Programming note: Here it is: the final edition of
The Interface. Beginning Monday, this newsletter will transition to Platformer, a new publication by me that will pick up where this one left off. If you’re subscribed to
The Interface, I’ll port your email address over to Platformer at 4PM Pacific time on Friday. If you wish to unsubscribe before then for any reason, you are welcome to. (You can unsubscribe from Platformer any time you like, too.) Otherwise, expect to see Platformer in your inbox around 5P Pacific time on Monday.
The Interface began three years ago this month with the goal of organizing the day’s best journalism about the intersection of social networks and democracy and offering ways for smart people to think about current events. Over the past 578 issues, we’ve covered a long, winding, and so-far unfinished story about governments starting to reckon with technology platforms’ effects on the world around them — while platforms fight for the right to continue governing themselves on their own terms.
in the aftermath of the 2016 US presidential election, and so it seems fitting that it should end as the next one unfolds. Whatever happens, it’s now clear that technology platforms will be at the center — held to account, both fairly and unfairly, for a wide range of behavior that happens on and off their services. I plan to chronicle these next events in my new newsletter, Platformer
, and I hope that if you’ve enjoyed The Interface
over the years you’ll check it out and let me know what you think. (A weekly Platformer
column will appear on The Verge
But before I go, I want to offer one more thought on the future of platforms, and it’s this: the issues explored in The Interface are expanding beyond the core set of platforms we have covered around here, to affect a much broader set of technology companies. Tech platforms and the policies that they adopt — and, hopefully, enforce — now sit at the center of vital questions about the future of the internet and even the global economy. The questions faced by Google, Twitter, Facebook, and other social platforms remain unresolved. But some of those same questions are now migrating far beyond the realm of social networks, and companies of all kinds ought to be paying attention.
Zoom has canceled a webinar due to be held at San Francisco State University (SFSU) this Wednesday featuring Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) who took part in two plane hijackings in 1969 and 1970. YouTube and Facebook also intervened to stop the talk.
The webinar was cancelled after pressure from Israeli and Jewish lobby groups including the Lawfare Project
. They noted that the US government has designated the PFLP a terrorist organization
, and claimed that by hosting Khaled on its service, Zoom was exposing itself to criminal liability for providing “material support or resources
” to a terrorist group.
Zoom went on to tell Vincent that it is “committed to supporting the open exchange of ideas and conversations,” but that Khaled’s planned talk violated its terms of service.
Now, you could look at this narrowly. You could observe that the US government prevents any business from aiding terrorists, and move on.
None of these questions are impossible to answer. But each represents a significant challenge. And it seems fair to suggest that many of these challenges may never have occurred to its founder when he set out to create a better videoconferencing solution for businesses.
Similarly, when Daniel Ek founded Spotify, he probably did not imagine having to someday weigh in on whether Oregon wildfires were started by liberal agitators. (They were not.) But then Spotify acquired The Joe Rogan Experience
, one of the world’s most popular podcasts. And during one of his recent shows, Rogan falsely accused “left-wing people” for lighting forest fires in Oregon, even as law enforcement officials were warning that misinformation like this was leading to a rise in violent vigilantism. To his credit, Rogan apologized after learning he was wrong
But other controversies seem likely to follow. Just days before the fire incident, Vice
reported that Spotify employees were pressing Ek on a different matter: Rogan’s interview with an author of a recent book that has been denounced as transphobic, in which he spends part of the episode “explaining that young people are being pressured into transitioning by YouTube and other media,” Joseph Cox and Emanuel Maiberg wrote. Employees called for Spotify to take action
“In the case of Joe Rogan, a total of 10 meetings have been held with various groups and individuals to hear their respective concerns,” Ek said, according to three sources. “And some of them want Rogan removed because of things he’s said in the past.” […]
One of the submitted questions was “Many LGBTQAI+/ally Spotifiers feel unwelcome and alienated because of leadership’s response in JRE conversations. What is your message to those employees?” Another was “Why has Spotify chosen to ignore Spectrum ERG’s guidance about transphobic content in the JRE catalog?,” referring to a group of Spotify workers who focus on related issues.
So far, the issue has hit a stalemate. Rogan continues to publish new episodes, and Spotify employees are presumably still concerned. Spotify aspires to be the largest player in all of podcasts
. That will mean hosting lots of perspectives, including some that huge swathes of its user base finds distasteful. How will the company handle that pressure over time? Will it reduce its current boundaries around speech to placate employees? Or will it take a page from Brian Armstrong’s handbook
, and attempt to separate the platform from politics to the furthest extent possible?
I don’t know the answers to these questions — and neither, I suspect, does Spotify. When it comes to devising policies for platforms, the real work always lies in balancing one set of harms against another. Which tradeoffs companies are willing to accept — and which the countries in which they operate will allow— are constantly shifting.
Some newer platforms, like Telepath
, embrace the challenge from the start. Others, like Clubhouse
, keep tripping over their shoelaces. And as various other tools transform into publishing platforms — Notion
are two recent and popular ones — more moderation challenges will surely emerge.
To the more than 20,000 of you who have explored these issues with me so far, I offer you my profound thanks. I hope you’ll join me on this next phase, and continue to help me refine my thinking and identify fruitful new paths for exploration.
To my boss, Nilay Patel, thanks for saying yes when I asked if I could start a newsletter about Facebook and democracy. The default answer to questions about creative endeavors at The Verge has almost always been yes, and that goes a long way in explaining how the site has become such a defining force in the coverage of technology and culture.
And Zoe Schiffer
, I thank you for being my partner in creating The Interface
each day for the past year. Zoe’s incredible attention to detail has been indispensable in summarizing the links we’ve brought you here each day, and I shudder with my whole body when I think of the typos and errors she has caught while editing this column every day.
The Verge has been the job of a lifetime, and The Interface has allowed me to do the work I’m most proud of. I’m excited to keep doing it in a new form — and to do some of it at The Verge, the place where it all started.