Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri is one of the most influential people in tech today. He’s taken on the responsibility of leading one of the most popular social media platforms at a time where its power and influence over us is undeniably strong. As the head of Instagram, Adam is responsible for more than 1 billion monthly active users. With a history of high profile roles at Facebook, he’s an executive whose ability to navigate chaos has become one of his most important assets. Adam reveals the backstory behind Instagram’s latest move: to hide user “like” counts, and opens up about how his own relationship with anxiety has translated into a focus on improving the well-being of billions of users. Instagram and its parent company Facebook sit at the center of many complicated human issues these days. Between Russian interference in political elections, the debate on free speech and expression, and the larger implications of social media’s impact on our mental health – there’s a lot to navigate and none of it is black and white. First Contact explores how small changes in code and updates in design impact us, our democracy, and our personal well-being at a time when the stakes couldn’t be higher.
First Contact with Laurie Segall is a production of Dot Dot Dot Media and iHeart Radio
Adam Mosseri: The biggest risk for a big company is that they don’t do big things, is that what you do just becomes irrelevant. And the world changes around you. So the only way you can stay relevant is if you’re willing to take some risks. And you’re gonna fall flat on your face a couple times, but that’s okay.
Laurie Segall: You might not know Adam Mosseri’s name but i think you should. He’s one of the most important people in tech these days. He’s the new(ish) CEO of Instagram which is owned by Facebook. And Adam sits in one of the most influential seats in the history of tech. He’s taking on the responsibility of leading one of the most popular social media platforms at a time where its power and influence over us is undeniably strong for better and for worse. As CEO Adam says he’s focused on improving the wellbeing of instagrams one billion monthly active users and as he told me he can relate to the complicated feelings many of us experience in today’s hyper-connected world. Having struggled with his own anxiety over the years. He’s someone who seems to manage stress and chaos well and i think that’s a good thing because Instagram and Facebook sit at the center of many complicated human issues these days. Between Russian interference in political elections, the debate on free speech and expression, and the larger implications of social media’s impact on our mental health and well being i would say there’s a lot to navigate and none of it is black and white.
I’m Laurie Segall and this is First Contact.
Laurie Segall: So I was thinking about how I was gonna set this up, and I am very interested in having you here because I think you are probably one of the most influential leaders in tech, and people don’t really know you. No offense.
Adam Mosseri: Yeah. I, I think I’ve been speaking publicly a lot for about half a decade, so a while. But the new role has provided me a platform where I am now reaching more people. But I think that I’m, sure, a lot less well known than a lot of people with similar roles.
Laurie Segall: And what an extraordinary responsibility leading Instagram at a time where we all care so much about, I think Facebook, but Instagram is like, is what so many folks are using, and young people, and you’re kind of at the … you’re in the lead seat. You’re in charge of wellbeing. You’re in charge of the future. So it’s a pretty big, uh, role to step into.
Laurie Segall: I didn’t realize you were gonna get that specific, but yes. Um, it was, it was … you had become the vice president of News Feed, and Facebook was changing, was tweaking the algorithm, uh-
Laurie Segall: (Laughs). yeah. And, and beyond that I mean it was like a pretty, it was like a pretty big deal that Facebook at the time was changing the algorithm and there were questions over like, is it gonna impact the news business? And there were also these larger questions of like, are we less connected, more connected? And so it was like this really interesting moment. And you were in this new role, that was pretty important. And so you were kind of speaking for the first time. That was our, our first contact. I think y-your role is like the stakes are always high.
Adam Mosseri: Yeah. They’ve been high for, uh, a bit now. That was an important time because we were trying to communicate something, uh, proactively, and before we actually even launched it. I think part of what we were learning at that moment at News Feed was that we needed to give a bit of a heads up for major changes.
Laurie Segall: if you look at your history it’s like you were, uh, in charge of News Feed during some of the most insane things that have happened with Facebook. And some of the things that we all look at, you know, with a pretty skeptical eye. You look at what happened with Russian influence, and manipulation. You look at, um, this idea … and also it’s not only just limited to Facebook. These larger questions about the internet, whether it’s filter bubbles, are we building social connections? Like, you were actually kind of at the forefront of all of this.
Adam Mosseri: I was in charge of News Feed, definitely in 2016 and ’17 , and mo- um, half of ’18, and you know, an immense amount of scrutiny came our way. And I left that with a, a real focus on integrity, and safety, and wellbeing, and a sense of responsibility there.
Laurie Segall: I know that you studied design, and, and media, and whatnot. But I, I wonder, what about you and your childhood, you know, maybe led you to be kind of this person that, is able to kind of go into some of these more interesting, hard, challenging environments. And I say this because I’ve covered Facebook for a long time. and a lot of people don’t stay as long as you’ve stayed. and it’s interesting to watch you having navigated this, this, path an d really ended up in this spot that’s very, very influential.
Adam Mosseri: I think there’s a lot in my childhood and then also in my early career that shaped at least how I do what I do, but also the fact that I get to do what I do. my parents, my parents are divorced, so, and I definitely as a young, uh, sort of overly confident, thinking I knew, I understood the world as a year old, inserted myself into that process. I probably got some experience navigating conflict there. Though I don’t think I was particularly good at it. So I don’t think I left (laughs) with a lot of good lessons necessarily.
Adam Mosseri: I think it’s good to be a child, even if you’re 16. But I took a lot from my parents. My mom is an architect. Uh, she runs her own, uh, practice. And architecture is design fundamentally, design is about problem solving. Uh, I think it, Charles Eame, I’m gonna get, Eames, I’m gonna get it wrong, said design is the process of arranging elements to, accomplish a specific purpose, I think was the language? So it’s a very broad sense of design. But I grew up with that around, and so that’s why I got into design, and I Problem solving, um, and sort of structured thinking every day at my job.
Adam Mosseri: I, so I studied at NYU, at a school called Gallatin where you design your own curriculum but I tried to create a curriculum around information design information architecture and media studies more broadly.
Adam Mosseri: And I, at the same time, started a design consultancy. I think I was maybe halfway through my sophmore year when I started it and I was doing freelance work here in New York City I was working at the Architecture League of New York as an intern I think. I met someone through there who got me to have the opportunity to apply to do, to build a website for an arch- an architectural firm-
Adam Mosseri: … an order of magnitude more time and two orders of magnitude more money. And they’re like, “Look, we know this kid, he might be able to pull it together.” And so that’s actually how I started my firm, because they, they asked me, “Can you do this?” And I said, “I need three weeks.” And I thought of the biggest number I could think of, which I think was $12,000. And then they said, “Yes.” And I was like, “Uh-oh. (Laughter). I don’t know how I’m gonna do this, and I should’ve asked for more money.”
Adam Mosseri: And I hired all my roommates, and I hired … I started working with this guy named Sidney Blank who is … And, and then we, we did that project, and then Sidney and I ended up starting a firm together.
Adam Mosseri: And that was really just to, you know, rent’s expensive here, it was to pay rent while I was in school. Uh, and you know, to, you know, eat and live in New York as a 19, 20, 21 year old.
Adam Mosseri: But over time I, I started to see how my- excited they were about their work. I was using Facebook more and more. And then Facebook launched a platform in ’07, so that developers could build apps on top of Facebook and I built an app called Boombox, which was a music sharing service. We didn’t host any music, but we allowed you to upload links to MP s-
Adam Mosseri: … and then create playlists, and share them with your friends. Eventually I got a cease and desist from the Recording Industry Association of America, and I wasn’t incorporated, so I just shut it down.
Adam Mosseri: And when you build something directly f- you have, you know, users or people who use that product. It’s very different. And you feel a lot more ownership and responsibility in the latter. And so I really liked that, and so then I applied,. And I didn’t get an interview. I couldn’t get in. And then every month or two I applied to Facebook again for about a year.
Adam Mosseri: We were a small, small though. We were a couple hundred people. But we, so we, but we weren’t that small. We weren’t a bunch of kids in a dorm room. This was, we had an HR department. We had probably 400 employees, that sort of thing.
Adam Mosseri: End of ‘08 launched in the beginning of ’09, and so I got some exposure to him. Um, and I think that over time we built up a relationship because, you know, it’s 11, going on 12 years now that I’ve been there. And I’ve worked on a lot of different things over the years, and I think if anything in the early years maybe I got a little bit more exposure because I was a bit of a hothead, so I was not at all-
Adam Mosseri: Back then, I mean I don’t remember. I mean we argued about everything, big and small. We had a really long debate about when we did, I think a couple years later, most recent, we introduced most recent, there were two feeds in one feed. We had a bunch of arguments about how to do that bu- right. But before that, I remember arguing with him about little design details, like the spacing between stories in News Feed in .
Laurie Segall: Going back to kind of those early years i remember covering intagram. the initial founders of Instagram. And I remember it was just, even like, there were like four or five of them when I first started. It was before they sold to Facebook. and it was, it was so interesting to watch this company, and watch it sell to Facebook, and watch just the influence of it and how extraordinary, um, it became. And also how l-like, how much people loved them, you know. And, and not just Kevin, but also Mike, because they cared so much about the product and they cared so much about how it was designed and how it looked.
Laurie Segall: there were some issues with the idea that Instagram was getting … wh-when a lot of these companies were bought whether it was I-Instagram or WhatsApp, the idea was that they would remain more separate. That was kind of the early promise with Facebook. And there was tension because they started integrating more.
Laurie Segall: and you know, some of that special quality, um, there was fear that it was getting lost. There were debates over the product and, and whatnot. And so there were tensions. Kevin and Mike end up leaving, right?
Adam Mosseri: And I was the head of product. And I joined for a c- a bunch of different reasons, but one of the main ones was Kevin and Mike. I’m a big fan of both of them. They are, they’re some of the most thoughtful product leaders I’ve ever worked with.
Adam Mosseri: And I just was really impressed with that. And so, I also joined because I had been running News Feed for … I was running it running it for the previous two years, but I was more or less, I was the head of product for News Feed for three years before that, so about half a decade. I had two little boys, and as big a job as the head of product of Instagram is, it was a 50 person PM team, and it just seemed like a bit more of an opportunity to have some work/life balance.
We’ve gotta take a quick break to hear from our sponsors but when we come back more with our guest Adam Mosseri.
Adam Mosseri: Kevin was on paternity leave, and he came in one day, didn’t know he was gonna be there, and we all were talking. And then they told us they were resigning. I was talking to, um, both directly and indirectly to Mark and to Chris Cox, my manager at the time about how they needed to either pick someone or pi- at least announce a process for how they would pick someone, because we can’t just not have this leader role clarity for an extended period of time.
Adam Mosseri: Because it just seemed like too big an opportunity to pass up. I mean it was exactly at odds with the work/life balance thing I was going for six months o- earlier, and I’m, um … And I didn’t want Mike or Kevin to leave. You can’t replace founders. It’s something that’s just very unique to that role.
Adam Mosseri: And they are, nice as they are, they are really loved by the organization. Um, still to this day. But just to be, to have the opportunity to be working on something with so much cultural relevance with … that has so much responsibility coming along with it, but also the opportunity
Adam Mosseri: to shape it in a way, you know, particularly given my focus on wellbeing, was just really, really appealing. And so, I interviewed. And then a couple days later, I got a phone call and they said, “the role’s yours.” And then, you know, we announced a few days after that. This all happened within the span of a week.
Laurie Segall: Yeah. I mean, and it’s interesting you talk about you wanted it because of this idea of wellbeing. I think that’s really important even for, we talk about the media company I’m launching, uh, I, I think, you know, having bolstered a lot of this technology, having covered folks like Kevin and Mikey early in my career, there was this moment where it certainly seems like, um, people feel … you hear this all the time, this is not a new question to you, but like people feel more lonely and depressed and isolated. I mean, I sometimes … I’m checking my phone at all hours, god help me. And uh, and Instagram is maybe the worst offender of all, right? Um, I feel weird sitting across from you saying that, but like, it’s like-
Laurie Segall: Yeah. No, I, I mean I’ll talk about it, right? Like, let’s talk about it. But no, I, I mean I think like, like check in, you know, now you follow me, like check in if I’m posting like eight or photo, or stories on Instagram. Like that probably means I’m not okay. Like, do you know that?
Laurie Segall: Uh, uh, I mean that’s a pretty ballsy move. Let’s be honest, right? Like that could impact business, and you have a lot of people kind of questioning a little bit. But that is a pretty interesting move. Right?
Adam Mosseri: They had taken the idea and tried to make it real, because … So, maybe not because, but just a bit more context. When I joined I spent a bunch of time trying to beef up our safety and integrity and wellbeing efforts, even before I became the head of Instagram. And part of that was focusing on the, what we, the wellbeing team and getting them all the support they needed,
Adam Mosseri: . I also tried to make it very clear to the broader organization, to everybody that worked at Instagram, that wellbeing isn’t a problem that a few people who work on a wellbeing team in a corner go and solve. It’s something that we all need to consider.
Adam Mosseri: They want to make like accounts private. They idea to make Instagram a bit less pressurized, make it less of a contest. But they didn’t tell me about it. And so it wasn’t my idea. They started working on it in earnest, uh, and presumably they were gonna tell me at some point, but it came up when … So every Friday I do a Q&A with the entire Instagram-
Adam Mosseri: … organization worldwide. coffee and Q&A. And so Usually I open up with a few remarks about what’s top of mind for me, and we have one or two presentations and then we open it up. And they were asked to present at the Q&A, so they kind of got outed, because they were like, “Okay, now we’ve got to tell him because he’s about to find out about this at the same time as the rest of the Instagram team does.”
Adam Mosseri: … but I thought it was amazing. I was like, “That’s, that’s brilliant.” Uh, and so since then I’ve helped them shape the product hopefully by giving them feedback, but more than that just tried to really help them see around corners, and work down all of the issues, and essentially just block and tackle.
Adam Mosseri: But the biggest risk for a big company is that they don’t do big things, that they … it’s not that … for us, it’s not that a competitor necessarily comes by and does what we do better than we do, but we do have really strong competition right now, particularly with Snapchat and TikTok. But the biggest risk really is that what you do just becomes irrelevant. And the world changes around you. So the only way you can stay relevant is if you’re willing to take some risks. And you’re gonna fall flat on your face a couple times, but that’s okay.
Laurie Segall: There’s a lot of design that goes into human psychology, and when it comes to technology, and like actually building spaces that, that don’t make us feel as bad about ourselves. And I think that’s stuff that you guys are actually really at the forefront of, and have a responsibility about.
Adam Mosseri: Like it’s possible we won’t do it, i’m very invested in the project, it’s probably the project i spend the most of my time on. So there’s bullying is one that we’ve focused a lot on. I think we have a unique opportunity there, given our scale and the fact that we’re relatively strong with young people. But also it’s prevalent on the, on the platform.
Adam Mosseri: So it’s not just about identifying a problem and removing it. Because by the way, the work we’re doing on bullying is not just trying to identify bullying and remove it. We’re trying to also empower the targets of bullying to stand up for themselves and take some power back.
Adam Mosseri: Social comparison is another compelling one. We’re already, obviously, playing in this space with like counts becoming private, but that is a much broader issue that I don’t pretend to understand in detail. Uh, excessive or problematic use, so just using it too much. Uh-
Adam Mosseri: Well I’m sure … I’m happy they did. I wish we had known so we could’ve built something else, but you know, it is what it is. One of the things that I want to be honest with you about is we have these debates sometimes about do we focus on wellbeing issues for, you know, the average 15 year old or do we do focuses on the issues that creators, and public figures experience. Because they’re very, very different.
Adam Mosseri: For when I talk to creators, people who use instagram to reach tens of thousands hundreds of thousands even millions of people is they don’t worry about likes as much as they worry about their comments. creators are a huge part of what makes Instagram unique. But we’re almost always gonna prioritize the 15 year old over the creator.
Laurie Segall: Yeah. Sure. Um, I wonder, I think I like asked you about this before, it’s weird but, you know, there’s so much technology can determine, right? Like the types of word we, words we use-
Laurie Segall: … our happy words, sad words. Um, you know, I … We had someone in here earlier talking about conversational AI and like how it can determine if we’re falling into depression, or if we’re sad or happy. Um, go with me here.
Laurie Segall: Would it be possible to determine, like would Instagram, I don’t know if Instagram would ever do this, but to determine like if people are posting, and not as extreme as like, okay, we think you’re gonna hurt yourself, right? Which I know Facebook has explored doing certain things with if you, if you actually make a threat to your own life. But you know, there is the way for data to show if we’re falling into depression, if we’re unhappy, if, you know, things aren’t going as well. That is safe to say, right?
Laurie Segall: Like you can, based on data, understand people’s mental health, right? Is that something Instagram would ever be interested in? Like being able to determine if someone is happy, sad, or, you know, being able to, to have any type of data on that
Adam Mosseri: It’s definitely an area that we’re interested in exploring and we already do explore. I think it’s one where you’ve got to be, you need to be really careful because you’re talking about some very personal, very private, um, matters. We do this so … we definitely already both on Instagram and on Facebook try to identify people who might be at risk of hurting themselves. And if it looks particularly dire we will contact local law enforcement, or some local agency and try to get them direct help.
Adam Mosseri: But we do this also for, on the, on the aggression side or the bullying side. Is someone being combative in comments, et cetera? We’ve done a bunch of work to, to try to understand tone, and, and intent there. But less so on are you depressed broadly, or do you have anxiety broadly. I think it’s an interesting area to explore. We have to be thoughtful about which ones we take on, because we want to make sure we take on areas where we actually have an opportunity to make a difference.
Adam Mosseri: And so for issues like anxiety broadly, like I struggle with anxiety. I, I have a lot of an-an-anxiety. There’s a question about where, where and how Instagram can play a role. Are we exacerbating it? If so, then how can we make sure that we don’t do that. But can we go further than that? Can we reduce someone’s anxiety? That’s a hard question to answer, because you, y- I mean I’ll speak personally, my anxiety has to do with a lot more than my use of Instagram.
Laurie Segall: I was gonna ask, I remember when I was doing a piece on depression, um, for my show at CNN, and I remember, someone turning around the, the table on me and saying, “Well why do you care about like depression?” And, and I, I remember saying to him, um, … he was a CEO coach. I guess I was asking for this.
Laurie Segall: I was like, “Well, you know, it was like depression and suicide. This is important to me because I’ve interviewed founders whose, um, who, or the parents of founders who’ve committed suicide.” And he’s like, “Do you know what you just did there?” And I was like, “What?” He’s like, “That was bullshit.”
Laurie Segall: I was like, “What?” He was like, “That was bullshit. Like why do you really care about this?” And I’m like crying on a couch. And I’m like, “Well, you know, like mental health is really important to me. Like it’s in my family. It’s, you know, it’s something that is super important.” and so I guess I ask you as someone who like clearly,, has grown up, and I, I think your, your past, I mean that we don’t get, we didn’t really get into it, seems really interesting.
Adam Mosseri: And so I’m trying to respond to that. But personally, I mean my dad being a psychotherapist, probably has something to do with my sensitivity to, you know, mental health issues. I mean he’s supported all sorts of people in all sorts of difficult positions, uh, for as long as I can remember. And so that probably has something to do with it. Uh, what I’ve wrestled with personally I’m sure, I mean I’ve got my own, you know, anxieties, but also just motivators, things that I’ve struggled with over the years.
Adam Mosseri: And so I mean, this isn’t as interesting necessarily, but one of the ways I manage anxiety is I just invest a lot in, in health. So I, I’m always on some weird diet. I have been on dr- I love coffee.
Adam Mosseri: Which is wild. I’ve, you name it, tactic, meditation, exercise of different types, yoga, et cetera. I’ve like tried the th- all the things. And so I actually try to take the anxiety I have and funnel that energy into sort of personal wellbeing, self-care.
Adam Mosseri: And so that probably at some unconscious or subconscious level is a feedback loop that’s working that I want to apply somewhere else. So, I, I believe that most people do things that work for them. So, if you, I don’t know, if you yell at people all the time you probably do that because at some level that worked for you at a young age, and then you’ve got this positive feedback loop, and then you kept on doing it.
Adam Mosseri: So I have had this positive feedback loop over the last five years where my job has become very, very intense. I’ve become a father. I’ve got two little boys. Boys are, little boys are amazing, but they’re also quite a handful. Uh, and the way I’ve managed that is through investing in my own wellbeing. And so I probably at some subconscious level am, am projecting that on my job.
Adam Mosseri: And to s-say that one way to manage the questions, and the anxiety, and the scrutiny, and the rest of it is just to invest in care. And if you do that, you know, the, the belief, which is probably not articulated explicitly in my brain, but just sort of more in my body is, good things will happen.
Laurie Segall: Are there ever moments, because I think people look at you, and who you are, and think, it seems pretty, even though it’s a hard job, it seems like you kind of have it made, in many ways. Are there moments that you could go to that you would say are like, some of your harder moments career-wise? Or even when you talk about personal stuff, and like, and dealing with some of the anxiety or the, um, you know, some of the personal cost that comes along with some of the stuff you’re trying to tackle. Is there like a moment you could go back to that you think is, this was, you know, this was a particularly hard moment?
Adam Mosseri: There are. There are a number of moments. I don’t want to sound … I try really hard never to complain though about my job, because my job is, yes, it’s very intense, um, but it is an amazing opportunity. There’s a lot of people-
Adam Mosseri: … who would kill for the opportunity, and I try to remind myself of that, most every day, and be grateful for that. So I, I, I’m definitely very … I do have a lot of gratitude generally, and I, and a lot of that has to do with the role I have, and the opportunities it affords.
Adam Mosseri: If you want to understand a little bit about what the anxieties, or what the costs, or what the downsides might be of a role like this, I think it probably. There’s some that are generic, and there’s some that are probably more specific to me.
Adam Mosseri: Generic ones include, I mean security implications. One thing’s, you know, when, when you have your, you or your family being threatened either explicitly, or implicitly, or physically, or online, like that’s-
Adam Mosseri: Then there’s, for me more personally … I mean, actually it’s kind of weird. So another generic one would just be like the scrutiny. Like, I get out there in the world and I talk a lot. I think that we need to be out there more, because the conversation’s gonna happen with or without us. That can be intense. I’ve been asked on TV to resign. I’ve been shown a video of moms telling me to stop killing their children, uh, while being recorded without even giving a heads up. Like this is part of the job.
Adam Mosseri: That actually I don’t find as taxing, because usually when you are, when someone’s coming at you, uh, like that, they’re usually motivated by something good. They care deeply about a specific issue.
Adam Mosseri: … um, roles over the years. But that I think can be taxing. For me personally, it’s different though. The, I, I have the hardest time when I feel like I’m failing my people. I care a lot about the people who work, uh, for me and with me. I think of leading any organization as, and this will sound a bit corny, but like a family. You want to, you want to understand that you’re in this together. You want to create space for dissent. You want to create, you want to create real emotional support, not just, you know, rational support, because that will be how you get the best work. That’ll be how you attract the best people. That’ll be how you keep the best people.
Adam Mosseri: And when I feel like I’m failing at that, when I feel like I’m not doing right by my people, if I didn’t see around a corner for them, or if I change my mind on something and I thrash them, or if I didn’t provide an opportunity for them, that, that for me personally is really rough.
Adam Mosseri: And then similarly if you expand that out to all the people who use Instagram, when you, when you fuck up, when you make a mistake, uh, you make a decision to prioritize one problem over another, and it turns out you were wrong, that is, I mean that’s rough. Like, you know, you, you … we are … There are a billion people that use Instagram, so there’re gonna be, inevitably, some really dark uses and things that happen on the platform. That I think is hard, but not as hard as when something comes up where you feel like you could’ve seen it coming, or you would’ve made a decision differently in hindsight.
We’ve gotta take a quick break to hear from our sponsors but when we come back Adam talks Facebook’s stance on political ads. I ask him what if his boss Mark Zuckerberg is wrong about the whole thing?
Laurie Segall: You know there’s the debate happening right now over political ads. Um, Facebook has said it won’t, uh, police political ad content. If it’s false you have Twitter has come into the game by saying that they are, uh, banning political ads. Google’s now saying they won’t allow political ads to be directed to specific audience based on, uh, uh, based on certain things.
Laurie Segall: I guess I go back to this idea of like, I’ve covered this company for a long time. and often times Mark Zuckerberg is right. You know, like he was ahead on knowing that WhatsApp was gonna be huge. He bought Instagram when people weren’t necessarily paying attention. Right? Like he was known. Uh, I think before we all started talking about Facebook in this way Mark Zuckerberg was known for his foresight, right?
Laurie Segall: But particularly with the political ads. I know even some of the employees at Facebook have said that they don’t agree with this. I mean do you, do you agree with the stance as it is now?
Adam Mosseri: I do. The … I think it’s tough though. I think it’s the least bad option, which is different than it being an option that I’m excited about. I think if you look at the other things that people are doing, I think some of them are still considering Twitter banning all political ads, I don’t think makes sense, because political ads quickly bleed into issue ads. you can’t ban like, you know, some politician doing something along the lines of Blue Lives Matter instead of Black Lives Matter. You can’t have climate change activists be on there, um, if you’re gonna like not allow political discourse, because this, climate change is inherently a political issue at this point.
Adam Mosseri: Now Twitter has since tried to modify their policies to allow room for some of these issues. So I appreciate that. I’ve talked to Jack about this. I’m not a fan of … I don’t believe in the specific solution he’s trying to come up with, but I really believe, uh, that he’s being principled and I commend the boldness. And so I have a lot of respect for that. I think that that though just has more costs than benefits, and so I’m more on the, okay, we need to allow political ads to exist on the platform because they’re gonna happen no matter what and you, you don’t want to throw out everything. There’s a lot of good that comes from political advertising. Uh, it’s not necessarily all campaigns. There’s a lot of issues, any issue you care about, you know … Do you care about gay rights? Do you want to campaign for a proposition that legalizes gay marriage? Like you can’t do that if there are no political ads.
Adam Mosseri: And I just think that’s, that’s worth it. So I push more on the other side, which is, I feel like we have been talking about too little, which is the transparency side. One of the things that’s scary about online advertising is you can’t see it. Everyone was watching relatively the same TV, you know, a few decades ago. You can kind of tell what’s going on. Uh, we’ve done a lot on this. I think we’re in a better place than any platform is on political ads transparency, but I think we’re not in a place that I’m happy with yet. It’s still hard to navigate, and understand what’s going on. So I kind of want to put pressure more on the other side of the equation.
Adam Mosseri: What Google’s doing with limiting audience size for campaign ads, but not political ads more broadly, I think is interesting. It is a little bit weird to let everyone talk about politics in a way that you don’t let the politicians talk about politics.
Adam Mosseri: Um, but that’s one, the one where I think, um, there’s something in there that’s probably worth considering. So I don’t pretend like we have it exactly right. But my main thing is these issues are nuanced. We oversimplify these things all the time. And I’m, it’s not lost on me that Facebook and Instagram have contributed to a world where there is no room for nuance.
Laurie Segall: I mean it certainly seems like they’re nuanced. And it also sometimes, having covered the company for a long time, seems like it takes other people saying certain things for the company sometimes to-
Laurie Segall: … to understand. I mean more so, by the way, in the time I’ve covered it they’re thinking about these things from within, but often times it does take, you know, other people seeing these things.
Adam Mosseri: Like those things are at odds at some level. And you know, people can want multiple things. And multiple things can be valuable that compete. And so you pick an issue, and there’s always a, there’s always two sides to the story, and we always pretend like there’s just one.
Adam Mosseri: That’s one of the reasons why I’m out there talking a bunch more is not necessarily to convince people to agree with me specifically, but to try to shed some light on the thinking and the rationale because we debate almost all these things. It’s, it’ll happen that something turns into a press cycle that we didn’t debate before, but more often than not we did debate it. We might not have ended up on the right solution, but we had that debate internally. So of course some, a lot of people are, uh, some people internally disagree on certain policies.
Laurie Segall: I just can imagine, um, like let people step into your life for a second. Like I’m imagining you now have like weird celebrity. You’re not like someone I think who hangs out … I think last time I said this with you I was like, “I saw you at …” because I follow you on Instagram, like the Met Ball, the Met Gala. Did I even say it right? Is it the Met Ball or the Met Gala.
Adam Mosseri: Ooh, interesting. I don’t know. I, uh, I still feel like I have to remind myself that it’s my job because it just seems so … Uh, you get sucked into it. So you’re ju- you’re focused on the day to day. You’re like, how am I gonna get what, done what I need to get done today when we’re gonna have this
Adam Mosseri: … one. So the Met is in an int- the Met, the Met, for those of you who don’t know, is sort of like the Super Bowl of fashion. and I went last year, and that is … and it was a very interesting experience for a lot of reasons. one actually I’ll share is, and then I’ll get into a funny story, is so most public figures and celebrities, they are used to traveling around with a lot of support, with a, sort of entourage of sorts. And you can’t do that at the Met. You just, you, it’s just tight guest list. It’s just you.
Adam Mosseri: Yeah. And so then you have none. And so some totally fine, you know, full, super confident, just walk up … This, like, the, the, the red carpet is like steps, and it’s on, you’ve got cameras on both sides, so it’s supposedly, I don’t know, because I’ve only been on one red carpet, but it’s supposedly the most intimidating red carpet in the world.
Adam Mosseri: And it, but others become very frightened, and they become very human all of a sudden, because you see them in this moment of vulnerability. And usually you see them on the big screen, or they’re on TV, or whatever it is, and-
Adam Mosseri: (Laughs). And, so she was a chandelier, so and so that actually relates to the story. So then I was, I was in the thing and you know, you’re talking to people and someone told me Katy, as in Katy Perry, wants to talk to you about making like counts private.
Adam Mosseri: And so I’m like, “Okay, now I’m gonna get yelled at by a burger.” So I’m like, “Stay on your game. Don’t smile. Like you’ve got to like (laughs) … This is your job. This is your job now.”
Adam Mosseri: Uh, and then I like, and then I went home many hours later and I was like, “That was … That’s my job now is to think you’re gonna get yelled at by a chandelier, but be praised by a burger.”
Adam Mosseri: Uh, and so I try to, I try to write these stories down because I try to, because I’m gonna forget a bunch, and, uh, I’ll look back at this time in my life and probably think about all the things I did wrong, but also what a ride it was. And so, I don’t know, I think it’s good to try to hold on to the stories.
Adam Mosseri: My plan, I never had a really thoughtful plan. I, I sort of mostly jumped between jobs when I thought it would be interesting to do so, and I feel like I learned a lot when I did those things. Um, more recently I thought I would do this for a while, it’s a big job and it’s not something you just do for a year or two. Uh, and then maybe go run something else, and then maybe get more involved in some sort of cause that I believe in. That is sort of like the rough outline.
Adam Mosseri: But I have a lot of friends who are deeply involved in causes. Um, all sorts of things. Um, and one, I was talking to one of my best friends recently, and his, he was like, “Look, I get that.” He actually spends most of his time focused on climate change. And he’s like, “If you want to do that I’m happy to support you. Maybe not climate change specifically, but like, you know, I can help you by sharing other things that I’ve learned about what to do, not to do, et cetera.”
Adam Mosseri: But he said, “You might have an opportunity now to effect more change than in any cause you get involved in. Whether you’re, you know, even if you’re raising money or running a thing, like you … it’s hard to actually have as much opportunity for influence as you have now. And so you might not be able to play in all of the spaces that you might be the most passionate about. You might if you’re lucky, but you need to think long and hard about the opportunity you’d be giving up if you really care about leaving the world a bit of a better place.”
Adam Mosseri: Less, I think. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t make anybody lonely, but I mean I have, I have, we were talking about my parents, I’ve got siblings, and my … they’re both really creative. My brother is a musician and a film scorer in LA. My sister’s a furniture designer in Berlin. And I stay close to them through Instagram every day. And that actually, I mean they’re two of the people who matter to me most in my life. It’s like my kids, my wife, my siblings, and my parents.
Adam Mosseri: And that helps me feel less lonely. That doesn’t mean that I can’t have the opposite experience and someone else doesn’t. But I think about that too. I think about, I mean they’re so young right now, but you know, in years roughly, when they start to be able to use-.
Adam Mosseri: … Instagram, they’re not allowed right now, then, because they’re four and two, um, and you have to be , will … What will their experiences be like? And then when they’re or , what will they think about the fact that I worked on this thing?
The decisions made behind closed doors in Silicon Valley affect all of us whether we realize it or not. Small changes in code and updates in design, Instagram hiding likes or Facebook’s stance on political ads it impacts us. Our democracy, our well being, and these days the stakes couldn’t be higher. Ultimately these decisions are made by people not code and i think it’s time we get to know them a bit better.
I’m Laurie Segall and this is First Contact.
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First Contact is a production of Dot Dot Dot Media executive produced by Laurie Segall and Derek Dodge. Original theme music by Zander Singh. Visit us at firstcontactpodcast.com
First Contact with Laurie Segall is a production of Dot Dot Dot Media and iHeart Radio