Privacy is the New Celebrity EP 9: Alex Feerst


Alex Feerst speaks with Henry Holtzman about the real people behind content moderation, trust and safety, and why the “backstage” should be front and center. Henry is MobileCoin’s Chief Product Officer and you may know Alex from having served as Head of Trust and Safety at Medium and general counsel at Neuralink. Alex is the current CEO of Murmuration Labs and sits on the board of the MobileCoin Foundation.

Alex Feerst offers some details of the piece he wrote about content moderators and the lack of trust between tech companies, the government, and the public. He interviewed people who worked as content moderators anonymously and has this to say about them: “Trust and safety people need to have the mind of a philosopher, the gut of a police inspector and the heart of a kindergarten teacher. “Really there’s like an investigative inquisitive aspect to it and there’s like an analytical legalistic thinking aspect to it and there’s actually like a caregiving front-line worker aspect to it of wanting to help people”.

As a lawyer, Alex talks about brand risk and trust and safety as being two separate spaces. He views brand risk from a legal perspective, but views trust and safety from a more humanistic perspective – mitigating harm and making positive human outcomes more likely.

Henry and Alex discuss recent congressional action pushing back on big tech and the aggregation of power. Alex states, “The low trust nature of the dialogue right now is very disappointing.” He continues, “I think privacy regulation is probably overdue. I think the larger problem is that, I think speech regulation would be generally bad.”

As a MobileCoin Foundation board member, Alex explains that he was drawn to the project because of the commitment to exploring privacy in society and the value of incorporating privacy into everyday thinking. He expands on this by explaining Erving Goffman’s fantastic “backstage” metaphor for privacy. Goffman wrote in his book “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life” that social life is a collaborative performance, and everybody has a “backstage” where they need to prepare their social performance and explore who they are and how they are feeling.

“There’s something important about protecting other peoples backstage for them which allows them to be out there in the world performing with you.”

He uses this concept often when thinking about privacy because it is a more humanistic approach as opposed to technical concepts. Alex explains that when creating products like MobileCoin to protect others’ privacy, part of what you are doing is creating the ability for people to have a backstage that is rich and well defined rather than eroded and commercialized.

You can check out Henry’s entire conversation with Alex Feerst on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Buzzsprout. While you’re listening, don’t forget to subscribe to Privacy is the New Celebrity Podcast on your favorite streaming service.

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