January 14, 2021

#171 Account Suspended

by Reply All

Background show artwork for Reply All

This week, we talk to Alex about the chaos on the internet after the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Also, Alex Blumberg Yells at Alex Goldman


PJ VOGT: From Gimlet this is Reply All. I’m PJ VOGT. 

ALEX GOLDMAN: And I’m Alex Goldman.

PJ: Hello, Alex Goldman.


PJ: You ok? 

ALEX GOLDMAN: No! I mean... 


ALEX GOLDMAN: Things are really fucked up, dude. Uh .. I just feel like um .. the state of the world externally is permeating my every thought and like, I try to retreat into things that make me feel comfortable and safe and nothings working. 

PJ: Oh you mean to hang out on the internets not helping? 

ALEX GOLDMAN: [laughing] yeah strangely reading twitter is not giving me the sense of calm that it usually does. 

PJ: Alex Blumberg… you are also here.. I’m also curious how you are doing?  

ALEX BLUMBERG: Uh… I’m alright… 

PJ: Yeah so basically last week.. we’d had this moment where we were sort of—we were—Alex and I were talking, and it felt like with everything that had happened with the riots at the Capitol, um, it might be nice to do an explainer to you about just sort of how the internet was responding to everything that happened at the Capitol.


PJ: So, the—we brought you, Alex, in. On Friday, we recorded the thing. 


PJ: That was Friday afternoon. By even like, Friday evening, it felt like just so much had happened that the thing we recorded, instead of feeling five days old, it felt 10 years old.


PJ: Um, and so, we actually wanted to come back, scrap what we had, and now that it’s Monday, just sort of like, talk about what has happened since Friday. Because it feels like there’s enough there to just talk about.

ALEX BLUMBERG: That sounds great. My question is like, your listeners never would have known about the Friday thing if we—if you just hadn’t just told them about it right now. Like, why, why don’t we just like, pretend like we’re just doing it? Why are you mentioning—

ALEX GOLDMAN: You know that Wu-Tang Clan album that Martin Shkreli owns that’s like two million dollars? There’s only one of them?


ALEX GOLDMAN: That—this is our two-million-dollar Wu-Tang Clan album. [Laughter] [Crosstalk]

ALEX BLUMBERG: We’re gonna send this to one person.

PJ: [Inaudible] Yes, yes, no. It’ll be a collector’s item. Nobody will ever hear it.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah, we should—yeah, no one will ever hear it.

PJ: We’re gonna press it to vinyl. [Laughter] We’re putting it up on eBay. We could make tens of dollars off of this. 

ALEX BLUMBERG: Are you sure you want to deprive people of the—like, that might’ve been the best episode you guys ever did.

ALEX GOLDMAN: You know, our continued success is in your best interest professionally, and I feel like you’re trying to sabotage us here. [Laughter]

PJ: This is rank capitalism. 

ALEX BLUMBERG: No, no. I’m trying, I’m trying to like—I’m trying to boost the price on eBay. Just cut me in.

PJ: Anyway.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Okay, guys.

PJ:  We’re doing a new one.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Yep, okay. Good.

PJ: Okay. So, today is Monday. 


PJ: Let’s just talk about literally what has happened since the weekend.


PJ: So, I would say half an hour after we finished recording—


PJ: Uh, Donald Trump was banned from Twitter.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Right. Oh, right. [Laughs] 

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh, there was that. Right.

PJ: Basically, it launched a series of domino effects that were both, uh, I think, a lot of things that happened because of that were very funny. Um, and also like, very interesting. Like, it, it—for—it sort of felt like if, if the internet in general and Twitter in particular has felt like a really bad TV show that I don’t know why I still watch it, this was sort of one of those episodes where you’re like, “Oh, this is why I watch it, because sometimes stuff like this happens.”

ALEX BLUMBERG: Mm-hmm. All right. So, what’s happened? I don’t know anything about this.

PJ: Well, you didn’t pay any attention? 

ALEX BLUMBERG: No, I mean, I know that—

PJ: You know that he was banned.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Here’s, here’s what I—the basic outlines of it. I knew he got banned, and then he got banned from everything, including Shopify.

PJ: Yes.

ALEX BLUMBERG: I saw Shopify trending on Twitter. 

PJ: Okay. Yes.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So does that mean he can’t sell Challenge coins? 

PJ: I think so.

ALEX GOLDMAN: ‘Cause every time I see like, a Donald Trump, anything that is Donald Trump merchandise-related, it’s like, the Donald Trump coin. Minted with silver and gold. And it’s like—

PJ: He’s very into memorabilia of himself. [Laughter] 

ALEX BLUMBERG: And then I know that everybody was gonna go to Parler, and then Parler also got in trouble, although I don’t exactly know the nature of the trouble. 

PJ: You didn’t watch the show, but you heard what happened on it.

ALEX GOLDMAN: He has a baby’s understanding. That’s what I would say.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yes.

PJ: That’s a very unkind way to talk to an adult man. [Laughter] I would never insult someone on this podcast, but.

ALEX BLUMBERG: But anyway, yes. Yeah.

PJ: Um, okay. So let me give you—let me just fill in the details, because this is a story where—


PJ: … I think the details are very interesting.


PJ: Okay. So, Friday, um, Twitter announces that they suspended Donald Trump permanently. They did it—they, they had a post about the rationale for it. And it was, it was interesting ‘cause they cited his most recent tweet, which was, he sort of vaguely intimated that the movement wasn’t done, and more stuff was gonna happen, which you could definitely interpret as a call for violence. But it was sort of interesting because, relative to the many things he’s done, it was kind of table stakes. But— 

ALEX GOLDMAN: Well, well, actually, his last tweet was that he wasn’t going to be attending the inauguration, which Twitter said, we take you saying you’re not going to be at the inauguration to be like, it’s open season. Go ahead and attack.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh, I didn’t even—I didn’t read that tweet that way. I read that as just like, typical sore loser stuff.

ALEX GOLDMAN: That’s what I read it as too.

PJ: Yeah, they saw that as an implicit call for people to go fuck shit up again.


PJ: So, the tweets they cited were, “The 750 million great American patriots who voted for me, America first, and make America great again”—he’s gotta get all his trademarks in there—“will have a giant voice long into the future. They will not be disrespected or treated unfairly in any way, shape, or form.” And then shortly thereafter, said he wasn’t going to the inauguration. Which, just relative to every other thing he’s done, it’s like, you know—

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. That’s real small potatoes. 

ALEX BLUMBERG: If you were gonna ban Trump from Twitter over one of this tweets, which tweet would you personally choose as [crosstalk]?

PJ: He taunted North Korea with nuclear war. He was like, he was like, I’ve got—what did he say? Trump, North Korea, nuclear war tweet: “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just stated that the nuclear button is on his desk at all times. Will someone from his depleted and flood-starved regime please inform him that I too have a nuclear button, and it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his, and my button works.”


PJ: That was fine. This isn’t.


PJ: But the thing that they said that I think was real was, um, that there were already—there was already on Twitter calls circulating for another riot around the inauguration. And so, they were like, this plus this equals you’re dead. So [laughs] I think what everybody assumed was that because the president’s addicted to social media and doesn’t have great self-control, and doesn’t love rules, he would immediately just start trying to tweet from somebody else’s account.


PJ: Which is exactly what happened.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Right. [Laughs] 

PJ: First thing he does is, there’s like an @potus account, which belongs to whoever’s the current president. He starts tweeting from that. He’s like, uh, “As I’ve been saying for a long time, Twitter’s, uh, coordinated with the Democrats and the radical left to silence me. We will not be silenced. Twitter’s about free speech,” blah blah blah. They immediately deleted those tweets.


PJ: And then he tried to tweet the exact same message from the @teamtrump account, which was like, the campaign account.


PJ: Same thing. They deleted the tweets. They suspended the account. And then his digital director, this guy named Gary Coby, tweeted at Dan Scavino, who’s like, Trump’s Twitter guy, “Hey, you guys can use my login if you want.” And it had like, a picture of the president. I don’t know if he was joking or incompetent, but they banned his account as well. 


PJ: My favorite tweet about it was, there’s this Ariana Grande fan whose mom had taken away her internet, and she was tweeting from like, a variety of—I think her mom had taken her cell phone, and she’d found like—she’d found out how to put Twitter on an old Nintendo DS, like, basically like a newer generation Game Boy. She tweeted from that. She got the DS taken away. She then figured out how to tweet from their family’s Smart Fridge somehow? [Laughter] And so she’s like, tweeting through the whole thing. And somebody had a tweet that was just like, “Donald Trump in five minutes.” And it was a retweet of her tweet, which was, “I don’t know if this is gonna tweet. I am talking to my fridge. What the heck? My mom confiscated all of my electronics again. Sent from my LG Smart Refrigerator.” [Laughter] 

ALEX BLUMBERG: Is that true? Can you tweet from a refrigerator?

ALEX GOLDMAN: I think it might’ve been a hoax. 

PJ: It could’ve been a hoax. It’s internet true, and it’s in the realm of things I am not going to learn more about because I would have less enjoyment in my life. Um.

ALEX BLUMBERG: You’d like to be in a world where a teenager figured out how to tweet from a fridge.

PJ: Yes. Um, so, okay, so then, so then it was just like, the feeling, which is what you missed out on, was like, it felt—it was just one of the most, like—first of all, it was just like, relief. Like, there were so many people, even people who support Trump, who were like, like—one of the things a lot of his supporters say is like, “I wish he wouldn’t tweet.” People who have worked in the White House have been like, “I wish they would turn off his Twitter account.” Like.


PJ: Everybody felt a jubilation of like, the tweets aren’t gonna come anymore?


ALEX GOLDMAN: One of my favorite tweets, honestly, is from an account that I really honestly dislike, is this guy Jeff Tiedrich who responds to every Trump tweet being like, “You, sir, are going to be canceled! You, sir”…

PJ: Oh, the “You, sirs” are terrible. You, sir.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So, he’s one of the—he’s like, one of those guys. And then Donald Trump got banned, and his, his tweet was, “I guess I’ll go read a book.” [Laughter] 

PJ: There are people whose lives online have been permanently warped around him, who have like, careers out of responding to his tweets. 

PJ: I would argue the two worst of all the “you sirs” were the Krassenstein brothers… they were these beefcake-y, identical twin brothers who just said the dumbest stuff in response to every Trump tweet. Twitter banned them after saying that they’d bought followers and account interactions but then a new account popped up that was Mrs. Krassenstiein and that account posted a video of the twins celebrating Trump losing twitter. 

Mrs. Krassenstein: Hey, did you guys just hear what happened?

Krassenstein Brother: What happened, hon?

Mrs. Krassenstein: Twitter just permanently banned Trump. [All cheering and high fiving]

PJ: Synchronized high five. 

Krassenstein Brother: [Inaudible] time!

Krassenstein Brother: Hey babe, I got this special Twitter Trump ban champagne!

ALex Blumberg: Oh my god.

Krassenstein Brother: You’ve been saving this. I don’t think—

PJ: They, they, they go in—

Krassenstein Brother: Yay Yay!

ALex Blumberg: … to their refrigerator. They pull out a glass of, uh, uh—


ALex Blumberg: Two glasses and a champagne bottle.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Over which they’ve crudely taped a piece of, of printer paper that says, “Twitter Trump ban champagne”.

Krassenstein Brother: Don’t pop your eyeball out. [Popping noise] Uh!

ALEX BLUMBERG: And then they’re pouring their champagne into champagne flutes.

Krassenstein Brother: Whoo!

PJ: There’s a real vibe like, somehow they did this. [Laughter]

Krassenstein Brother: We knew this was gonna happen. It just took some time.

ALEX BLUMBERG: They are so buff, too. They’re like, total like—

PJ: They’re ripped bros. It’s from all the retweets.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Wow. Okay. [Laughs]

PJ: That was the vibe. Um, but it also felt—the other thing that felt weird about it is like, in a way that I think people knew, but I hadn’t understood the extent of, it felt eerie, ‘cause we’d been so conditioned to be like, we know everything he’s feeling all the time. It’s like this bully who runs around the house screaming. And everyone knows how Donald Trump feels about not being able to tweet. And like, the feeling of not hearing him yell about it, but knowing he was mad about it, felt kind of ominous and dreadful.


PJ: So, so then the next thing that happens, which I think you saw, is like, every single platform sort of decides like, okay, fuck it. He’s—we’re kicking him off too. So it was Facebook, Twitter, Google, Snapchat, Instagram, Shopify, Um, Twitch, YouTube, TikTok, which I don’t think he used, and Pinterest, which I’m sure he didn’t use—um, there’s a very niche like, hipster film review website called Letterboxd, and they were like, “Donald Trump can’t post his film opinions here.” [Laughter] 

ALEX GOLDMAN: Um, I think the thing that probably wounded him the most is that the, the PGA… said they weren’t gonna use one of his golf courses for a PGA contest”  


ALEX GOLDMAN: There was gonna be like a big champion—I don’t know anything about golf, so I’m gonna call it a championship. Please don’t correct me. The big championship golf game was gonna be at one of his, one of his courses in 2022. And they were—like, rescinded that. It’s not gonna be at his golf course anymore.


PJ: You sound like a grandparent talking about a high school mixer that [crosstalk].

ALEX GOLDMAN: He got a touchdown in the hockey goal.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Matt [?Lieber’s] gonna come on here and “yes, yes, no” you guys.

PJ: Is Matt Lieber a golf man?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Matt Lieber’s a golfer.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Of course, yeah.

ALEX GOLDMAN: That’s what business guys do. They go golfing.

PJ: It’s just—it’s like, it’s a… It’s like, I don’t like sports, and then you add walking, like just walking. [Laughter]

ALEX GOLDMAN: My dad had a midlife crisis, during which he got a motorcycle and started golfing.

PJ: Oh.

ALEX GOLDMAN: And then like 10 years [crosstalk].

PJ: At the same time?

ALEX GOLDMAN: And started listening to world music, like almost exclusively.

PJ: Oh, god. He fully was like, a Paul Simon album.

ALEX BLUMBERG: That’s a, that’s a, like, a slightly unusual midlife crisis.

PJ: It just feels like he picked a bunch of different midlife crises from different shelves that don’t necessarily match each other.

ALEX BLUMBERG: I know. [Laughs] Exactly.

ALEX GOLDMAN: But many years later, I think he still—he, he, his love for motorcycles, even though he does not have one—I don’t think that ever died. But he’s like, “I don’t know what I was doing with golf. That shit sucked.” [Laughter] 

PJ: Okay, anyway. So, domino—kind of like, domino one is like, because of the riots and because Trump did like, one “I’m so sorry” video, and then immediately started tweeting like, angrily, every tech company was finally like, “Okay, enough’s enough. We’re not gonna do this.” Um, also, probably an awareness that Democrats are coming into power. Um, so then what happens is that all these other conservatives start piping up, and they’re not like—no one’s saying at the time that it’s bad that Donald Trump’s been kicked off of anything. But what they are saying is that, while, they’re not getting kicked off platforms. Their follower accounts are being attacked. So like, Mike Pompeo had this tweet where he was like, “This is how you create an echo chamber.” And he had a list of a bunch of different Republican Twitter accounts that had lost a lot of followers. So, he had lost 36,000. Kevin McCarthy lost 41,000. Tom Cotton lost 15. But what was going on and what people quickly pointed out was that Twitter had also banned pretty much as many QAnon accounts as they could find.


PJ: And so, the reason these guys were losing followers is because they have big QAnon followings. And the thing they were accidentally advertising by complaining about this was that a lot of their following is lunatics.



ALEX GOLDMAN: So they, they banned the entire—they’re, they’re trying to basically ban the QAnon conspiracy. [Crosstalk]

PJ: Right. On Friday, when we were talking, they’d just banned some of the big accounts, like the big hubs. But now, if you search QAnon or if you search the QAnon hashtags, very little comes up. It’s mostly people making fun of the idea of it. And the very few accounts are accounts with like, 120 followers or whatever. Like, it’s really—they have just—


PJ: … scrubbed it.


PJ: It’s crazy, ‘cause it’s like, all the stuff that they said they just couldn’t do. Like, all these tech companies, for four years, [snaps] in like, two days. It’s just different.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, it’s very different.

ALEX BLUMBERG: I mean, obviously, I know what happened, which was the insurrection by the president at the Capitol. But like, what… but do, do people know like, what was the moment? Like how, how—

PJ: How did this happen?

ALEX BLUMBERG: How did it happen? Yeah.

ALEX GOLDMAN: I’ve spoken to people at Facebook and Twitter and they don’t really know more than we do about why the decision was made now. I do know that internally there has been a lot of criticism about the way this stuff has been handled… in spite of multiple calls to change things… and not much has changed… because honestly, I think that these companies are loathe to ban people and hate being seen as censors.

PJ: Right.

ALEX GOLDMAN: But last week, a lot of these places finally felt emboldened to do something, because there’s really never been a straighter line like, violent rhetoric online and violent action in the world, so.… 

PJ: Yeah, exactly.


PJ: So the next thing that happens is, um—how much do you know about Parler?

ALEX BLUMBERG: Here’s what I know. There was always conservative talk about like, how Twitter was actually sort of like, throttling conservatives and sort of like—

PJ: Shadow banning.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Yeah. So then, somebody, somebody started Parler, which was sort of—which was like, the true platform for free speech, where nothing, nothing would be banned, and there would be no basically rules, essentially.

PJ: Yeah. So there’s two, there’s two websites that are trying to do this. One is called Gab, which is just like, the Nazi one. It’s just fully, fully—it’s that far. And then there’s Parler, which is sort of—it’s a mix of alt right, racist, hardcore QAnon, but then it’s also the people who are like, you know, “Cancel culture’s gone too far. I don’t like big tech.” 

ALEX BLUMBERG: Gotcha. Okay.

PJ: But even the conservatives have made noise about using it. Nobody does because Twitter’s so big, and they want the biggest audience, and they want the biggest platform. 


PJ: After this, yeah, there’s this mass exodus, where people go to both Parler and Gab, mainly Parler. Both websites immediately crash, [laughs] because they’re not actually built for traffic. Um, the stuff that was happening in Parler over the weekend was its own kind of hilarious. There was like, um, what’s her name, Marjorie Taylor Greene, who’s like the, um, QAnon congresswoman. Like, she just fully believes. She was like, “Big tech is silencing me. Things aren’t gonna be safe for long.” I don’t know what the verb is on Parler. It’s not “tweet at me.” But like, “Post your phone number and email address so I can contact you if stuff goes bad.” Which meant all of her followers were just doxxing themselves across the thread. 

ALEX BLUMBERG: Oh my god. 

PJ: Basically, it was like, highly paranoid but confused people trying to organize very quickly.


PJ: And then, yeah, so what happens with Parler is, first, um, Apple said, “You guys, you can’t have a social network without any moderation. You have a day to get a moderation force in effect.” Because, again, like, people were using Parler to organize violence. So a day later, Apple and Google both boot Parler out of their store. And then, I don’t know of an example of this happening before. So like, every internet service you use—and, you know, you sort of picture that they have a basement with all these servers that are making the thing work. What is actually happening is that a lot of sites just rent those servers from Amazon. And it’s called Amazon Web Services. Amazon Web Services was like, “We’re not gonna host Parler. You guys are done.” 


PJ: So they kicked them out.


PJ: Yeah. So like, the two places where QAnon people move, like sort of—the flank that is sticking with Trump, basically, that wants its own place to post, they want it to be Parler, but in this moment, at least, Parler’s so dysfunctional, they actually have, as far as I can tell, no home on the internet.


PJ: And, as you might expect, um, conservatives are not taking that well. This was like, the, um, the common reasonable reaction on, uh, Fox News to the fact that the, this non-moderated social network Parler has been taken out of Apple’s App Store until it has moderation.

Female Speaker: Let’s bring in Judge Jeanine Pirro, host of Justice With Judge Jeanine. Good morning, Judge.

JEANINE PIRRO: Good morning.

Female Speaker: Good morning. What’s your reaction to that? Parler, shut down?

JEANINE PIRRO: Uch. Well, look. They gave us a taste of this pre-election when they suppressed the Hunter Biden story. And now that they’ve won, what we’re seeing is the kind of censorship that is akin to a Kristallnacht, where they decide—

JEANINE PIRRO: … what we can communicate about.

ALEX BLUMBERG: She said Kristallnacht, and Brian Kilmeade, looked down in a way that I took to be like…

PJ: A sign of shame?

ALEX BLUMBERG: [Laughs] Yes. Like, wow.

ALEX GOLDMAN: I mean, the thing that you have to—the thing that—the, the real subtle thing there is that Jeanine Pirro says, “This is akin to a kind of Kristallnock.” Like, if you’re gonna fuckin’ invoke one of the most horrific nights of, of ethnic violence in history, try to get the fuckin’ name right. Like, it’s really—I’m levitating with rage watching it. 

ALEX BLUMBERG: It’s interesting that like, you’re, you’re focusing on the mispronunciation as the thing to be angry about. [Laughter]

PJ: Yeah. For me, it’s the fact that [crosstalk].

ALEX BLUMBERG: It’s a totally inappropriate metaphor.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Okay, okay, okay. It’s just, to me, is just, it’s like an icing on a shit cake. 

ALEX BLUMBERG: [Laughs] Yes, that’s—

ALEX GOLDMAN: It’s turd icing on a shit cake. 

PJ: But that’s been—the general vibe has been like—I, I think people on the right are like, a couple ticks away from where Jeanine Pirro is. But the, the reaction is like, the great censoring has begun.


ALEX BLUMBERG: Right. Wow. Yeah.

ALEX GOLDMAN: And on top of Parler losing its server, and being kicked off the app store…it has this entirely different, totally self inflicted problem that it’s dealing with…

PJ: Which is?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Basically, it got hacked in like, a major way. So, when you post a, a picture or a video to Twitter or Instagram, two things happen. One is that it scrubs it of all the metadata about when it was taken, where it was taken, what kind of device took it.

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX GOLDMAN: And when it uploads it, it gives it a random file name—

PJ: Oh, that makes sense.

ALEX GOLDMAN: So that, so that you can’t just make—you can’t just look sequentially and see like, okay, well, this, this file’s named 160. I wonder what file 161 is and 162. You can’t just make those replacements to look at every file that’s ever been posted to, to Twitter or Instagram.

PJ: Right.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Uh, Parler did neither of those things. So, an enterprising hacker whose name is Donk  Enby was like, “Hey guys, I just figured out they sequentially, uh—you can just look at the—their stuff sequentially. I’m downloading everything now.”

PJ: So, it was like the equivalent of if you just went to Parler.com/images, and just downloaded all the images?

ALEX GOLDMAN: But it’s not just that. Like, when you delete a tweet, it no longer shows up on the website, but it’s still in their database sequentially. So, every deleted tweet was still there too. So, they downloaded every tweet, every image, every video, including all the videos and, and images that people desperately deleted after they realized the gravity of the thing they were doing at the Capitol.

PJ: Oh, like all the planning stuff, all the like, “I was inside the Capitol. Look how cool I am” stuff. 

ALEX GOLDMAN: Right. So now there are more than 50 terabytes of every tweet, both deleted and not deleted, every image, and every video, just waiting for the government, first of all, and just, just like, you know average schmoes to, to pore over. 

ALEX GOLDMAN: Also, I should say, I was calling them tweets. I guess they’re called—

PJ: What do they call them? Parleys? 

ALEX GOLDMAN: So, parleys, I think.

PJ: Really?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, I think they’re called parleys. And I think you’re supposed to pronounce the name of it Parler, but come on.

PJ: I’m not doing that.

ALEX GOLDMAN: I’m not doing that. [Laughs]

ALEX BLUMBERG: Interesting. Anyway.

PJ: Okay. So, I mean, I think part of the lesson is just, you know, you think of—I mean, I often think of Twitter as like, a dumb website anybody could make. But it, it’s like, they’ve spent a long time building a big platform that works, and protects peoples’ privacy, and doesn’t crash most of the time. And, and like, I think it’s hard to build that stuff for real overnight. It’s easy to say you’re building it and raise some money, and get some clout, but I think really doing it is a much longer project. 

ALEX GOLDMAN: I have to say, I’m of two minds about this particular moment.

PJ: Me too. Uh, how do you feel?

ALEX GOLDMAN: I guess I just have to say that the idea of Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg being the people who decide who stays up and who goes down doesn’t sit very well with me. It makes me feel pretty uncomfortable. [Laughs] 


ALEX GOLDMAN: It just gives them such a massive amount of power to like, strip people of the ability to communicate.

PJ: Yeah.There’s been people, like, um, Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who Putin’s always trying to kill, he said he didn’t like this. Angela Merkel said she didn’t like it.


ALEX GOLDMAN: And I totally get why they’re coming out and saying that. On the other hand… I’m really glad that they took this step. I think it long overdue, that they should’ve banned a lot of these accounts, because it’s been obvious to pretty much everybody watching that like, radicalization through like, social media is a real thing.

PJ: Yeah and you know removing all those Qanon accounts from places like Twitter, it’s not just symbolism or ceremony, like it can actually have an effect. Like, there have been examples of people who behaved badly enough that they got kicked off the platform. And then they perished. Like without, without having attention and oxygen, they went away. instances of fringe right wing people, who behaved badly enough to get kicked off platforms, the mainstream platforms, and they perished without oxygen. Like Milo Yiannopoulos.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Oh yeah like... he’s said he’s millions of dollars in debt.

PJ: Yeah. He's, he’s been reduced to—he’s having people pay him to fly to meet him for dinner. He auctioned off his giant gaudy throne chair on eBay. Like, when people, when people like him lose the ability to access, access an audience, they starve for oxygen, they do actually go away. 


PJ: So, I don’t miss Milo, I’m not gonna miss QAnon accounts, but, it doesn’t fit with the rest of my beliefs to be like, it’s good that the tech companies are banning speech. Like, it feels like this is, this is, this is a thing that will have effects that are bigger than this moment.


PJ: I guess the way I feel is… It’s easy to make fun of conservatives who are saying that getting kicked off Twitter is censorship because, obviously Twitter is not the government, they’re a private company, they can do whatever they want. But I get why getting kicked off Twitter is a huge deal. Like Twitter hasn’t moderated anyone meaningfully for years because they wanted to be the biggest website in the world. They want to be a monopoly. And they’re pretty close to being a monopoly for what they do, and so now, if you’re not on there, it is being silenced in a way that’s real. And so Parler has not followed any rules, their getting kicked off the internet doesn’t bother me. But what I want to happen out of this is people to build more websites that can have their own rules, they can have the viewpoints they want or don’t want on them, so that losing your account on one website isn’t such a big deal. That’s what I’m hoping will happen. 

ALEX GOLDMAN: So, in this moment... do you feel hopeful? Because it seems like there’s some reasons to feel hopeful...

PJ: I don’t know. I don’t know. To me, what’s interesting is like, I felt good—it was really nice to wake up and QAnon be off of Twitter, and not, not to be able to find it. That felt really good. It would be different if they’d done it earlier. Those people and their beliefs still exist.


PJ: But I, I don’t know. This sounds dire. I feel hopeful that something is changing. Like, I feel hopeful that—I’m not saying these are the right decisions. I don’t know. But I’m just like, oh, you know, the, the thing that all these companies were saying was impossible, they did overnight. Now we’re gonna find out what the world is like after that. And I want to find out what that world’s like. ‘Cause this one sucks.


ALEX GOLDMAN:  [Laughter] I’m laughing, but not because I thought—not because I’m happy. 


PJ: In the meantime, we have, we have a power that the President of the United States doesn’t have. [Laughter] We’re allowed to post online. [Laughter]

ALEX BLUMBERG: That is crazy. That is crazy.

PJ: Yeah. He’s not responsible enough to do that. He can only be president.


PJ: After the break, Alex Blumberg’s potent rage


PJ: Alex Goldman. 


PJ: You’re not in trouble yet. [Laughter]

ALEX GOLDMAN: All right.

PJ: So, we—our last episode we published, “A Song of Impotent Rage”—


PJ: … uh, which was about your—the emotional experience of being Alex Goldman, [laughter] how you, uh, struggle with the, the, the feeling of climate apocalypse and, uh, how your solution for that was to write a, a punk rock anthem. 

ALEX GOLDMAN: The song whipped.

PJ: The song whipped, according to you. Um.

ALEX GOLDMAN: It was good. Everybody should stream it.

PJ: Oh yeah, it’s available on Spotify, if you want to support Alex’s habit.

ALEX GOLDMAN: It’s available on Spotify. You should go get, get into it.

PJ: Um, but we did hear from one listener who was upset with the segment. [Laughter] Uh, and because that listener’s our boss, we thought we should put him on to hear his grievances. [Laughter] Alex Blumberg, what would you like to say?


ALEX GOLDMAN: You, you can’t deny it whipped.

ALEX BLUMBERG: I mean, whatever. The song was fine.

ALEX GOLDMAN: You can’t deny the music whipped.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Um, I, I—it, is exactly the, the stance that, that I find most enraging. There’s this like, climate nihilism that’s just wrong. I think it just makes people feel like there’s no, there’s no hope and there’s no future and um and and …

ALEX GOLDMAN: I guess, I guess that I feel that. I feel like there’s no hope... 

ALEX BLUMBERG: I know, I know you feel that... that’s fine. But it’s not true. And so you shouldn’t be telling people that. Trump feels that the election was stolen from him -  it’s not true and so you shouldn’t be telling people that. Cause you do have a platform and lots of people listen to you. There is this like “all is lost so fuck it” mentality which I think is - that I think is incredibly damaging. And especially from people who actually, people um I hate to say this but... I respect [laughs] and admire [laughs] and follow. 

ALEX GOLMAN: Oh nooo [laughs]

PJ: So, part of the reason that Alex Blumberg might have a problem with it is, well, you listeners may know him as an old man who’s confused about the internet. [Laughter] Uh, he’s also the host of a new Gimlet show called How to Save the Planet. The premise of the show is that, rather than climate change feeling like homework the world’s collectively decided not to do, that like, there’s a story going on right now about the things people are doing to make things better, and the things that people can do to make things better. 


PJ: And so, perhaps it felt like you were ignoring that work. I’m just trying to moderate here. Am I right?

ALEX BLUMBERG: Yes. [Laughs] 

PJ: Can you guys tell my parents are divorced? [Laughter]

ALEX BLUMBERG: I’m just saying this is… this is part of the problem. I’ve been working for a year and a half on a climate show and I have this cohost named Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. And she’s like, she’s a marine biologist who studied coral reefs. That was her sort of area of study. And coral reefs are like, basically, you know, gonna disappear because of climate change. That’s one of the things that’s like, real, and is probably baked in, and there might not be much we can do about that. Um, and so, of all the people who would be like, “Oh, I’m gonna throw up my hands,” you know, here it is, the thing that like, she loves and that she does on a day-to-day basis, and that she has like, devoted her life to doing is gonna disappear because of climate change. And she did not go to her basement and write like, a, a post punk anthem.


ALEX BLUMBERG: She instead was like, “I’m gonna try to like, actually sort of do some things about it and learn about it, and try to become a, a person who talks to people about this stuff, and like, actually focus on what we can do.” And so, and so, I was—and so, she does this—she does a whole bunch of things. And then, and then I met her, and we started this podcast together. We’ve hired this team of like, the incredible environmental reporters. Like, we have this woman, Kendra Pierre Louis, who is a, who is a, an amazing climate reporter at The New York Times; Rachel Waldotz, who’s like a, a climate reporter from public radio. We have this like, incredibly knowledgeable team of people. And like, and we’re, and we’re like, instead of just like, diving into the like, doomsday of it, we’re just talking about like, what should we do? It’s here. It’s happening. What do we do? And like, the minute you start talking about what you should do, it’s actually sort of exciting.

PJ: Do you want to tell Alex about some of the stories he may not have heard on How to Save the Planet that, you know, can be reflected in his art?

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. Give me reasons to be cheerful!

ALEX BLUMBERG: The single most exciting thing is that renewable energy is now as cheap or cheaper than fossil fuel energy… and solar in particular is now being called the cheapest electricity in history. So like, there’s all these like, market forces now that are like, speeding the transition. Um, so this gigantic, huge blocker that was the oil industry, that had—that was incredibly powerful and had this super cheap, super efficient energy source, they are rapidly losing their power.

ALEX GOLDMAN: How rapidly are we talking?

ALEX BLUMBERG: Pretty rapidly. Like, Exxon was one of the most powerful, most profitable companies in history...you know... just like a little over 10 years ago. And it was just recently kicked off of the exchange that it was on. It’s still a publicly traded company, but it got kicked off, um, the Dow Jones, uh, which is like just the list of the 30 biggest companies, because it wasn’t big enough anymore. There’s just so many other good things that come out of that. Like, all the things—you know like how the—you know how you’re not supposed to eat fish because of mercury?


ALEX BLUMBERG: You know where the mercury comes from? 

ALEX GOLDMAN: fossil fuels?

ALEX BLUMBERG: Coal plants.

ALEX BLUMBERG: It comes from coal plants. It’s all from coal plants. So like, once you start getting rid of coal plants, like, you can eat fish again, and eat—people won’t die of asthma.

PJ: Jeremy Piven wouldn’t have to leave that play.

ALEX BLUMBERG: It’s just—exactly. [Laughs]

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah, I know. Jeremy Piven could stay, could stay in his next—his forthcoming play.

ALEX BLUMBERG: And the biggest car company in the world right now, the most valuable car company in the world, um—

PJ: Electric car company.


PJ: Run by a guy who’s just like a crazy schmuck all the time for no reason. [laughs]

ALEX BLUMBERG: [Laughs] Run by like, seriously. A very flawed, flawed individual.

PJ: It’s—one of my favorite things about the future —that we live in, where this guy perfected the electric car and then he just spends all of his time on Twitter picking fights for no reason.

ALEX BLUMBERG: For no reason whatever. [Laughs]

ALEX GOLDMAN: Um, all that stuff is very exciting, but like, every fuckin’ paper that comes out says we’re gonna miss the mark on like, the 2 degrees Celsius that we have eight years or less to fix, and, and shit’s gonna get real bad in the next hundred years.

ALEX BLUMBERG: No, shit is gonna get bad. There’s no question about it. Like, we have changed the climate. That’s actually happening for sure. And a lot of people are worried about that. But like, there is a huge wide range of like, how bad it gets. Water Wars: Mad Max is, is not baked in. Like, alarm is fine. I believe there’s a crisis. But this, whole—you know, there’s this like, essay by Jonathan Franzen that this reminded me of, where it was just sort of like, “Everything is so bleak. We should just give up.” He literally—that was sort of basically the argument, was just sort of like, “Let’s not do anything.”

ALEX GOLDMAN: Well, I don’t like that guy.

ALEX BLUMBERG: And like, and I think that attitude of just sort of like, “It’s too depressing. There’s nothing to do about it, right?” adolescent—

ALEX GOLDMAN: Good songs. Good songs.

ALEX BLUMBERG: [Laughs] The adolescent punk ballads about it is like, I think it’s the pro… a big part of the problem.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Uh, okay. So, are you saying that the way that I express myself is not valid? [Laughter]

PJ: Oh my god.

ALEX BLUMBERG: I’m not saying your feelings aren’t valid.

PJ: Oh my god. Dude goes to therapy one time. [Laughter] 

ALEX BLUMBERG: I’m just saying, I don’t know. I’m just saying like when you do things like that, you’re actually hurting the thing that you actually want to help, like, to me, one of the biggest threats to like, actually getting to where we need to go as a world is, um, the way we feel about it. [Laughs] Like, honestly. And if we feel like there’s nothing to be done, and it’s hopeless, and the fossil fuel companies always win anyway, like, something about that is self-fulfilling. It’s scary, but it’s not like, hopeless.

ALEX GOLDMAN: All right. I tell you what. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: I will listen to the entire series. 


ALEX GOLDMAN: And if I become a climate optimist, I’ll write a, I’ll write a song about how I was wrong. [Laughter]

PJ: The wolf’s at the door, but he’s actually a cute dog, and he just wants some scraps.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Yeah. It’ll be called, it’ll be called, “The Puppy’s in Your Lap.” [Laughter]

ALEX BLUMBERG: I mean, the wolf’s at the door. You’re not wrong about that. 

ALEX GOLDMAN: The wolf’s at the door. But I’ve got my musket. 

ALEX BLUMBERG: Here’s all the wolf miti… mitigation strategies that we have at our disposal.

PJ: “Wolf Mitigation Strategies” is actually, I think, a much better song title.

ALEX BLUMBERG: It writes itself. It really does.

PJ: It sounds like a [crosstalk]

ALEX GOLDMAN: I mean, I kind of want to write a song called “Wolf Mitigation Strategies” [laughter] regardless now. 

PJ: Okay. So, Alex is gonna write an apology song to the climate, to Gaia.

ALEX BLUMBERG: Okay. If it works, yes.

ALEX BLUMBERG: And now I feel like there’s a lot riding on us. I gotta tell the team. [Crosstalk]

PJ: He’s gonna listen to all of How to Save the Planet, which people can listen to on Spotify. Um, do you think, Alex Blumberg, next time Alex Goldman does a story, could you come back and criticize him about it? ‘Cause I really enjoyed this. [Laughter] 

ALEX BLUMBERG: No. But, you know, if you ever feel this way about anything that I do, just let me know.

PJ: Oh, we’ll be on. [Laughter]


Reply All is hosted by PJ Vogt, Emmanuel Dzotsi and me, Alex Goldman.

Our show’s produced by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, Damiano Marchetti, Anna Foley, Jessica Yung, and Lisa Wang. Our executive producer is Tim Howard. We were mixed by Rick Kwan. Our intern is Navani Otero. Our show is fact checked by Michelle Harris. This is her last week with us after fact checking our show for many years. Michelle, thank you so much for saving our butts so many times. We are going to miss you terribly. Congratulations on your new gig. 

Our theme song is by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Special thanks this week to Rusty Foster. Matt Lieber is the stillness of the woods in winter. You can listen to our show on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks so much for listening. We’ll see you in a couple of weeks.