The US government is run by a cabal of child molesters. The Rothschilds hired Charles Darwin to devise his theory of evolution as part of a plot to dominate the world. Up is down and down is up, the winner is the loser and the loser is anyone you don’t like. Ben Franklin always told us “never argue with anyone who buys ink by the barrel.” But in the age of computers, social media gives everyone a bottomless inkwell and the nuttier the idea, the more currency it garners.
In its fifth program of the season, Common Ground examines how the democratization of media ironically has become a threat to democracy and the pressing clash between free speech and social peace.
George Farmer is a conservative activist and the CEO of the controversial right-wing social network, Parler. At the center of the culture war about the bounds of free speech, Parler is praised by the right as a beacon of free expression with Senator Ted Cruz calling it “a platform that gets what free speech is all about.” But the left denigrates it as a prime propagator of misinformation and a hub for attacks on democracy that, in the words of the Anti-Defamation League’s Oren Segal, is “the lifeblood of extremists.”
Farmer became Parler’s CEO in May of 2021 after captaining the site through a blackout when Google, Amazon, and Apple de-platformed it for failing to root out misinformation and hate speech surrounding the January 6 Capitol attack. Under Farmer’s leadership, Parler renovated its moderating practices to better label dangerous content and has been inching its way back to the 20 million accounts it boasted before the blackout. His vision for the site, he says, is to expand its base beyond people who identify as Trump supporters and make it a pivot for political discussion.
Though Farmer is relatively new to the world of tech, his long history in politics and his conservative family pedigree made him a natural choice to lead the website. A London-born graduate of Oxford University with a first in theology, Farmer is virulently opposed to the European Union, describing it as “a toxic, socialist, genocidal superstate,” and is the former chairman of Turning Point UK, an offshoot of the American organization designed to promote right-wing ideas in schools, colleges, and universities.
He is the son of Baron Michael Farmer, former treasurer of the UK’s Conservative Party, and gained international attention when he proposed to American conservative activist Candace Owens, probably President Trump’s most outspoken supporter in the African American community, after a three-week whirlwind romance. The couple have two children.
Frances Haugen is a former Facebook employee and data engineer better known as the “Facebook Whistleblower.”
“A twenty-first century American hero” in the words of Senator Ed Markey, Haugen shocked the world in 2021 when she leaked documents showing Facebook knowingly used algorithms that harmed young users’ mental health and destabilized democratic societies.
A coding star who had worked at Google, Yahoo, and Pinterest, she was spurred by the estrangement of a friend radicalized by the internet’s plethora of conspiracy theories to join Facebook to reduce disinformation. Appointed to the company’s civic integrity team, she soon realized that Facebook’s algorithm turned some users violent by feeding them hateful content.
When her concerns were dismissed to avoid jeopardizing profits, Haugen began collecting tens of thousands of documents that would become “the Facebook Papers,” which she decided to leak after Facebook disbanded her former team. In a Time interview, Haugen describes the burden of knowing the truth: “Whistle-blowers live with secrets that impact the lives of other people.”
Although her leaks led to a sharp decline in Facebook’s stock and eight subsequent whistle-blow complaints, Haugen says that her intention was to fix Facebook, not to kill it, and has resisted efforts to break up the giant company. Instead, she has worked with lawmakers in Europe and the US to improve the algorithms underpinning social media platforms.
Haugen earlier this year announced plans to establish a non-profit called “Beyond the Screen,” a platform for lawyers, lawmakers, and investors to learn about Big Tech, how it functions, and its social responsibility. “My biggest hope is that I’m not relevant anymore,” she told Politico.
Kara Swisher is a legendary journalist who has been covering the world of tech since the internet first entered public consciousness 30 years ago. Among the handful of reporters able to stay ahead of Silicon Valley’s relentless innovations and dramas, Swisher stands alone in balancing the confrontational interview style readers love and a trustworthiness that keeps her sources talking.
Indeed, her singular position has enabled her to break some of the highest-profile tech stories of the past decade, such as Google’s attempts to buy Groupon, Facebook’s hiring of Sheryl Sandberg, and the lies former Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson told on his resume that ultimately prompted his resignation. The most commonly known example of her fearsome interview style is a 2010 interview with Mark Zuckerberg in which her questions about Facebook’s privacy made the founder so uncomfortable he stripped off his signature hoodie. In a 2014 profile, New York Magazine crowned her “Silicon Valley’s most feared and well-liked journalist.”
Despite her provocative interview style - or perhaps because of it - Swisher’s hit podcast about investigating power, Sway, attracted guests as illustrious as Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Nancy Pelosi. Moreover, as a contributor to The New York Times Opinion section, Swisher’s wry appraisals of Big Tech and its attendant moguls have earned her a loyal readership of millions. “A lot of these people I cover are babies,” she once said. “I always call them papier-mâché – they just wilt.”
Before achieving her iconic status as a power broker within the tech world, Swisher worked at All Things Digital and The Wall Street Journal and co-founded the influential news site Recode, which cemented her reputation as a journalistic maverick. Swisher is also the author of two books that chronicle the rapid rise and precipitous fall of AOL, as well as a forthcoming memoir. More recently, she announced her departure from The New York Times to launch a podcast with Vox Media.
Linette Lopez is a journalist and the Senior Finance Editor at Business Insider. A Wall Street authority and fearless investigator, Lopez is lauded for distilling complex financial trends into digestible stories and for pulling back the curtain on business’ shadowy power players. From Zuckerberg to Trump, Silicon Valley to Congress, Lopez has taken on titans in tech, politics, and business, and as a result braved the intimidatory social media campaigns that have become all too familiar to 21st century journalists.
Lopez was recruited to Business Insider upon graduating from Columbia Journalism School in 2011, and she has since become the nation’s translator for predicting and explaining financial trends. Her straight-shooting insights have brought in a new generation of Insider readers, and her leadership as Finance Editor grew the section from 4 million views per month to 13 million views per month.
In speaking to The M Dash about the tenacity that brought this success, she said, “I’m not afraid of anyone.”
This courage has, inevitably, made her a target of the powerful people she writes about and thrust her into the ugly side of social media. After Lopez broke a story about Tesla’s unsafe manufacturing practices, Elon Musk took to Twitter to accuse her of bribing her Tesla source and circulated anything, true or false, that could discredit her. The accusations were so intense and persistent that Lopez had to make TV appearances to defend herself.
Despite the blowback, Lopez continues to shine a light on the powerful. She contributes to the America Public Media radio show “Marketplace,” and regularly delivers unabashed remarks on CNN, MSNBC, and Real Time with Bill Maher. Additionally, she is an adjunct professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.