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The Dark Side Of The Digital Age; The Positive Power Of Mass Media. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired June 15, 2018 - 14:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, the dark side of our digital age. The celebrated tech pioneer, Jaron Lanier, on the malign impact of social

media on all of us and ten reasons why he says we should abandon it right now.

Plus, from the negative power of mass media to the positive. Oscar-winning director Morgan Neville on his acclaimed new movie, "Won't You Be My

Neighbor". It's about the life and legacy of Mr. Rogers, that much-loved TV presenter who charmed generations of American children by treating them

with respect.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

What would we all do without Facebook to connect us and social media to blast our missives far and wide at warp speed. It has over 2 billion users

around the world, but Facebook's influence is a matter of serious and growing concern.

Earlier this year, a campaign for people to delete their Facebook accounts suddenly began to gain traction in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica

scandal, which saw the data of over 50 million users exploited by the political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica.

#DeleteFacebook started trending on Twitter. Ironically, people were musing about quitting social media on social media.

My next guest has a more radical solution. Immediately delete all your accounts, not just Facebook

Jaron Lanier is a tech pioneer and author of several books, including "You Are Not A Gadget". His latest has the straightforward title "Ten Arguments

for Deleting your Social Media Accounts Right Now" and he joins me here in London.

So, Jaron Lanier, welcome to the program.

JARON LANIER: Thank you so much for having me here.

AMANPOUR: You are welcome because this is a really radical proposal, at least for the people who are used to their ultimately plugged-in, connected

world. How's it going for you so far? You've deleted all your accounts, right?

LANIER: Oh, yes. Absolutely.


LANIER: I haven't had accounts for a long time. I have a successful career as a writer and as a public figure. I think it's a little bit of a con job.

I think if you give up the stuff, you still have friends and you still have your career.

AMANPOUR: That's an important message, isn't it, especially for young people?


AMANPOUR: Who really are now programmed to believe that Instagram and all the other things, the likes on Facebook and all that other stuff, is what

life is all about, but it's not.

LANIER: Well, look, let's be honest. A vast number of people are genuinely addicted by design. And furthermore, there's no place else to go if you

want to enjoy the genuine benefits of something like Facebook. So, most people will not or cannot quit and I understand that.

And yet, it's still important to bring up the idea to ask people to quit because it's an opportunity for self-discovery for young people where they

can experience the world in a contrasted way.

Self-knowledge is the very most important kind. And it also creates a body of people in the world, even if they're in a minority, who can see things

differently, so that we're not all stuck within this one system.

AMANPOUR: I will say, today's newspapers here in Great Britain are full of - for instance, one of the big schools here, Eton, it's a very famous

school and it has just told parents that it will reduce and curtail their students' use of their devices, particularly at night time before they go

to bed.

And Eton was expecting a backlash. And instead, the boys saying they're relieved.

LANIER: Listen, the vast majority of people who decrease their use of these manipulative systems report increased happiness, increased knowledge of the

news and more personal time and better relationships. I mean, it's really striking.

AMANPOUR: I was really fascinated by something you spoke about and drilled down as an example of what you're talking about, which was the tribalism of

what's happening in society right now, magnified by social media and the polarization of people.

But even the breaking down into silos that we didn't even know existed, that we didn't know we even cared about. Give us an example - you said,

like, I don't know, white man from Kent. You wrote something very, very interesting. You know what I mean?

LANIER: Yes. So, what happens is the algorithms that are running behind the scenes that are up to tasks that have nothing to do with your immediate

positive experience are trying to analyze what they can do to get a rise, to increase engagement and addiction and manipulation potential.

And it turns out that they're more sensitive to these impulses that people have of maybe getting irritated rather than the slow build of positivity.

And so, if something you're doing can possibly upset someone else, then that upset will be reinforced and reinforced and reinforced, and so

suddenly you're creating these bodies of irritated people opposed to other people that wouldn't have existed, at least not in such an amplified way


[14:05:12] So, it does create strife as a matter of course.

AMANPOUR: The Mark Zuckerbergs of the world, the people who run and created Google and all the rest of it, is this something they're aware of or is

this a byproduct?

LANIER: Many of the foundational figures of Facebook have come out publicly and apologized and expressed strong regrets.

Now, that doesn't mean Zuckerberg has, but many of his colleagues have. So, I think there's been an extraordinary shift in Silicon Valley, particularly

since the Trump election, with this realization that what we're doing actually has side effects, that the collateral damage might not even be


So, you're seeing extraordinary things. You're seeing resignations. You're seeing mea culpas. The atmosphere is entirely different than it used to be.

AMANPOUR: You're talking about the Trump effect and the Trump era. And we're all very mindful of people who don't seem to be able to have

political discussion anymore or political differences anymore or even personal differences because everything seems to be - devolves into a

massive attack. You have to destroy your opponent. And you even use these words, opponents in civil discourse. That seems to be driven by this even

more, right?

LANIER: Yes. I mean, none of this is new to human nature, but it's been focused in a new way and amplified for commercial purposes in a way that it

wasn't before.

I'll give you one example. I met Donald Trump over the years - over the course of a few decades. I never knew him. I never had a deep conversation.

But it's very clear that his character has changed because of his Twitter addiction.

He didn't evince this astonishing level of insecurity, his weird irritability. There's a kind of a degradation and I view him as a victim


AMANPOUR: Now, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, has talked about use of social media in terms of addiction. And he told this to CNN last week. Let's just

play it.


TIM COOK, CEO, APPLE: I thought I was fairly disciplined about this and I was wrong. When I began to get the data I found I was spending a lot more

time than that I should.


COOK: I don't want to give you all the apps, but just too much.


AMANPOUR: I mean, being a little coy and interesting there. We now want to know what apps (INAUDIBLE).

This isn't the first time he's opined on this. At one point, he said he wouldn't let his young nieces and nephews or whatever spend that much time

on the phones or anything like that.

LANIER: Oh, people in Silicon Valley never let their own children do this.

AMANPOUR: I find that extraordinary.

LANIER: I know, I know. I mean, it is, isn't it? Yes.

AMANPOUR: And also you write, and I know this concept, the Waldorf Schools, right, the Waldorf system is about being absolutely disconnected from

anything tech. And you write that the Silicon Valley executives send their kids, a lot of them, to those schools.

LANIER: Well, not exclusively. But, yes, there tends to be quite a distrust of our own product. And I should say, companies like Apple, Amazon,

Microsoft don't depend on this model of surveillance and behavior modification.

So, they have a much easier time rejecting it. And indeed, they are as we saw with Tim Cook. It's really more Google, Facebook, Twitter and a few

others, Reddit, that's where this problem resides.

AMANPOUR: So, your premise is, it's the ten reasons to disconnect right now. So, give us - run us through the ten reasons.

LANIER: Reason number one, you are losing your freewill. The reason I say that is that the process of addiction almost by definition gradually erodes

your freewill because you become beholden to the addictive cycle.

And as some of the founders of Facebook have admitted deliberately addictive processes are in effect.

Number two, quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.

Here's why I say that. If people launch an effort within Facebook to oppose the insanity, and the insanity of the day that's really getting me, the

worst is this news that we're separating mothers from children at the border by tricking them with the idea their kids are getting a bath - I

mean, I can't even -

AMANPOUR: It's emotional.

LANIER: The problem is if somebody tries to create a campaign to oppose that, let's say, on Facebook or Twitter, because the algorithms are looking

for the most irritable and upset people who become the most engaged, it will backfire.

The benefits they are bringing - gains will then be reflected in even greater benefits for ISIS. The benefits that Black Lives Matter might gain

will be reflected in even greater gains for the Ku Klux Klan. So, in order to protest this, you must not play the game at all.

AMANPOUR: Mark Zuckerberg talks about this utopian idea of a Facebook global community. So, there are clearly a lot of people who want it to be

used for the best sides that it can offer.

[14:10:11] LANIER: And that can still happen. What we need to do is give up on this manipulator machine in the background. If we only have people

connecting, I think the world would get better as a result.

It's this - we've created a society where anytime two people connect over the Internet, it's financed exclusively by third parties who wish to

manipulate them. It's a society based on trickery and deceit. It must not continue on this line.

AMANPOUR: So, Mark Zuckerberg has now been questioned in two public forums recently since the Cambridge Analytica. At the European Union and in front

of Congress in the United States.

LANIER: Right.

AMANPOUR: What more can he do? And how does one stop this cycle that you're talking about, given that it's a multi-billion dollar business?

LANIER: Well, I think what he should do, what he must do is change the business model, so that there's no longer such a strong incentive to run

the manipulation machine.

As an example, one option is to make Facebook a paid service. And I know people react with terror, but look what happened when Netflix said, instead

of free movies, what if you paid for your movies, but we make better movies and TV.

And with all respect to your network, the result was called "Peak TV." It actually worked out to everyone's benefit. So, why couldn't we have peak

social media where the business model is simply that the people who are getting what they want pay for what they want and these third parties are

no longer in charge.

AMANPOUR: So, why can't we? Why do you think not? Do you think there's been enough pain inflicted on the CEOs in public that they might begin to think

about this or not?

LANIER: The CEOs are definitely thinking about it. I don't think Facebook is ready to make the transition, but I think it's an inevitability. There's

really no alternative.

AMANPOUR: And does government play a role in this? Does it mandate it? I mean, can it even in these huge private enterprises?

LANIER: This is a global problem. And every level of everything has to be involved in fixing it, and certainly that includes government. The precise

correct role of government has to evolve as a situation evolves, so it's not possible to say what should happen.

But I think one idea is for government to enforce commercial rights for people to their own data, so that, if their data is exploited, they

actually are owed money. I think that would reverse the incentives rather rapidly.

AMANPOUR: Jaron Lanier, it's really fascinating. We've only scratched the surface and I hope we can continue this conversation.

LANIER: I would like that very much.

AMANPOUR: Thank you so much.

LANIER: Oh, thank you again.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: So, while the downside of mass communication is abundantly clear, a new movie shines a warm, bright light on the power of media to actually

build community and to impart essential lessons of love and empowerment to our children.

"Won't You Be My Neighbor" is a new documentary about Fred Rogers, the much-loved public television children's show, who made each child in his

audience feel like a unique and special person. Here's a little clip.


FRED ROGERS, TELEVISION PERSONALITY: Won't you be my neighbor. It's an invitation to help somebody know that they're loved and capable of loving.

Love is at the root of everything. Love, or the lack of it.


AMANPOUR: So, granted, this movie, this tone is from half a century ago. It is directed by my next guest, Morgan Neville, who shows Mr. Rogers'

particular magic at work, using his gentle empathy to support children through life's joys and its challenges, like tying their shoes, living

through divorce and coping with an often-violent and scary world.

Morgan Neville, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: So, look, it's kind of unusual to do a documentary on Fred Rogers, but maybe not. What was it that actually made you want to do this?

Because it's not your normal biopic. It's not just about the guy.

NEVILLE: It's not. So, Fred Rogers was the most famous children's television host in American history. And he was on television for more than

30 years.

But he wasn't your average television host for a child. He actually was trying to teach children important lessons about emotional maturity, about

civics, about how to really behave in society.

And that's what attracted me to want to make this film. It was not a nostalgia trip as much as it was trying to remind ourselves of some of

these fundamental lessons that Fred Rogers was teaching us for all those years.

AMANPOUR: I mean, is there - has there been anything like it since? And what is it about the times that made you want to - or not. Or when did you

first conceive of doing this?

NEVILLE: Well, first of all, it was not only ahead of its time, the show was really kind of out of time. I don't think we've caught up to what he

was doing on his show yet.

But it was really me coming across - of course, I grew up watching the show and I loved him as a child, but I didn't think about him for decades. But I

had kids of my own and I kind of rediscovered him.

And there was something about the way he was talking that it just felt like this is a voice I don't hear in our culture anymore, a grown-up, empathetic

voice that's trying to help us process the trauma of the modern world and help us understand how we live in a neighborhood together.

That's essentially what he was trying to model. He talked about the neighborhood. And it just felt like this was an interesting voice to bring

back into the cultural conversation.

AMANPOUR: I want to play a little bit from one of the producers who's featured in the film. Let's just listen.


MARGY WHITMER, PRODUCER, "WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR": We had a director that once said to me, you take all of elements that make good television and do

the exact opposite, you have Mr. Rogers' neighborhood.

Low production values, simple sets, unlikely star, yet it worked because you're saying something really important.


AMANPOUR: So, I guess, the cynics would say, yes, it worked then, 30 years ago, when people were simpler, when we didn't have social media, when even

our public discourse was more civil than it is now. And partisanship and politicization of everything wasn't as pronounced as it is today? But do

you think it could work today?

NEVILLE: I don't think a television show like this necessarily would work today. Even Fred Rogers himself said, by the 1980s, if he had come along

then, he didn't think he'd get a TV show.

But there's something about his message that people have responded to consistently, seeing how they've responded not only to this film, but his

videos go viral all the time and in the millions and millions.

So, I feel like there's a hunger for this type of voice that is about what we share in a neighborhood, how we should live together, what we have in

common more than what we have that sets us apart from each other and that's really why I wanted to make this film.

He's a rare cultural figure that has no political baggage. Most of us who watched him watched him before we even had a sense of self, much less what

tribe we might belong to.

So, it's a way of getting back to basics, first principles, about how to behave as people and how to treat each other essentially.

AMANPOUR: You say he had no political baggage. And I think that's really interesting. He was a victim of - even though he was a Republican, he was a

victim, and he remains a victim, of some of the more I would say poisonous parts of the far-right media sphere, who criticize the very stuff that

you're praising him for, who say he enabled an entitled generation of young kids and young adults.

NEVILLE: Well, it was a good way of getting a lot of people to read your newspaper column or to get eyeballs on your show, but I think it's a

fundamental misreading of what he was doing.

His message he talked about again and again was you are special and people take that to mean a sense of entitlement for a generation of millennial


But the reality is, he was more trying to protect children and say every child has worth, has the right to dignity, has a sense of worth that they

are not worthless. And I think that's a fundamentally humanist value.

I mean, it's worth noting that Fred Rogers himself was a Presbyterian minister. So, he was very versed in in The Bible, but he actually studied

the world's religions. He never mentioned God on his show, but what he was trying to do is find the common humanist elements that exist in Hebrew - he

learned Hebrew - in Judaism and Islam, in Buddhism, in all the world's religions. And what are those things that unite us as humans and that's the

message he was trying to put across.

AMANPOUR: And he was incredibly passionate about it as well. He comes across as a very sort of gentle person as you described, but when he went

before Congress to defend the budgets and to defend this kind of programming on public television, he was quite forceful in his own way.

Let's just play that that clip and we'll talk about it.


ROGERS: This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying

you've made this day a special day by just your being you.

There's no person in the whole world like you and I like you just the way you are. And I feel that if we, in public television, can only make it

clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.

[14:20:01] JOHN PASTORE, THEN SENATOR, RHODE ISLAND: I think it's wonderful. I think it's wonderful. Looks like you've just earned $20

million dollars.


AMANPOUR: It really is an adorable moment. It brings me to a smile. And I wonder whether anybody could imagine that kind of exchange in Congress


NEVILLE: No. That's what's so remarkable. This Mr. Rogers goes to Washington moment. But, today, probably everybody would smile and then

they'd quietly defund the program the next day behind closed doors.

But it says a lot about him that he comes off as a bit of a milquetoast or a wimp, but he had an iron will. And I really think his superpower was his

ability to have this penetrating emotional dialogue with people that always brought them to him.

He never spoke to people on their terms. He always made people come to him on his terms, which was simple and deep and emotionally honest.

AMANPOUR: He discussed very hard issues there too, didn't he? He discussed issues of life and death, of divorce. He discussed the Challenger

explosion, which rocked the whole country, probably especially children. He discussed Robert F. Kennedy's assassination, which was 50 years ago this


Give us a sense of how he took those intense and quite dark issues to a child's sensibility.

NEVILLE: Fundamentally, I think that us, as adults, we want to shelter our children. I think the natural adult instinct is to tell children not to

worry about things.

And what Mr. Rogers decided was that I'm going level with kids and I'm going to explain to them that bad things happen because the reality is kids

are incredibly intuitive. They know when bad things happen and telling them not to worry about those things just allows those fears to fester.

So, he said, in age-appropriate terms, these are the things that are happening and this is how you can process it and make something good out of

it. And, yes, he dealt with tragedies that happen nationally. He did episodes on death, on war, on bullying, all these issues that people still

don't talk about in children's programming.

But I think what he believed was that the light and the dark in the world is divided between love on the one hand and fear on the other, and that

children grow up trying to figure out how the world works and they are full of fear. And if you don't help them allay those fears, that fear becomes

things like anger and resentment and hatred and bigotry.

But if we can get beyond those and get back to the root of what all that stunt stems from, which is fear, then we can make the neighborhood and

society a better place.

AMANPOUR: I mean, it really does seem like all these aspects of what you're talking about and what he brought, especially to the children, are now more

necessary than ever, particularly he addressed the issues of racism.

There was quite a famous episode - I'd like you just to walk me through it - in the 60s where he sat with a black officer or he portrayed that issue

in the era of segregation and separation.

NEVILLE: Sure. Well, in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, he brought on a black cast member who he made the police officer,

Officer Clemmons in the land of Make-Believe, and what was remarkable then was he would use Officer Clemmons, an African-American actor, to model how

we should treat people of different races in the neighborhood.

So, there's this incredible scene where he has a kiddie pool and he's cooling off by putting his feet in this kiddie pool. And this is a time

when people didn't want blacks and whites to share pools together in parts of America.

So, he invites the officer to come over, take off his shoes and share bathing their feet together in this pool. And it's a quiet subtle way of

modeling exactly how he thought we should treat other people.

And then, of course, at the end of it, Fred helps dry his feet with a towel.

AMANPOUR: Oh, my goodness.

NEVILLE: Fred as a minister knew exactly what the symbolism was about.

AMANPOUR: Exactly. I mean, that's Jesus Christ just before Easter. That's very, very powerful. And just to pick up on what you were saying, his theme

of love and validation, just like to play this snippet of what he said at a commencement address.


ROGERS: In fact, from the time you were very little, you've had people who have smiled you into smiling, people who have talked you into talking, sung

you into singing, loved you into loving. So, on this extra special day, let's just take some time to think of those extra special people, some of

them may be right here, some may be far away, some may even be in heaven.

No matter where they are, deep down, you know they've always wanted what was best for you.


[14:25:09] AMANPOUR: It really is marvelous. Would you say that is his legacy, that absolute empathy and his determination to link community,

whether it's the family, friends, whoever it might be, neighbors?

NEVILLE: Without a doubt I mean, I called it radical kindness, his message distilled, but I think what he would have called it essentially is a grace.

It's an idea he talked about all the time.

This idea of doing good unto others even if they don't deserve it, that really to act gracefully is to put as much good out in the world with no

consideration of what may come back to you. And if we had a society full of people like that, we have an incredibly healthy, emotionally and otherwise,


So, that really is the core of his message and why I think he links personal, emotional responsibility with our community.

AMANPOUR: Morgan Neville, thank you so much. What really a marvelous conversation and a reminder that those children were so lucky for so many

decades. Thanks for joining us.

NEVILLE: Thanks for having me.

AMANPOUR: And that is it for our program tonight. Remember, you can always listen to our podcast, see us online at and follow me on

Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.