Web Summit 2022: Journalism, Facebook's oversight and Hollywood sounds
Join João Tomé for Conversations at Web Summit 2022, one of the biggest tech conferences in the world — held November 2022, in Lisbon, Portugal.
In this segment, we hear from:
- Kristin Myers, editor-in-chief at the news organization The Balance
- Alan Rusbridger, member of the Oversight Board (Facebook), and former editor-in-chief of The Guardian
- Nuno Fernandes, Founder and CEO Sound Particles (a Portuguese startup that is providing audio software to shows like Game of Thrones or movies like Dune)
The full list of conversations is available here: cloudflare.tv/shows/web-summit
So my name is Kristin Myers, I'm the editor-in-chief of The Balance and I talk about economics and finance and teach financial literacy, mainly online, and I'm based in New York.
So when at first when it comes to media, we actually are seeing them migrate more and more online, actually, right?
Gone are the days where people want to make an appointment and sit down at their television and watch a news program.
Now, instead, they're going, especially in the United States, they're watching streaming news networks, right?
So companies like NBC, for example, have NBC news streaming. CBS has CBS news streaming.
And you're seeing that happen a lot now where people are actually going online to get their news instead of getting it from their television screen.
We've also seen a lot of democratization, I would say, of information.
The Internet has allowed, honestly, anyone anywhere in the world to get information quite literally at their fingertips.
And so what I think what we're seeing here is anyone really being able to participate in producing news, but also talking about different topics.
Now, in the world that I'm in, talking about finance, for example, this was especially true over the last two years.
We had a pandemic.
Everyone's sitting at home. The markets are terrible. People are losing money.
And everyone's wondering, what am I supposed to do right now? I'm seeing my investments.
They're not doing well. Or now I have more money in my pocket because I'm not going shopping.
I'm not going to dinner with my friends. What should I do with that money?
And so when it comes to finance, so many people started turning to the Internet, honestly, to get the questions, or rather to get the answers to all of their questions about money, about the economy, what's happening, what should they do with their investments, what should they do with their finances.
And so what I would say is that, especially when it comes to things like financial literacy and information about money, about economics, about finance, the Internet has honestly helped them really being able to understand, particularly over the last two years, what's been going on.
And then thirdly, as I mentioned, with the democratization of the information, we've also seen this proliferation of anyone being able to be a reporter, anyone being able to give you answers to your financial questions, especially on platforms like Instagram or TikTok.
There's Fintalk, right, where people can go and watch 30 -second clips on what does the 401k do and how should I be investing in my 401k or in my retirement portfolio.
So I would really say that the Internet has honestly made a world that seems sometimes small incredibly big.
Essentially, the Internet has allowed people to be as creative as they want to be in whatever space they want to be.
So again, it's not just television anymore. It's not just radio or print.
That used to be the big three, right? You had to read a paper, you had to listen to it on the radio, or you had to sit in front of a television in order to get that information.
That's not true anymore. The Internet has completely changed that.
Tech has also really changed that. We have different apps now.
You can be a star on TikTok, honestly, and a whole generation of people might know who you are.
You mentioned Substack. I mean, people are making blogs all the time.
They've got podcasts. There's so many different ways that you can literally create content of any kind, right?
Not just news, not just about finance, literally about anything.
If you want to be a comedian, there's people that are comedians on social media, and people know who they are.
They might not have ever been on a stage before.
They might not have a Netflix special, but people know, thousands, hundreds of thousands of people know who they are because they're famous online.
It's interesting how much the Internet has really allowed everyone, anyone truly, to become a content creator in whatever field they want to create that content.
There is definitely the trust factor, especially in something like finance, right?
You don't necessarily know who you should be trusting, especially with something as big and important as money and your money decisions.
So that's one of the really huge challenges.
Competition is really another one. Honestly, anytime you go online, you type in a hashtag on any topic, right?
You're going to get thousands of hits.
You're going to get hundreds of influencers, hundreds of people.
And so if you're someone that's new, that's starting in this space, that can be incredibly daunting and overwhelming.
You're now competing against so many other people, and finding that niche that works for you is really going to be one of the biggest challenges.
This is a hard one, because what I would say is that every single year, with every new piece of technology that we get, we are presented with new challenges, right?
And I think when it comes to the Internet, I think privacy is probably one of the biggest ones.
We're entering a world where decentralizing things is becoming more and more interesting and important, because people really want to have their information protected, especially online.
Trust will always remain a huge one. Content moderation is also going to be a huge challenge for a lot of companies, and I think online, because again, anyone can participate now online and in the Internet.
And sometimes you have to ask yourself the question of, is what I'm seeing what I should be seeing?
Are these voices that I'm hearing the voices that I should be hearing?
We're seeing that a lot, that question come up quite a bit. And then of course, again, I think connectivity.
Faster, of course, is always being something that people are constantly talking about, but we still have to remember we live in a world where not everyone is connected to the Internet.
We still have many communities, not just in the United States, even as well, where we have lots of children that don't have access to the Internet.
A lot of households are not yet connected to the Internet, at least not to a fast, reliable Internet connection.
And so I think that connectivity is also going to remain a challenge, especially in more emerging markets.
I'm Alan Rusbridger.
I used to edit The Guardian. I now edit a magazine called Prospect, and I'm here as a representative of the oversight board of Facebook or Meta, and I'm based in London.
It is mainstream. I'm old enough to remember it when it was, well, actually before it began.
And it's been fascinating to see how both the wonderful and terrible parts of it are competing.
I've always been slightly on the utopian side. I believe overwhelmingly it can be a force for good.
And I'm really interested to see how the best players, I mean, I think we could spend all evening talking about the bad players, if you like, but I prefer to think about the best players and the good uses and interesting uses and vital uses.
We talk about the pandemic that people are putting it to.
For those who don't know, what does the oversight board at Meta do? So I think one day Mark Zuckerberg woke up and thought, I don't need these headlines, these headaches.
I'm an engineer. I'm not a moral philosopher. I'm not an editor. And I shouldn't be regulating the free speech of 3 billion people, and nor should governments.
So his idea was to set up an oversight board that would try and think through some of the more difficult problems that Facebook was thinking and come up with some systemic guidance about the obvious areas like hate speech, incitement of violence, free speech, protection of voice, security, crisis areas, nudity, obscenity.
It's a sort of moral philosopher's honeypot. So that's what we do.
We do individual cases and we also do bigger pieces of policy advice. I think there are three things that we do.
One is there are individual cases that get referred to us.
We try to pick the most interesting ones, a bit like a Supreme Court.
I mean, we're not a court, but in a bit in the way that a Supreme Court will say, well, this issue that's been raised by this case has wider ramifications.
So we've done about 30 cases so far.
They're very interesting and rigorous to read. And we try and apply a human rights lens to how you balance security and right to life and right to privacy, et cetera, versus right to freedom of expression.
By the way, META is obliged to do whatever we tell them to do in relation to those cases.
Then we can recommend things because in the course of that work, we find things that we think META is doing wrong or could do better.
We've done about 130 recommendations.
And finally, we've done three really big meaty pieces of work on more substantive things.
So the most recent one has been about whether META whitelists people.
There are six million people on a list where they seem to get preferential treatment.
And we've gone behind the curtains to see what's going on there.
During the pandemic, there was a lot of talk about authoritative news organizations being in front in terms of algorithm for the more newsworthy.
What do you think even personally about that of creating a source of truths of possibilities there?
Or is that also a problem? It's slightly outside. This is my personal view because it's outside our range within the oversight board.
I think this is a hugely important and complex case.
The same is true of Twitter. The same is true of Google.
Who they find, who they don't find, who they rank, who they don't rank, who they prioritize.
These are really important questions in how we vote, how we think.
And I think the problem generally is that certainly in the case of META, it's very opaque.
We don't understand. And META is very protective of its algorithm and doesn't encourage, won't share, for instance, with academics so that people can understand.
And I think that's problematic for societies. And I hope very much that they open up.
Well, I think within a week he's discovered it's a little bit more complicated than some of his earlier pronouncements made out.
For a start, there are laws.
He's got to comply with laws of lands. There are things called advertisers.
And advertisers don't want to be in a wild west of revolting and violent and angry content.
So it's not in his interest to fall out with advertisers. So he is talking about some kind of oversight.
He said this week that he wants a board to think about content issues.
And I hope we can talk to him because we've been doing it for over a year now.
And I think we could certainly have a useful conversation about what we've learned, what he might be able to learn from us.
In terms of a broader sense of the overboard, let's say if Elon Musk and Twitter asked to join the overboard to be also related to Twitter, where do you see the area going in terms of being in a more wholesome Internet, but also a free Internet in a sense?
Well, I guess that's why we're all doing it. I'm trying to think of my fellow board members.
I mean, some of them actually aren't on social media.
So you've got the whole sort of gamut from people who are a bit like me, still utopians, and people who actually think it's all rather bad, which is a healthy thing in an oversight board, I think, to have all that represented.
But basically, who would not want this digital space in which we all live and which controls so much of our lives to be better and to be better organized and to be more civil and to be less harmful?
So the oversight board is not the only model. Maybe Elon Musk is a clever guy.
Maybe he'll come up with a better model. But I certainly think it's worth having a conversation so that because, you know, maybe we could learn from him.
But I suspect he's going to have to create something a bit like what we're doing.
And maybe we can team up. I don't know. He said so many contradictory things in the first week.
I think he's like a sort of new kid who's just arrived at school and is learning the rules.
I definitely think that every child from about the age of five should be learning about this virtual space and to work out for themselves who the good players are and how the bad players behave and what's true and what's not true.
I think that that should be.
I'm surprised that governments have been a bit slow on that. More generally, I think I'm really interested, again, because I think of the good players.
I think it's more interesting to think, what can we learn from the last 20 years?
And I'm really interested about the sort of techniques of trust that people are building up.
So it's all very well if you go and say, I work for the BBC, I work for The Guardian, you should trust me.
But if you're just somebody trying to get an audience on social media, how do you build that trust?
Well, there are certain things that we can see people doing.
So they don't take it for granted that you're going to trust me.
I had to show my evidence. Here's my proposition.
Here's my screenshot. Here's my link. This is how I know what I'm telling you.
And then they encourage response. So if I've got this wrong, please tell me.
And then they engage. And then if they get anything wrong, you don't last long on Twitter if you don't correct it.
Now, you look at the behavior of a lot of journalists.
That's the opposite of how they behave. They tend not to show their evidence.
They don't want to encourage response because they find that tiresome. They certainly don't want to engage.
And if they get something wrong, they make it as difficult as possible to correct it.
And I think you think going forward, which attitude and ways of behaving is likely to win trust.
And of course, trust is the big crisis for journalism.
So I think, you know, the journalists who are entirely dismissive of social media and say it's all a cesspit are missing out on something that as the rest of us try to work out how this space works and how you can earn trust in this space, I think there's a lot we could learn.
I think, I mean, because I was always being sued, I'm quite interested in lawyers.
And there are some fantastic lawyers on Twitter. And they do, you know, they've learned to write very concise threads and they behave in the way that I've been talking about.
And I think most journalists could look at some of these lawyers and think, ah, that's interesting.
That is somebody who's got a huge following from nowhere and they're probably quite trusted.
Why am I not trusted?
What could I learn from them? And yeah, so I just think we're at an interesting stage of development and, you know, who knows where it could all go, but I remain optimistic.
Well, I think a lot of people are troubled by the thought of billionaires, as it were, owning the spaces that we want to occupy.
A lot of people are troubled by all the privacy aspects of that and who owns our data and so forth.
So I think there are a lot of clever people trying to think, well, how can we build a better Internet?
You know, the first one or the second one, depending on how you're counting, was good.
There are certain aspects of it that aren't great. So if we're going to build a third one, what would that look like?
And I would imagine that something will emerge and, you know, Elon Musk will have, you know, he could determine that if he behaves appallingly over the next month or so.
I would imagine there's going to be a flight from Twitter.
Maybe that thought has occurred to him, because he's slightly rolling back on the rhetoric.
Or he could, you know, build a better space.
But I think the Internet is never not exciting. And, you know, I think we could be back here in five years' time and something will have happened that neither of us foresaw.
For sure. Do you think, just to wrap things up, do you think the tech founders in this area are the new philosophers of this time?
You talked about a little bit the philosophy.
It's an area where philosophy could be in play to think the future.
I think the tech, the big famous tech, I mean, you think of the sort of top three to five owners who began life as entrepreneurs and engineers.
I wouldn't use the word philosophers about them. You know, I think they're obviously absolutely brilliant men.
They are all men in their own right. But I think a bit of humility now and saying, well, actually, some of these questions are profoundly about morals and ethics and the way we live and democracy, how democracies work, about free speech.
These are huge questions that people have been wrangling with for three, four hundred years.
So I think it's quite, it should be applauded that someone like Mark Zuckerberg says, hey, I need help.
Yeah. Wanting help helps to be better in a sense, right?
Yeah, I think so. Yeah. I mean, there are 24 of us on the Facebook oversight board who are incredibly diverse, the most diverse body I've ever been part of, incredibly smart.
There are a lot of people who have been thinking about these kind of issues in a different context.
And essentially, they're the same issues. When we were doing, you know, when we came back to my life on the Guardian, we did the Edward Snowden documents.
Well, that issue of what right does the state to have to come into your house and seize your documents was litigated in England in the 18th century.
It's the same issue. And in the 18th century, they were saying, no, the state can't come into your house and seize documents.
And I think that's why the governments were on the back foot there, because they thought, well, actually, the people's sympathy is actually on the Snowden side.
We don't like the thought of the state just helping themselves to anything.
So these are not new issues. And I think it's a good sign that the tech company is now willing to reach out to people who have thought about the history of these issues and said, look, help us here.
My name is Nuno Fonseca.
I'm the founder and CEO at Sound Particles. We are based in Liria.
It's one hour north of Lisbon here in Portugal. And what does your company do, really, for those who don't know?
So Sound Particles uses computer graphics, but instead of using them to generate image like regular it is, we use computer graphics, but for sound.
So we have this CGI kind of software like Maya or Blender, but allow you to create soundscapes and allow you, for instance, to create a battlefield with 10,000 sounds playing at the same time.
And then our software is used in all major Hollywood studios in productions like Game of Thrones, Dune, Star Wars, Stranger Things and other productions like that.
They're using our software precisely to create these epic soundscapes, this epic sound design that sometimes is needed.
For instance, Game of Thrones have used our software for the epic battles of the last season, you know, with thousands and thousands of zombies and all of those sounds.
So they use Sound Particles because it allows you to create these thousands of sounds very easily in a very interesting way.
We are a company based in Portugal that exports 99 point something percent.
So we work globally and of course for us, Internet, it's a fundamental tool to be able to be in Portugal and have a lot of clients in LA, in London, in other movie production cities around the world.
So for us, Internet is what makes this possible to from contacting them, reaching to them, marketing activities, sales activities, reaching them awareness.
So for us, without Internet, we could not be a company in Portugal working for Hollywood studios.
For instance, with the Internet, we can do things like share the sound of our software, doing demos and allowing people to listen to the demos of the software.
Internet has a fundamental role. Without them, we could not exist here or at least we had to move to LA or some other city to do our business.
I think that Internet is going to be even more transparent.
Okay, on the beginning, we would go to the Internet, we would open the browser, we definitely do some kind of operation to enter the Internet.
I'm still from the time that you actually had to dial the modem to enter the Internet.
Nowadays and in the future, I think Internet is going to be much more transparent.
People will not even realize what is going using the Internet, what is not using the Internet.
If I'm doing something either with my Alexa device or my Siri or whatever device, all of this with Internet of things, with all of those things, I think it's going to be much more transparent and simply be part of our lives.
Of course, we already use the cloud for things like subscriptions, managing, allowing us to track which users have a valid subscription or a valid license and make sure that the right features of the software are unlocked depending on all of those things.
We are also working now on a project that is going to be based on cloud, that will be a kind of a marketplace for sound designers to be able to get sounds.
Today, I'm working on a movie about cars, so I need a lot of engines.
Tomorrow, it's a movie about a farm, so I need animals.
People are always needing a lot of sounds. One of the things that we are going to release within a few months is to have a cloud solution with sounds.
For that, we're going to use a lot of cloud, a lot of storage, a lot of access, and we know that the users should be able to, I'm looking for a sound, going there, search the sound quite fast, be able to retrieve the sound, listen to it, go to the next sound, and all of this based on cloud.
Pretty much everyone in IT needs nowadays, some may need more, some need less, but everyone needs the cloud.
It's one of those tools, the same way that, okay, we have a computer that is a tool, now we need Internet, and now we have the cloud, so it's one more tool that we have on our tool set to use.
Nowadays, especially with all the offer that we have in terms of the service that we get from the cloud, from AI, GPU, CPU, and storage, and all of those things, and with 5G available, more and more we move into the cloud, and that's the way of the future.
Especially in our case, what we need to make sure is that bandwidth continues to increase, because in our case, for instance, imagine this case, I'm a sound designer, I'm looking for sound, I need to almost have instant access to the files like they were locally.
It's not downloading a file and then downloading the other file and downloading, now we need to be quite fast.
So, essentially, what I feel that the Internet and the cloud need is to have almost this instant behavior, the same way that when we're using desktop applications, you press the button and everything is instantaneously, we need the same thing with cloud, making sure, of course, a lot of things already have that kind of behavior, especially applications, we have applications and those things, but there are some things, like in our case, in terms of sound, or in terms of video, that are more heavy in terms of size and storage, that we need to make sure that the bandwidth continues to increase to make sure that the experience is very smooth with the users.
For those who use, being faster in terms of that cloud experience makes a huge difference, it takes you much less time doing something in a large amount of proportion of time, if the bandwidth is quicker, if the speed of the Internet is quicker for you to see the file.
Yeah, because, once again, the difference of half a second in one operation, it's that half a second, but I do hundreds of operations in one hour, or hundreds of operations around the day, so that half a second actually turns to be that latency, that delay may end up having be several minutes of latency, or even one hour or more of latency in some cases, so, yeah, sometimes people say, oh, it's only half a second, no, but it's one half a second multiplied by thousands of times, so it turns out being a...
For a full team of software engineers, or people that work on sound, that's a crazy amount of time if you put a whole team together, right?
Yeah, and it reminds me of this story, there is this story from Steve Jobs, that apparently he was pushing the team to make sure that the startup time of the Mac was faster, and they said, okay, we cannot accelerate more, it takes this time, and then he asked the team, okay, if the life of someone depended on this, would you be able to accelerate it?
And they said, depending, and they'll say, okay, we have thousands of users, if you multiply these minutes by all of these thousand users, it's going to mean that it's a latency of many years, so we are actually saving the life of a person by accelerating this, so I think it's the exact same thing, yes, small half a second here, 200 milliseconds there, but multiplied by thousands of users, multiplied by thousands of operations a day, it makes all the difference.
How do you get feedback from your users?
For us, it's always, we love to receive feedback from our users, because sometimes, it's not about, most of the times, it's not about new features, because most of the times they are asking for things that we have already thought, but more important than that is to help us give priorities to the things, so I get the feedback and say, okay, it's the third person talking about this, we should definitely increase the priority of this feature and make sure that we accelerate this faster, this feature, instead of another that we have on our backlog, so, yeah, receiving the feedback, it's fundamental, once again, not to give new ideas, but most of the times to help us give priorities to the things that are more useful to our users.
But was there a specific example, like a big production, where you saw a use case, an interesting use case that you can share?
No, of course, there are a lot of use cases that we have, for instance, even last week, I went to LA and I was there inviting to go to Fox, because they were doing the double that received the Oscar in Bohemian Rhapsody, where they're doing a new movie about Whitney Houston, and they use sound particles for all the audiences and the concerts and the things, and they invited me to go there to the mixing stage to see the final results of the use of sound particles, and it's great, because, okay, there I am on this room with four Oscar winning persons, and all of them giving feedback about, okay, you should do this, can we do this, can we invent a tool to do this kind of things, and for us it's very important to get this feedback.
For sure, and it shows a large scope of what you built from Portugal to the Hollywood stage, in a sense.
Yeah, and it's quite rewarding when you see the product that you have made, been using things like Dune and Star Wars or Game of Thrones or Stranger Things, and it's very interesting for us and also for our team to notice, okay, we are doing things and our things are being used in this production, and that is quite rewarding.