Joseph Gordon-Levitt says that playing Edward Snowden inspired his distrust of Instagram and Facebook

  • The actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt took the stage at the TED conference in Vancouver, Canada, last Thursday to share his distrust of social media.
  • In a conversation with Business Insider, Gordon-Levitt said he began to question platforms like Facebook and Twitter after playing the American whistleblower Edward Snowden.
  • “The more I looked into it, I was, like, ‘Oh man, what Google and Facebook are doing makes what the NSA is doing look like nothing,'” he told us.
  • Gordon-Levitt said that Snowden, like everyone, wasn’t immune to the desire for attention – but he also thought he was doing the right thing.
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Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a dilemma. His career as an actor and founder of the online community HitRecord requires him to garner loads of attention, something he hates.

“I’m pretty allergic to the way that actors’ personal lives are often turned into fodder for entertainment,” he told Business Insider. “I don’t like people focusing on my personal life, my family, et cetera. That just makes me uncomfortable.”

One of the worst offenders of his privacy, he said, is social media. On Thursday, Gordon-Levitt shared his distaste for Instagram and Twitter at the TED conference in Vancouver, Canada. Later, he told his fear of these platforms began a few years back, when he was studying up on the National Security Agency.

Read more: Gordon-Levitt explains that odd Edward Snowden voice he does in his new biopic

In 2016, Gordon-Levitt starred in a biographical thriller about Edward Snowden, the American whistleblower who leaked classified information showing that the NSA had been spying on everyday citizens.

To prepare for the role, Gordon-Levitt said he had to learn “quite a bit” about the US government’s policy of mass surveillance, which some have seen as violating the Constitution.

“The more I looked into it, I was like, ‘Oh man, what Google and Facebook are doing makes what the NSA is doing look like nothing,'” he told us. “That was actually a lot of what what started me down this line of thinking [about social media].”

In his TED talk, the actor described being “addicted” to Instagram, so much so that he began to compare his following to that of other actors. “I see that their number [of followers] is higher than mine and I feel terrible about myself,” he said in his talk.

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It’s a problem he’s continuing to sort through – and he believes most of us, including Snowden, face the same conundrum.

After the NSA’s mass-surveillance program was revealed in 2013, people criticized Snowden’s actions as self-serving. In a piece entitled “Edward Snowden Is No Hero,” the writer Jeffrey Toobin said the leaking of classified information “speaks more to his ego than his conscience.”

Gordon-Levitt described Snowden as a human being who’s “not immune” to the basic desire for attention.

“I’ve spent some time with Ed and I really believe that he was acting in what he sincerely thought was the best interest of the country,” the actor told us. “Now, does every soldier have some part of them that’s seeking glory? Sure.”

The actor is less willing to extend the same grace to tech companies, which have profited from collecting users’ personal data.

“It’s not the technology; it’s the business model,” he told Business Insider. “You don’t have to monetize a worldwide social-media platform by spying on everybody, manipulating their perspective by only showing them one particular view of the world.”

In fact, while Gordon-Levitt acknowledged in his TED talk that he’s “a complete hypocrite” for getting hooked on social media, he also said that Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are designed to prey on his insecurity.

“I’ve thought my whole life about why I am getting so much attention, and do I deserve that?” he said. “It seems that a lot of today’s big social-media platforms have sort of taken advantage of this dynamic and used it to make a lot of money.”