“I get to teach some students who are closer to the engineering side of things and over the years I’ve certainly taught quite a few of them. And when they talk about that they want to improve the world and make things better and you look at the kinds of education they have and the social background they’ve had, these are people who have no clue what goes on in the world. They have their own Fox News projection of the world that is highly racialized and in some cases they don’t even know how little they know.”
David Golumbia is Associate Professor of Digital Studies in the Department of English at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is the author of The Cultural Logic of Computation (2009), The Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism (2016), and is currently working on Cyberlibertarianiasm: The False Promise of Digital Freedom.
"what would happen to #socialmedia if it were made illegal?" is the wrong question.— David Golumbia (@dgolumbia) May 27, 2020
the right question is, "why was social media considered legal in the first place?"
the answer involves one of the most brutal acts of regulatory arbitrage in history, #Section230
Kim Crayton: Hello, everyone. And welcome to today’s episode of the #CauseAScene podcast. Today my guest is David—and I knew I was going to do this, people. I knew it. I knew it. I am having such a… my brain is so tired. We just went through this. His last name rhymes with Columbia. So it’s Golumbia. But every time I want to say it, my brain—there’s like a barrier that gets right in front of the words, and like, “Nope. You’re not going to say this right. You’re not going to say it.” And pronouns are he/him. Welcome, David. [Laughs]
David: Thank you so much. And you are not alone, that—having trouble with my name is—you have very good company.
Kim: All right, so we start every show by asking my guest: why is it important to cause a scene? And how are you causing a scene?
David: Well, specifically with regard to, I think, why you are having me on the show, there is a worldview that comes along with the digital revolution that I think is extremely dangerous. And I’ve been saying it’s extremely dangerous for over 20 years at this point—25 years—and sadly, everything that I have predicted and warned about has come to pass. And it seems to me that I don’t know what else to do except to keep causing a scene about it and doing my best to try to alert people to the ways in which too much digital technology just drives us toward the political right and toward division and against democracy and equality and other things that I value. And I think you also value.
Kim: So you wrapped all that up in one sentence, and that’s good. One pass. That’s great. So I want to talk to you because I’ve been—I think I want to go back right quick. Yes, so I’ve—this is not the—I asked David more than once to come on the show. I want to make sure… and the one that got me that both of us were like, “OK, it’s time.” And so I’ll read this tweet of David; this from May 27th, and it says, quote:
What would happen if #socialmedia… what would happen, hashtag…
Lord have mercy. Let’s do this again.
“what would happen to #socialmedia if it were made illegal?” is the wrong question.
the right question is, “why was social media considered legal in the first place?”
the answer involves one of the most brutal acts of regulatory arbitrage in history. #Section230
And so, this is apropos more than what we thought when we scheduled this, because you and I have our reasons for understanding why Section 230 is an issue, but right now the—I was about to call ’em the west. Lord have mercy. The right—particularly this president—has an assault on Section 230 but for totally different reasons than you and I have. So… [both laugh] And that’s—and you know what?—and that’s interesting because—and I’m glad we can talk about this—because it highlights how so many—we’ve allowed—and tech has facilitated this—we’ve allowed so many different opinions to be considered expert. And so it’s hard to decide or discern, because everybody’s opinion, particular if you have a blue check, is a expert opinion. And that is not true, because that goes with the whole all speech is the same, or all, you know, perspectives are equal; and that only seems to work when it comes to bullshit, because every other place in our lives—I don’t say because I know what a throat is, I’m an ear, nose, and throat doctor, you know, it’s like it absolutely makes no sense.
David: Right? Oh, you’ve said a lot there. Yeah, I knew we would have to talk about the Trump—the executive order. And, you know, that is a wild document. I mean, he has written many wild documents—or dictated them or whatever—but that one, like you really can’t even make sense of it, right? He’s just mad that Twitter fact-checked him. And so he’s just like throwing words on the page; none of what he says even makes sense. It doesn’t even…
Kim: OK, but this is… OK, so this is… Is he—OK, so it’s did he actually write this? Or are there people complicit in writin’ these words down for him? You know what I’m sayin’? Is he dictating this and somebody’s saying, “Yeah, uh-huh. Yeah, uh-huh. Yeah, uh-huh.” [David laughs] It’s like, if he was in a room by himself, that would be like, “OK, yeah.” But if there’re people who are involved in this also, it’s like, “Whaaaat?” [Laughs]
David: Yeah. I mean, I can’t…
Kim: Before we get into that, can you—since you’ve read the document—can you give us a breakdown—first of all, tell folx who don’t know what section 230 is, and then break down—I wanna have this conversation, because folx in tech need to understand that we’ve never been neutral nor apolitical, from the very inception. So let’s talk about—so I’m gonna let you be the expert here and guide us through 230.
David: I wish I was more of an expert, but I will do my best to struggle through. So, it’s called Section 230…
Kim: You’re better than most people, so… [both laugh] You’re better than most people.
David: Well, you’re right, because we both…
Kim: You’re better than the president. You better than Trump. [Laughs] Shit. [Laughs]
David: It is the case that this particular law is one of the places where the—this information is so thick that it is really hard to get a handle on what’s going on, and you can even hear actual experts debate it and appear to make it mean completely opposite things. And when you—just to go to what you were asking a second ago—I don’t think Trump knows Section 230 from a hole in the wall, right? So there is somebody in his team who saw this as a good point, like a good place to insert that, and maybe we can talk more about what’s going on in that letter, but to go back to the Section 230, Section 230 is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
And as the name of that act suggests, it was a pretty, like—the act is basically null and void at this point, right? The point of it was to try to clean up pornography and other kinds of apparently indecent expression on the Internet. And, you know, nobody was really all that into that, and of course, that actually does run up against a lot of genuine free speech concerns. The point of this Section 230 was originally—it was written to enable service providers like Facebook, which didn’t exist at this point, but like Facebook or Twitter, to edit the material on their websites and not be subject to liability if they did so. So it was meant to grant them the power to say what can and can’t be published on their website without themselves being considered the speaker or the publisher, like The New York Times would be, of the information.
Kim: So OK, so let’s stop there. So it was—in fact, it is written to be a moderation tool.
David: Absolutely correct. It is written to enable moderation of the Internet, and you’re sayin’ that because of course, that’s not what happened. [Both laugh]
Kim: Exactly! It’s the complete freakin’ opposite of what’s happened.
David: In fact, I’m going to read you the sentence that is most famous.
Kim: Please. Please.
David: No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.
Which is already pretty hard to follow, but I’m—so let’s—so, breakin’ it down, part of what this was supposed to do was provide a certain kind of immunity to what we now call platforms. Twitter and Facebook being the most obvious ones. And to say that—and you know, this is gonna make a little bit of sense, right? Well, we don’t want a whole Twitter responsible for everything anybody publishes on their website. Like, we don’t want you to be able to sue Twitter for libel if Joe insults Frank. What does Twitter know about what Joe wrote on the website? That makes some intuitive sense.
But what it—the reason I use that phrase “regulatory arbitrage” is that what it ended up doing was saying that Twitter isn’t the publisher, like The New York Times, that can be held responsible for what it says. And it isn’t a speaker who can be held responsible for what they say, and therefore it exists in this no man’s land between various kinds of entities that had been regulated in the past.
And the intent was to give them the power and the responsibility to thoughtfully moderate what goes on their platform. And by the way, this is used all the time, right? One of the—we can talk about this—but we know that Facebook, you know, as my friend and colleague Sarah Roberts has written, expends enormous amounts of money and time moderating the platform to keep truly illegal content off of it. So this is a huge part of what happens now. And it’s partly because of Section 230 that they can do this. But this thing was kind of turned around and…
Kim: OK, so I’m gonna stop you right there, because I just had a “bing!” moment. OK, so what it was was this—and you just hit me, “a-ha!”—so you have this section—law? Is it considered… what is it? Is it a law? What is it considered?
David: It’s a part of a bigger law.
Kim: Bigger law. OK, yes, so it’s a law.
David: I mean, it’s a law. Absolutely, it is a law.
Kim: OK. OK. So the fact that—oh, I’m just teasing this out—because what just popped into my head was the section—just like wit’ everything else, it’s not Section 230 that’s the issue. It’s the implementation, or the uses of Section 230, because if you have, as you’ve just described, Section 230 and we had a truly apolitical, neutral, unbiased society that these platforms pretend that we have, we wouldn’t—we’d be having a different conversation.
But when you have a leader now, I don’t—Jack I don’t think has actually said this; I haven’t seen it—but Twitter, I mean, but Zuck (Mark Zuckerberg) constantly says, when he talks about Facebook, he does not talk about it as a company, he talks about his decisions. So these are your decisions. And when you place that on top of political ideology, ideologies about who’s valued and who’s not, who gets access and who doesn’t, whose speech is more important; then you get all kinds of bullshit.
David: Mhm, yeah, and you gotta ask, so, if you look at all the newspapers that used to exist and that had letters pages, and where the individual would usually be held responsible, but so might the publication if they published a letter that libeled or slandered—libeled somebody, because it’s in writing. Who is being denied access to those letters pages systematically? Now it’s—it isn’t even really like authentic minority voices because for the most part there were, and still are to some extent, authentic minority newspapers that can publish whoever they want, right? It is extremists. It’s Nazis and people like that who can’t get into The New York Times and therefore the…
David: Right. Overt. Right, absolutely.
Kim: Overt. [Laughs]
David: They can’t get their actual Nazi propaganda.
Kim: They slip it in, but not overt. [Laughs]
David: Right. [Laughs] And there’s something—you talked about implementation—I think there’s one more part of this story I should tell, which is that this law eventually went to court, right? Even in 1997, in a famous case involving America Online, and eventually what happened is this law was kind of spun onto its head, and what the court said was, this law was meant to provide a certain kind of immunity from lawsuits for doing some moderation. But what this court spun it into is, this law provides complete immunity from lawsuits.
David: For anything that you do that might be considered speech. And then you get these other people—some people that I’m not very fond of, like at the Electronic Frontier Foundation—who have construed everything that happens on computers as being speech. They have this doctrine called “Code is Speech,” which I think is false, but the effect of this has been to create these liability shields around Facebook and Twitter and other major social media companies that makes them almost immune from the law.
And that’s where—that’s why I call it this a brutal act of regulatory arbitrage. This thing that was supposed to enable them to be somewhat responsible has in fact enabled the opposite; one of the most reckless and severe acts of corporate irresponsibility that we’ve ever seen in this country. That is partly how and why—and maybe this goes back to the tweet even—how and why these companies are so big and so powerful and can say, you know, can act as if like, “How could we get along without them?”
Well, the reason they’re so big and so powerful is because they use this loophole in the law that was not intended to be read this way, like you can talk to Ron Wyden and the other people who drafted the law; this is not what they meant to have happen, but this is what the lawyers were able to do.
Kim: And that goes to intention and impact of two different things.
Kim: And this is what happens whether they intended or not—I’m sure there were no people of color, no people with disabilities, no people, any people who were drafting that law—so you couldn’t even see the potential problems that would come up. And, so then—oh, wow, this is a backstory. This is why I love when people come in with the history part. I love it, because I knew what the law—how it’s being interpreted. I did not know that it was initially for the ability to moderate and not being held accountable. And then I didn’t know about the other, the law—I mean, the case with AOL and how that spun this on its head.
And then that’s why—and so it’s… and this is why—I was saying this the other day. I think, to me, Zuck and—I left out Jack just because he’s quiet. I mean, he’s dangerous as fuck too, but he’s not loud about it to me. He’s just that white mediocre dude who’s gonna do what he’s gonna do. I’m thinking from what I’m seeing, there’re some people who’re tryin’ to hold him accountable at the highest levels of his organization and on his board. And that’s why the—because I saw something about even that “When they loot, they shoot,” comment came from 45, [Donald Trump] he was actually in a meeting having a conversation about these things at that very time.
David: Oh, really?
Kim: Yeah, exactly. He was meeting with people about how to hold—you know, what to do. And so, but Zuck, on the other hand, plays—oh, he plays every side. You play the tech is neutral, and yet there’s articles that proved that you and your cohorts intentionally created situations that would create divisiveness on your platform because it brought people to it and helped with advertising. You play even this—this will air in a few weeks—but right now we’re just getting from the horrific weekend of the riots and the protests and the rallies. And you want to donate $10 million? And yet you have people in the house of your organization at the highest level voicing their opinions about how pissed they are about this organization on Twitter at the same time.
I just tweeted about it because he reminds me of the—I know they had it in Chicago and they have it in New York—you know, when you get on the train, the public transportation, and there’s some dude who’s playin’ shell game; and they’re always looking for tourists, because everybody from the city knows, if you’re gonna play this game, you better not take your eyes off his hands, because this is the whole thing, it’s sleight of hand. It’s… he playin’ with that ball that’s under them damn things.
And this is what I feel about him. To me, he’s—and I don’t… I’m not gonna ascribe this to evil. I’m not gonna do that, ’cause that’s not…
David: Go ahead.
Kim: No I’m not, because that’s too simple, because when we say things like “evil,” it’s like it’s outside of his control. And he—and I don’t believe that. I believe he’s a white supremacist, definitely. And he is a privileged, mediocre white dude who would—without all the networks he has—he would just… ugh. I just…
Every day I see something about him. It reminds me of when—for a while we were seeing, every day was a story about Uber, which has never been profitable, and loses billions of dollars every year. And it’s just like, where the fuck would a Black person ever actually get to do this? You know? Where—we can’t even protest a rally in private, with peace, without people—white folx comin’ in, tearin’ shit up, we being blamed for it. And it’s like he… it’s that—I can’t remember the old adage—but ultimate power corrupts… absolute power corrupts absolutely. That’s how I feel about him.
David: Yup. I agree completely, and you know, that thing you just said, Travis Kalanick, who was the head of Uber, and one of the things he did pretty famously, along with being just a terrible person, is that he would constantly talk with serious contempt about city governments in particular, but state governments also, right? And he would just talk about how they’re gonna go in there and do whatever they want, and they couldn’t care less whether the mayor or whatever told them that this was against the law, right? And you’re right, a Black person doing that? I mean, just imagine, let alone…
Kim: They couldn’t even have the fucking conversation, let alone do it.
David: Let alone be called a hero for doing it, which is…
Kim: Yes. Yes! Oh, disruptor! They’re so innovative. [David laughs] They’re doing illegal shit!
Kim: …innovative. [David laughs] They’re doing illegal shit!
David: And of course, in New York especially, where the taxis were unionized, right? They were—and still are. That is not a bad living for at least some minority people, and he’s just walking in there and calling them names, and badmouthing them, and it’s not that, you know, every taxi driver, whatever—you can have a bad taxi driver in New York City. But it was just amazing that he was just… I mean, he…
Kim: It’s the thing of what I see often in tech. They… we tried out these—and it’s the same thing with surveillance tech, and VR and AR—we tried out these at the beginning—so in the infancy stage of these products—we tried out all these things that we’re gonna to do to solve these human problems. So, they want to do commercials and bring people in about, “Apple Watch saved my life,” or, you know, “the Ring doorbell saved my life.”
And so those are the stories that we get out the gate, and I believe all this shit is marketin’ and PR driven, because it gets people to be thinking, “Oh, OK, let me go grab that, because that thing’s going to save me from that thing. And this thing was to help us for that thing.” So when these other stories come out—because I’m gonna tell you, if I would have known this shit about Facebook befo’ I signed up, I wouldn’ta signed up for fuckin’ Facebook. And now the fact that I—my family’s on there, and that’s how all of them damn communicate, I’m there. And hell, they already have my damn data anyway.
And so, it is, it’s this bait and switch we do in tech all the time. And you can’t tell me that while they’re trottin’ out the PR, the good feeling Kumbaya versions of these tech that they’re not simultaneously not only thinking about, but actually building and using it in very nefarious ways. They’re just not reporting that shit.
David: You know, this is… I completely agree with you. The pattern of this, the… you know, I get to teach some students who are closer to sort of the engineering side of things, and over the years I’ve certainly taught quite a few of them, and when they talk about the fact that they want to improve the world or make things better, and you look at the kinds of education they’ve had and the kind of social background they’ve had, these are people who have no clue what goes on in the world. They have their own like Fox News projection of the world, that is highly racialized, and they don’t even—in some cases, they don’t even understand how little they know, right? They’ve never even been exposed.
Kim: They don’t even know what they even don’t know because they have been indoctrinated in this bullshit. Yes! And yet don’t… it’s this—OK, now I’m gonna digress, because it’s the same thing; if you—and I talk about this movie—if you have not seen “Poverty Inc.”? This is about them damn NGOs, Peace Corps people, missionary folk, all of these folx who claim they want to do—I don’t care if you claim you want to do social good or social impact in the name of the Lord, in the name of your values, or whatever.
Most of these individuals are coming from a place of ignorance about where they’re going, and what people are, and have a very—even if they’re Black—particularly what’s comin’ ta mind are Christian missionaries; it doesn’t matter what your culture thing is, if you’re… if the Bible or whatever that dogma that you’re following, that’s all that you know. That’s it. I know some Black folx right now who we ain’t got nothin’ in common. You have no connection to the Black community because of how you were reared in church or whatever that thing is.
And so these are the people who take it upon themselves to go proselytize or, “I’m gonna save the world,” but if you watch “Poverty Inc.”—and this is what I tell people—all you people walkin’ around wit’ ya, you know, you woke folx walkin’ around wit’ ya Tom shoes on, where you buy a pair and you get a pair—they give away a pair? That’s a company that’s decimated shoe… cobblers in those local communities. Why would somebody buy a pair of shoes from a local vendor when I’m getting shoes for free?
Why they—in that movie they talk about Kenya had the most diverse cotton crop in the world. Various strands of cotton. Because we started dumping our cotton, because we needed a place to sell our cotton, we started dumpin’ our cotton in Kenya and all across Africa for cheaper? Kenya now imports cotton. They’ve lost all of that. All that genius, all that know-how is gone.
And this is time and time again, when we go out—and particularly from Western countries—and try to save… so this whole, this whole savior thing that that Zuck and—oh, I get so sick of arguin’ wit’ white dudes about Elon Musk. This dude is…
David: Oh my god. [Laughs]
Kim: If this not the epitome of privilege? He grew up in apartheid South Africa. You had a whole fuckin’ country of rules on your side. But yet he’s a genius. No, mm mm. I like that—he can’t compete with your average Black person who’s been told all their life they gotta give 110%. And also, he is not the person who’s buying—who’s makin’ this shit. Most of the stuff from SpaceX came from NASA, most of the stuff—he’s gettin’ this stuff from other people and because—and he’s using engineers. But everybody wants to attribute all this to their greatness.
David: It’s amazing, right? I was just—we’re probably thinkin’ of this because of the launch yesterday—and I’m lookin’ at this, I’m like, “Well, I’m old enough to remember the Apollo launches and stuff,” right? And they—NASA didn’t build that stuff either, right? They contracted out to Northrop Grumman and Boeing and these other big corporations.
David: And nobody was like, “Oh, Boeing can do it…” [Laughs]
Kim: Exactly. It was NASA. [Both laugh]
David: It was like, “Oh, he’s a contractor.” [Laughs] Big whoop.
Kim: It was NASA. Yes, exactly. So and now he’s some kind of hero because he had the access to money, and from what… I don’t know the whole story, because I refuse―once I realize that these white dudes were fuckin’ mediocre—refused to learn anything else about him; but I heard that his parents illegally took over a emerald mine. I know his parents are professors—I think they’re professors—so he comes from a very well-off financially network-wise, you had a system of apartheid at your back. You have nothing—if you had not succeeded, I’d say yo’ ass was… what the fuck? With all that help, I expect you to be where you are.
David: [Laughs] Back to Zuck a little bit, because you’re right; we start talkin’ about them because Zuck—on the surface—doesn’t look quite as extreme as somebody like Musk or Kalanick or something. And, you know, that is part of it is so troubling about him. He’s—people will talk to me about him and say like, “Well, he’s kind of the liberal alternative to these bad people.”
David: And I’m like, “You mean when he has secret lunches with Trump and won’t tell us what he talked about?” And… I mean, and to go back to the executive order, I think a big part—this whole theme that the right has that these social media companies are biased against them, when maybe to you and me they are incredibly biased in favor of them, is to keep up this political pressure to force them to keep being biased in favor of conservatives, and that any hint that they are doing anything that tries to restore a certain amount of balance gets hit with this massive propaganda wave—like the executive order—that just is meant to stall it, right? To…
Kim: Well, I’m going to challenge you, because it’s never been balanced. So what I’m seeing… no, what I’m seeing is—and that’s why I want to tease this out, because I want to be careful—what I’m seeing is—and this happens, that’s what’s happening in these tech companies—conservative views and—everything has been rooted in white supremacy. So all these companies have always had conservative views.
David: Oh, no, I agree.
Kim: The thing that’s changing is the other views are now being voiced. So it’s not that they have a lack of; we’re just increasing. They’re still around. But they—we’re just not allowing them to suck up all the oxygen anymore, and that’s the problem. So it’s not—I don’t see any less of them in tech; it’s a whole bunch of racist-ass conservative, just people who want to deny people their humanity. As a Black person, they’ve always been around. What’s new is I’ve never had the privilege of having a platform like Twitter, like Zoom, like all of these that wouldn’t have cost me—would have cost me an exorbitant amount that I could not access and could not have a voice.
Kim: That’s the difference. We’re now—the narrative is being challenged. The narrative has always been there, and they’ve been going gangbusters on it. What they’re pissed about is every time they open their fuckin’ mouths right now, they get shut down. It is not like before when they could just say that and then everybody is like, you know, going back in the, you know, little room like, “That was fucked up, but I didn’t say anything.” Now people like, “Oh, hell, no. Nuh-uh. Stop! Uh-uh,” you know?
So that’s what I’m seeing. And that’s what I get—that’s the main thing that people will attack me. I look at them and I’m like, “I get it why you why you…” like that dude from Google? I get it why you’re upset. I get it. I don’t give a shit, but I get it, because you just used to being able to say whatever the fuck you want to, and now it’s being challenged.
So I want to make that point, because any other point makes it, again, that narrative of hero or victim and never the villain. They’ve always been there. They’ve always had the microphone. That’s why the hell they were able to build Fox News because they always had the resources.
David: Yup. Villain is a really good word. My friend Chris Gilliard and I talk about this a lot. But they—even Zuckerberg, right? They really look a lot like comic book supervillains. They—and they’re, you know, those supervillains do talk about like, they’re gonna fix the world, and they’re gonna take over and remake it in their image and like, you don’t want them anywhere near you. And you know, the thing you just said; this is a really important area to think about and I don’t want to pretend that I have the answer, because there is—there are these countervailing forces. There are people like yourself and Chris and a lot of my friends and colleagues who are able to use these platforms to make positive political change. I think there’s no doubt that one of the reasons we’re having these Black Lives Matter protests is because video has become so much easier to create, and easier to distribute, and for people to talk about it.
And I do think that’s a big—you know, if you go back to the Rodney King thing, there was a little bit of video, right? And it was on TV stations. And now compare what happened with that, and like, how do we hold on to that while somehow cutting down the power that these—you know, that Zuck and Kalanick and the many proto-Nazis inside these companies, and the people who really like white supremacy and are themselves white supremacists—what do we do to…
Kim: It’s numbers. It’s numbers. They’ve just had the numbers. I mean, they have the power and the privilege; they have that. That’s a outcome of white supremacy. So they have things that we don’t have, but we’re coming in numbers. Every time a Nazi, a white supremacist, a MAGA person opens their mouths, if there’s somebody on the right or the left of them saying, “No, we’re shutting it right down right there. Mm-mm. You don’t get to say that in here. You can go say that wherever you want to outside of this space,” that’s what I’m seeing is happening—during a pandemic—why the riots are happening now.
Because people’re already stressed. We don’t know what the hell is going on. The world is shut down. And even in that, white supremacy does not stop killing Black people. So it was people—white people could not turn away. Where were you gonna go? You’re in your house. You can’t, there’s no… you could not do anything. There’s no way you could—you can’t distract yourself because I mean, there are people who are—you know, because states and stuff are opening back up—but people are social distancing. People have masks on. A lot of people are still at home. A lot of people are still working from home.
And yet, and so this was a perfect opportunity for this to be in people’s face and they cannot run from it. Now, they can try. They can really try, and you’re seeing—and this is what I’m feeling that this moment reminds me of right before apartheid. That took a shift. With all you know, you had all the boycotts and everything. But when aaaall those companies started following like, “Aw shit,”—and this goes back to the one of the #CauseAScene guiding principles: a lack of inclusion is a risk management issue, and that’s what I’ve been telling people; this would not change until businesses understand that this is a risk and a crisis management issue. And now they’re like, “Oh shit. OK. We better say something,” and so now that’s what—I’m loving that we’re collecting these things because now, because you’ve said something publicly, we can hold you accountable.
And so it’s funny that you keep bringing up Chris, ’cause Chris came to me this morning, he was like, “Hey, can I run something by you? I wanna work on—I’m working on this thing and I need a name for it. Tryna to think of a term, or make up one, for companies that directly profit from and amplify white supremacy, but are actin’ as if they support Black liberation. Tell me if this sounds stupid,” and he’s like, “Black Power washing.” [David laughs] He says, “‘Cause a few magazines asked me to write something up, and I’m rolling some ideas around.”
So I said, “Good for you.” I said, “Let me think about this and get back to you.” And then I came back and I said, “I got it, but it’s pretty hard core. Are you sure you want it?” And he was like, “How so?” And I said, “Corporate blackface.” And he’s like, “Goddamnit!” [Both laugh] He’s like, “That’s genius!” and I’m like, “That’s it. It’s corporate blackface.”
And that’s what the hell term I’m going to start using, as I was—as I think about the #AntiracistEconomist—that’s such a big thing. And that’s a conversation that so many people aren’t ready to have, because that’s learnin’ a new language, changing perspectives, changing the lens through which you look through stuff; and so that’s a lifelong project of mine. But if I—based on this list that we created—and I can specifically speak about corporate blackface, that gets people’s attention.
David: It does and that—you know, I was privileged to be on a similar set of texts with Chris this morning, and even when [Kim laughs] he texted me that you had given him the name corporate blackface… [Laughs] And—although I like “Black Power washing” too—is because he liked the idea of washing…
Kim: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, I get it. And so that’s what I… so it wasn’t—so I was like, “Oh, that was good.” And then I just walked away, and I was like, “Ooh.” [David laughs]
David: They may both have uses. [Laughs]
Kim: Yeah, almost definitely. There isn’t—there is no one-size-fits-all for this shit. We all have to come at it from different ways. And that’s what gets on my goddamn nerves: when people like, “So Kim, how do I do it?” Why the fuck are you askin’ me? If you not paying me, leave me alone. Figure it out. Read a book. There’s always—find out, figure out what skills and resources you have to give in the fight for it. Equity for everybody. That’s what anitracism is.
And if you—it is not a one-size-fits-all, everybody has to come… like I’m not gonna be, I’m not doing protests. I’m not marching. That’s not something I would be able to do. It’s something I’ve never been able to do. I am that person who actively goes—when you hear, when there was a fight goin’, I was in the opposite direction. [David laughs] I’ve never been that kind of person. I’m not curious about that stuff, and I know with the work that I do, it’s already enough of me processing my own oppression. Being in that environment would not do me well psychologically. So I leave that to people who can do that work. And I do the work that I do because I believe that changing the corporate—how corporations function—is how we change this economy. Because that’s who—politics don’t have the power here. It’s the corporations.
David: Well, one of the things we were talking about earlier, Section 230 and stuff, I think part of the reason this is coming up now is because there is awareness; there is a growing movement to amend that law in some way or other, right?
Kim: Yup. [Laughs]
David: And I think, especially if a Democrat becomes president, I think it is very…
Kim: And Zuck wants to make sure he’s on the… how the hell does he get to dictate what that law is gonna look like? But he’s tryna—he’s working his hardest.
David: He absolutely is, and you know, at some level, that’s ordinary business, right? Any time you regulate a business, the business is gonna be there, and we gotta have people who are gonna to stand up to them; and that is a fight that we have to have with all businesses all the time and it’s a good fight to have. I mean, it’s—you know, I wish that we could just keep them out, but… [Laughs] You know, at some level, OK, they have to have a seat at the table, and we do see it working sometimes at the FDA and other places where you do have regulators who really do have some teeth and can push back when people try to get around the law.
And I do think that we are going to see regulation of Facebook and Twitter, and I think—I don’t know what shape it’s gonna take. I think part of the problem with this whole discussion is that their propaganda is immediately saying, “Well, you’re gonna chill speech and you’re gonna shut these whole things down,” and I’m like, “No, we’re gonna have sensible, thoughtful regulation with people who understand what is going on, and we don’t know what it’s gonna look like.”
David: “No, we’re gonna have sensible, thoughtful regulation with people who understand what is going on, and we don’t know what it’s gonna look like.” We’re gonna have to talk about how do we actually get some kind of… I don’t even know what to call it.
Kim: Exactly. It’s so funny that you bring this up, because I know a conversation with a person; I had a interview last year, at the end of last year, because you ‘member, Facebook put that panel together, that board or whatever—and they’re already havin’ fuckin’ problems with the board. They’re… and so it’s like they are not—and that was my question: who are these people? [Both laugh] And I saw last week that there is already a problem, and it’s not even six months.
David: Yup, because they actually just announced the first true makeup of the board and started to talk about taking complaints. And, you know, my feeling about that is I don’t care what they… right? They need to be regulated. If they choose to have a board that tries to comply with the regulators, fine, but without the regulation, the borders, it’s meaningless. If anything, it’s…
Kim: Oh yeah, because it’s Zuck. It’s all—it’s just another mouthpiece for him.
David: It’s gonna—almost make him look better.
Kim: And that’s.. oh, most definitely, ’cause people thought this was a great idea. And that’s the thing: he really gets to play the white narrative of a hero so well.
David: He’s building community.
Kim: So you’ll say it’s the… you were sayin’—you and Chris were sayin’, it’s the villain. He plays the hero better than any villain I know. I’m just like, “Woooow, dude!” You just—I mean, in the same… and like I said, I just posted this. You want to give—what is 10 million dollars to you? When every day you continue to let 45 [Donald Trump] post whatever he wants. A violent tweet—I mean post—you won’t take down. You believe that you don’t have a right—you have a right to say—and this is what gets me. This is why I think he’s just… mmm.
You don’t… it’s arbitrary—well, not arbitrary to him—but what he thinks he has a right to do and the things he doesn’t think he has the right to do are just really interesting. The things he has a right to—doesn’t have a right to do—are the things that he has control over, and the things that he doesn’t have a right to do is the things he just makes shit up and just causes harm. It’s like, “Dude!” He plays that always the hero so well, and it becomes us, who question him, who get painted as the villain, not him.
David: He’s very good at that.
Kim: Oh my god, he’s great. He is—this is a white man. I mean, he has more power than Trump. I know Trump don’t want to hear that, but that’s what it is. He has way more power than Trump.
David: He is a, I mean, I think we know that he’s been called to—subpoenaed to testify, essentially—at several… by several major world legislatures and just not showing up.
Kim: And when he shows up, can we get people who know how to question somebody? Can we get somebody who’s not—he still got that, what’s that called? That jitterbug phone? [Both laugh] And this is not to disparage the elderly, but damn, can we get… So you can tell how their staff have vetted them on the first question. But they have no follow up questions because they like, “OK, this is over my head. Thank you for showing up.” It’s like, “Nooooo!”
David: Oh, it’s… the place he really didn’t show up was the British Parliament subcommittee, and those people did know what to ask him, right? They were really pointed.
Kim: And that’s the thing. He knows exactly where—and that’s the… he is clever like a fox. He knows exactly, because—well, first of all he knows that Europe and the UK has different rules than we have. So he does not want to put his foot in his mouth and say something that’s gonna—he’s gonna be liable for. Because, the same thing with Twitter and… if you can have rules set up for Germany, that makes all this shit illegal, because they have laws, then you have the ability, just not the wherewithal, or the interest, in doing it here. ‘Cause it’s not like you’re not doin’ it. It’s not like we’re asking you to build something new. It’s already done. The shit that we have to see in the United States just doesn’t get seen in Germany.
David: Right. And weirdly, most people do not consider Germany a country without free speech, despite the fact that you can’t put a swastika flag up on Twitter in Germany.
David: They’re able to do both of these things.
Kim: Simultaneously. Oh, my god! Wow! Think about that. They can walk and chew gum at the same time. It’s amazing. And I’m sure they can walk, chew gum, and talk too. Woo! Three things. And just… the hero worship of this—these individuals—are just… are just… [Kim makes a disgusted sound] Mmm… mmm mmm mmm. Are just… I don’t—like you said—I just don’t even have the words for it, because it is mind-blowing how much privilege is—and privilege is not even a big enough word for what I’m feeling right now. You know, it’s like that doesn’t even hold what I’m trying to say. [Laughs]
David: You know, if you—you’ve probably seen the movie “The Social Network,” right? That Aaron Sorkin made about him, which is obviously partly fictionalized. But the kind of… you know, the effect, the energy that he had about developing the Hot or Not application that this thing is all built on, on judging whether women are attractive enough to him and that kind of like… it is kind of like dominating over other people. Like, I get to judge who is worthwhile and who isn’t. And who is worthwhile to be used by me. Right? Not even…
Kim: Yes! Not just used, but monetized; profited from.
David: It’s kind of authoritarian…
Kim: It is a different kind of psyche.
David: It is.
Kim: And again, I want to be careful, because I want to make sure that we’re not saying that there’s some kind of psychosis or something, because it’s not; because when we do that, then people get a pass. These are conscious, strategic decisions and words and shit he’s saying. And he is just… and I don’t—and what just popped in my head is Elizabeth Holmes. Lord have mercy. [Both laugh] Some… yet another person who—did you see how her… how thick her board is with old white powerful men?
Kim: I’m like, “Where did… what club did she go to to get all these dudes?” Hell, Henry Kissinger is wanted by the damn… The Hague. I mean, he’s wanted from damn crimes against humanity!
David: And in the book “Bad Blood,” there’s—I think it’s George Shultz is also on the board.
Kim: Oh, yeah, He was the one that got everybody. And turned on his grandchild.
David: Right. That’s what I was gonna talk about. His grandchild, who actually knows the science, and comes to—and so has a fair amount of privilege himself, and has the ear of George Shultz—and goes to him and is like, “Hey, this stuff doesn’t actually work.” And he almost gets disowned from the family because it’s like, “No, no, we’re gonna exercise this power.” [Kim groans] At some level, it’s like, “We don’t even… we like that it doesn’t work,” right? It’s too bad.
Kim: And it reminds me—oh, my god. And this reminds me—so we just keep going off on tangents because you keep saying things that remind me of… and it helps people—I’m hoping—it helps people connect the dots. That’s why I do this, because it helps me.
So, what’s the dude? Madoff! This reminds me of Madoff. Just the whole… all the… and how—I’m gonna be honest—that people like me just didn’t give a shit. Oh, this man has been running this con for years. Mhm. Oh, and you got all your money… OK. All right. Now, you know how some of us—I know it comes off as heartless to some people, and you just have to… and you’ll never, you’d never get to live in my shoes, or our shoes—because we just don’t care. I mean, it’s like, “Oh, white people got harmed. OK.” Just like all the people of this past weekend talking about white people getting arrested. Well, you should’ve planned—you went to a Black Lives Matter rally. You should have made plans for that.
David: And you know, I’ve been watching some videos of some of the protests and the way white people have been conducting—some white people—have been conducting themselves at these rallies…
Kim: Is so typical of whiteness.
David: It is. It’s like they’re begging to be arrested.
Kim: Or, they know they won’t, so this is a opportunity to sow chaos, ’cause white supremacy is just chaos. That’s all it is. And so you’re seeing a lot of these white young men who have been told that they’re special all their lives, and now they’re in a world where they’re not special, but also the economy and stuff is against them, so they’re just angry with nothing, nowhere else to put it, and they don’t care because they don’t have to examine anything and they don’t have to deal with the consequences of their actions.
This is why I fundamentally said—and people can… and this is not me endorsing anybody. Every time I say this, I have to say, “I’m not endorsing Biden,” because he’s a racist ass too. Also. This is why I saw Bernie Sanders as equally problematic as Trump, because you have a legion of white angry men who you have a response… oh, it reminds me… oh, my lord! Woo! Talkin’ ’bout full circle!
So now the Bernie Sanders campaign reminds me of a Section 230 campaign. [David laughs] You riled these damn people up and took no responsibility for their actions on or offline. I have a problem with that because they were causing so much harm. And all you could say was—when you finally spoke up—”That that’s not how we,” very low voice, “You know, that’s not how we…” Yes, it is! Yes, it is.
David: You know, this is something you and I agreed about several months ago, I think maybe when we got into a little more contact, ’cause the resemblance is… one of the things I know: this is the kind of lack of contact with the real—with the facts and the world, right? When you try to argue with them about things, and I—maybe we were talkin’ about when they sort of claim that Sanders had passed the CARES Act or something, because he gave a speech… and he gave a good speech. [Laughs]
Kim: And so did a whole buncha other representatives.
David: Right? That were actual sponsors of the bill. And if you tried to talk with them about that…
Kim: Or, everything that happens is because we don’t have Medicare for All. That’s the answer to everything. It’s like, “wait a minute!” Our health care system is racist as fuck. How does healthcare for all—Medicare for All—solve that, particularly when your candidate does not want to talk about race; everything is about class.
David: And if you said to them, “Gee, the UK has one of the best socialized medicine programs in the world, and they’re having even worse COVID 19 problems than we are, so maybe Medicare for All is not in and of itself the solution,” and they just jump down your throat as if…
Kim: My whole thing was, “Show me an implementation plan.” Oh, that’s what they were sayin’. Don’t, uh-uh, no, no, no. Don’t show me the shit from the website. I could see that. I want to see an implementation plan, and they keep… No, no, no, no. What don’t you understand about my words? And I’m saying, “I don’t…. this is not what I want.” I want to see on Day One through Day 30, this is what I’m going to do, and I know we’re gonna have an obstacle for Mitch McConnell, so this is the plan I have to get around that.
David: Oh, yeah.
Kim: If you don’t have that, I don’t want to hear all this shit, because what you’re doin’—because again, all these people want revolutions—who gets harmed in revolutions? The most vulnerable. So you need a strategy to ensure that we minimize the harm to the most vulnerable, because they’re gonna be impacted anyway. And that goes back to your beginning statement about how much—your statements of a little while ago—about the people who’re sayin’ these things have no clue, no perspective about anything, but they wanna save the world. Save the war from you! [David laughs] That’s what we need to save the world from. From you.
David: You know, my… yeah. My colleague Tressie Cottom has been tweeting a lot about the protests, and she was tweeting something about being an ally, and she said something like, “Go do the reading.” [Laughs] And I was just like, if only we could get people… [Laughs]
Kim: Didn’t she write the book… something ed?
David: Oh, yeah. “Lower Ed” is her first book.
Kim: I need one of y’all people who know her to please get her on my show. [Laughs]
David: Oh, she’s in high demand, but I will definitely, I will put in a word for you.
Kim: Sheesh! I have been tryin’ and tryin’ and tryin’, because I want her to come on and talk about these bootcamps and these ISAs.
David: Mmm. Mmm.
Kim: Yes, exactly.
David: Yeah. Yeah.
Kim: Because she wrote the book on it. [Laughs]
David: Yup. Oh, you and she would have a good conversation.
Kim: Yes, please. Please. Please. If you could do that for me, I would greatly appreciate iiiit. [Both laugh] So, what would you like to say in the final moments on the show?
David: Oh. Um…
Kim: That went by fast, dinnit? [Laughs]
David: It did go by fast, and I love having the wide ranging, connecting the dots conversation. Look, you know, I think we’ve both given a lot of things to be very upset about, but some interesting places where there’s some hope and—given that I think both of us often tweet stuff that is pretty critical and negative—I think it… people, when they meet me, often say that they’re kind of surprised because I seem to have hope about a variety of things.
Kim: Oh, you have to be hopeful and optimistic or we would be depressed. [Both laugh]
David: And I am depressed.
Kim: Oh, thankfully I’m not. I have some very good coping skills. Thankfully. And this is why I—but that’s another reason why I keep the boundaries that I do. Because I know that this work would just be… Mmm. Mmm.
David: I may need to hit you up for some of those copin’ skills. [Laughs]
Kim: Yes. I’ve had to, yes. That’s why everything for me is a strategy. It has to fit within the bounds of… yeah, or I can’t—there’s a lot of stuff I don’t tweet about that I wanna talk about, but I’m just like, “Nope. It’s not a part of the strategy. It’s gonna start… Mm-mm, nope. Not going that. Not doing that.” [Laughs]
David: Mm-mm. And I guess some—maybe something we’ve been talkin’ about right around the edges here, and that I try to talk about more—what is our vision of a better society? One that is actually informed by having done the right thing? [Kim laughs] And talking to people?
Kim: A simple thing like being informed by reading? Whaaat? No. [David laughs] But then again, I can’t, I cannot fault people because there’s so much different disinformation out there, you don’t even know reading to believe anymore.
David: You don’t; and yet the number of people who live in America and haven’t read Frederick Douglass, haven’t read James Baldwin.
Kim: OK, come on now. You askin’ too much of these white folx; you ask them to read Black folx? Whaaaat? [David laughs] Black people actually write books? Whaaaat?
Kim: That’s another thing I’ve been talking about during this riot and stuff: please do not recommend anybody reading about it from any white resources. There’re enough Black resources for you to learn about why Black lives matter.
David: You’re not kidding. And there’s—I mean, and to their credit—people have been recommending some wonderful books there, and you’ve had quite a few of these authors on your show—they are some absolutely amazing resources out there now that really—not that there haven’t been since Frederick Douglass and before—but there’re, you know, you can do the reading now. You really can… [Kim laughs] And as you said, not everybody’s going to agree, right? That’s part of why it’s so important to do a lot of reading. People have different opinions about things.
Kim: Exactly. Exactly. And don’t—and we’ll end with this—don’t—as I tweeted today—don’t push that tweet button about race, antiracism, white supremacy, prejudice, anti-Blackness, if you’re not willin’ to get criticized for it, for havin’ a fucked up opinion. [David laughs] So just be ready for it. [Laughs]
David: And read the criticisms if you’re gonna do that.
Kim: Oh no, it’s easier for them to block us. That’s just how they… yes. We’re just, you know, uninformed, under-informed, low information, ignorant, all of these things. It’s much easier to do all of that, then to actually Google. You know what I’m sayin’? And we’re in tech. It’s just so much easier than spending two more minutes Googling something.
David: And it is amazing that the—in the information revolution—the ability of people to find the accurate and useful information seems to have dwindled. Amazingly.
Kim: Ah, they wanna… I remember when all the knowledge I knew was in the encyclopedias on the shelf at my house, and there are people—many people—who want it to go back there. If it’s not in those books, it does not exist.
David: Yeah, we could do better than that. But we could do better than we’re doing, too.
Kim: Oh, most definitely. Thank you so much, David, for coming on the show.
David: Thank you for havin’ me. Really appreciate it.
Kim: Thank you for taking the time, ’cause I know you have a busy schedule—and that’s what took us so long to get this scheduled—but thank you.
David: Thank you.
Kim: And you have a wonderful day.
David: You too.