Julia Gillard’s Sexism Advice: BBC Dialogues with Australia’s 27th PM

Julia Gillard’s Sexism Advice: BBC Dialogues with Australia’s 27th PM

What can Uber and Fox News do to change their hostile work environment for women? And how can organizations create a productive atmosphere where men and women thrive? Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues sat down with Julia Gillard, the 27th Prime Minister of Australia to get her insights. Gillard got the world’s attention after making an impassioned speech to parliament, detailing the sexual harassment she endured as prime minister. Her Misogyny Speech has empowered many women and a provided a wakeup call for “unenlightened” men.

“I will not be lectured on sexism and misogyny by this man…I was personally offended by the leader of the opposition cat-calling: ‘if the Prime Minister wants to, politically speaking, make an honest women of herself ‘ and when he went outside the front of parliament and stood next to a sign that said ‘Ditch the witch’…(and) a sign that described me as ‘A man’s bitch’, I was offended by sexism, misogyny every day from this leader.” Julia Gillard, 27th Prime Minister of Australia

The BBC World Service program, Business Matters aired my interview with Julia Gillard last week, and we had a lively discussion about the steps companies and organizations can take to tackle sexism. This topic is especially timely as news broke this week that Bill O’Reilly has been fired from Fox News due to a sexual harassment scandal. Is the tide finally turning, thanks to tech augmented consumer pressure?

“Company reputation and consumer pressure is actually putting the spotlight on businesses to change behavior, and women can work with that to put a spotlight on work practices in their business,” Julia Gillard.

Did Julia Gillard anticipate Bill O”Reilly being fired?

Listen on the BBC Podcast (@26:40) or to the short clip below:

 

Here are highlights from our conversation:

I began by asking her if there’s anything she’d add to her speech in today’s work environment…

Julia Gillard: It was coming from a place of frustration and mounting anger about the way in which gender has intersected with my prime ministership and some of the many sexist jibes and treatment I had to put up with. For many women, it’s come to represent something that answers their own frustrations. A lot of women come up to me and say: “this happened to me at work. I wake up at 3 in the morning and really wish I’d said X, Y and Z; and then I’ve watched your speech and it’s given me some heart that I really should call out sexism when I see it.”

Alison van Diggelen: Here in Silicon Valley, women in tech are in a minority. In some instances they’re facing hostile environments at work. Do you have any specific advice for them?

Julia Gillard: What’s interesting about the Silicon Valley environment is: company reputation and consumer pressure is actually putting the spotlight on businesses to change behavior, and women can work with that to put a spotlight on work practices in their business; and put a spotlight more generally on that fact that not enough women study and come through the STEM stream… We do want to be encouraging more girls to go into the sciences, engineering, into coding, computer science and new technology because that’s where so much of the future is going to lie.

Alison van Diggelen: Uber has been accused of having a hostile environment for women. If you were on the board of Uber, your advice to them?

Julia Gillard: I’d give the same advice to any company, whether it already had a public problem or not. First look at hiring practices and see whether there’s any gender bias, even unconscious…Look at promotion practices, it could be managers valuing time sitting at the desk rather than results, which would count against women who also have family responsibilities. I’d be setting policies, practices, cultural norms about treating everyone with respect. No practices of going on boys’ nights out where women are excluded.

There’s a range of things you can do from structural biases, actual policies to cultural influences. You’ve got to be thoughtful at every level and make it easy for women to say something’s wrong here, all sorts of ways of raising a complaint, including putting in complaints with anonymity, so women can get a spotlight on issues without feeling they themselves are at risk.

Roger Hearing: Asit Biswas (in Singapore), in your experience, in the areas of government and academia, do you feel a lot of progress has been made?

Prof Asit Biswas: There has been some progress, but it’s not enough. In academia, the number of university presidents who are women, I can count on two hands…there’s a great deal of glass ceiling…In India, I was surprised to see the culture has deteriorated: there’s more harassment, not much being done about it.

Bill O'Reilly fired for sexual harassment

Alison van Diggelen: I do want to go back to Julia Gillard’s point about consumer pressure. Boycott movements* (and demonstrations) are happening against Fox (News) because of accusations of sexual harassment…

Roger Hearing: We should explain, Bill O’Reilly…There have been allegations against him and it’s emerged that money has been paid to those people, though he says the allegations have no merit.

Alison van Diggelen: Exactly. There are boycott movements shining a light on sexism and bad behaviors.   Companies can’t get away with it like they used to. Tech is playing a role in exposing these bad behaviors and a lot of companies are aware of it and are trying to close the income gap and improve  the retention rates of women, and making sure that all men become enlightened men and treat women with the respect that they deserve.

*Mercedes-Benz – one of the first major sponsors to drop Bill O’Reilly – said in a statement: “The allegations are disturbing and, given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now.”

This interview took place in the green room of The Flint Center in Cupertino. Big thanks to Dick Henning, founder of the Foothill College Celebrity Forum Series for the invitation backstage.

App to End Homelessness? BBC Report: Tech Fix for Down & Outs in Silicon Valley

App to End Homelessness? BBC Report: Tech Fix for Down & Outs in Silicon Valley

Imagine if you could help end homelessness with the click of a button. There’s an app for that! In Silicon Valley, despite the vast affluence and many tech millionaires, homelessness is a huge problem. With average home prices close to a $1 million and tiny flats renting for well over $1,000, making ends meet can be challenging; and for some people, just finding a roof over their heads is mission impossible.

Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues met one woman whose homeless brother inspired her to change all that.

For those who are homeless and poverty stricken, it’s like having a life coach, a service provider and a trainer in the palm of their hands. There’s really something to teaching to fish…rather than giving fish…helping them be self sufficient rather than temporary handouts… We’re here trying to help in other ways that are more sustainable and that lead to a permanent resolution of the problem.Karen Addato, Founder of Hi Tech Rover and ROVA app. 

Here’s my BBC World Service report. It aired April 4th on the BBC’s World Tech program, Click. Listen @15:40 for Host, Gareth Mitchell’s introduction on the April 4th BBC Podcast or to this short clip:

 

Alison van Diggelen: I’m here on the Hi Tech Rover, an RV (large camper van) that brings both the internet and a safety net to homeless people all over San Jose. Karen Addato (founder of the Hi Tech Rover and the ROVA app) and her volunteers offer an opportunity for homeless people to get off the streets and reboot their lives. They offer Internet training, help with online job applications, housing search, and even access to detox services.

Karen, where are we going right now?

Karen Addato: We’re in downtown San Jose, the Capital of Silicon Valley and we’re going to a couple of encampments under bridges, right here in the heart of town. One of them is on Woz Way…

Alison van Diggelen: Woz as in Steve Wozniak, cofounder of Apple and generous philanthropist here in Silicon Valley. Karen Addato is a vivacious single mom, a mortgage broker and executive director of the nonprofit: High Tech Rover. She used $7,000 of her savings to create this Rover Outreach Vehicle App prototype, ROVA for short.

Karen Addato: For those who are homeless and poverty stricken, it’s like having a life coach, a service provider and a trainer in the palm of their hands… when we’re not here helping them, they can stay on a pathway focused on upward mobility. They can get on to ROVA and press one button.. “I am seeking help.” Up comes a list of resources available for that gender and age group.  We have a geo-tracker right here, so you can find out where they are…This tool will also help government officials, donors, and service providers figure out what’s needed and what’s not.

ROVA app for homeless by Karen Addato, Photo by Alison van DiggelenAlison van Diggelen: Connecting homeless people with jobs, training opportunities and relocation information are a key for Addato. Her brother Stevie was homeless in Boston, and she believes that those who supported his panhandling simply enabled his alcoholism and homelessness. Instead, she’s serious about connecting people to local services, and getting people off the streets for good.

Karen Addato: I’ve learned a lot in my time in the trenches working with this population…I’ve learned a lot through the life and tragic death of my brother…There’s really something to teaching to fish…rather than giving fish…helping them be self sufficient rather than temporary handouts… that in some ways is part of the problem. We’re here trying to help in other ways that are more sustainable and that lead to a permanent resolution of the problem.

Alison van Diggelen: The High Tech Rover – a huge camper van – is kitted out with desks and laptops. Addato and her volunteers take it to homeless camps around Silicon Valley.

Atmos: Sound of walking to homeless camp…traffic…

Alison van Diggelen: We make our way over rough ground to the confluence of Highways 280 and 87. Addato grabs her pepper spray, just in case. We find a half dozen scruffy tents stretched out along a concrete embankment. Below us: the Guadalupe River. Above us, although it’s midday, there’s a constant drone of heavy traffic.

Jason, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, tells me he’s been homeless for 2 years. He’s 19 and working two jobs, earning between 11 and 17 dollars an hour…

Alison van Diggelen: You can’t get a decent roof over head with that?

Jason: Not in Silicon Valley, it’s too expensive…one bed’s like $1300, it’s crazy out here. Us teenagers, we need help. Not all of us want to be here forever.

Alison van Diggelen: Every morning, Jason has to find a place to shower and clean up for his service jobs. We tell him about Karen’s app. Would that be a useful tool?

Jason: That’s actually a very brilliant idea, because a lot of us actually have phones… I’ve actually wanted something like that. Keep helping!

Alison van Diggelen: I ask another young man, what would help him?

Karen Addato driving the Hi Tech RoverCharlie: San Jose needs to lower how much it costs to buy a house, their rents…you need to live with like three people, making at least $20 an hour to end up being able to have your own place in San Jose.

Alison van Diggelen: The ROVA app includes a database of over 700 low-income housing facilities in the county. Both young men plan to relocate out of state when they can afford it.

Like many in Silicon Valley, Addato dreams big and is seeking sponsorship from the tech community to launch her app, and create a whole fleet of High-Tech Rovers across the nation. She recently pitched her dream at the Apple campus and remains hopeful. The wider tech community is already tackling homeless via brainstorming hackathons; leveraging data-driven solutions and social media to spotlight community challenges. In Australia, an app called “Ask Izzy” already offers similar services to ROVA.

Homeless in Silicon Valley, Woz Way

Read more BBC Reports at Fresh Dialogues

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BBC Report: Irish in Silicon Valley Share Secrets of Success

BBC Report: Irish in Silicon Valley Share Secrets of Success

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Irish immigrants have been in California since the gold rush days. On assignment for the BBC World Service, I went looking for the Irish in Silicon Valley and found that you can take the people out of Ireland – you can even take their pubs – but you can’t take Ireland out of the people….

Nevertheless, a new generation of Irish tech immigrants are less nostalgic for the past, and are redefining what being Irish means. They bond over mindset, not heritage; big dreams and an openness to new ideas and cultures. I started my quest at Trinity Cathedral in San Jose where a celebration of St Patrick’s Day and the San Jose-Dublin Sister City program was in full swing….

Here’s my report for the BBC’s Business Matters:

Listen to the podcast at BBC World Service or to the program excerpt below:

 

Here’s a transcript of my report (edited for length and clarity):

The report opens with traditional Irish singing by the Black Brothers Band “Green Among the Gold: They played their jigs and reels beneath the skies of their new homeland, For Irish hands have woven strands of green among the gold.”

33 million U.S. residents claim Irish ancestry, that’s over four times the population of Ireland. With 2.5 Million, California has the highest Irish population of any state. It’s not surprising then that the Irish are making their mark on Silicon Valley…Is it the luck of the Irish, or something else?

Meet Eoghan (Owen) McCabe, CEO of Intercom, a fast-growing startup for business messaging. He and his three Irish cofounders have found a sense of belonging among the software and silicon of the valley.

Eoghan McCabe: One of the most magic things about this place is it does allow you to think big. We’re social beings, we’re all looking for the appreciation, respect, if not love of the people around us…

Eoghan McCabe Intercom interview by Alison van DiggelenAs well as working on something you’re passionate about, McCabe has this advice:

Eoghan McCabe: Work with people you love and know and respect…don’t try to rush the relationship.

He admits to a chip on his shoulder, an urgency to prove himself. How has being Irish helped him recruit, attract capital, and grow the business?

Eoghan McCabe: The humility goes a long way in the valley…there’s a lot of hubris, people are damn good at selling themselves. So it’s a breath of fresh air when people admit they’re flawed and they can’t predict the future and they might not succeed. That natural humility, that vulnerability, that honest approach goes a long long way…They want to be successful on the basis of their merits.  What you don’t find often is people trying to play that Irish card.

Dave Burke, a Dubliner who’s now a VP at Google says his formula for success is seeking out challenges that are “uncomfortably exciting.” But does he seek out Irish techies for his 1000-strong team?

Dave Burke: We’re looking for not really the country culture, but the outlook and perspective culture: the energy, interest in making an impact, being smart. In tech… we want the best and brightest from all round the world, we want diversity…that’s antagonistic to the nationalist perspective. Nationalism looks backward, it looks unsustainable, it’s frightening… It doesn’t readily compute with people. Why wouldn’t you be open to new ideas and people?

But Burke acknowledges that some old traditions endure, especially on St Patrick’s Day.

Dave Burke: A meal of Guinness? Yes! [laughter]

Dave Burke Google BBC Interview by Alison van Diggelen

Talking of drinks…Some immigrants were so determined to bring a wee bit of old Ireland to California, that’s literally what they did.

[Audio: Irish pub…] I’ve come to the  O’Flaherty Irish Pub in San Jose to meet the owner, Marie O Flaherty.     

[Audio: Guinness pouring….Barman: Guinness… 8 dollars ….]

That looks good….

Marie O’Flaherty: This is an authentic Irish pub – it came on a boat from Ireland everything you see – the signs, pictures, the bar, the stools, everything….

Over 15 years ago, her late husband Ray O’Flaherty bought the pub in Dublin on a birthday whim. Today, it’s a landmark in Silicon Valley, and ground central for St Patrick’s Day festivities in the South Bay.

Alison van Diggelen: Is fearlessness part of the recipe for success?

Marie O’Flaherty: You have to have a lot of guts to take it on, self confidence to know whatever it is, you can do it…

Being open to new ideas, like embracing craft beers, keeps the pub popular with the “young uns” she says. The family business nurtures connections with Ireland and the world, through tourism, close links to the Silicon Valley Innovation Center & sporting ties…

Marie O’Flaherty: All the rugby teams…New Zealand did the haka up on the bar here…they drank 11 kegs of beer that night.

Having a heart of gold is also part of the Irish success story…

Marie O’Flaherty: See this poor soul here…He’s a homeless…they give him a drink and send him on his way…You have to just look out for everybody…

Marie O'Flaherty at O'Flaherty Irish Pub SJ, interview by Alison van Diggelen

Marie O’Flaherty and Mark Finn singing:

Oh Dublin can be heaven, with coffee at eleven, and a stroll down Stephen’s Green

No need to worry, no need to hurry…

If you don’t believe me:  

Come and meet me there

In Dublin on a sunny summer’s morning…[laughter]

END of Report

Listen to the BBC Podcast or the audio above for a lively discussion with the BBC’s Roger Hearing and Bloomberg’s Nisid Hajari about the tech community in Silicon Valley; and how the President’s proposed travel ban is already having an impact on business and academia in the United States.

Check out the Fresh Dialogues Silicon Valley “World Series”

Mexicans in Silicon Valley

Africans in Silicon Valley

China in Silicon Valley

 

 

Does Trump’s Math Add Up? BBC Dialogues with 5 Live’s Colletta Smith

Does Trump’s Math Add Up? BBC Dialogues with 5 Live’s Colletta Smith

Last night, Donald Trump delivered his first address to Congress. For the first time, Trump actually appeared both presidential and optimistic as he delivered an upbeat message that called for unity and bipartisan action. But was it just a facade? Can Trump possibly deliver on his ambitious promises of generous tax cuts, massive infrastructure investment and immigration reform? After all, just hours before his speech promised “clean air and clear water” for all Americans, he signed an executive order dismantling EPA protections for lakes and waterways in the U.S. There are already cracks in the facade and many unanswered questions.

The BBC’s 5 Live asked me to share my perspective as Britain woke in sleepy amazement to this presidential performance.

Report by Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Listen to the BBC Podcast (starts at 21:36) or to the 4 minute clip below:

 

Here’s a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Colletta Smith: In the last few hours, the U.S. President Donald Trump delivered his first speech to Congress. He covered some familiar themes like job creation and infrastructure investment….The Silicon Valley journalist Alison van Diggelen is on the line this morning. Good morning Alison!

Alison van Diggelen: Good morning, great to join you.

Colletta Smith: Thank you for joining us again. You’ve been helping us with this whole story over the last year of Trump’s (campaign and) election. This would not normally make the headlines: a president outlining potential budget negotiations. Yet it has with Trump, because we were expecting a surprise. And perhaps the surprise is that there wasn’t really a surprise in the speech that he gave?

Alison van Diggelen: His performance tonight was a sharp contrast to the chaotic first 40 days of the Trump presidency. He was very presidential tonight. He stuck to his script and he had a much softer approach. He had a lot of “gifts” for everyone. He’s proposing what he calls “massive” tax relief for the middle class, cuts to corporate tax; $1 Trillion in infrastructure spending and a military spending increase of $54 Billion, which to put in perspective is the entire annual budget for UK military.

Colletta Smith: When it comes to adding up those sums…do we have any more details as to how he plans to finance those extra boosts?

Alison van Diggelen: That is the big question. It’ll be interesting to see how the markets respond. There are so many outstanding questions:

  1.  How is he going to pay for these tax cuts and infrastructure spending?
  2.  Can he get these measures through Congress?
  3. Will the Federal Reserve undermine his actions by increasing interest rates?
  4. Will he start a trade war with his tariff plans and threats to renegotiate multilateral trade agreements like NAFTA?

There are so many questions unanswered, so many details unanswered. There’s a big question mark over what the future holds.

Colletta Smith: At what point does the electorate, his supporters demand that detail?

Alison van Diggelen: The stock market is on a roll right now. The market is up 10% in the ” Trump rally” since the election. Who knows if that can continue? As we all know, the stock market can turn on a dime. It depends on optimism and if the market keeps that optimism. One analyst said, “The market likes to trade on hope,” and all these issues – tax cuts, deregulation, infrastructure spending – they’re all boosts to economic growth, but at some point if he’s not able to push ahead and make progress in Congress, there may be an adjustment of that optimism and people will say: these wonderful (economic stimulus) “carrots” are not going to happen, and then things could take a nose dive.

Colletta Smith: Alison van Diggelen, Silicon Valley journalist. Thanks as ever for joining us and giving us your analysis this morning.

Read more on Trump’s speech from the BBC and The Guardian

“According to a CNN/ORC poll of about 500 speech watchers, 57% said they had had a very positive reaction to President Trump’s Congress address, with seven out of 10 saying they believed his policies would move the US in the right direction.

His popularity, however, has hit a historic low for modern presidents after a month in office – just 44% of Americans think he is doing a good job, according to RealClearPolitics.

Mr Trump’s young presidency has been overshadowed by missteps including a high-profile court defeat to his controversial travel ban and the firing of a top aide.” BBC News

Elon Musk’s Ludicrous Plan for Tesla: BBC Dialogues

Elon Musk’s Ludicrous Plan for Tesla: BBC Dialogues

Elon Musk continues to make ambitious plans for Tesla Motors, some even call them “ludicrous.” Not content to make a niche product for electric vehicle enthusiasts, he now wants to conquer the mass market, competing in the major leagues against GM, BMW, Ford et al. Musk is promising an annual production of 1 million cars by 2020, a staggering increase from last year’s paltry: 76,000.  Is he insane?

On a conference call with Musk and media colleagues this week, Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues learned that Musk is still calm and laser-focused on executing his “Tesla Master plan.” This year is crunch time for Tesla. The future of the company rests on the timely and efficient production of the Model 3, Tesla’s smaller, mass market car. Will demand stay strong, despite intense competition and reservation holders threatening to cancel due to his position on Trump’s economic advisory team? Musk seemed to flounder a bit on this question and refused to disclose the latest reservation numbers, for fear of analysts “reading too much into them.”

During the discussion of  Tesla’s 2016 financial results, some anomalies arose.  Despite continuing to make massive losses (due to capital investment in the Tesla Factory and the Gigafactories), its share price is still in the stratosphere. Tesla might produce a small fraction of GM and Ford’s output, but the company is valued on par with them. What gives?

“The recent run-up in Tesla stock has less to do, in our view, with anything around the near-term financials, and more to do with the nearly superhero status of Elon Musk,” Barclays analyst, Brian Johnson.

Superhero status? More ludicrousness…The superheroes Tesla is focused on are the mighty robots on the factory floor. Musk has named them after X-men superheroes, like Cyclops and Thunderbird (see photo above); and they’re the ones that’ll have to earn their superhero status as manufacturing goes into top gear in the next few month.

“Tesla is going to be hell-bent on becoming the best manufacturer on earth.” Elon Musk

The BBC’s Fergus Nicoll invited me on Business Matters to help explain more.

Listen to the full podcast on BBC World Service (starts at 37:30) or the 5 minute clip below:

Here’s a transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):

BBC Host, Fergus Nicoll: Tesla stock has hit record highs, soaring 50% since December. With investor confidence growing that Tesla will deliver its Model 3 on time. Let’s explore this with Alison in Silicon Valley. Before we get into the nitty gritty of Model 3, and the other numbers, I know you watched Elon Musk do the webcast that go with the Q4 figures. What kind of presentation did he come up with?

Alison van Diggelen: I listened to the (live conference call) podcast. Elon Musk was on the podcast with his (retiring) CFO, answering questions from the media. They were generally upbeat. Elon Musk always over-promises how soon his vehicles will be delivered, but he is confident that they’re going to start deliveries of their Model 3 in July of this year, for employees first…beta testing for employees. He’s hoping for the mass rollout starting in September of this year. They’re pretty bullish about that.

Fergus Nicoll: Here’s the thing: Tesla has a valuation pretty close to Ford. But compared to Ford it makes about five cars! So what are we seeing? A massive future priced into that?

Alison van Diggelen: That’s right. Last year, Tesla delivered 76,000 vehicles (compared to Ford’s 2.5 million), but Elon Musk is very bullish. He’s aiming for the factory to produce 500,000 cars by the end of 2018, and one million a year by 2020. He’s ludicrously ambitious. Brian Johnson, who’s an analyst with Barclays, called this run up in the Tesla stock more “Elon Musk superhero status” than short term financials. What Elon Musk says, he often delivers….eventually.

Tesla merged with SolarCity, the rooftop solar provider, so that is also giving an upside. They’ll be able to cut costs: Tesla showrooms will also become showrooms for the SolarCity solar panels. They’re also doing the other side of the equation: energy storage….

Fergus Nicoll: The household and business batteries.

Alison van Diggelen: Exactly.

Fergus Nicoll: The thing is, Americans drive insane distances. Electric cars have to go a long way….the infrastructure has to catch up with the company?

Continue listening to the podcast clip above, or at BBC Business Matters for more about:

The ambitious supercharger network expansion

The fact that all cars will be equipped to be fully self-driving

Why the market continues to bet on Elon Musk

***

For Tesla to succeed in becoming “the best manufacturer on earth,” three big questions remain:

  1. Will the Tesla Model 3 be delivered on time and on budget this year?
  2. Will demand stay strong for Tesla, despite stiff competition from GM, Ford, BMW, Nissan, etc?
  3. Can Tesla make the huge capital investment required (for the Tesla Factory and Gigafactories expansion), without running out of money?

Read more about Tesla and Elon Musk from Fresh Dialogues archives

Are Facebook, Twitter Doing Enough About Fake News, Abuse? BBC Report

Are Facebook, Twitter Doing Enough About Fake News, Abuse? BBC Report

It’s beginning to feel a lot like 1984. Today, some politicians routinely use the term “fake news” to discredit any news they don’t like, or any news organization that asks hard questions. The term “alternative facts” is even being pushed by certain White House advisors. Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues investigates for the BBC World Service.

Online, how big is the actual fake news epidemic? No one knows for sure, but the the scale of the problem is potentially huge. Facebook has almost 2 billion users, Twitter has over 300 million; and according to Pew Research, about 60% of Americans get some news from social media. Assuming even a small percentage of users have nefarious intent, eliminating fake news and online abuse is a bit like King Canute trying to hold back the tide. But after accusations of Facebook turning a blind eye on its rampant fake news and potentially impacting the U.S. election; the pressure to effectively and transparently root out fake news and online abuse is likely to intensify, especially with upcoming national elections in Europe.

“I think fake news impacted the election, just by the sheer volume… It can change your perception of the world…Even people who understand news and research can be tricked by fake news.” Adam Schrader, one of 25 former editors in Facebook’s fact-checking team. The entire team was fired by Facebook last summer, just before the election.  

At the recent Watermark Women’s conference in Silicon Valley, I spoke with Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami, CEO of Cell-Ed, an online education startup. Here’s the report I filed with the BBC’s Click Radio. It aired today on the BBC World Service.

Listen to the BBC’s “Fake it or Leave it” podcast here (first story in the program lineup) or listen to the 8 minute clip below:

 

Here’s a transcript of my report, edited for length and clarity.

Click Host, Gareth Mitchell: Misinformation is nothing new, as we heard last week from classics professor, Mary Beard. Today fake news has become a news story in itself. It’s becoming political, it’s undermining social media organizations, and mainstream media. Twitter and Facebook are taking action, but with so much being posted, isn’t it a bit like King Canute trying to hold back the tide, trying to monitor and correct fake news? Our Silicon Valley reporter Alison van Diggelen has been seeking some answers from the big social networking companies and catching up with CEOs of startups, people like this:

Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami: Technology has always been a source of incredible opportunity, unlimited potential pathway and it’s always been destructive.

Alison van Diggelen:  Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami is just one of many critics who argue that social network platforms are not doing enough to curb the dark side of the internet.

Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami: I work in community technology access centers…Everybody tells me worldwide, if you have 100 countries…with all these community access centers, isn’t that wonderful? You can bring digital media, books to that village. I say: it’s always double sided – by day maybe it’ll be used for education, and health access, and how to get a better job. But by night it becomes a digital brothel…

Alison van Diggelen: What should be done about that?

Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami: Own it! Twitter not taking a stand around the blatant misogyny and hate language… strange politeness in the face of atrocity is very frustrating.

Alison van Diggelen: What do you feel people like Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg, the Twitter board should do?

Jessica Rothenberg-Aalami: There’s a responsibility to – at the very least – do one or two steps. Untruth is seen as truth because it’s relayed over a screen with a picture. You believe somebody’s story…If that story is a blatant lie,  have a way to say “untrue.” Hashtag untrue.

Kara Swisher, Sheryl Sandberg avoid fake news at Watermark Conference, photo by Alison van Diggelen February 2017Kara Swisher interviewed Sheryl Sandberg about why she didn’t attend, or even post, about The Women’s March. Sadly, Swisher didn’t ask Sandberg what she’s doing about fake news on Facebook. Next time, let’s hope!

Alison van Diggelen: I took Rothenberg-Aalami’s complaints to Twitter who gave an off-the-record account of their completely new approach to abuse online. Twitter’s VP, Ed Ho, is leading the online safety efforts (via @TwitterSafety) and last week demonstrated his  “test-fast, fail-fast, adjust-fast” mantra by rolling out a new feature – eliminating user list notifications – and then promptly reversing it within hours, after an avalanche of user complaints. Last year, Twitter formed a Safety and Trust Council, partnering with over a dozen organizations to tackle online abuse. One of the members, Emma Llanso, a director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, cautions against a one-size fits all solution.

Emma Llanso: The same tools that can be helpful in protecting against harassment by blocking abusive content and taking down accounts can be weaponized themselves if you don’t have the right safeguards in place.

Alison van Diggelen: Without careful protections, trolls can use blocking tools to silence their victims. Although Twitter has promised an open dialogue, Emma Llanso is concerned about lack of transparency.

Emma Llanso: If I had my druthers, we’d be getting a whole lot more reporting from Twitter about the numbers…what is the scope and scale of the content moderation? What is the level of content that gets removed, what are biggest issues? It would help people pin down: harassment, terrorists content, hate speech…How are these moderation processes affecting public discourse?

Alison van Diggelen: As for fake news, why can’t Twitter and Facebook simply flag or censor what they deem fake? Llanso has this advice:

Emma Llanso: That puts way too much power in the company’s hands…Having one centralized decider is a really risky dynamic to set up…

Alison van Diggelen: I asked Facebook to comment and was directed to Mark Zuckerberg’s first post on fake news: We do not want to be arbiters of truth, he wrote.

Last week Zuckerberg wrote this update:

“Our approach will focus less on banning misinformation, and more on surfacing additional perspectives and information, including that fact checkers dispute an item’s accuracy.” Mark Zuckerberg

(To me, this sounds like an endorsement of the Orwellian concept “alternative facts.” – AV)

But Facebook fired its entire fact-checking editorial team after criticism last summer that it had a liberal bias and targeted right-wing fake news.

Adam Schrader was one of those 25 editors.

Adam Schrader: I think fake news impacted the election, just by the sheer volume of it that appears… Facebook has a bubble problem. It can change your perception of the world…Even people who understand news and research can be tricked by fake news.

Alison van Diggelen: Schrader told me he routinely flagged between 50 and 80 fake stories a day. He questions Mark Zuckerberg’s claim that fake news on Facebook is less than 1%.

Adam Schrader: I would question that statistic. I think it would be much higher…in the 5-10% range.

Alison van Diggelen: Since December, Facebook has begun partnerships with five media outlets, including the Associated Press and Snopes, that flag “suspect” stories…. But the AP’s Lauren Easton, told me that it’s only fact checked 36 stories since the project began. Facebook recently announced fact checking collaborations with German and French media. With national elections there this year, the pressure for Facebook and Twitter to tackle the deluge of fake news and abuse will only intensify.

Gareth Mitchell: So Bill Thompson, misinformation is nothing new is it?

Bill Thompson: I have a problem with the term “fake news” but the issue’s been around for a long time. In 2010, my Wikipedia entry was hacked to declare that I’d had a heart attack and died. I corrected it. (Today) it seems to me that there are actually four different things going on:

  1. There’s the thing that was fake news, which is overt lying by people who want to get clicks on their website and make money.

2. There’s fake news which is propaganda, designed to promote a particular ideology.

3. There’s just out and out lying, like Bill Thompson is dead…May be a joke? For whatever reason.

4. And then there’s stuff you don’t want people to read, which they* call fake news to distract you from what they’re really saying.

(*Donald Trump routinely calls unfavorable news stories “fake news” – AV)

The problem that Facebook, Twitter, and everyone have is that no single tool, or approach or set of practices can possibly deal with all of those, so there will always be some material that fails to get stopped or fails to get flagged. We do need to be a better educated and more aware population to look out for these sorts of things, and not instantly believe everything we read on a screen, just because it’s on a screen.

Gareth Mitchell: I absolutely agree and that extends to things that people listen to on this radio program, any information you receive. Check it out for yourself.

Bill Thompson: Learn how to check it.

Gareth Mitchell: It’s always been an important skill…all the more pertinent given what’s going on in these times.