Very Fine Day #34: Evelyn Douek

"The greatest misconception of the early internet era was it would be this unregulable space."

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“I don’t think we’re going to solve content moderation, ever, because I don’t think we’re going to agree on what that means”.


Sad week just gone by. Norm Macdonald is dead. Cancer. Didn't tell anyone. You probably know that by now. Dying makes me think a lot about life. Anyway, I recommend checking out his interview with Marc Maron. 

EVELYN DOUEK is on VERY FINE DAY this week. To a certain kind of person, and a certain type of online individual, Evelyn is on your radar because she’s able to cut through bullshit in a very precise way, especially when it comes to social media and the internet and deplatforming and misinformation. She's very smart. Smarter than me. I'm sure that's not a small circle, though, so maybe that shouldn't be one of her qualifiers. 

She was a lawyer in Sydney years ago but I never met her. I don't really fraternize in any lawyer circles. I probably would if they invited me in, let's be honest. That should tell you a lot about who I am as a person. But now she’s at Harvard and she's in the US and has been there since 2016. So the last 5 years or so. And, obviously, that's a pretty calm and relaxed period in that nation’s history. I'm sure, as someone interested in the impact of social media and the internet on people's minds and their ability to moderate what's happening, she was at a loss for what to look over.

Of course I'm kidding: we had Trump, we had Macedonian teenagers, we had Jack Dorsey from Twitter going on a meditation retreat during all of this chaos. Am I remembering that right? Friend and former guest of VFD, Maya Kosoff, has a great read on that HERE.

There's nothing wrong with meditating - do it if you can - but I don't know... I feel like he should have, at least publicly, had other priorities.

Anyway, it was great to talk to Evelyn. We talked about 2 weeks ago – that's when this interview happened – and in the time since a lot has happened, particularly with Facebook. The Wall Street Journal has done some terrific reporting, which it is calling “The Facebook Files.” I guess that's got some kind of romanticism to it. I get it. But these are very big stories, like:

  • Facebook knowing that Instagram is toxic for teenage girls. And yet it kinda seems like they’re still going to make Instagram for kids? I'm sure they'll turn around and say: actually, the kids version is good for teenagers!

  • Facebook has a super elite program, called Xcheck, that gives high profile users (celebrities, influencers, not you) special reviews before taking down their post. So, y’know, it's good to hear that the class system exists on multiple levels and not just in the real world. 

  • Facebook employees had also, pretty regularly, flagged human trafficking and drug cartels. Seems the company’s response was pretty weak. Go figure.

Look, I don't think it's news to anyone that Facebook is bad. Maybe there are some mums out there that still love it for the neighbourhood watch group they’ve created. What's interesting to me is that we keep talking about how it's bad, or how bad things are happening on it, and it just continues. We get into that.

Evelyn has a great mind for this kind of thing, and in some ways she maintains a positivity for it all. I promise. It's at the end. But I came out of this conversation with that positivity fresh in my mind. 

I'm at a stage now where I think the way we're heading, with all bad things online, is the way we’ve already ended up with bad things offline. This passive acceptance of things like famine and war and death. We see it on the news, we talk about it, we read stuff. Ultimately, it’s just A Thing That Happens.

I think the way we live online, and the things we see online that are not good, are going to become just that: Things That Happen.

Welcome to all the new subscribers - thanks for joining, free and paid. I really appreciate it. As always, the best thing you can do for me is share this interview, or other interviews, or just the newsletter, with your friends. It's free, and it will mean more people see what I'm doing.

That’s enough from me. Let me know what you think.

See you down the road 


INTERVIEW BEGINS

VFD: Sorry, I was just reading the thing in the Atlantic. I have read it two or three times today - it's about Australia…

Evelyn Douek: We are no longer a liberal democracy, apparently!

VFD: I’m so upset with myself that I have been triggered and caught in this honey trap for the first time in a long time. But I’m sick of getting pulled into the American culture war. I guess that’s what Australia does.

Evelyn Douek: Yeah, we just import everything. I mean, I doubt that there’s anyone more furious at our government than me, but the idea that we’re not a liberal democracy was a surprise to me.

VFD: And then you just watch it get transported through all of these other Twitter accounts, and types of people, and there’s just no going back. This is it. This is now the narrative. Anyway. Where are you right now?

Evelyn Douek: I’m in New York. Upper West Side.

VFD: How long have you been there?

Evelyn Douek: Not that long. I moved here in June and then I had an emergency trip home in July, for my mom who is unwell. And I did my two weeks in hotel quarantine – was supposed to be in Australia for a while – but then the government threatened to lock all of the Australian residents in and I had three days to get out. Which is why I have incandescent rage at our government. And so I have been back about a month now.

VFD: So this rage isn’t something that has been longstanding - it’s more recent?

Evelyn Douek: Oh, no. I mean - don’t get me started. We will be here all day. There’s a lot of things. But I shouldn’t complain, really. My experience was just another instance of Fortress Australia and that policy, and that rhetoric, which has had far greater impacts on a lot of people other than me.

VFD: Yeah, it's a tough one. I find myself very lucky that the biggest impact has been staying in my house for six months.

Evelyn Douek: I will say it was very annoying because I rode out the pandemic for 18 months here, watched all of my Australian friends living it up and having the best time, going to karaoke. And, literally, Australia goes into lockdown the entire time I’m there. And when I get back here Delta is ramping up again. So I just haven’t lived the good life.

VFD: That’s… Yeah. Some pretty shit luck. Are you vaccinated at least?

Evelyn Douek: I am vaccinated, yes.

VFD: Well, there’s something in that, I hope. Although, every day I’m trying not to read articles from dodgy news sources telling me that it’s not enough.

So you arrived in the US 18 months ago?

Evelyn Douek: No, no, I arrived in the US in 2016, which was a fantastic time to land in this country.

VFD: You’re good with time.

Evelyn Douek: Yeah, I was really excited to be here for the first female president.

VFD: And how did that go? What was that like: to arrive and then get thrown into a completely different ecosystem for four years.

Evelyn Douek: It definitely felt like I was having a front row seat to history in a lot of ways. I think you watch a lot of it happening from Australia with a distanced bemusement. Like: Oh, those crazy Yanks – look what they’ve done now! It's a very different experience to be sitting here and going through it and watching the people around you be so profoundly affected by it.

VFD: Yeah, for sure. And you’re just like: I guess I can just go home…

Evelyn Douek: Yes, exactly. I could have good health care. Anytime!

VFD: For the cost of a plane ticket! What took you to the US in the first place?

Evelyn Douek: Study. Further study.

VFD: Right.

Evelyn Douek: So I went to do a Master's at Harvard.

VFD: Is that just like the movies?

Evelyn Douek: Yeah, exactly. You've seen “Legally Blonde”, right? Look at me. The resemblance to Reece Witherspoon is striking.

VFD: What did you do at Harvard?

Evelyn Douek: I did a Masters in law and got to the end of that. I had this idea that I would come to Harvard and, obviously, what I should do with my life would just become apparent to me and that my path forward would unfold. And I got to the end of my Masters and I didn't know what I was going to do. So I was like: Oh, fuck!

Can I swear in this?

VFD: Yeah, of course.

Evelyn Douek: So I was like: I'm just gonna enrol in an open-ended degree to procrastinate making a life decision, even longer. For the record, the worst possible reason to do a doctorate. But I did, and it seems to have worked out OK so far.

VFD: Well, how did you find your place, then? Like, was there a moment or a thing that you did where you were like: I could do this for a few years, at least.

Evelyn Douek: Yeah, I mean, it's not a good story. It's not an inspiring story. Like, I didn't have direction and it's just not a good model to follow. I was like: OK, I'll do a doctorate because I don't know what else to do. And then I was like: Oh, no, you need a topic to do a doctorate. And so I was looking around for ideas, and this was peak fake news crisis and hysteria when we thought that the biggest threat to democracy was Macedonian teenagers creating clickbait.

And I was talking to my supervisor and they were like: Well, there's a conference on fake news here at the end of the week, do you want to go? And so I went and thought: this seems interesting, this seems happening.

And I have just ridden the wave as this area has, in some ways, become the hot topic of the public discourse in a lot of ways.

VFD: Did it freak you out?

Evelyn Douek: The way it became so prominent?

VFD: Yeah, that, and also that your supervisor said “go to this thing” and then you're hearing from all these people with incredibly scary dark visions of the future based on what's happening online.

Evelyn Douek: Y’know, I'm naturally a contrarian. And I think that even then my instinct was: I just don't think the Macedonian teens are going to be the reason. I just don't think that the post that said the Pope endorsed Donald Trump was really what pushed it over the line.

VFD: Instagram, Facebook, they put it everywhere!

Evelyn Douek: Yeah, exactly. So I thought, as an Australian in the States, there’s just a part of me that goes: they might be projecting a lot of anxiety onto Macedonian teenagers when maybe the problem might be a little closer to home. And so that was my original instinct.

Maybe it's just because I'm contrarian, but I I didn't think that this was what was going to bring down democracy.

VFD: Right. So then what what did you conclude?

Evelyn Douek: Oh, well, I mean – I'm still working on that. Are you asking me the answer? Have I solved the problem?

VFD: Yes, what is the meaning of the internet?

Evelyn Douek: Haha, yeah, exactly: content moderation is solved. I've done it. I'm handing in my dissertation in six months and it's gonna clean all of this up. I don't want to spoil anything.

VFD: Yeah, we’re all waiting on you.

OK, so I guess you have spent the better part of a decade – not to put that onto you. But what does that look like? Are you on Facebook a lot?

Evelyn Douek: No, no. I love this. I love that all of the people that study and write about Facebook, barely any of us are on Facebook. We're all on Twitter, or tweeting about Facebook, which I think is very funny. The only thing I use Facebook for is to organise my book club, which is one of my proudest achievements. It's been going for about nine years now. And I'm grateful to Facebook for that. But no, I barely have a look at the newsfeed or anything like that.

VFD: So are you just reading? Or talking to people?

Evelyn Douek: Like, how do I study Facebook?

VFD: Yeah – how do you look into content moderation and the crossovers with legal and digital rights?

Evelyn Douek: It’s a lot of talking to people and a lot of news. Like I said, this is front page news a lot. At the moment. Or it has been for the past half a decade, as you have so astutely observed. And so I read a lot. I try and stay up to date on what the platforms are doing. And talking to people. I talk to industry, I talk to other academics.

I barely know one regulator in the world right now that isn’t trying to find a way to rein in platform power. Almost every country. When I first started studying this it was this idea that I was going to study global regulation of online speech. And as the years have gone on it has just become increasingly obvious that is just a ridiculous topic. So I've started narrowing and narrowing, and now I'm like: I'm gonna do regulation of online speech in Boston, Massachusetts, between June and August 2021. It's impossible to keep up with everything that's going on.

VFD: Because it’s just too broad and it moves too quickly?

Evelyn Douek: Yeah – it's just moving all the time. And almost everywhere is putting out proposals and things. But the speed of change is a real problem, especially compared with academic timelines. Like, I will have spent six months writing an 80 page article and then it takes the publication process another six months, and then Mark Zuckerberg will just float a thought bubble or release a blog post saying “Here’s Why We’re Banning Holocaust Denial” and I’ll be like: noooooooo. I have to update!

And this happens all of the time. Anything I write, at any moment, can be destroyed by some platform’s blog post.

VFD: That’s a really comfortable and relaxing way to live your life.

Evelyn Douek: Yeah, exactly.

VFD: I remember I was talking to Ryan Mac, the reporter, and he was saying that basically there was some chaos at Facebook once and Mark Zuckerberg was just like: I want to do this. And then told a crew of people: make this happen. And it just trickled down into chaos.

Evelyn Douek: Yeah, it’s insane the amount of power that dude has for sure.

VFD: You did law – were you ever practising? Were you a lawyer or anything like that?

Evelyn Douek: Yeah, I was a lawyer in Australia for a little while. I worked in corporate law.

VFD: In Sydney?

Evelyn Douek: Yeah, in Sydney. I worked in corporate law and that's actually why I came over here, because I hated it so much that I had to go to the furthest corner of the planet to get away from it, and put as much distance between myself and that job as I possibly could.

VFD: What did you hate about it?

Evelyn Douek: I just didn’t care. You’re working so hard to figure out which of two massive corporations are going to have a little bit more money than the other one. The dominant idea of corporate law is that it’s somehow immoral, and I didn’t find it necessarily immoral as much as it was amoral. Like, non of this really mattered. I just wasn’t invested in it.

VFD: Yeah, sure. And then you were just like: I hate this, I’ve got to get out of here.

Evelyn Douek: Yeah.

VFD: OK. I mean, that’s a nice lesson in itself, right? That takes a certain amount of confidence in your own ability that you can move across the world and get out of corporate law and just start studying how Facebook is breaking people’s brains.

Evelyn Douek: Yeah, I knew going in that I wasn’t going to like it. It’s the kind of thing that as a lawyer you do your time. But I just had this grave fear of: you get on the treadmill and it’s very easy to wake up 40 years later. Because you get there and then there’s all these little incentives that you keep wanting to get. These little rewards. The next job, winning this case, winning that case. And it’s very easy to lull yourself into that. Because in many ways it’s very comfortable. But I was quite scared of that.

VFD: I think that’s pretty understandable. When it comes to content moderation – and I know you have said before that it’s incredibly broad and wild. It’s constantly moving. But the thing that I have always struggled with, and I’d be interested in your thoughts on this: do you think content moderation – at a successful level – is even possible?

Evelyn Douek: No.

VFD: That’s comforting.

Evelyn Douek: This is why my dissertation doesn’t have the answers. I mean: I don’t even know what that question means. No offence. But we are never going to agree on what “successful” content moderation is, right? That’s part of the problem. We don’t even know what the goal is to start off with. And people have very, very different and good ideas of what a good, healthy, ecosystem should look like.

If you watch the congressional hearings that they’re now holding for these tech executives, before Congress, that’s a sign of how far and crossed this has gotten. The first time that they call Mark Zuckerberg in front of Congress it was like: Oh my God! And now it’s like: we’ve done it five or six times and it’s just old hat.

But you watch it and it’s like a split screen reality. You have the right yelling at them about all of the stuff that they’re taking down, and you have the left telling them they need to take more things down. And I just don’t see how you bridge that divide. I don’t think we’re going to solve content moderation, ever, because I don’t think we’re going to agree on what that means. And even if we could – content moderation at the scale, that these platforms operate… they’re never going to get it or be able to do it perfectly. Even if we could agree on what the rules are, there’s always going to be a shit tonne of mistakes. So, no: it’s a pretty bleak picture.

VFD: Even with a billion dollars? Or $100 billion?

Evelyn Douek: Yeah, absolutely. I think that the biggest bridge that platforms try and sell us is that the technology is super awesome, and they’re all over it with AI algorithms that are gonna solve the hate speech problem. But hate speech is really hard to identify and to root out, and I just don’t see it anywhere in the near term future: them being able to do that.

Even if we could decide on a definition, I could agree that they should get rid of all of it, or all of the COVID misinformation, but they’re just not going to be able to do that when there’s millions of posts every day. Like, in the time that we have been talking Facebook has made millions of decisions – and there’s no way that they’re ever going to be able to get all of those right.

VFD: I guess that’s fair. The way I see it going is almost how, in the physical world, people treat disaster and death. There’s this other approach. It’s like: there’s death and disaster that happens to you and then there’s disaster you see on TV that we have just learned to passively deal with. And no one wants to ask to moderate television. There’s not much of a worldwide, constant movement being like: hey, can we stop that famine that has been happening for 100 years? And I feel like that’s how we’re going to head online, where it’s just like: yeah… that exists. It fucking sucks. But just… don’t look at it.

Evelyn Douek: Y’know, in some ways that might be true. Although your mention of television might be one of my other big bugbears, which is that we’re freaking out about Facebook and Twitter all of the time… but what about Fox News? And maybe we shouldn’t talk about this too much. But all of the Americans are like: it’s the Russians interfering in our elections! And it’s like: it could be the Australians in the form of Murdoch…

VFD: Alleged, of course.

Evelyn Douek: Yes…

VFD: What is that like: being inside the Fox News bubble? You’re not in the machine, but you experience a lot more than anyone in Australia would, right?

Evelyn Douek: I do not watch Fox News…

VFD: You don’t think it impacts you? There’s no trickle-on effect?

Evelyn Douek: It impacts the things I study, for sure. But I’ve got to be completely honest - I have lived in some of the most bubbly bubbles that you can possibly find. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Harvard. And now in New York in the Upper West Side. It’s not real America.

And so it affects me, I guess, in the way that living in a country where that’s present. But it’s not part of my day-to-day reality.

VFD: Do you have ambitions to go to Red America?

Evelyn Douek: Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s a beautiful and diverse country.

VFD: That’s a very good political / lawyer answer.

Evelyn Douek: This is the “gotcha’ question, isn’t it? It’s like: no, why would I ever want to see parts other than this beautiful little cocoon I live in. But no, I genuinely do mean that – it just hasn’t been the best time to travel.

VFD: Yeah, I mean it is beautiful. And I think you are right. I have family in the south and it’s always such an interesting contrast to see the landscape – which looks like an Apple computer background image – and then the societal and cultural stuff that you drive past, or walk past, or hear in supermarkets.

Evelyn Douek: Well, I’m in the market for good recommendations. You’ll have to give me an itinerary.

VFD: There’s plenty of good food, particularly if you don’t care about your health. There’s some amazing ways to screw up your body.

Evelyn Douek: Oh, excellent.

VFD: I should say that I think that’s an America-wide thing.

Evelyn Douek: Yeah, thanks.

VFD: So tell me, what I think is really interesting about your online presence is the amount of people that name drop you in using terms that it seems like you invented. Does that make sense? Like, you have a few catchphrases.

Evelyn Douek: Yeah I have a few “cowabunga dudes”. I successfully transformed myself into YouTube girl. Whenever it’s like: where and why is YouTube getting more attention? It’s like a bat-signal to Evelyn. My key move here was to coin “everything is content moderation”, and the great thing about that is that it comes up all the time because everything is content moderation.

VFD: And there was something about YouTube fairy dust?

Evelyn Douek: Yeah, magic dust. I just can’t work out why we don’t talk about YouTube anywhere near as much as we talk about Facebook and Twitter, even though by some metrics it’s the biggest platform in the country. The only explanation that I can come up with is that they must have some sort of magic dust that makes us forget they exist. It's not the only explanation. There are other explanations,

VFD: Which are what, exactly?

Evelyn Douek: A bunch of things. I think, again, that the people who study this stuff aren’t necessarily on YouTube. We’re a different demographic. Lawmakers, for example, use Facebook and Twitter but they don’t use YouTube that much. I think that there’s this perception that it’s the “young people” platform but there is so much politics on there, or at least as much as others.

I think video is a lot harder to study and write about, in some ways. And I also think that YouTube takes advantage of that very, very well. Although this is changing in the last month or so. They're not as proactive, or you'll read lots and lots of articles where it'll be like: Facebook said this, Twitter said this, and then it's like: YouTube declined to comment. And it’s just so much easier to write a story criticising something that a platform said, or did, than it is to write a story about something that they didn't say.

VFD: You ever think about moving into PR and just going to work for Facebook, or Twitter, telling them to shut up?

Evelyn Douek: Oh, it would be so much fun. Facebook PR just looks like the best job right now.

VFD: Do you think there's anything unique about - and I'm reading between the lines - but you've been studying a particular American brand of content moderation, disinformation, and online living, right? Do you think there's something American, or unique, about that experience?

Evelyn Douek: That's a great question. And it makes me sad. Because something that I wanted to do in my work was to make sure that the global picture was present in American debates. Because I think that American debates can be very myopic and we forget about how these platforms are global platforms and these issues are playing out worldwide. In some ways, they are far more important and have far more direct effects, or pernicious effects, in other countries.

One of the other things I relentlessly tweet is that the battle for free expression online, and what's happening in India versus platforms at the moment, is the most important battle for online free speech that's playing out right now.

Not only because there are a billion people, or however many people there are in India, that will be directly affected by the Modi government's attempt to impose a lot more control on what people can say in India, but also because I think, as you know, it's notionally still a democracy. And so what they do, and what they succeed in doing, will provide a model for many, many other countries.

VFD: I feel like when you talk about the way that governments interfere with the Internet it almost feels inevitable, right? You're just watching the sledgehammer come down, and you're like: maybe we can slow it down. And we can get it to be a little bit more gradual, but it's eventually going to hit.

Evelyn Douek: Totally. I mean, the greatest misconception of the early internet era was it would be this unregulable space. Cyberspace removed from the bounds of the physical world. “You can't touch us here” is the famous John Perry Barlow declaration. And how naive was that? We're extremely regulable. And everyone's regulated. And yeah, they will. And they should, in many ways. It shouldn’t be an unregulated space, because that didn't work out so great. But there are better ways to do that than others.

VFD: Yeah, yeah. Do you think there's going to be much of a movement to – not necessarily “live offline” – I think that's kind of ad hoc and a bit played out and not everyone can afford to live in Byron Bay or wherever else. But do you think people will start leaving what is now thought of as “The Internet” and just… make their own?

Like, is the dark web gonna become mainstream? Or is Tor browsing going to become something that regular people are going to use? Small Wi Fi spaces with VPNs? I just don't know. I agree with you, broadly, that it both needs to be regulated and moderated, but also, by doing that, you destroy what makes this lovely little glass house so nice and shiny.

Evelyn Douek: Yes, sir. Nice and shiny. That's definitely how I would describe our current situation.

VFD: Hahaha. It’s what you make of it, right?

Evelyn Douek: You're not gonna pin me down on a prediction about the future of the Internet. It’s anyone’s guess. I don't know what the internet is going to look like. If you had asked me: would they have done the things that they have done in the last few years? If you'd asked me four years ago, I would have said “no way”.

VFD: Like what?

Evelyn Douek: Like: Twitter put a label on one of President Trump's tweets. I think this was in May 2020. And when it happened everyone was like: Oh my god, whoa, I can't believe they did that! Oh, this is a whole new era! And now you get to the election and the wall is plastered in labels. And then Mark Zuckerberg came out and said: no, Facebook would never do such a thing. We don't believe in being arbiters of truth. And then by the election they’ve plastered labels everywhere as well. It’s just moving so quickly.

And they’re inventing. They are, in many ways, being much more innovative in content moderation than they have been in a very long time. And so I don't know what that looks like in two months, let alone more than that.

Like I said: my research is constantly disrupted by a blog post that drops. I mean, you were talking about moving to different spaces: I do think one of the big stories that changes what the internet looks like for us in the next decade is whether alt-tech gets off the ground and succeeds in creating themselves. All of these platforms like Parler and Rumble, which are marketing themselves as free speech platforms and therefore attracting big right wing audiences. And so if we end up in different cocoon platforms - and we already are in cocoons on the same platforms - but if we end up on different platforms I don't really know what that looks like. And there's serious money going into those platforms now. If that works, I think things are gonna look very different.

VFD: Yeah. It gives me anxiety to think about it.

Evelyn Douek: Yeah sorry - you really seem to have come into this wanting answers.

VFD: No no no, it’s not that there’s no answers. It’s just that it’s… It’s a whole thing.

Evelyn Douek: It's at least one dissertation worth of things

VFD: Yeah. How do you feel about the deplatforming debate, then? And whether that has a purpose that is actually useful? And we can be slow here so that you don't get destroyed online.

Evelyn Douek: Exactly.

I think that the left has been a bit disingenuous, or hypocritical, in the deplatforming debate. So let me explain, because…

VFD: Now there's the headline!

Evelyn Douek: Yeah: The left is disingenuous! Bring it on.

No, but seriously: I think a lot of the discourse from the left, as we were saying before about the congressional hearings, is: you need to step up, companies! You need to do all this content moderation. And then they deplatformed President Trump and the response is: they're private companies, they can do whatever they want!

And I feel like both things can be true. I think that, yes, it can't be a completely hands off space. But that is an awesome exercise of power, right? A small group of white men in Silicon Valley kicked the President of the United States off some of the most important online spaces - and disconnected him from his largest audience. That's an awesome exercise of power – and I mean that in the “large” sense.

VFD: Like a wave.

Evelyn Douek: Yeah. And I don’t think any of us should be comfortable with that model. That's a shitty model for deciding who can say what online. Mark Zuckerberg’s idea of good discourse is not my idea of the discourse. And so I think we should go: OK, maybe that was an appropriate action in that particular circumstance. But would I want that to be the way that these decisions get made for the rest of time? Absolutely not. And I think it should make us feel uncomfortable.

VFD: Yeah, I mean, the end result of it - if we all get deplatformed - will be us having to create our own like email ledgers that we blast out to everyone instead: From the desk of Brad Esposito. And then my media statement is ready and prepared. Please circulate on the other platforms.

Evelyn Douek: God, more email. You really have predicted the dystopia of the future.

VFD: Email will never die, man. It’s just messenger, isn’t it? But it’s like the last safe place – even though it’s not – but I feel like a lot of people that have lived through the last 20 years or so of internet have watched things come and go and get regulated or destroyed, or bought and sold. But email has always been there. It’s always a couple buttons. It’s always simple.

Evelyn Douek: It has - but no space is safe from the content moderation debates, right? It is enduring. But you’re on Substack, right?

We often think that emails are just like letters, or something along those lines, and now it's this big debate about what should substack allow to be on its platform. No one is safe from the content moderation debates. It's every platform.

VFD: Yeah. Oh, man, I gotta get out of this, go to bed, just stare at the ceiling.

Evelyn Douek: Sorry!

VFD: I see you’re wearing the UNSW hoodie. Is that where you went?

Evelyn Douek: Yeah, no, just love the uni. Hahaha.

VFD: Hey, I have a friend who didn't go to uni at all but he went to Sydney Uni and bought the the jumper for the mathematics team or something. And he would wear that around, which is a probably a whole psychological teardown in itself.

Evelyn Douek: Well, no, sorry, no interesting story here. I went to UNSW and I bought a hoodie.

VFD: Where in Sydney did you grow up?

Evelyn Douek: Eastern suburbs. Randwick.

VFD: OK, so you could just walk there.

Evelyn Douek: I did - it was the good life. Especially because the weather in Sydney is good all year round.

VFD: Yeah, I’m not too far from there also. OK, one more question. And everyone gets asked it in one way or another.

It’s not a tough one: it’s “What scares you?”And that's meant to be quite broad. Like, you don't have to be like: the internet's falling apart and we're unable to fix it. But I think it's interesting to hear what people are most captivated on in the darkest part of their minds.

Evelyn Douek: What scares me? Oh, gosh, OK. That question?! Trying to come up with an answer to that question?

I mean, the obvious answer is climate change. It’s pretty scary.

VFD: Yeah, I agree.

Evelyn Douek: But I want to come up with something much more profound than that, like the ever expanding nature of the universe. My existence as a tiny speck of dust on an irrelevant little planet. You might think about that too long. It really freaks me out.

VFD: Yeah, all you can do is just keep living and try to make things good. And whether that's online or in the physical world, I think it'll be interesting to see how.

We've already seen quite physical, pre pandemic, movements of disruption and protest. But I feel like what the digital version of that looks hasn't been fully realised yet. And it's going to be destructive in a way that people can't conceptualise. It's kind of what we talked about before where you can't really predict the future. But there's some not-yet-anticipated way that a climate protest, or whatever protest, could just destroy online or make a statement online.

Evelyn Douek: OK, well, given I have depressed you so much let me finish on a note of optimism. I actually love the internet. And I think it's an incredible thing. And I think that we don't talk about that as much, maybe, as we should. We focus on the negatives, and in a lot of ways I don't want to be naive about it.

But can you imagine having done the pandemic without the internet? Look at us! We're having this conversation right now, over Zoom. I was stuck alone in a room in Cambridge for 18 months and the internet was my lifeline.

And Twitter has a lot of problems, but I think it's fantastic. It's really cool. All of these really intelligent people put their thoughts out for free, or some not so intelligent, sometimes funny, people. And I don't want to lose sight of a lot of really good things about the internet. I'm not naive about it, obviously, I spend a lot of my day thinking about its destructive effects and the impossibility of regulating it. But I do think it is worth not losing sight of some of the good things as well.

VFD: Well, thank you so much for your time and for the chatting to me.

Evelyn Douek: No, it was a pleasure. Have a good night - and don’t have nightmares.