Sometimes it’s healthy to subject yourself to painful or traumatic things in a controlled way to reduce your sensitivity to it. I did not like Joe Rogan going into this project. Hearing him out for hours didn’t improve my impression. But I did hear him out.
Joe Rogan is at his best when he shuts up. He has no standards for his guests. One day he’ll have on Penn Jillette, a man who changed his podcast intro to be nonbinary-inclusive, and the next Joe will have on someone who’ll tell you that nonbinary stuff is “gender ideology” and whine about children on Twitter telling him to shut up. No standards.
But sometimes he has good guests on, and he doesn’t do any editing. I want to focus on one interview in particular: episode #1258 with Jack Dorsey, Vijaya Gadde, and Tim Pool. Jack Dorsey is Checkmark Zero, and largely irrelevant to this story. Vijaya Gadde is Twitter’s head legal team person and responsible for what they call trust and safety.
I don’t think I would have understood all the viewpoints involved here without the format. The episodes are long. This episode is three and a half hours. So long that everyone got out the usual BS, realized they kept repeating themselves, and chilled out enough to hash out their differences and similarities for a couple of hours before calmly conceding they wouldn’t fully agree with each other, but at least understood each other’s positions.
Tim Pool is one of those people I would normally dismiss as an asshole. Asshole, probably, but I heard him. He’s your typical free speech absolutist. He has his lines, and those lines are informed by his ideology. He thinks, and Joe generally agrees, that removing people and content from platforms prevents people from making informed decisions. He cites an example where a friend of his was going down the alt-right rabbithole by way of a right-wing personality. He wanted to reference a video on YouTube from that personality to show how bad they really are and where his ideas went, but the video was gone. He admitted he didn’t know why it was gone, but the point held: the video wasn’t available as evidence to steer that friend away. That was actually kind of persuasive. A point of agreement! We might disagree on the solution. More on that later.
I don’t think they would have gotten to the point of actually laying out their worldviews in a more filtered format. Unfortunately, that format also means people with some absolutely atrocious ideas get to speak without challenge, without the slightest “now wait a minute” from Rogan. That’s fine for a Vijaya Gadde or Penn Jillette, but not an Alex Jones. I got to better understand Tim Pool’s bad ideas, why Twitter moderates the way it does and the struggles they face, and I got to hear every single story Penn Jillette repeats on every podcast he goes on.
As for how to moderate tricky content, I think it’s better to demote the content and people and provide some informed commentary, then provide a path to the full force of their ideas with the benefit of that context. In the same way, I wouldn’t send someone to Joe Rogan’s podcast without pointing out some of the troubling people he has on. This is generally the path big platforms have taken. Twitter and Facebook added several classes of warning after the January 6th insurrection, and YouTube puts warnings on all kinds of things. However, they stop short of demoting things.