Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Can Washington Solve Facebook’s Problems?

 

If Mark Zuckerberg’s call for more government regulation of the tech sector had been published today rather than over weekend, some might have thought it an April Fools Day prank. After all, what company or industry wants more Washington meddling?

But there’s good reason for the Facebook boss to make just such an ask. Politicians on the left and the right have been pushing for new rules or even the break-up of the social media giant. And a slew of controversies has damaged its reputation — election meddling, data privacy, and what the company calls “controversial, harmful, and hateful” content — giving a further boost to anti-Facebook activists and pols.

No can say Facebook isn’t responding. Less than month ago, Zuckerberg said the company will shift focus away from public posts on to encrypted messaging on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. But that’s not a tomorrow thing if it happens.

So now Zuckerberg has announced a four-point agenda: a) creating an independent body so people can appeal Facebook decisions on harmful content, b) urging new regulations establishing “common standards for verifying political actors,” c) embracing the EU’s GDPR law as the common regulatory framework for data protection in the US and globally, and d) making sure new rules “guarantee the principle of data portability [where] if you share data with one service, you should be able to move it to another.” A “second judo move,” as tech analyst Benedict Evans puts it.

None of these actions, I’m afraid, will satisfy those who see themselves as modern-day progressive trustbusters who view Facebook as a potential win. These are activists who seemingly don’t much care that 1.5 billion humans use Facebook daily and derive lots of value from it. (One recent study finds the median Facebook user needed a compensation of around $48 to give it up for a month.)

And there remains the “impossible problem” of how you moderate massive amounts of content. As former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos argues, “So now we have tens of millions of consumers wanting something and tens of thousands of people willing to supply it, with the tech companies in between. … So this isn’t about virality, this is about ‘How much control do the 2-3 largest tech companies have to block millions of people in free societies from trading relatively small amounts of data?’” And as long as bad things happen on Facebook — and they likely will there and on other platforms — politicians will pounce.

There also is reason to be skeptical of Zuckerberg’s GDPR embrace. Big companies have the resources deal with regulations better than small ones. And as Politico finds, “Six months in, Europe’s privacy revolution favors Google, Facebook.” No surprise there, though it is bewildering that the long-term, anti-competitive, anti-innovation risk of regulations keeps getting ignored. Of course, one way to look at this agenda is as a means of preventing even more harmful regulatory efforts, such as limiting or removing the legal protections for liability for user-created content found in section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Facebook doesn’t want that. And neither should everyday internet users. Again, some critics don’t understand the value of the open internet or simply don’t value that openness. Those who do understand have to make sure they don’t inadvertently aid those who don’t.

There are 10 comments.

  1. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Thatcher

    Washington can not even solve “Washington’s” problems. So no.

    Next question?

    • #1
    • April 2, 2019, at 2:38 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  2. Profile Photo Member

    Facebook has zero credibility on the issue of censorship. It has already taken down Zerohedge one of the most informative websites on the internet that has many different posts by authorities in their fields. It is inconceivable that there was a legitimate reason for that piece of censorship.

    Facebook has also initiated a “trustworthiness” profiling system something akin to the beginning of something like China’s Orwellian ” Social Credit System “, which should frighten the daylights out of anyone with a brain. We ,if we are not very careful if we allowed the Googles and Facebooks to have their way, could wake up one day to find us stripped of our Freedom of Speech and many of our other basic freedoms without any recourse.

    Freedom of Speech is perhaps the key ingredient to not only Freedom but innovation. To innovate, one cannot or should not be worried whether Big Brother is going to come down on you for some product you came up with unless it really is a genuine threat to society that can be handled under existing law. One man’s free speech is another man’s hate speech and that will always be true. The hate speech prosecutions so far have only gone in one direction – to enforce Progressive’s despicable need to silence anyone that doesn’t toe their line. Furthermore, anyone who thinks the yahoos in Washington should be censoring anyone’s speech after the exposure of the criminal Mueller fiasco and what our supposed betters and independent public servants in our Justice Department have done to innocent individuals needs their head examined.

    But not only that. Facebook has repeatedly restricted commerce and engaged in predatory market behavior in the pursuit of eliminating their competition, which should have been by now, had it not been for their favorable connections to the Progressive Elite, an open and shut Anti-Trust violation case. One can argue that these Tech Giants need this monopolization type economy of scale to compete in the global marketplace all you want, but the fact remains that any argument such as that is highly subjective and really besides the point in the rule of law. One should not be arguing that an anti-trust violation is a good or bad thing nor should there be any room for such an argument in a blind and unbiased system of justice for there to be a prosecution particularly in this overtly biased and all too often corrupt judicial environment.

    • #2
    • April 2, 2019, at 3:48 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  3. Full Size Tabby Member

    James Pethokoukis: After all, what company or industry wants more Washington meddling?

    Lots. Especially large entities that dominate their field. They want regulations that will make it difficult for an upstart competitor to challenge their dominance. The large established entities can afford the lobbyists to help write the regulations (and ensure those regulations coincide with the way the company currently does business), and the lawyers and other functionaries who will deal with compliance. Upstarts can afford neither. 

     

    • #3
    • April 2, 2019, at 5:40 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  4. DonG Coolidge

    The dream of every oligopoly is heavy regulation. Facebook has better lawyers than the government and politicians can be bought cheaply.

    • #4
    • April 2, 2019, at 8:21 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  5. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Moving towards encryption would make Facebook more like a common carrier, in that they want to be like the phone company, but unless you have a warrant for a wiretap or are on a party line, phone conversations can only be heard (or video phone conversations seen) by the people at each end of the line.

    Problem is that’s not how Facebook works. The whole idea behind Facebook (and Twitter) is that hypothetically, everyone in the damn world can see your posts unless you deliberately hide them. Limiting access would put the company in less danger of libel suits if their common carrier status is taken away, but that also would turn the social media platforms into something closer to simply Facebook Messenger (and it’s not that draining the social media sewer would be a bad idea, but there’s nothing all that special about messaging options within a tight network — AOL was doing that two decades ago).

    • #5
    • April 3, 2019, at 7:05 AM PST
    • Like
  6. DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey Member

    After all, what company or industry wants more Washington meddling?

    The company that wants to cripple its competitors. The industry that wants a higher bar to entry.

    • #6
    • April 3, 2019, at 7:19 AM PST
    • 1 like
  7. James Gawron Thatcher

    James Pethokoukis: So now Zuckerberg has announced a four-point agenda: a) creating an independent body so people can appeal Facebook decisions on harmful content, b) urging new regulations establishing “common standards for verifying political actors,” c) embracing the EU’s GDPR law as the common regulatory framework for data protection in the US and globally, and d) making sure new rules “guarantee the principle of data portability [where] if you share data with one service, you should be able to move it to another.” A “second judo move,” as tech analyst Benedict Evans puts it.

    JimP,

    This is where Judge Bork’s objection to market size only as the criterion for anti-trust action becomes so important. If Facebook really became “the good steward of the industry” then there would be every good reason to leave it be. It delivers a useful reliable product at a fantastically low price. Where’s the problem? Break it up for what purpose? Certainly not the Public Interest.

    However, if Facebook is just bluffing and intends to hide behind the policy changes and go on manipulating people, their data, and their political opinions, then some sort of action will be inevitable.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #7
    • April 3, 2019, at 8:23 AM PST
    • Like
  8. Misthiocracy grudgingly Member

    Facebook has been losing market share, both in terms of site visits and in terms of ad revenue, for several years. Google’s market share has been rising in terms of site visits (thanks entirely to YouTube), but it has also been losing market share in terms of ad revenue. There’s little need to regulate the social media space, other than to protect the top players from competitors.

    (Caveat: Facebook owns Instagram, and if you combine the sites’ visits then Facebook’s market share goes up.)

    https://www.dreamgrow.com/top-10-social-networking-sites-market-share-of-visits/

    https://www.investopedia.com/news/facebook-google-digital-ad-market-share-drops-amazon-climbs/

    • #8
    • April 3, 2019, at 10:48 AM PST
    • Like
  9. Profile Photo Member

    James: “If Facebook really became “the good steward of the industry” then there would be every good reason to leave it be.”

    The only problem with that idea is who determines this metric of who is a “good steward”?

    In these days of wayward and highly politicized judges, certainly not some judge. The very idea of determining prosecution on whether someone or something is “good” or “evil” is just a path to more acrimony, corruption and injustice and certainly away an impartial justice system.

    To put more salt on the wounds of Facebook, millions of Facebook records were found of Amazon Cloud Servers. From Zerohege, now banned coincidentally at Facebook:

    “As Bloomberg reports, researchers at UpGuard, a cybersecurity firm, found troves of user information hiding in plain sight, inadvertently posted publicly on Amazon.com’s cloud computing servers.

    The discovery shows that a year after the Cambridge Analytica scandal exposed how unsecure and widely disseminated Facebook users’ information is online, companies that control that information at every step still haven’t done enough to seal up private data.”

     

    • #9
    • April 3, 2019, at 11:00 AM PST
    • Like
  10. Full Size Tabby Member

    One of the reasons I generally oppose antitrust laws is that as a practical matter everything depends on “market share,” which depends on how the adjudicator defines the “relevant market.” Yet in reality the market and what’s relevant keep changing. Keying off Comment #8 above by @misthiocracy – are Facebook and Instagram part of the same market as each other? Is Ricochet part of the same market as either? We do some of the same things here that some people on Facebook do, but we do some different things also. As @misthiocracy also brings up, on what criteria do we measure “market share”? Site visits? Page visits? Unique viewers? Ad revenue? User time on site?

    • #10
    • April 3, 2019, at 11:10 AM PST
    • Like