Bitpush Exclusive: LinkedIn Co-Founder Eric Ly On Misinformation And The Quest For Truth
The truth has become increasingly difficult to find as social media continues to rise. How can we sort out the facts from the mass of information, the truth from lies? Should technology giants be held responsible? How can blockchain rebuild the trust between people? Linkedln Co-Founder Eric Ly, founder of Hub talks with Bitpush News Editor in Chief Susan Feng on how to find truth in this age of misinformation.
Bitpush: You co-founded LinkedIn in 2003, and now you found another blockchain project Hub. So tell us a little bit about yourself what motive you to co-found LinkedIn?
Eric: LinkedIn was founded almost twenty years ago when it was hard to imagine anyone putting so much of their personal information online. These days so much of our identities and information are online. It is very normal. We started linkedIn, Its goal was to put our professional reputation and professional network online.
From that, I realized there was more to be done.
I realized that the success of LinkedIn and other social networks created a problem:
There was so much information created by so many people that it was hard to know whether someone’s information was true and accurate.
Hub is an attempt to fix this.
Bitpush:Cool. Do you feel you see the next big thing?
Eric：Yeah, basically, the problem was that we come to rely on so much of information to make decisions about ourselves. Yeah. And in the case of linkedIn, it was really information about the people that we rely on to create business with, to have a relation with someone professionally.
Do we want to hire them? We’re making important decisions about this information.
Hub is really an attempt to fix this problem where people might not be completely accurate about themselves.
Bitpush: Yeah, absolutely. LinkedIn which founded in 2003 back then that early days of internet, we all see these big tech giants the force that make the world of more open, prosperous place, like google you know they obviously will not do evil.
But right now, the public opinion shifted dramatically.
People raise concern about these big techs’ size and power, the handling of information like Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal from early on to now, as a pioneer of internet, how did you see the internet evolve over time?
Eric: Yeah, technology has really become too much of a good thing.
It brought great value to everybody’s lives in terms of convenience and knowledge.
This progress has really shown some of the serious problems, and that exists with the technology you know today.
So basically, you know what we found is that these data about people’s information and behavior is really valuable.
And the fact is, you know, its value is often put at risk because of our lack of understanding in terms of how to manage it.
So you know today we don’t really have a necessary tools to effectively deal with this data yet.
And we need to figure out solutions so that we can continue to expand the value of this technology and this data While doing it without the problems that related the technology has created.
Bitpush: Nowadays as social media rise, everybody can be a news anchor, and everybody can have the impact on the society like a big news media outlet.
So like some radical news organization have the same impact as the New York Times.
And It’s not only in the united states, you know China, everywhere. It seems it’s a world problem, not even mention in the united states. During the election, we can see the lies and conspiracy theories flooding on internet.
So how do you think the big platform like Twitter, Facebook, Google, all these tech giants?
What’s their responsibility and duty to deal with this problem?
We know that twitter, facebook, give them some credit, take steps to take down or label false information, but obviously it’s not enough.
Eric: Yeah, that’s right. The thing is that I do believe that technology companies are just like any other company.
They have a responsibility to offer products that are you know beneficial and valuable you know to people.
And in the case of social media companies, it’s actually a very challenging goal to achieve this
because it is sometimes very difficult to know what is fact and what is fiction.
And if the companies in our industry cannot stop these information from being spread, they should actually try to be explicit about the factual basis of this information itself. So people can decide on whether the information that they’re getting is valid or not, right? And this means, I believe, associating with the information that they’re getting. Whether the content is coming from a reputable source or is the information they can tell, factual or not?
So this is the things I think what they have to do to help people interpret the information, they are accurate or not.
Bitpush: It seems a lot to ask but think how much money they are making using our data.
And also as I know some scholars, they suggest that tax the big platforms as the tax on tobacco industry.
Because they spread a lot of bad information to society as tobacco harmful to people.
And also right now in the United States, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, they all face antitrust and privacy lawsuit from U.S. government and china also launched antitrust probe into Alibaba. So what’s your thought on that?
Eric: Well regulation is often considered undesirable by companies because they feel like that infringes on their profit.
It’s useful to set some boundaries so that companies can play where you know it is safe.
My only hope is that in terms of regulations that are made, when they’re made by government and leaders, they are well informed and enlightened about the technology so that they don’t limit the industry unnecessarily because these industries do contribute economic value to people as a whole.
Bitpush: Yeah, of course you know if without this kind of company, we cannot work you know during this pandemic, right?
Because of the internet, because of Google, Amazon, you know we can work in in this pandemic.
We can buy things remotely. obviously they contribute a lot economically .
But right now, this misinformation really let the society pay a big price for that.
Eric: Yeah, you know it’s really interesting because you have to often wonder what is that stake?
Right? Sometimes people think oh it’s okay
If people you know uh believe uh things that are not necessarily true but i was reading recently about some of the statistics around misinformation.
There was a recent article in the New York Times talked about how that engagement of articles that have false information on Facebook has tripled since 2016.
When there was the last US election, when people became aware of this problem
I think the most recent example is really alarming in terms of the information surrounding covid-19 and pandemic.
There have been some recent surveys that have been done.
they say that four out of ten Americans believe that Covid-19 is a conspiracy, which is very alarming.
Bitpush: And the mask. A lot of people said mask is useless as well as vaccine.
Eric: That’s right. There’s a significant number of Americans who don’t want to take the vaccine.
So you know this is an instance where the misinformation itself is actually going to harm people and cause more deaths, right?
So it’s not just some kind of funny thing.
So I think that’s why it matters of health today, especially with the coronavirus, when we started the project around Hub we actually felt that economic opportunities and financial opportunities are really important and should be improved and that’s really based on having accurate information about the people that we work with.
Bitpush: We see that because the data algorithm is a key to the business profit of the tech platforms.
Actually, spreading the misinformation to help keep people on platform.
So if you ask the tech giants to take down this misinformation and take very harsh attitude, very strict on misinformation.
In the end, actually, it’s hurt that business.
This is just like a little bit of contrary for the business instinct.
They will do that for society’s benefit, but if they are very serious about it.
It will decrease people’s spending time on the platform. It will not good for their data.
Eric: Well you know Unfortunately, it’s human nature for people to hear what they want to believe.
And they want to believe things you know whether it is true or not as long as they promote their own belief.
And for these technology platforms in an effort to promote engagement they’ve made it easy for people to see the information that they want to see.
But I do believe that the problem right now is really just limitation that these platforms have, but I do believe that we should find ways to solve these limitations and to make these platforms better.
Bitpush: Okay, great. Just as you said, people want to listen what they believe.
So actually the social media instead of connecting people, they separating people, it’s like people who have similar opinion they form a group. They don’t talk with the other groups. and it make the society even more divided.
Eric: Yeah, that’s right. Um that’s I think one of the things that happen on Facebook.
Where you know back 4 years ago, I think there was a big push to have people be more connected with their community, with their friends and family.
And but one of the unfortunate side effects of that was that people became attached to these more intimate groups where they can share information among people that had similar beliefs that they did without necessarily being exposed to kind of the larger, more verified information that was out there, the news by reputable sources. So as a result, what happened was that these factions form between people uh that we’re almost kind of like echo chambers.
Bitpush: Yes. yeah it’s even very obviously on Wechat you know.
On Wechat during the election. People who for president Trump have one group, and people against president Trump have another group. I have real experience that for this group, if someone is really for president Trump, another people will organize another group to kick them out.
We only want to listen what we believe.
Eric: Yeah, that’s right. and so unfortunately, I think people have become more and more divided than they ever have before. And it’s because of, I think some unintended consequences of this technology that have gotten this here.
And so I do believe that there’s more work to be done to really fix these problems and products today.
Bitpush: And the data. Nowadays, no matter where you live, people in this world, all our lives are dominated by data, by the big platforms.
They know where you are, what you like, who you love and where you travel.
Our data is on that platform.
They make huge profit from on our own data by using the algorithm.
So what kind of rights do you think the user have over our own data?
Eric: Well I think you know there’s really no doubt that data has become kind of new currency,
this new economy that we all live in. It has value.
And right now, that data has been by the tech giants, and the consumers, they gained relatively little from their data, except maybe for the free use of the platform.
And even then that is a controversial idea.
This is a very inequitable distribution of value coming from the data.
having grown up in a capitalist society and being a capitalist myself, I actually believe that we should reward people for the value of their hard work. These entrepreneurs.
But at the same time, I do believe also that we should redistribute the value that data has
so that it’s more equitable between people.
And so people should actually benefit from more of the value of their data. Rather than kind of the big corporations always gaining from the value of this data.
Bitpush: But how, Will blockchain helps?
How can individual user own our data, will blockchain help?
Eric: Well One of the very interesting things about blockchain is that it really promotes this idea of decentralization.
As I’ve studied in blockchain over the years, this idea of decentralization that I think some of these major problems with big tech today can be solved.
First of all, you have the ownership of the data that is really owned by the big technology companies today
With the blockchain, you have the ability to actually decentralize the ownership of data
so that people can take their data wherever they want to go and benefit from it.
They in effect can have ownership of their data, and that’s a very valuable thing, that is kind of the first step in gaining from the value of data.
Bitpush: That’s cool. The first step like you own the data but the another stop step is the trust.
Have you heard that Alibaba, they sell the old customers priced higher than the new customers?
So how can you believe this tech Giants? How to build the trust?
You know It seems hard to believe the tech giants and it’s also seems hard to trust everyone we met on this internet.
So what’s the solution?
Eric: Well I think the reality is that the world is becoming a bigger and bigger place?
With many more actors that we have to interact with. Right?
So it’s going to be hard to, uh as they say, you know put the genie back into the bottle.
So there’s gonna to be a new reality where there’s more people that we have to deal with.
So I think the question is, how do we use technology to help us gain trust with more and more entities rather than fewer and fewer activities.
So I think that um you know once again, I think technology can be a solution, but it has to be you know done in the right way.
And part of what I’ve been trying to do at Hub to really look at how we can properly track information.
One of the key ideas that I’m interested in is how do we get verified information. So if we’re able to verify that a piece of information is true, then we’re more likely to trust it, more likely to be able to make good decisions based on that.
And so I think that’s one of the other benefits of blockchain as well is that once we’re able to capture a piece of information you know that it’s verified, we can depend on it, and we can make the decisions based on it.
Bitpush: Okay, cool. because I read information about the Hub. You said” The challenges from the lack of trust will only get worse as people increasingly turn to the Internet for more interactions” . Hub focus a lot on reputation and identity. Are you trying to build user’s reputation score to help people interact more efficiently?
Could you tell us a little bit more about that?
Eric: Yeah, you know it’s very much of the same things as we’ve been discussing.
And what we want to do, first of all, we want to capture information about people.
This simply describe the reputation, but we want this to capture in a way that that information is verified.
And it’s truthful because without good information about people, it’s hard to form good opinions about them.
So that’s the first thing.
The second thing that we want to do is to make it possible using blockchain technologies to enable that information to really be owned by people.
And what that means is that they can take it anywhere that they want to go.
Bitpush: So they can take their own personal data and the credit score to go from one market place to another?
Eric: That’s right. And I think this is the key to sort of breaking up the control that you know big tech has around the data that’s owned by individuals, because we know that information is valuable, but we want to place the control of that information into the hands of users.
And by doing that, we enable them to be in control and to benefit from that information, rather than big tech companies.
So I don’t wanna say that companies should not benefit from that information, but I think more of an equitable distribution, the value is going to be better for everyone.
Bitpush: But how did you get started with blockchain?
It’s because you’re pioneer internet. Now you’re pioneer in blockchain so, how this idea come to you?
Eric: Well you know It comes from, seeing some of the problems that exist today on the internet.
And you do see that in general, some of the limitations we really reach some of the limits. In terms of what we’re able to do with today’s technology, as an entrepreneur, as a person who is looking to solve problems.
I was always looking for new tools and to solve existing problems that I see.
And so uh I think the real kind of advantage of blockchain is that you see it as a tool to solve some of these really challenging problems that exist with the internet technology today.
So i’m actually very excited to work on blockchain because uh it really provides the answers for some of these really challenging problems.
Bitpush: A lot of young people also looking for the next big thing. They want to be part of them.
Could you have some suggestion for young people? What they should do? how do they find a new career opportunity? How do they find the next big thing?
Eric: That’s a great question.
I would say to look for opportunities that can have a positive impact on a lot of people.
And also look for opportunities that you can solve. There’s basically two places to look.
You can always look for opportunities for existing problems in a better way, or you can look for new problems that you have a solution. Two ways to look have opportunities that are really worthwhile. And there’s never a shortage of problems.
So it might seem that all the problems that have been solved, but that’s never true.
The best advice I always got was to apply yourself and that’s that you are very capable, everyone is very capable. They always have something to offer.
And it’s a matter of finding what it is and apply yourself to.
Bitpush: Yeah. As to you, you are a tech person. You went to Stanford university.
So how did you find your opportunity?
Eric: Well I think it’s important to engage and interact with other entrepreneurs.
I was very lucky, growing up in Silicon Valley that there was always people who are always talking about new ideas and new dreams and new companies, and always being in the midst of other people who are always trying to push the boundaries.
And uh you know here in silicon valley, there’s a quite a rich kind of uh entrepreneurial spirit.
Eric: And I think it’s really great to be in the culture like that. So i definitely encourage people to you know find uh people who are like that who are always exploring these things.
Because in doing so, it will give you ideas of your own that you can solve uh that you know also very successful.
Bitpush: But Do you have a philosophy by which to live?
Eric: You know I would say, be open you know and uh always um you know be uh you know open to new opportunities uh as they come to you. okay Um you know Very important to keep an eye on uh you know new challenges and always look to the future and not necessarily so much the past.
Bitpush: Okay That sounds great. Thank you so much, Eric.
Eric: Thank you, Susan. It’s a pleasure talking.