Tools and Weapons with Brad Smith

Trevor Noah: Who do you trust (when you don’t trust the news)?

Episode Summary

Since his first night anchoring The Daily Show in 2015, Trevor Noah has used comedy to connect the dots between local events and global issues. In this episode, Brad and Trevor discuss the intersection of the news of the day and technology.  Focusing on the rise of disinformation, they explore how we become susceptible to it, the threat of ”cybertribes”  that dehumanize and pit groups of people against each other, and how automobile regulation in the U.S. could hold answers to fixing the bugs that lead to disinformation’s viral spread. 

Episode Notes

Since his first night anchoring The Daily Show in 2015, Trevor Noah has used comedy to connect the dots between local events and global issues. In this episode, Brad and Trevor discuss the intersection of the news of the day and technology.  Focusing on the rise of disinformation, they explore how we become susceptible to it, the threat of ”cybertribes”  that dehumanize and pit groups of people against each other, and how automobile regulation in the U.S. could hold answers to fixing the bugs that lead to disinformation’s viral spread.  

Trevor Noah is Africa’s most successful comedian and is the host of the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, where he uses incisive humor to address some of today’s thorniest issues, from race to politics and climate change. Born in Apartheid-era Johannesburg to parents of different races, Noah was, as the title of his autobiographical book reflects, Born a Crime. Noah began his career in South Africa in 2002 and took over hosting duties of The Daily Show in 2015. In 2020, Noah received a Grammy nomination for Best Comedy Album for Trevor Noah: Son of Patricia. In 2019, The Daily Show received two Primetime Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Variety Talk Series and Outstanding Interactive Program. In 2018, Time Magazine named Noah one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Click here for the episode transcript.

Episode Transcription

Brad Smith: I'm Brad Smith, and this is Tools and Weapons. On this podcast, I'm sharing conversations with leaders who are at the intersection of the promise and the peril of the digital age. We'll explore technology's role in the world as we look for new solutions for society's biggest challenges. Today, we're diving into one of the most pressing concerns of our time. The rise of misinformation and disinformation. When reality itself is in question, how do we make sense of it all?

Trevor Noah: Reality and society go hand in hand. For society to exist, there needs to be an agreed upon reality.

Brad Smith: On this episode, I'm joined by my friend, Trevor Noah, to help us tease out an answer. As host of The Daily Show, Trevor has a front row seat to the news. But perhaps even more than that, he has watched the splintering of trust in real time. I'll talk with Trevor about gaining perspective in our pursuit of the truth, and how his deep love of technology has shaped his path. My conversation with Trevor Noah up next on Tools and Weapons. Well, Trevor, it's great to have you here at Microsoft today.

Trevor Noah: It is great to be here. Thank you very much, Brad.

Brad Smith: I want to talk to you about an issue that is exploding before our eyes, but it's an issue that I think has exploded in successive ways in recent years. Many of us remember September 28th, 2015, it was your first night hosting The Daily Show. And it is extraordinary to think about how much the world has changed. We were already in a period of time where people would debate vigorously what to think about the events of the day, but what's happened since is there's been this enormous disagreement about what are the events of the day.

Trevor Noah: Yeah.

Brad Smith: Was there a time when you suddenly realized that the misinformation, the disinformation that is sort of increasingly consuming us was something that you needed to take on?

Trevor Noah: Well, I don't think I ever thought of it as a subject that I needed to take on. I think it became the existential issue for us as people, because I remember when I first started on The Daily Show. The news had always been about what was happening and everyone's opinion of that. And over the space of what seemed maybe eight or nine months, as soon as the 2016 election really kicked up. And I think it was even before the election, really. It was around Brexit we started seeing these things. It was a shift in that people no longer agreed on what was happening. You know me. I love debating things. I love debating ideas. I love arguing with my friends. I come from a culture where we can argue about everything, from sports to politics, to ideas on life and society, everything. And I think you should be able to do that as human beings.

Trevor Noah: My mother encouraged me to argue with her. As long as I had a fully formed opinion, she would encourage me to challenge her. But what we always had was the agreed idea of what that reality was that we were challenging each other on. And I think 2016 was truly the year where I saw that shift, not just in The Daily Show, but in my life, I came to live in a world where I realized I even had to start reading news from different places because every different news source would have a different story of what reality was. And that's when I realized we were in a very scary place. And I don't think it's gotten any less scary since then.

Brad Smith: One of the things that I remember from watching your show, even that first year, is you would connect the dots, initially for an American audience. Your audience is really global today, but you would connect the dots between what was happening in the United States, what was happening on other continents, what was happening in Africa, what you had seen growing up. Do you think that experience growing up in another place helped give you some expanded perspective on this?

Trevor Noah: Oh, definitely. I remember as a young kid, I used to hate watching the news, but you had to watch the news with your parents. This was just a thing. Especially African parents, they insisted on this. The news would come on, all the kids had to come into the room, and then you sit there while they watch the news. I hated it, but I would watch. And then I would see what's happening in Rwanda. And then I would see stories coming out of Senegal, and then I'll see stories coming out of Yugoslavia at the time. And then I didn't even really know why things were happening or what caused it, but I was aware. And I think what that instilled within me was an idea that the world was always happening despite myself. It gave me, over time, the understanding of a ripple effect. And I learned that coming from a small country, because I would see what was happening in Zimbabwe, or let's say, and then years later, I would see the effects in South Africa as a neighboring country to Zimbabwe.

Trevor Noah: I would see what was happening in any other part of the world, and then I would feel the effects in South Africa. And so definitely, growing up in a country that was very affected by everything happening in the world, I came to realize how important it was to be aware of what's happening in the world, because at some point in time, there might be a chance that it would affect you.

Brad Smith: And as you grew up with that experience, were there instances of misinformation or disinformation that you think you might have seen before others?

Trevor Noah: I feel like misinformation and disinformation are as old as time. Misinformation started in my neighborhood as a kid. There were always, we used to call them [foreign language 00:05:46], and it was based off a famous character in South African television, who was this old lady who was a gossip, but she was a fantastic gossip. And she was this character who just knew everyone's business and told everyone's stories to somebody else. But she didn't just tell the story, she would embellish the stories. And so this became a word that we'd use for anyone. Whether it was a man or a woman, it just became, this person is [foreign language 00:06:09]. It was basically, you are the mother of gossip. That's essentially what you were and these stories, I mean, you knew that some people embellished. You knew that if a story sounded too crazy to be true, it probably was. And it would start in your community. It would start on your streets. It would go out to your neighborhood, and then it would go to a city. And there'd be little urban legends and myths that would go around.

Trevor Noah: On a national level, it was interesting because I grew up in South Africa. I was born during apartheid, but I didn't live, I always say, during apartheid. I mean, I was six years older when apartheid ended. So for myself, I don't think I really saw the most heinous effects of the policies of the state on the people. What I do know, however, was that the apartheid government told a story about what was happening. They said, "No, this is not oppression of black people in the country. This is us protecting the black people from themselves. This is for their own good. That's why this education is useless to them," and et cetera. They told a story. But even then, I feel like they told a story about a shared reality. They just interpreted the reality differently.

Trevor Noah: And so I don't feel like it was a disinformation in that way. I'm sure there were many... Obviously there were many tools that they tried to use, or they tried to employ, but if anything, they justified what they were doing. People could see it. And they said, "Nope, I know you're seeing this, but this is why we are doing it or how we are doing it." And I don't think until maybe the last six years of my life, seven years of my life, have I been like absorbed or as immersed as I have been, and as we have been, in a world where the disinformation seems targeted. I think maybe that's the big difference. I grew up in a world where it was just happening and you may bump into it by happenstance, whereas now it feels like you cannot escape it.

Brad Smith: I agree with you. I think it has become pervasive in a way that it was not before. And I think what's interesting is to step back and ask, well, why? What changed that led to this almost step change in the ubiquity of disinformation?

Trevor Noah: I look at it as a collection of events, a sequence, maybe not in a completely linear fashion, but definitely a journey. One would be the monetization of clicks on the internet. Once we got to the point where people were trying to make you click on something so that you could see an ad so that they could generate revenue from that, the internet no longer became just a place of webpages, it became a place of commerce. And part of the commerce was us. We were the people who were both the consumers and the product. And so now here we were clicking on websites to generate income for these people.

Trevor Noah: I remember when the first websites popped up that were just nothing websites. I'm sure you remember those. It was just like, what is this? Who wrote the story? Is this a thing? Did the shark really jump onto a boat and eat a man? Where did the story come from? But the news would always grab you. It always be at the bottom of a page. You know, here's how this man beat a bear with his bare hands. And you'd click on that and be like, is this real?

Brad Smith: It's click bait. There's even a word for it.

Trevor Noah: Exactly. And so that was, I feel, one of the beginnings. You're getting money from it. It's growing. You're clicking, you're baiting, you're clicking, you're baiting, but it still required something. It still required you to be online and to take the initiative of clicking on it at the bottom of a page somewhere. So you would start at a page you were familiar with, you would know where you're going. And then what would happen? Maybe you'd get sucked into one story, maybe. But then social media comes along. And now, social media makes sure that story isn't on the bottom of your page. It's on the top. It's the first thing that pops up when you open the app. And I think that's what started to happen, is we went from a world where it was almost passive to now actively targeting us with that disinformation.

Trevor Noah: And to be honest with you, I think a lot of it isn't even malicious. I think a lot of it is just people just trying to generate the clicks and make the money, and the best way to do that is to come up with the most outlandish content possible. And so we may even be partly victims of people who aren't even trying...You know, we always have these nefarious ideas. Oh, these people are trying to do it, trying to... Yes. I'm sure there are actors here and there, but I think a lot of it is just somebody who's out there going like, "Oh, I'm just going to make stories and make clicks and get some money."

Brad Smith: One of the things that I think is interesting is what we're really talking about here is an intersection, an intersection between what has become of the news.

Trevor Noah: Yeah.

Brad Smith: And huge debate about what is the news of the day.

Trevor Noah: Yes, yes.

Brad Smith: But it is an intersection between that and technology. And I think people who follow you, they think of you as not just a comedian, but really an astute commentator on the news of the day. But I know from our friendship that you're also equally astute when it comes to technology and how it's developed and how it's used. I want to pull on that thread, and then we'll connect them. But tell us how you got your start with what has become really, I think, another one of your lifelong passions.

Trevor Noah: Oh, definitely. I had a fight with my mom the other day about this. And I mean, when I say fight, I don't mean like, ah. Americans fight with their parents. When I say fights, I just mean we joked about something. My mom flew to the U.S. With my younger brother to come and visit. And when the trip was coming to its end, my mom was getting ready to go back. And my brother said, "No, he wants to stay a little longer." And so I said, "Well, then who are you going to fly back with?" He said, "I'll fly alone." And I said, "Well, I'm not worried about you. I'm worried about mom." And I said, "Mom, do you mind if he stays and you'll have to fly back alone. And you know what I will do is, I'll get you an app that'll show you where to go in the airport. And do you know how an app works?"

Trevor Noah: And at some point my mom stopped, and she turned to me and she said, [foreign language 00:11:46], which basically means... The loose translation is, "Get out of here, you idiot," essentially to me. And she said, [foreign language 00:11:54]. She's like, "How are you going to teach me technology when I'm the one who taught you? Where do you think you got your passion from? I'm the one who brought technology into this family. Now you think you're better than me." And I was like, "No, I don't think I'm better than you. I'm the one who has to come and help you when you've lost your files in the cloud, or I'm the one who has to..." She's like, "All right, those are isolated incidents. Don't bring them up. Don't bring them up. I'm the technology one in this family." And it was true. That's where it started for me.

Trevor Noah: You know, my mom brought technology home. She brought the precipice of technology home. One day, she came home with our first computer, and I'll never forget this. It was a Pentium 386. And I didn't know what this thing was. This giant screen, little box next to it, eggshell color. And I said, "What is this, mom?" And she said, "I met a man who was selling this from an old office that they were cleaning up, and he said, it's a computer. This is the future." And I said, "The future of what?" She said, "I don't know."

Brad Smith: The future of everything.

Trevor Noah: She said, "That's for you to find out." And we turned it on, and all you had was that blinking cursor, the BIOS loads.

Brad Smith: Yeah.

Trevor Noah: And you go to that MS DOS screen and there you have your prompt, and that was it. And that blinking cursor just there, waiting for you to tell it to do something. And I don't even know how long it took. I don't know where we found these commands, but slowly, slowly, here we are all of a sudden entering all of these command prompts and learning, and this world opened up. So these journeys I was on, not only was it for myself as a person and entertaining was happening in school as well. So the technology of the world was having an effect on my life. My mother was growing her business using these tools. You know, here I am learning how to build computers for myself.

Trevor Noah: A friend, Andrew, in school would teach me how CD ROMs work and how to build my own rig and to put pieces together. Here, I'm putting in my own RAM, my own motherboard, my own CPUs. And I remember being like, this is amazing. And this has always been my journey. And what I really enjoyed was just the infinite capabilities. I remember going into my first chat room, talking to people from America. They didn't even believe, Brad, that I was from South Africa. You know that?

Brad Smith: Really?

Trevor Noah: They didn't believe it. Back in the day, you would type in a chat room, you'd go ASL, age, sex, location. And then you would reply and you'd say, "14, male, South Africa." And then people would immediately respond, "Can't be from South Africa. South Africa? South Africa? Africa, Africa? What have you been Africa?" They'd be like, "You guys don't have computers there." And then I would play into it. I'd be like, "Yes, I am the chief of the tribe. And we have one computer, and I speak for my people." I mean, everyone bought into it, so I was part of the disinformation there. And what was amazing in that journey was just seeing how infinite technology was. It was everything.

Brad Smith: As I recall, you used it to become a very good DJ.

Trevor Noah: I did indeed. I had some of the first music software where you would play more than one song at the same time. And then I remember when I had software where I could match the beats themselves, and then my world opened up. Now here I was, a DJ, and all because of this computer. I very quickly saw a world where this box could be anything. But as we've learned in life, with great power comes great responsibility.

Brad Smith: I remember the first time our path crossed. It was late in 2016. You were just starting to hit the road for your book.

Trevor Noah: Yeah.

Brad Smith: Born a Crime.

Trevor Noah: Yeah.

Brad Smith: You came to Microsoft. We had a standing room only crowd to listen to you talk.

Trevor Noah: It was amazing. It was really amazing.

Brad Smith: And I remember reading the book, because of course I interviewed you when you were here. And I said, this guy, actually, he's a techie. And we reached out and said, "Hey, do you want to come see some of our technology after we're done talking?"

Trevor Noah: I had so much fun with you that day. It was like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That's how I felt, because you brought me into this world, and then you were like, "Hey, do you want to see more?" And I was like, "What do you mean more?" And you're like, "Let me take your own little tour." I don't even think you understood what you did to my brain that day.

Brad Smith: Well, it opened this wonderful door, and we and I have enormously benefited from the fact that you walk through it and you come here regularly. But what is interesting about this to me is that, in a sense, technology helped propel you into entertainment. Entertainment led you to this expanding role of commenting on the world.

Trevor Noah: Right.

Brad Smith: Led you to write a book, which led you back into, to some degree, this new world of technology.

Trevor Noah: Definitely.

Brad Smith: And now you're at this intersection. Technology meets the news and creates misinformation and gives you, I think, this unique perspective because you've come at that intersection from both directions. When you look at the people who are sometimes being, I'll just say, led astray almost by this distorted or just completely false narrative about something that's not reality at all, what do you think makes people most vulnerable in this intersection?

Trevor Noah: That's an interesting question. What do I think makes people most vulnerable? Number one, number one, number one is identifying as a label or a group. I think that might be the number one thing that I'm starting to see, is that as soon as you identifying as a label or a group, immediately, I feel you become more susceptible to disinformation or misinformation because a part of you decides on a thing before a thing is actually decided, or before you even have all the facts because your group or your label has decided on it. And so I've come to realize, and it's extremely difficult. I mean, I struggle with this. I sometimes will try to block out who even said a thing. If I'm on Twitter, if I'm on wherever, I literally try and block out who the things come from-

Brad Smith: Interesting.

Trevor Noah: ... just so that I can read it, and then go, how do I feel about this? And it's really interesting because you'll find your own brain trying to figure out who said it before it makes up its own mind. You'll read something and go, how do I feel about that? Well, who do I think said it? And then I go, no, no, no forget who said it. How do you feel about it? I'm like, I don't know. I don't want to agree with someone that's not from my group. Oh, it feels like a trap. And I really think that's the number one thing, is that people are processing reality first through their little bubble before through their own mind. And then everything else from there, what makes you susceptible is how much time you're spending connected, or what you're connected to.

Trevor Noah: I think also socioeconomics play a role. If you have access to more devices, faster internet, if you have access to libraries, better books, et cetera, I do think that those things give you not just a brain that is open to critical thinking, but a brain that maybe a little bit more immune to accepting that disinformation immediately. And I think unfortunately, we live in a world where many of us don't have enough of those tools, I think, or that position to be able to avoid how influential misinformation can be.

Brad Smith: One of the things that I think is so interesting about the point you're making is, in the tech sector, we talk about whether something is a feature or a bug.

Trevor Noah: Yeah.

Brad Smith: Or, as we sometimes increasingly think, is it a tool or a weapon?

Trevor Noah: Yeah.

Brad Smith: And what you're describing was something that was created with, I will say, virtuous objectives in mind. We were going to give people more choice. Anybody could be a publisher.

Trevor Noah: Right.

Brad Smith: You could go to a social media site and you could choose just to see content from your friends. That was a feature. You could go to another one and just get short sentences, called tweets, from people you would choose to follow.

Trevor Noah: Right.

Brad Smith: I lauded it as a great feature, but I think what you're also pointing out is all of that choice, and then that ability to choose, has caused people increasingly to choose people who have the same label in their minds, the same cyber tribe almost.

Trevor Noah: Yeah. And to be honest, I don't even think that's the problem per se. I just think that's what makes you susceptible. That's what society, I think, is in essence. It's a group of people who decide, we are going to agree on a certain reality. Even anarchists will say, "We want to live in a place where there is no one person who's in charge, but we all have to agree on what a rule is." So I don't think of it as necessarily being good or bad, but I think about it in terms of being susceptible. If I say that I am anything, I then am more likely to process information through the lens of the label that I have chosen. Here's a simple example. Are you a human, Brad?

Brad Smith: I hope so.

Trevor Noah: Okay. So you identify as human, right? Great. Now, one day, what happens is aliens come down to earth. Now there are aliens and there are humans. Now all of a sudden, you have to choose your group or your tribe. The aliens put out a message saying that half of all of humans should be killed off to save the planet. I would argue you would be less likely to even absorb this message because an alien has written this, right? But if a human from Stanford or from Harvard wrote a paper saying, "The earth is dying and unless half the population somehow disappears, the earth won't be around in 10 years." You may not accept it, but you'd be more likely to even allow it into your brain because you are a human and it came from a human. And so I think just on that level alone, the label helps you, because you go like, who wrote this? Human wrote this. Ah, from university. I'm a university person, and I'm also a human, ergo I should listen, at least, to this person.

Trevor Noah: So that's what I mean, is the susceptible thing. It's not good or bad. It just is what it is. What's bad, in my opinion, is when people have to figure out how to monetize that weakness in us as human beings, that's when the problem comes in.

Brad Smith: So from your perspective, you would say, in some ways, that susceptibility is maybe the kindling, but that monetization set the fire.

Trevor Noah: I believe that.

Brad Smith: Yeah.

Trevor Noah: I think the susceptibility is innate in us. Like, a child has to be susceptible to its parents in order to learn how to survive. We have to be susceptible because we have to be influenced so we can become part of the tribe. But imagine if your parents were monetizing the decisions you were making. Imagine if your parents were going, "Hey Brad, would you like a Coke?" And you're like, "You offering me a Coke dad, because it's a Coke or because Coke has paid you?"

Brad Smith: Exactly.

Trevor Noah: You see now, what are their intentions? Because your parents are now, there's monetization in them getting you to make certain decisions. And if we lived in that world, we wouldn't accept it. If I said to people tomorrow, "Hey, parents are going to influence their kids to do certain things, and in exchange, they can earn money from brands," we would be up in arms. How could you do that? Children trust their parents. But isn't that, in effect, what social media sort of does to people, is that you trust it. You trust that it's showing you what's happening. You trust that it is giving you reality, when in fact, it's amplifying certain voices because it knows it gets a rise out of you. You know, it's amplifying certain messages because it knows it keeps you engaged. And so it may not be giving you an accurate representation of reality, but in fact, a warped one because it needs to monetize who you are.

Brad Smith: And when you look at the current state of affairs, the misinformation, the impact of social media in this way, how big a problem do you think this is? How seriously do you think we need to be taking it?

Trevor Noah: Sometimes I think we focus on climate change, which is great, but I wonder if we'll almost be around to see that at the rate we are going. If we don't agree on reality, where do we go from there?

Brad Smith: Interesting.

Trevor Noah: And I mean this honestly. I don't mean in a glib fashion at all. Where do we go from there?

Trevor Noah: All of the greatest atrocities that have been committed against humans throughout time share one common thread, and that is somebody manages to convince a group of people that another group of people aren't in fact people. That is one of the most powerful forms of misinformation that can exist. So whether it's Hitler and the Nazis convincing swaths of people that Jewish people aren't in fact human... I mean, imagine that. And this is something that has taken place throughout time. You see it in some of the writings of some of the first colonizers and the priests that came with them. They write saying that, "These people we've met in Africa, these societies are as civilized, if not more, than ours. The only way we can do what we are going to do is by convincing the people in our home countries that they are in fact savages."

Trevor Noah: And we've seen these writings, because without that, you cannot easily convince people to commit heinous crimes against others. You have to dehumanize them. And so I worry if we live in a world now where it gets to the point where social media is telling Brad that his neighbor is not a "human," where does it go to? I think we've already seen politicians getting shot. We've seen people getting shot. We've seen people who don't want to take a vaccine because their brains are going to be controlled. This is getting to the point where society, our very livelihood, could be threatened. And at the end of it all, when it's all burned down, we're all going to stand around, pointing fingers saying, "Who did it? And what was it for?" And the truth is, we may never know. It could be because somebody wanted to sell a bag of chips, and it could be because one nation wanted to convince another nation's people that they were all enemies of each other.

Brad Smith: And I think that leads to a really big question. What is to be done? When you think about this, I mean, I would certainly argue that social media has many benefits.

Trevor Noah: Oh, definitely.

Brad Smith: At Microsoft, we have a LinkedIn service in which we fervently believe... Is there a way that we can preserve the goodness that led to its creation in the first place while putting at least a real dent in the misinformation we're seeing today?

Trevor Noah: When I think of that question, I think of industries where I'm always surprised at how much they're forced to improve all the time. Man, the automotive industry, they are just always forced to improve. We want airbags. Now we want airbags on the side. Now we want pre-airbags, and we want more. We want seven airbags. We want a seatbelt and a seatbelt that holds that seatbelt. And now what we want is the car to stop for itself. And we also wanted to warn you before you crash on the side and before you change lanes. And we want the brakes to not lock up when you hit your foot too hard. Think about it. I mean, there was one or two, maybe three stories of somebody driving in a Toyota and then the pedal got stuck to the thing. But look at what the car industry had to do. They changed everything.

Trevor Noah: Cars are some of the safest things they've ever been, but still they keep trying to make them safer. And so when I look at that and I think of technology, I go, why do we not pursue the same thing? I think a lot of the time in tech, especially in software tech, we often think of it features wise, which is great, but we don't think of the safety side as well. We go, okay, this is a great feature. How could it be used the wrong way? I do think there should be some onus on creators of technology to look at how a thing is being created or how it's being used incorrectly. One airplane flies into a building. A second one flies into a building. Since then, planes have never been the same. They make sure that in airports, we get searched. We have scanners that look through our bodies. We made changes, because we go, "These lives should not be lost in vain." We move forward in a way where we don't want more people to lose their lives.

Trevor Noah: I don't understand why we don't do the same with technology in that way. And I think that's really important, to look at these things and say, ha, do we want another Brexit? And not the politics of it, but just people going, "Ah, I didn't actually know this video was real or fake." How people vote is how they vote. But I would love people to be informed about the facts when they make those votes. I think it would be great for people to choose leaders or decide the fates of their nations based on facts. I love arguing facts, Brad. You bring a fact and let's argue about it, but let's agree on it. Let's agree on its existence as a thing. Can we agree that there's a virus? Can we agree that there's a vaccine? We can argue about why you don't want to take a vaccine, but let's not argue about vaccines actually existing, where now people say vaccines aren't even a thing. That's a dangerous place to live in.

Brad Smith: And I think what you're saying is that change is needed.

Trevor Noah: Definitely.

Brad Smith: And I think change, when you get down to it, can always come from one of two places, the inside or the outside. And you look at cars, it actually took the outside. It took governments to say you must put in a seatbelt, you must put in an airbag. Auto makers, as you point out, fought that.

Trevor Noah: Yep.

Brad Smith: I can even point to my own experience, our experience at Microsoft. We fought against change when the government came knocking on our doors in the 1990s. And yet I think, perhaps somewhat ironically, we look back at the changes that we were forced to make. And we'd say, you know, in the end it made us a better company. And I think most auto makers, if they have people who are still around would say, "Yes, it forced us to make better cars."

Trevor Noah: Right.

Brad Smith: If you were testifying before Congress tomorrow morning and they asked, "Mr. Noah, what should we do?" what would you say?

Trevor Noah: What should we do? So the first thing I would suggest is that Congress, and the American government as a whole, stop looking at this as a partisan issue, because it's not. Reality and society go hand in hand. For society to exist, there needs to be an agreed upon reality. A traffic light is a perfect example. We stop these metal objects that weigh thousands of pounds. We all agree that they will stop because a light is a color. That's your imagination. The light didn't stop the car. We have just all agreed, every single one of us, that that's what we're going to do when we get to that color light. That's society agreeing upon a reality. And so I think that would be the first thing I would say to Congress, is, hey, forget what you call yourselves. Ask yourself what you're trying to do. What you're trying to do is preserve, maintain, and improve society. Because in my opinion, that's what a government is. They are elected representatives who are trying to further the society.

Trevor Noah: Society will go about its business, and the government is meant to further and protect a society. And so then I would say, look at these companies and ask yourself what they are actively doing beyond what they say they're doing. I'm glad you said the thing about fighting, because every business will fight to protect itself. Any organism will fight to survive. Have you ever tried to take a dog to the vet? I remember when my dog once had a thorn in its paw. I had to fight with this thing. This thing tried to kill me and I'm trying to help it. This is a thing that organisms do. It's weird. I think that's what government needs to understand sometimes, is like, yeah, it needs to step in like a parent and go, hey, without certain boundaries and confines, every business will go crazy. The reason you have regulations is so that we can grow sustainably in a way that you don't just burn everything down.

Trevor Noah: And so I would look at those incentives. I would look at how we look at responsibility, I think is the key. We could always argue that car manufacturers, once they sell you the car, have no responsibility. We could say, yeah, that's your car, Brad. What happens to the car happens to the car. But at some point the government said, no, there is some onus on the car manufacturer, because if they're selling you a torpedo that's going to fly down the freeway at a hundred miles an hour, maybe, just maybe they have some liability if something goes wrong. How much responsibility do we attribute to these social media companies? Because if you don't say to them, "Hey, you do bear some responsibility," if they don't do that, I loath to even say this, but a thing could happen... Some would argue that it did on January 6th at The Capitol, but a thing could happen where somebody turns around and says, "Hey, actually, I did this heinous thing because my social media feed tricked me into thinking that this was reality. And so I'm not responsible for this action."

Trevor Noah: And then the question is, where will we go? If there's a 15 year old kid who's out there on social media every single day and their feed is telling them something that's not true, actively, by the way. The algorithm is sending them information. When that kid goes out and takes the lives of many, many, many people and we say who's at fault, could you not argue that the company that designed an algorithm specifically for that one individual is partially at fault? I think many people could. And so if I was talking to Congress, I would say, ask yourself how much responsibility these companies have. Boeing has responsibility when a plane goes down. Why shouldn't a social media company?

Brad Smith: I think you've just framed what will almost certainly be a big part of the political debate we'll see in Congress, as well as in other capitols around the world probably for at least the rest of the first half of this decade, perhaps for the decade as a whole. Let me just ask you then, one last question. As this debate ensues and as we live with these risks and we see all of this misinformation in the eye, you'll continue to have a voice. You'll continue to have a role to tell people about what's going on in the world and how to think about it. And you obviously can't be the antidote to all of these other problems, but how do you want to continue to use the platform that you have to at least contribute to a better informed public as a whole?

Trevor Noah: One of the most life changing experiences I had was... I got to travel to Paris for the first time, and I went on a tour of The Museum of Rodin. And you walk through the mind of this sculpture, and you see how he created forms and shapes and told stories through inanimate objects of very animate people. And what was the most amazing thing for me was realizing that a sculpture, unlike a piece of art, exists in 360 degrees. When we look at the Mona Lisa, we all look at the Mona Lisa. You can only look at it from one-

Brad Smith: One direction.

Trevor Noah: ... direction. But with a sculpture, you could be looking at the Mona Lisa from the front. I could be looking at the Mona Lisa from the back. And then I say to you, "Brad, what's the Mona Lisa doing?" And you say, "Well, she's looking at me, and I think smiling, maybe." And you say, "Trevor, what's the Mona Lisa doing?" I go, "I don't know, nothing, just hair." And you go, "No, that's not true." "No, but that is true." "And no, that's not true." And we can get into a huge fight. The truth is we are both experiencing something. We're just looking at it from different perspectives.

Trevor Noah: In that, I've come to learn that the thing I would like to be a part of is just existing in a world where I can acknowledge that another person is seeing the same thing I'm seeing from a different perspective, and so they're coming to a different conclusion. I don't have to agree with their conclusion, but I will work to understand, and even illuminate to them that I do get their perspective, and then explain to them why I see it the way I do from my perspective. Maybe, just maybe, they will then go, "All right, let me walk around to your side of the sculpture and see why you see it that way." Because I think that's what we've lost a lot of in society, is the ability to believe that another person also is acting with their best intentions at heart.

Trevor Noah: We like to think of the world as heroes and villains, but really, a villain is a hero from their perspective and a villain from yours. And so in my opinion, I think most of society is trying to be good. And so what I'll try and do, as best as I can, is just try and show people, "Hey, I understand your point of view and I don't agree with it. Here's why." Because I do that with my best friends, I do that with my family. And I think in order to live in a society, you want to live in a world where we can all see the same object, argue about it, but then figure out where to go from there.

Brad Smith: Well, I think there's something fascinating, perhaps almost poetic in that, because I think what you're describing is that in some ways, the fight against misinformation is not about trying to force people to all think the same way.

Trevor Noah: Definitely not.

Brad Smith: It is about getting people to look at a common thing.

Trevor Noah: Yes.

Brad Smith: At least let's all look at a statue of Rodin.

Trevor Noah: Yes.

Brad Smith: I shouldn't be looking at the Arc de Triomphe while you're looking at this.

Trevor Noah: Exactly. Exactly.

Brad Smith: We'll all look at the same statue, and then we'll honor the fact that we value a diversity of opinion.

Trevor Noah: Right.

Brad Smith: But it is a diversity of opinion better rooted in a common reality.

Trevor Noah: Definitely.

Brad Smith: Well, I appreciate what you have done here today in this conversation, but more importantly and broadly that breadth of perspective that you bring every evening.

Trevor Noah: Thank you, sir.

Brad Smith: When we get to watch you, we have our work cut out for us.

Trevor Noah: Thank you very much. As somebody who has, I think, a very lucky lifeline directly to the people who make a lot of the technology I use to make my show, I appreciate you, because I'll send a direct message to the team about my voice dictation and be like, "I need it to improve how it hears a South African accent and the way it writes out certain curse words. Thank you very much." No, thank you very much. And thank you for always trying to grow. I appreciate you.

Brad Smith: Well, the intersection between technology and the world is, I like to say, one of the most interesting intersections in the world.

Trevor Noah: Definitely.

Brad Smith: Trevor Noah, thank you for being here.

Trevor Noah: Thank you so much, Brad.

Brad Smith: You've been listening to Tools and Weapons with me, Brad Smith. If you enjoyed today's show, please follow us wherever you like to listen. Tools and Weapons is produced by Corina Hernandez, Mark "Frosty" McNeill, and Jordan Rothlein, with production assistance from Emma Foley. Our executive producers are Carol Ann Brown and Aaron Thiese. This podcast was edited and mixed by Jenny Cataldo, with production support by Sam Kirkpatrick at Run Studios. Original music by Angular Wave Research. Tools and Weapons is a production of Microsoft, made in partnership with We Are Listen and A_DA.