Manage episode 292213377 series 121090
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Why Did It Take So Long to Accept the Facts About Covid? (The New York Times)
GOP Governors Slash Jobless Aid to Try to Force More Americans to Return to Work (The Washington Post)
Moment of Hope: Pardons of Misdemeanor Marijuana Convictions
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:00:00] It's very, very easy to say, okay, I will cut this person out of my life to save myself a little bit of grief but usually if we're talking about people who are maybe like very bought into these conspiracies, we're like pretty deep in it, right? The best thing you can do is to let them know that you're going to be there no matter what and that sort of like gives them a little bit of space. And allows them to backtrack gracefully, if they choose to do that.
Sarah: This is Sarah
Beth: And Beth.
Sarah: You're listening to Pantsuit Politics.
Beth: The home of grace-filled political conversations.
[00:01:00] Hello everyone. Thank you so much for joining us for another episode of Pantsuit Politics. Today, we're going to talk about the state of the economy in light of the April jobs report and just our take on what's going on and what our expectations should be right now about the economy. Then we'll share our conversation with Jane Lytvynenko, BuzzFeed's senior reporter on disinformation. I'm a big fan of her Twitter feed, especially in all of her work. She talks to us about misinformation and her advice for navigating digital media. I love this conversation. I'm excited for you to hear it and outside of politics, we're discussing what we perceived this year as a real shift, a positive one in recognizing the complexity around Mother's Day, so stick around. You won't want to miss that discussion.
Sarah: [00:01:49] Before we start, did you know that you can listen to Pantsuit Politics on Spotify? You can follow us there and never miss an episode if that's the app you're starting to live in and your day to day. You can also ask [00:02:00] Alexa to play the latest episode of Pantsuit Politics. I know a lot of you listen to as you're folding laundry, doing other household tasks and Alexa's a real help mate. You can ask her to play Pantsuit Politics so you can listen to it as well.
Beth: [00:02:10] As we get into this conversation about the economy, it is necessarily a conversation about COVID-19 and we want to just take a second to acknowledge that there were very big reactions to Friday's episode that covered a wide spectrum of feeling. We heard from so many people that it was our best episode ever. We heard from quite a few people who did not enjoy it and challenged where we were coming from and we got a lot of in-between that was very thoughtful and interesting and we've spent a lot of time thinking about those comments. We covered some of our reactions to them briefly on Patreon last night. But Sarah, we thought we'd just take just a second here and react to your reactions.
Sarah: [00:02:54] Yes, it's an incredibly complex topic and I think the first thing I'd say is like, we definitely did not [00:03:00] cover everything we want to cover. So many people pointed out that there's this real complexity when it comes to kids and COVID, and them not being vaccinated. We have two, not one, but two episodes coming up where we're going to talk about that. I'm talked to some experts surrounding, particularly kids and vaccines. And we heard a lot of pushback when we were talking about schools, reopening and mistakes made there and I think, what I just want to make sure and say is one, I thought the reaction was overwhelmingly positive and I don't mean just positive and you like the episode, but just so thoughtful.
People really engaging in some self-examination and sort of awareness of where they saw themselves in the episode where they didn't see themselves in the episode. Why? I just, I was so incredibly impressed, but there was a lot of. You know, if you're criticizing something about mask, that means you think there should be no mask, or you think that the States that have pulled back the mass mandate have done everything correctly or [00:04:00] if you have criticisms about schools were the way schools were reopened, you think schools should be all the way opened or, I mean, and I think that I would just encourage everyone to remember, like, it was. The best comment we received from as a listener that was like, I'm just trying to remind myself it's one episode at a moment in time and that's what it was.
You know, I think that there's been a lot of shift in the science and the public health understanding of COVID. As usual Zeynep Tufekci's doing some of the best writing about that. I'd highly recommend an article she just wrote for the New York Times about, about how we now understand that COVID is aerosolized and what that means and how we need to focus more on ventilation and filtration and letting people go outside now that the science has shifted, because I think one of the best points she makes and I think it showed up so much in the pushback from this episode is when we establish a status quo, and what I would add is when that status quo is established during a moment of really intense fear and trauma, we keep raising the evidentiary standard to sort of undo that status quo and that's what I [00:05:00] was really trying to articulate in that conversation is that, you know, like I said, we went from sort of harm reduction to risk elimination.
And I think we just need to be aware of that. Not because I'm mad at anybody or I think somebody is doing it wrong. I mean, there are some people I'm mad at, but because I always want us to be growing and becoming more thoughtful and I see some of this approach really harming people and increasing their anxiety and suffering and so I just, I think that the conversation was hard and uncomfortable for us and, you know, but it was worth it. I think the response overwhelming me showed me that it was worth it, that we all, I hope grew a little bit, developed a little more empathy, developed a little more understanding. That's always our goal here at Pantsuit Politics.
Beth: [00:05:45] My goal as it relates to COVID right now is I just want people to get vaccinated. I want to ask every probing question I can about what it takes to get more people vaccinated, how we can shift our problem solving to that problem. You know, how we can bring all of our [00:06:00] best thinking and resources to building trust with people who are willing to consider getting vaccinated, but are not yet persuaded that it's time for them to do so. That's different. I hear you all on a category of people who have from the beginning said, COVID, isn't real. You're dumb for wearing a mask and you're dumb for getting vaccinated. That's not who I'm talking about.
I recognize that we've got a, we got a hardened population in America, we probably always have had around some issues and always will have around others, but right now we have a hardened population around COVID-19 and I am not trying to cater to that population, but I do see still a lot of opportunity among people who are open to it, who think COVID is real, who have some questions about the vaccine and I want to get those questions answered and set a positive example and appeal to them in every way I possibly can, because I truly believe that absent a lot more people getting [00:07:00] vaccinated, we probably are looking at a much less comfortable and maybe even frightening future in terms of variants and where we go from here and that kind of leads us into the jobs report.
We received an April jobs report. We get these every month and the reason this one made so much news is because it was about a quarter of what was projected in terms of the number of jobs added to the economy. We added jobs to the economy, over 250,000 of them but it was at a much lower rate than had been forecasted and hoped and Sarah, what has bugged me in the coverage of this job's report, beyond just saying like looking at data month by month is usually too incomplete of a picture. You should, I think you should look at data quarterly, not monthly at the least, you know, to [00:08:00] get a meaningful trajectory.
But what has really bugged me is I felt we did good conversation around the recession in understanding that this is not a typical recession so we have an atypical experience of economic slowdown. And so we need to attack that problem differently than we've attacked past recessions. And I saw a lot of that commentary and discussion and heard it from policymakers and now we get this one job's report and I feel like suddenly we are saying, well, we had an unusual problem that we had to attack in unusual ways, but now we want to measure the success of that under completely typical metrics.
Sarah: [00:08:43] yeah, no, I totally agree. I think it speaks to the weaknesses inside our forecasting, the weaknesses inside our models and weaknesses, because the models are not perfect and the best, most normal of circumstances. And so expecting them to [00:09:00] reflect perfectly, very extraordinary circumstances seems like a, a mistake to me.
Beth: [00:09:06] No and an also leads to a lot of analysis that tries to reduce complex human considerations, other than money, to dollars and cents transactional conclusions. So when you hear people saying, for example, while the unemployment insurance extension is paying people to stay home now, and that's why we don't have enough people in the workforce, perhaps that's true for some people, but I cannot imagine that that's the entirety of what's causing that tightness in the labor market. I think about just time of year. If you are a parent, summer is always challenging.
If you're in a school district that takes most of the summer off and you've had a weird school year anyway, and your options for caregiving during the summer are always limited, but especially [00:10:00] limited this year and you've got kids who say things like my, you know, my ten-year-old, I'm having a hard time convincing her to do much of anything this summer because she's tired of wearing a mask and she doesn't want to go sit in a classroom somewhere and wear a mask. She doesn't want to be at summer camp with a mask on and I don't blame her and so, you know, The options for the summer are limited. I totally understand people thinking I'm going to get back in the workforce in the fall. You know, hopefully school's back to normal and I have some more reliable supports in my life for getting me into a job.
Sarah: [00:10:31] Yeah. It's a simple number to measure a very complex calculus in an individual's life and I think if we're describing this as a she session, which I think is dumb, but let's just go with it because the recession has impacted primarily women, who thought that women would be rolling back into the workforce, women who left because of childcare issues when half the childcare places are still shut down and it's about to be summer? Like who thought, who thought that that was going to be part of it, but that's because this metric [00:11:00] is such a, like you said, like a transactional prism through which people will look through that of course they missed the mark.
I mean that, to me, it's like, there's not something surprising now. Will I just say this to the unemployment calculus. I've had to really watch myself. I feel myself having a very partisan and very damaging reaction when this comes up in my everyday life and let me, let me explain what I mean. You know, I had a friend that basically said, well, people don't want to work cause they're getting more with unemployment and I felt every cell in my body want to just react. Like I felt so defensive. I felt like if I admit even a sliver of this is true, then I'm admitting that everything the Democrats spot for as far as extension of unemployment is wrong, that we screwed it up.
Like I could just feel that sort of old partisan posturing that I really try to keep in check one, because it sh you know, if you, [00:12:00] if you tell someone who is watching this particular unemployment issue, play out in their community, that the sky is green, not blue, that people aren't struggling to fill these spots because of unemployment insurance, then I'm shutting down the conversation and there, and I'm reinforcing a lot of stereotypes and it's going to be bad because the truth is like there, I have talked to people in my community who are trying to hire and who have people saying I'll be back in a few weeks when the gut, when my funding from the government runs out, like I'll come back when I've, when my checks are done.
So I can't argue with that. I'm not, and I shouldn't want to, and I shouldn't have to and I, you know, that's just going to shut the conversation down and they're not going to believe anything I say, because I'm refusing to acknowledge the reality that that is a component of why people are not looking for jobs and so I'm really trying to have to watch myself to say, like, I think the stability of unemployment is definitely playing a rolein why people are not returning to the labor market. [00:13:00] Like no doubt, of course, that that is a component, but just like with everything with COVID, it's not the only thing that's happening and there's never just one thing that's going on in a country of 300 million people.
And I think childcare. I think that, especially when you're looking at, when these numbers came down on April 12th, that we weren't hearing the hopeful messages that we're currently hearing about summer, that people were still really scared of the disease. If you're talking about where we're seeing the real drop off in these numbers, as far as, um, in low income jobs in the retail sector and some other areas, you're talking about communities that were really impacted by COVID, who lost family members. Who have some really, um, difficult economic calculations to make regarding their own health.
And I just think like there's a part of me, that's that I wish in some of these conversations I'd said, it's just not an experience I understand. I don't understand what it's like to be a low income worker in America. I [00:14:00] don't understand what it's like to be in a community that was at really high risk and that probably lost many community members due to COVID and so I'm trying to give a lot of grace and not make it about people just want to cash checks and stay home and to add in some complexity, instead of double down on a partisanship that often just makes it really simplistic and really a really defensive conversation.
Beth: [00:14:22] Well, especially if you're talking about people who have experienced real economic precarity throughout the pandemic, you have choices about childcare evaporating, because some of those childcare centers aren't closed because of COVID concerns. They closed. They could not make it through the pandemic and in places where you already had too few childcare options, you have even fewer now and so, so that's one issue.
You have people staring down, eviction, moratoriums, expiring, and so stabilization of housing is really important. And look, if you're an employer, [00:15:00] Stabilization of housing is really important. You are not going to have a reliable workforce if people are in danger of losing their homes and so, you know, I think all policy-making is about prioritization and about what you're willing to bet on. And when the unemployment insurance benefits were extended, we did not know how successful the vaccine rollout was going to be.
We did not know that vaccine supply would soon eclipse vaccine demand. So in one sense, just the purest public health calculation, it was the right thing to do, I think and we were also betting on trying to help people, maintain their housing, pay their bills, not get so behind that things just spiraled and spiraled. Imagine what would happen to the workforce if we hadn't given people this temporary support. If your argument is that it went on too long, like we can debate that all day but I think it was right to take the risk of it going on too long versus having it not go [00:16:00] long enough because it's not just that we're not adding jobs as fast as people would like to see it. It's all those other ramifications of people getting behind financially that would hurt the job market far into the future if we had allowed them all to crash down at one time.
Sarah: [00:16:16] Well, and I just think why I get so defensive in these conversations is the undercurrent is people should work. People should want to work no matter how shitty the job is because there was a big exploration expansion of understanding on the higher income work scale that people don't actually want to work nine to five and they don't actually want to show up at a job and have a long, terrible commute and that the flexibility from working from home was a real gift to people on the upper income scale.
And so, but it feels like when we shift to lower income jobs, all of a sudden it's like, how dare you demand flexibility? How dare you, demand income stability. How dare you. Once something better for yourself, [00:17:00] or you should just take what you can get. It makes me mad and I think I react to that in the conversations too, because that's the undercurrent is like they're cashing those government checks because they're lazy when these are, this is not coming from people who are out there waking up at 4:30 AM to take a bus to Burger King. Right?
Like, and so there it's coming from people who love working from home and who, who demand flexibility. And I think that's like, that's what upsets me too and I have to watch my emotional reaction to that because it just, when we get into issues of class, which is just dripping from every part of this conversation surrounding the jobs report, there are these real stereotypes that are prolific throughout America and they make me so mad.
Beth: [00:17:42] Well, and I can imagine that some people are waiting to see kind of how things shake out before they get into a new job because I don't know that we are even close to finished sorting out what the demand for hospitality services will be post [00:18:00] COVID or what the restaurant industry looks like or the travel industry. If I were thinking of starting a business today, I would be waiting several months because I just don't know where the economy is leading, um, in terms of what people actually want when they have more choices available that feels safe and so it feels unfair to me, to your point, Sarah, to ask people on the lower end of the economic spectrum to rush that process faster than people on the higher end of the economic spectrum.
And we don't have everyone vaccinated yet. We particularly don't have everyone vaccinated yet in some of the communities that have been most effected by the economic fallout of the pandemic. And so we just are going to have to give us a little bit more time, I think, and I, I'm glad that the government, this time erred on the side of sticking with people and helping them through this, instead of letting people flounder on their own.
But we're going to get, uh, you know, some data about what happens when those benefits get cut off, because we're seeing a number of Republican governors [00:19:00] pulling back support received through federal programs in their States to try to boost the employment numbers. I'm worried about what that's going to mean for families in those States.
Sarah: [00:19:11] So before we share our conversation with Jane, we wanted to have a moment of hope from Krista who shared this with us on Instagram. She said recently I was discouraged reading about a program in Birmingham, started in 2019 to pardon misdemeanor marijuana charges that had only pardoned nine people so far because they'd made the process too difficult. I was proud to see that they've acknowledged what they tried wasn't working. I have mixed feelings on the legalization of marijuana, but honestly, what do I not have mixed feelings about as a moderate, but this feels like progress to me and I thought that was lovely.
I think I love a moment of hope. It's like they haven't gotten it right yet, but they admitted it wasn't working and they're trying to improve it so sometimes that's the best we can ask for.
Beth: [00:19:47] Absolutely and we will link the article that Krista mentions here and I think if you're on the fence about the legalization of marijuana, understanding what happens when you start to pardon misdemeanor marijuana convictions, again to labor [00:20:00] force participation, to the overall economic picture and to the civil rights picture in this country, it is a very big deal.
It is a very significant way that we can have I think a lot of really positive outcomes across multiple sectors and so I'm, I'm thrilled to see this is happening in Birmingham. Next up, we're going to talk with Jane Lytvynenko about what she called the Venn Diagram of hell, which is my favorite phrase from this interview, um, navigating misinformation online.
Thank you so much for joining us. I find myself going to your Twitter feed anytime something feels weird to me because I feel like you usually have a good explanation for why it feels weird, or just a, just a good reminder that following that instinct, that something feels weird is [00:21:00] really important. So can you just start by telling us what it is that you do with Buzzfeed, for people who aren't familiar with your work and how you cover disinformation?
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:21:09] Yeah. I mean, I tweet about things that feel weird. No, there's more to my job that, so for the last four and a half years or so, I've been focusing on investigating debunking, uncovering online disinformation. So this can mean anything from debunking hoaxes in the middle of a breaking news situation, like a crisis, an election, an attack, um, uh, weather event to investigating how disinformation networks come together online and sort of how they work across different platforms to try to manipulate people's behavior.
And important thing to clarify, is that what I [00:22:00] mean, does information networks, I don't necessarily mean people who post things that are fake on the internet. I also mean, uh, uh, accounts, pages, um, websites that may take something that is factually true, but omit facts or decontextualize it to the point where it becomes warped. So when we talk about disinformation and sort of this like large ecosystem that we focus on and not necessarily this is accurate, or this is not accurate,
Sarah: [00:22:34] that's really important. I think that language to describe how something goes through a process on the internet where it becomes warped and I think that have process happens online and offline. I mean, I think that happens in conversations. I mean, we all played the game of telephone long time ago for our listeners. They're dealing with that a lot in their personal conversations, their personal interactions and I know that you [00:23:00] take this macro, you as a reporter and you're really trying to debunk it, but I'm wondering what you tell people, cause I'm assuming you get this question a lot, but what if my family members fully vested in this disinformation and no amount of debunking is going to get them out of it?
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:23:14] You know, it's really interesting before the year 2020, I got a lot of questions along the lines of how do we know that disinformation has an impact on the real world?
Sarah: [00:23:27] That's sweet. That's sweet. When we were worried about that.
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:23:31] Yeah and then 2020 hit and it became this global interconnected boundary crossing issue that very clearly has an impact on the real world. And now the question becomes, how do I deal with the, in my day-to-day life now that I see the impact and unfortunately there's no really hard and fast rules, especially if you have a family member or a friend who's [00:24:00] maybe very committed to a conspiracy that they've come across online or to a community around that conspiracy that they've built online and one of the best things to do is practice patience in that situation.
It's very, very easy to say, okay, I will cut this person out of my life to save myself a little bit of grief. But usually if we're talking about people who are maybe like very bought into these conspiracies, we're like pretty deep in it. Right? The best thing you can do is to let them know that you're going to be there no matter what, because if one day they sort of wake up and decide, actually I don't really know what I'm doing here, this is not those situations that I want to be in, they need to have a support network that they can still rely on that's part of, sort of their old life or their previous life and that's [00:25:00] also why it's incredibly important to not shame people, even if it's a one-off because that feeling of shame, doesn't give people a lot of room to backtrack they're talking about.
So instead, practice um using open-ended questions. Um sort of asking like, okay, where did you find this? And you have evidence that, um, the thing that they sent you is false, say, Hey, you were talking to me about this the other day. I came across it. What do you think, you know? And that sort of, uh, allows like it gives them a little bit of space and allows them to backtrack gracefully if they choose to do that.
Sarah: [00:25:41] Man. I don't know that does sound like macro advice for our society, as well. As I feel like a lot of what you just said would work for us culturally as well.
Beth: [00:25:49] Well, thank you about a specific example that we know our listeners are struggling with. You've written quite a bit about the January 6th insurrection and everything that happened leading up to [00:26:00] it. I was reading a recent piece of yours about uh, Facebook and an internal memo. So I would love for you to give us your kind of macro disinformation view on how we got to January 6th and how the story of January 6th seems to be rewritten daily based on different interests swirling around it.
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:26:19] Yeah. I mean, how we got here is an incredibly difficult question because there's really no one easy answer, but I think one of the most important things to understand with disinformation is that very frequently it starts small and sort of builds on itself. It's almost like a game of one-upmanship and when you think about when the problem of disinformation in North America, in particular, in the US first sort of came up, it was in the context of things that are particularly like extremely fake, right? Like things that were genuinely, truly like some team sitting in [00:27:00] Macedonia making up a headline, right? Like totally out of left field.
But I think as companies, social media companies realize that that was easy to sift out. Um, the way that disinformation was presented to large audiences changed so rather than be, um, absolutely fake sort of like four clicks type of approach, we saw a lot of testing and a lot of false and hyper-partisan information that was clearly created for political means. It really sort of looked at, okay, what is the conversation right now and how can I divert attention from that conversation?
That is like a very insidious tactic that works not just in the US but globally. You look a lot at Russian disinformation and their [00:28:00] approach to how they target audiences and it's not through pure fakes, it's through embedding themselves into communities and then starting extremely divisive conversations in those communities and sort of watching them fall apart. Right. Uh, watching them target one another over this one devicive issue rather than have a conversation that they wanted to have in the first place, which was about something completely different.
And so it's through that process that between 2015 and 2019, it grew and it grew, and it grew, and in 2020 with the pandemic, it really brought all of the different strands of false information and disinformation that we have together. So this was political disinformation, this was health disinformation and this was like tech-based disinformation of, you know, a little bit of tech fear. It allowed for all of these narratives that were happening [00:29:00] separately to essentially become the center of this Venn diagram from hell.
Beth: [00:29:07] That's the tagline for this episode and how I feel every day.
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:29:13] Perfect. Um, and with it, we saw a huge growth of audiences. You know, it's really tricky to say how we got here specifically, but it is a combination of all of those factors. In addition to the fact that we all stayed home for the first, like six months of 2020 with nothing to do, but sit online and try to find new communities.
Beth: [00:29:35] And so what are you learning about the way that what happened on January 6th is being repackaged and sold in kind of the same way?
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:29:45] Well, you know, um, I think what we're learning is that even the most drastic of events is not going to stop as disinformation cycle. We already knew that after Charlottesville, um, which [00:30:00] was uh, very painful, um, and tragic event and I think that was really reinforced during January 6th. Uh, it's really difficult to know where the information ecosystem will go from here because some of the social media companies sort of, at least in the moment said, Oh no, you know, what did we do? How did we get here?
They banned Donald Trump from their platforms. They sort of, at least at the time felt like they had this moment of reckoning almost but the disinformation hasn't stopped and the tactics that I just described haven't stopped either. Most of the people who spread this information, these like super, super disinformation, super spreaders, as I've heard researchers call them, they're still online. They're still using these same tactics. So it's kind of difficult to be optimistic about where this will go, because it just [00:31:00] continues.
Sarah: [00:31:01] I don't usually play the role of optimist in the face of conversations about misinformation, but what does feel different to me and just tell me if I'm being way naive here, it feels like in 2016, when we talk about the divisiveness inside the groups and, and some of the other disinformation strategies were able to succeed in part because we weren't paying attention to them and we weren't taking them seriously and you're talking about that shift in 2020 when everybody was like, well, I guess we're not debating whether they're going to impact us anymore.
I mean, do you feel a shift now that it's something that people take seriously and pay attention to? I mean, we were so concerned about the impact on the 2020 election, but they were able to, you know, particularly keep foreign actors out of our systems and, you know, I know we have the other issues. He was very dismissive and I'm not trying to be, but you know what I mean?
Like it does feel different in that it is now something most Americans, I think are least loosely aware of, [00:32:00] definitely that journalists and government officials and law enforcement is paying attention to. Does that give you like, is there literally any reason to be hopefull is basically the question I'm asking you?
Just let, just let something tiny Jane. Anything.
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:32:14] All right. I will give you a one crumb of optimism.
Sarah: [00:32:16] Thank you. Just a crumb. That's fine.
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:32:20] The one crumb of optimism is that the issue of disinformation before the US woke up to it was very well known worldwide. A lot of different countries were sounding the alarm. They were sounding the alarm on state sponsored disinformation. They were sounding the alarm on domestic disinformation. They understood the power that this networked environment has, and again, it's not that we never had disinformation before the internet. It's just that the tech companies have an outsized impact on speech because of the speed with which, [00:33:00] um, speech spreads on them and many countries, um, sort of didn't really have a lot of, um, ways to address it because these companies themselves sort of turned a blind eye. Now the companies can no longer claim ignorance.
Sarah: [00:33:18] It's more than a crumb. It is more than a crumb.
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:33:21] It's well, the companies can no longer your claim ignorance, and we can definitely keep them accountable particularly in the us. But that doesn't mean that they've accepted responsibility to the level that the responsibility should be accepted.
And it, it, it really falls a lot to US lawmakers to make good, smart policy decisions because those decisions will have an impact on, uh, the world, right? Like when we look at Facebook's user base, what is it? 2 [00:34:00] billion people now, am I making that up or, um, right? Um, so, so it's good that the US has finally woken up to the problem. It's good that the US can't claim ignorance and is looking at ways to address the issue. We should be very cautiously optimistic because the way that the issue will be addressed, um, is going to have a huge, huge impact across the world.
Sarah: [00:34:25] Well, let me give you an opportunity to go in the completely opposite direction. What's the thing people are waving red flags about now that we're not paying enough attention to? Yeah.
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:34:33] I mean, um, that's a really good question. I think my personal frustration with a lot of this conversation is how US-centric it has become, um, because once the US decides that it cares about something it really like, it really becomes a US problem and that is really, really good, difficult, particularly in countries where English is not the primary language, in [00:35:00] countries where authoritarian leaders have continued to use this power of Facebook to turn it against activists, journalists, and dissidence. And as the conversation has become so focused on the US, these issues in other places feel like they have fallen to the wayside a little bit and we can't forget that. Hmm.
Beth: [00:35:21] I recall a really helpful thread from you on Twitter, about the Tom Cruise deep fakes on TikTok, which sprang to mind for me, when you said how US-centric it has become, because I, I do see us like obsessing among ourselves about these techniques and you pointed out in that thread, which kind of blew my mind that deep fakes are mostly used to harass women online. Can you talk about where you see that showing up in other applications around the world, that US citizens ought to be more concerned about? Yeah.
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:35:51] So I think, uh, first let's define what a deep fake is. A deep fake is a machine learning [00:36:00] algorithm that was created to make a video or to manipulate a video, usually a person within that video, to make it look like somebody did something that they did not say or do. The Tom cruise deep fakes are a really great example of that. Um, it ended up being a Tom cruise impersonator.
Sarah: [00:36:20] That was my question and I was embarrassed to ask it and I'm glad that you were addressing it. And I know that's a very American centric reaction, but I'm sorry.
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:36:30] No, that's okay. Um, so it was an impersonator and it was created by an artist who's known for his extraordinary, uh, video editing skills and it took him months if I remember correctly and what that really tells us is that there's a lot of factors that went into making that video incredibly, incredibly realistic, so realistic it's indistinguishable because all of those different things [00:37:00] had to have combined.
There had to have been an impersonator who knows the mannerisms enough to mimic Tom Cruise, there has to have been enough photo and video footage of Tom Cruise to, uh, for the machine learning algorithm to work and there has to have been a professional who understood the best way to create these deep fakes and have the time to invest in them. Um, but, uh, and, and so as much as we have these conversations about deep fakes, it's really important to have that reality check, um, because we really want to remember how labor-intensive deep fakes are.
And in terms of where deep fakes are used, the big fear is that there's going to be one giant, deep fake of a politician sort of declaring nuclear war or what have you and we will not know that it's fake in time to stop it. You know, that's like the worst case scenario, right?
Sarah: [00:37:59] And the worst case [00:38:00] scenario is never what we anticipated to be. So now that we've anticipated that everybody we're safe.
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:38:04] We're safe. We're good. But in reality, the way the deep fakes are used are to harass women. To without their consent, put their faces on nude bodies or insert them into pornography and very frequently without knowledge, without their own knowledge, right? Um, and this is something that is incredibly, um, widespread. Sensity, a company that tracks these things pretty closely just put out a report, showing that on the amount of deep fakes, particularly targeted at women has, um, grown hugely this year. Um, but that's really, you know, it, it it's really, um, a case where the things that we fear and how reality is playing out are completely disconnected.
Sarah: [00:38:57] Man, I think that's the other [00:39:00] headline for this episode is the way we discipline adn the way they play out are completely disconnected. I think that's just a perfect center point to keep every conversation about misinformation focused on.
Beth: [00:39:10] So what would you suggest to listeners as we, um, go forward trying to be better online participants. I don't even know what we are online anymore. I can't even think of the now and that describes how we interact with the internet, but as we're all out there interacting with the internet, what are the things that we ought to keep in mind?
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:39:26] And as we reluctantly log on to Twitter as the last bastion of our human connection. Um, I mean, look, in terms of the big picture, it's really the responsibility falls on lawmakers and on the tech giants but that doesn't mean that individually there's a lack of things things we can do. My consistent advice has been to be mindful of the online ecosystem [00:40:00] that you build for yourself. Uh, very frequently we sort of are flippant about who we give a platform to online or how we approach community building online and that's the one thing that's within our power to change.
So if you did share something that was false, your immediate reaction should be to remove it and to apologize because you're now responsible to your online community and you've passed it on. Likewise, if you have people in your life who don't are not necessarily as well versed in these issues as you are, take the time to educate them. You know, once I explained to my grandma what an algorithm is and how it works, she became much more suspicious of Facebook than she was, which is important, right? Because.
Sarah: [00:40:52] Out here trying to make our grandma's suspicious, this is the goal.
Beth: [00:40:56] Suspicious of the right things.
[00:41:00] Jane Lytvynenko: [00:41:00] That's right. And then from there, you know, um, do your basic checks before you amplify something, especially if it's going viral. So, um, learn how to do a reverse image search even if it's on your phone. Make it a reflex to check somebody's profile, to see when it was created or if they're reliable. If you're coming across something on a website that you're, haven't really interacted with before, just to check, to make sure that it's a real website and not, not one of those, you know, imitation news websites.
So just be really mindful of how you interact with the online world, which I know feels like a little bit of a cop out answer but individually, aside from emailing your lawmakers and asking them to take action when action is needed, that's the best thing they can do.
Beth: [00:41:52] You were talking about being mindful of the kind of ecosystem we create for ourselves online. And I just would love to ask you as someone who lives in this [00:42:00] disinformation world and is trying to track down where things are coming from and how it's going, is is your job scary? Like how does it feel when you're diving into these topics?
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:42:09] It's sometimes scary, you know. Um, there are times when they're scarier than others. Um, there's like a few different flavors of scary, you know. One is like the online harassment that's targeted at reporters in this field is unreal. I'm very lucky to have escaped most of it recently, but many colleagues have had to secure their life in a way that seems just awful and terrible and problematic because of the online harassment that they receive.
And the other part is you look at a lot of these scary memes ,images, threats, profiles, things that people say and sometimes in the back of your head, you're frequently wonder, you know, how serious are they? Is this something that's [00:43:00] immune to them or is this something that they've become personally ingrained with? And the tricky thing is that, you know, sometimes you sort of perceive that you can see the arc of how bad things can get. Of course we can't, we can't tell the future by any means, but you sort of game out the way possible scenario in your head, and that can get really unsettling, but on the plus side because of how specific this field is um, it's also incredibly supportive.
You know, many reporters, uh, say that they're extremely competitive, which of course is true and I'm extremely competitive with other people in this field. But I also know that even if, um, I've colleagues who work at other publications, I can comfortably turn to them when something gets really bad and they support me [00:44:00] and I will support them. So it's a weird one, you know, it's a, it's definitely a weird subject to focus on. It's a weird field to be in, can get really scary sometimes, but sometimes it's all right.
Sarah: [00:44:12] Well, thank you for doing that work. Thank you for persisting when it's scary and I'm glad you have a community that supports you and we certainly appreciate your work here at Pantsuit Politics.
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:44:23] Thank you for having me. I think these, having these conversations is really, really
Beth: [00:44:27] important. Thank you so much, Jane.
Sarah: [00:44:30] Do you want to tell us where people can find you?
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:44:32] Oh sure. Um, I'm on Twitter, JaneLytv. Uh, you can find my email there. If you want to send me a tip of something that you see. Uh, my DMS are open there as well. Um, and I write for Buzzfeednews.com, the website, so you can find, uh, me and my colleagues, um, out on that corner of the internet.
Sarah: [00:44:52] Well, thank you so much.
Jane Lytvynenko: [00:44:54] Thank you for having me.
[00:45:00] Beth: [00:45:05] Sarah what's on your mind outside of politics?
Sarah: [00:45:09] I was so encouraged over the weekend and really over the past few weeks that we have finally really shifted the way we talk and think about Mother's Day. It's not perfect but there were very few places from like personal Facebook posts to company emails, we shared, um, Jenny's ice cream email on our Instagram and the way that you could opt out of mother's day messages, to sort of commercials and just an acknowledgement that Mother's day is complex because our relationships with our, with our mothers and as mothers contains a lot of heartbreak and a lot of trauma and a lot of suffering and so, you know, painting it as just cards and flowers and loves and kisses really misses the mark and [00:46:00] can, and can make people suffering worse.
And I thought that is something that I am, you know, So, so happy about, and I feel like it's really taken off in the last few years in particularly this year. Maybe because of COVID we really have leaned into this idea of, it's not a simple story and so let's just acknowledge that it doesn't take it away from anybody who's really celebrating, but it allows space for those, for whom this holiday is more complex.
Beth: [00:46:30] Last thing you said to me was really key because this is an example I think we could apply to so many different areas. Acknowledging that there are multiple experiences out there, doesn't take anything away from my experience of it. You know, I'm a mom in a family with two kids, a middle-class household. Like there are so many things about my life that are really wonderful and easy and nothing about people saying Mother's Day is hard or [00:47:00] hurtful or something that I don't want thrown in my face at every turn takes anything away from my ability to enjoy the holiday with my family here and that is a blueprint I think that we need in so many different spaces.
Sarah: [00:47:12] Yeah, my friend, Jessica sent me an email and said like, thank you for, you know, acknowledging the complexity and I was like up next July 4th. We can do in America. Like if we can do it around Mother's Day, if we can find space for empathy for each other and difficult histories and, you know, just letting go of the easy peasy, often very corporate messages. I loved the Instagram commenter was like, maybe we could just stop using holidays to sell things. That's an idea.
Then we can apply it to bigger holidays, to like more national holidays. I guess it's not a bigger holiday, but more national holidays where there is complex history, where there is a lot to hold and there's there's tension and there's not easy heroes to lift up, but there's some human behavior that shouldn't be lifted up, you know? Cause I think that's [00:48:00] true for mothers, not every mother deserves to be celebrated. Let's just, you know, let's just put that out there.
Some mothers were abusive or neglectful and so we've just been able to hold that and say, that doesn't mean we don't celebrate. That doesn't mean we don't find a moment for gratitude or for recognition or for just celebration. It's just that we hold it alongside the fact that there is trauma and there is abuse in there, a sadness and heartbreak and I think we, sh listen, we could do that other places, America? I believe in us.
Beth: [00:48:33] Yeah. I wouldn't even begrudge mentioning holidays and marketing messages. I especially think about small businesses and what a big deal the holidays are for many of those businesses is an opportunity to reach out to their customers where sometimes there's a real service associated with reaching out to customers.
Um, so I'm not even upset about any of that, but doing it with that note of, Hey, Some of you desperately want to be mothers and that hasn't been a reality for you and that hurts [00:49:00] and we, we see it and some of you have, have buried your children and that is, that is a tragedy and it hurts and we see that. Just being able to note that this isn't one thing for everybody and, and to do it simply plainly without judgment or ranking of who should feel what when, that, to me is a triumph in a culture that doesn't do that very well in so many areas.
I'm I am, I am encouraged by just being able to say, if you celebrate, we are here to celebrate with you. If you grieve, we're here to grieve with you. If you just want to ignore this, then hit snooze on this message and we'll move on.
Sarah: [00:49:40] Yeah, it's not like we don't have the technology to let people opt out of this stuff. You know, it's not like we don't have ways to adapt and to accommodate all the ways that a country of 300 million people are different, right. Like I just, we can do this. We [00:50:00] have the ability. Because of the technology that often makes our lives much more complicated, it can allow a path forward in this multicultural democracy that we're trying to build, where people can go with their own pace, because that's where America screws up a lot. We want everybody going at the same pace. It's, you know, it's reflected in our conversation about the jobs report, right.
We don't allow for, you know, we had a marathon half marathon that goes by my house and it, it's called the Iron Mama. It happens every time or it happens every year during mother's day. And I love the pacesetters and I love that I feel so ex, I don't even know why I'm tearing up. Like, I love it when the people come by very first and I am just as excited for them as I am for the relay people in the middle and the people at the bringing up the rear with the last little, you know, police car flashing and protecting them.
I am sincerely happy to cheer for every single one of those people and I wish we had, and, and you know, the other thing [00:51:00] is, all of us that come out and cheer talk about how fun it is. It's like we can't even put into words why it is so fun and lovely and rewarding to just stand out there and cheer for people as they run by and I just, I love that we do it for not just the people at the front of the race, but throughout the whole route and it feels so good and I wish we could use that sort of mentality to let people run at their own pace for a lot of different things in American life.
Beth: [00:51:32] Well, and to just extract that bit, that it feels really good to support people. I loved that there were lots of questions out there this mother's day, just about, who's been really influential in your life and celebrating those people, because what's the point of holidays if not to prompt some reflection about people who are meaningful to you? I know this mother's day for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about how differently I feel about being a mom than I did [00:52:00] before the pandemic and how much the pandemic has changed my relationship with my kids.
That reflection is useful and it's lovely to think about not only my own kids, but some of the wonderful people who, who call us internet moms here at Pantsuit Politics. Some of the people in my life, especially women, who have really guided me throughout my career, even the ones who've been straight up horrible to me, who gave me examples, who I don't want to be, that kind of reflection is useful too so I'm, I like that we took a more reflective tone overall. I'm sure it wasn't perfect and I'm sure that there are people who attended church services or received emails or were in places that did not get this. And but I do feel like we have the seed of something here that will grow and get better every single year and that makes me excited.
Sarah: [00:52:55] Well, and you know, if I'm giving, I mean, truly the maximum [00:53:00] amount of grace available to me right now, I think communities that get really defensive when we talk about the 4th of July or Thanksgiving or Mother's Day or new changes to those rituals are speaking to something important, which is what you just said. They do offer us a moment to reflect and, you know, I think there is an undercurrent of protection to community events, protection to moments in times when we come together as a group, as opposed to just leaving everybody to their individual pursuits that is worthwhile and that is worth protecting.
And I think that the, you know, the path forward is to acknowledge that we can do that while honoring individual experiences. We can come together as a community and Mark a moment in time, have that moment of self-reflection, be it celebration, be it mourning, [00:54:00] but also, you know, honor everybody's individual experiences as a group and I think that's what we're trying to figure out as Americans and I'm just glad to see that we're making some progress when it comes to mother's day.
Beth: [00:54:11] I totally agree. We really need ritual and we really need tradition and we really need days on the calendar that we carve out to do something besides just work and live a normal, productive life. I think we need more of that, not less of it and so how can we get more of it um, that opens the doors to people instead of making people feel hurt or excluded? That that's such a worthwhile question and I mean, thank goodness for people like Jenny's Ice Cream, right for asking it.
Well, thank you all so much for being with us during our twice a week ritual of sitting down to process the news. We're so glad that you're here. We'll be back in your ears on Friday talking about vaccines throughout the world. We're going to hear from [00:55:00] some of our international listeners. We're excited to share that with you. Until then, have the best week available to you.
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