Clegg is right, but Facebok is a tobacco company
Dismantling Facebook won’t fix what’s wrong with social media, says Facebook’s vice president for global affairs and communications.
Some weeks ago, Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, argued that Facebook is a risk to society that should be dismantled. Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice-president, answered that “too big or too successful” can never be reasons to dismantle a company, especially one like Facebook. Among other things, Clegg sayd that (emphasis mine):
- what matters is not size but rather the rights and interests of consumers, and our accountability to governments and legislators.
- All of our products and services fight for customers. Each one has at least three or four competitors with hundreds of millions, if not billions, of users.
- Facebook concentrates on four key areas, including “giving individuals more ability to easily move their data“
- Earning money from ads means Facebook can provide new communication tools to billions of people for free [while spending] on security and safety way more than smaller companies could ever do.
- The challenges Hughes alludes to, including election interference and privacy safeguards, won’t evaporate by breaking up Facebook or any other big tech company. [That] requires significant resources - and strong new rules.
- Therefore, Facebook shouldn’t be broken up.
Customers? Data portability? Rules?
The last two points are absolutely correct. I myself have explained in detail, albeit in ways that would not make Clegg happy, why breaking up Facebook would accomplish nothing but make Einstein unhappy. Still, much of what Clegg said are good argoments to not accept his framing of the problem, and to do much more than what he objects to. Let’s look at the first four points, one by one.
- I general, as I wrote just yesterday, we should stop fetishizing Big Tech, and here there is one more reason for it: “customer”. This must be about “people” and “citizens”, not “customers”
- Competitors??? In communication, competition is when I can use competitors products to communicate transparently with users of your product. Samsung and Apple are and have competitors. Not Facebook
- Portability? Hey, Facebook, go for real interoperability first. It’s much more important, and extremely simple to do
- Whoever does it, earning money with targeted ads creates the problem recently re-explained by Eben Moglen: “[ALL] The businesses we have called telecoms and social media are behavior collection businesses… with devastating effects on freedom and self-government”.
So in this sense Clegg is absolutely right: the problem is not Facebook. What is toxic and must either disappear altogether, or change so much to make it unrecognizable, is the business model, and the underlying technical architecture. Regardless of how many companies “compete” with it. The real problem with Philip Morris International is not its size, or having too few real competitors. Is that it sells cigarettes (*).
ANY social media like Facebook should not be broken up see here, again: as a minimum, it should be forced to be SLOWER. But the real solution would be to abandon platforms altogether, by making any platform like Facebook as obsolete as a mimeograph:
PS: I discovered that there already is at least one earlier comparison of Facebook with smoking, six months ago ONLY after I wrote this post, and searched online for images about “Facebook and cigarette” :-)