#267 – Mark Zuckerberg: Meta, Facebook, Instagram, and the Metaverse | Lex Fridman Podcast

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Key Takeaways

  • The challenging thing with free speech is that there is a line, the thing that everyone disagrees on is the definition of real harm
    • “When there is an acute threat, it does make sense from a societal perspective to tolerate less speech” – Mark Zuckerberg
    • You can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater–was Covid a fire or not? Mark says yes based on the info he was given.
    • The blame for improper censorship doesn’t entirely fall on tech companies, blame should also be directed at the institutions of the United States that fail to define harm accurately and honestly
  • The Social Dilemma vs. What ‘The Social Dilemma’ Gets Wrong
    • What grabs someone’s attention in the near term is not going to grab it over the long term
    • Making a user angry isn’t going to retain that user, Facebook doesn’t have an incentive to do this
    • Subscription product models have pitfalls too, not just ad-based product models
    • Greater polarization has been found in groups that are least likely to use the internet or social media (link)
  • The goal of the metaverse is not to build technology for people to interact with; but rather, build technology for people to interact with each other
    • Spatial audio and eye contact technology are just two features to drastically improve on current video meeting technology, for example
    • Establishing a presence is the most difficult problem

Intro

  • Mark Zuckerberg (@Meta, @zuck) is the CEO of Facebook and its parent company Meta Platforms–you know who he is. In this conversation, Mark and Lex discuss the metaverse, the social dilemma, and how censorship is contingent on the evolving definition of harm.
  • “Is it possible that this conversation is happening inside a metaverse created by you and by Meta many years from now and we are doing a memory replay experience?” – Lex Fridman
  • Host: Lex Fridman (@lexfridman)

Metaverse

  • The key question: how do you replicate presence?
    • Mark says Meta wants to make the most human thing possible: visual presence, spatial audio, temperature, olfactory system, touch, etc.
  • Meetings over Zoom are a great counter-example to some of the goals at Meta
    • Spatial audio: recreating the true nature of sound, allowing things like side conversations in the metaverse meeting space.
    • Eye contact: if you’re looking into a camera, you’re not making natural eye contact. Meetings in the metaverse allow you to bridge this disconnect.
  • The goal of the metaverse is not to build technology for people to interact with; but rather, build technology for people to interact with each other
    • “All the work that I do is at the intersection of Psychology and Computer Science” – Mark Zuckerberg
    • Many Meta product elements are developed based on basic functions of psychology: facial expressions, eye contact, and more
  • There will be different use-cases for avatars: photo-realistic vs expressive identities
    • There is personal and functional utility in being able to customize your avatar
    • The market for creative commerce around digital clothing could be huge
    • Certain use cases will demand higher levels of biometric security to prevent impersonations

The Social Dilemma

  • The Social Dilemma is a documentary about how social media companies are manipulating users through algorithms that fuel addictions and polarization
  • What ‘The Social Dilemma’ Gets Wrong was Facebook’s response, here are some key takeaways that Mark addresses in the interview:
  • What grabs someone’s attention in the near term is not going to grab it over the long term
    • “I don’t want to build products that make people angry” – Mark Zuckerberg
    • Making a user angry isn’t going to retain that user, Facebook doesn’t have an incentive to do this
    • Products are not just their function and utility, it’s their feeling
  • Subscription product models also have pitfalls like ad-based product models
    • Subscription products cater towards their audience, they don’t have an incentive to be in the middle–this fuels polarization
    • Advertising models at least make the consumer services free, giving everyone an opportunity to have a voice
  • Greater polarization has been found in groups that are least likely to use the internet or social media – Mark references research done by Stanford Economist Matthew Gentzkow
    • Social media is worldwide and but the polarization we see in the U.S. is not worldwide
    • Mark uses this logic to say that there are more variables to this equation

Instagram Whistleblower

  • Frances Haugen, the Instagram whistleblower recently testified that Instagram is prioritizing ‘astronomical profits’ at the expense of the mental health of children and teens
  • Mark Zuckerberg responded by saying many of the metrics in the Instagram teen usage study were neutral or positive
  • “An accurate characterization would have been that teens using Instagram is generally positive for their mental health, but of course, that was not the narrative that came out” – Mark Zuckerberg
    • Mark argues that other tech companies don’t even bother to perform the research
    • They want to do the research to improve, not to sweep it under the rug
    • “Objectively speaking, there’s hunger [in the press] to say negative things about social media. And, I don’t understand how that leads to an open conversation about the positives and negatives of social media.” – Lex Fridman

Censorship

  • Mark argues that you can only build Facebook/Meta if you have the idea that people having the right to express themselves is a good thing
    • Voice + Connection = Opportunity
  • The challenging thing with free speech is that there is a line, the thing that everyone disagrees on is the definition of real harm
    • “When there is an acute threat, it does make sense from a societal perspective to tolerate less speech” – Mark Zuckerberg
    • You can’t yell fire in a crowded movie theater–was Covid a fire or not? Mark says yes based on the info he was given.
    • The blame for improper censorship doesn’t entirely fall on tech companies, blame should also be directed at the institutions of the United States that fail to define harm accurately and honestly
  • Most content Facebook/Meta censors are not controversial in the context
    • Nobody is asking them to fight terrorism or child pornography content less
    • Misinformation and hate speech are two with loose definitions–making it difficult to contextualize
  • Balancing the AI system that proactively regulates harmful content is challenging
    • It’s no longer a technical problem, simply a philosophical one
    • Facebook/Meta is building out an Independent Oversight Board which is made up of diverse backgrounds that are dedicated to content decisions
    • Lex thinks censorship decisions should be crowdsourced through public debate
  • “I don’t think pressure from advertisers or politicians directly affect how we think about this, these are just hard topics” – Mark Zuckerberg

Life Advice

  • Think about what you’re excited about for the future
    • Always keep sight of things that bring you joy
  • Surround yourself with people you want to be like
    • Mark only hires people that he could see himself working for in an alternate universe
    • This advice expands to your friends and relationships
  • “All children are artists, the challenge is how do you remain one when you grow up” – Mark Zuckerberg quoting Pablo Picasso
    • The creator economy and the metaverse can inspire people to live out a creative existence
  • The Bible started with creation. Mark believes that it purposefully makes creating and building things a priority.
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Notes By Drew Waterstreet

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