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY HERE. THERE IS, AS I SAID AT THE OUTSET, A KIND OF GESTALT IN THE AIR. I'M SURE YOU SEE IT TOO. THE VERY FACT THAT YOU RECOGNIZE THAT SOCIAL MEDIA HAS THIS KIND OF TOXIC MESS CHARACTERISTIC TO IT IS A HOPEFUL SIGN BECAUSE IT MEANS YOU WON'T JUST ACCEPT IT. AND THEN THAT LEADS YOU TO THINKING, WELL, WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT? SO IF YOU LOOK OVER THE LAST SIX MONTHS TO A YEAR, THERE HAVE BEEN HEARINGS IN U.S. CONGRESS. PEOPLE ARE TALKING SERIOUSLY ABOUT ANTITRUST, WHICH ITSELF IS A RESTRAINT MECHANISM ON COMPANIES. THERE ARE SOME VERY INTELLIGENT STEPS WE CAN TAKE TOGETHER, AND THE WAY I WOULD START, TO END ON A HOPEFUL NOTE, IS AT THE LOCAL LEVEL. WE CAN BORROW AN ANALOGY FROM ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENTS WHERE THEY SAY: THINK GLOBALLY, START LOCALLY. WELL, LET'S LOOK AT OUR MUNICIPALITIES. IT WASN'T THAT LONG AGO THAT ALPHABET, THE PARENT COMPANY OF GOOGLE, WAS TALKING ABOUT DEVELOPING TORONTO AS A SO-CALLED SMART CITY. THAT WAS SHELVED. BUT WHAT WAS ENCOURAGING WAS THE FACT THAT YOU HAD CIVIL SOCIETY IN TORONTO REALLY CONCERTEDLY ASKING FOR GREATER CIVIC ACCOUNTABILITY, PRESSING THE COMPANY, PRESSING THE AUTHORITIES. WE NEED TO DO THE SAME WITH LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT. SO IF WE ALL START LOCALLY, WE CAN BRING ABOUT SOME OF THE RESTRAINT MECHANISMS THAT I DESCRIBE IN THE BOOK AROUND THE MOST IMMEDIATE ASPECTS OF OUR LIVES AND WORK OUTWARDS FROM THERE.

The caption changes to "Producer: Eric Bombicino, @ebombicino."

Steve says THAT IS A HOPEFUL NOTE AND A GOOD PLACE TO LEAVE THIS. WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND "RESET: RECLAIMING THE INTERNET FOR CIVIL SOCIETY." RON DEIBERT IS ALSO THE DIRECTOR OF THE CITIZEN LAB AT THE MUNK MUNKSCHOOL OF GLOBAL AFFAIRS AND PUBLIC POLICY AT U OF T AND ALWAYS WELCOME ON THIS PROGRAM. RON, IT'S GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN AND STAY SAFE OUT THERE, OKAY?

Ron says THANK YOU, STEVE. YOU TOO.

Watch: Ron Deibert: Fix Social Media, Save Democracy