Untangled with Charley Johnson
Transparency! It’s, uh, complicated.

Transparency! It’s, uh, complicated.

An interview w/Brandon Silverman, co-founder and CEO of CrowdTangle

Hi, and welcome back to the podcast edition of Untangled. This was a big week at Untangled HQ. Substack featured Untangled on its homepage (!) and sent me this cute lil’ graphic to commemorate the moment.

As a result, hundreds of you have subscribed in the last few days. That just warms my wonky heart. Welcome to the Untangled community 👋

Here’s what to expect:

  1. On the first Sunday of the month, you'll receive a post where I embark on a deep exploration of a particular topic. This month I answered the question on everyone’s mind: what connects crypto and ‘Love is Blind’?

  2. The next Sunday, you’ll receive an audio version of the monthly newsletter, a few gifts from the internet, and maybe even a sneak peek into my next topic. It’ll look something like this.

  3. Most months, I’ll interview a relevant expert and publish it as a podcast.

This month is one of those months, and I have to say, you’re in for a real treat. I interviewed Brandon Silverman, co-founder and CEO of CrowdTangle, the data analytics tool once at the center of controversy inside Facebook over just how transparent the company should be. Brandon left the company in October 2021 and he’s now supporting the ongoing policy efforts in the EU and U.S. that would require platform companies like Facebook to be more transparent.

Last year I wrote the essay, “Some Unsatisfing Solutions for Facebook.” I started the piece with me, trapped in what I called a “transparency feedback loop,” where “there are information leaks and demands for transparency, and these reveal problems we didn't know of before, which prompts calls for more transparency, which identifies still more problems. And on, and on, we go.”

The piece then delves into the real limitations of transparency. I’m not against transparency but I think that it’s in pushing on the concept that we better understand what problems it might solve, what problems it definitely will not, and what new problems it might create along the way. Needless to say, my views on transparency are, uh, complicated. Turns out, this is something Brandon and I have in common 🙌.

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In the episode, we get into Brandon’s time at Facebook and the fights over CrowdTangle but we spend most of our time exploring his views on transparency — its utility and limitations, its relationship to accountability, power, and trust — and how they have evolved over time. Along the way, we discuss:

  • How Brandon initially got “red-pilled” on transparency.

  • How CrowdTangle challenged the stories Facebook leadership told themselves about the platform’s impact on the world.

  • How the scale of these platforms means that when it comes to solutions, “it’s tradeoffs all the way down.” Want to delve deeper into this idea? Check out my conversation with Daphne Keller, Director of the Program on Platform Regulation at Stanford's Cyber Policy Center.

🥺 Oh, and we also talked about Brandon’s fear that Facebook will stop sharing data with journalists in the not-so-distant future.


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Until next time,


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Untangled with Charley Johnson
Untangled is a podcast about technology, people, and power.