Government Regulation Won’t Solve “The Social Dilemma”; The Free Market Can
The Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, along with recent Senate hearings and confessions from former social media executives are waking up the world to the significant threats posed by Facebook, Twitter, and the other social media giants. These giants spy on, target, and manipulate their users’ newsfeeds, minds, purchase decisions, and votes. They even censor good users and their groups, pages, and posts simply for sharing political viewpoints that these companies’ leaders disagree with.
On November 18, the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter were called before the Senate due to their sites’ political bias/censorship. On October 20, Google was sued by the US Justice Department over accusations of unlawful monopoly power, and antitrust enforcement against Facebook is reportedly imminent.
It is clear to many people that social media must change now before it destroys the bedrocks of free expression, privacy, and democracy. However, the growing calls for government regulation and antitrust enforcement are the wrong approach. The only viable answer to our current social media dilemma is the free market.
I’m one of the handful of people who invented the first social media platforms, back in 1998 creating SuperFamily.com and SuperFriends.com. Both were ranked by PC Magazine as “Top 100” sites. Today, I‘m the CEO of MeWe. The original social media sites provided people of the world with groundbreaking social networking experiences connecting family, friends, and common interest groups. These sites did not spy on, target, or manipulate users or their newsfeeds. They did not censor their users based on their political or ideological viewpoints as long as they were not breaking the law, inciting violence, bullying, or promoting hate.
I’ve seen first-hand how the business of social media has evolved and been distorted over the years. I was early to the table challenging the absurdity of the emerging surveillance capitalism business model. In May 2012, Fox News interviewed me the day before Facebook’s IPO. When asked about Facebook’s invasive tracking and manipulation of its users, I said, “It’s creepy that if I send a message to someone on Facebook that I need to pick up dog food, within 30 seconds an ad for dog food appears in my newsfeed . . . Privacy is the next big wave on the internet.”
In March 2020, just prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns, I delivered a TEDx Talk titled “The Rise of Surveillance Capitalism” (coined by Shoshana Zuboff). My talk provided an exposé of this global socioeconomic experiment in which everything we do is tracked, analyzed, and monetized. As I stated, “This high-tech brainwashing is like something straight out of Black Mirror.”
More government regulation is not the answer. And it ignores the blatant censorship by social media executives promoting their own political ideologies and preferences through invasive tactics on their sites. Facebook and other web/social media giants have been shown to simply ignore the regulations and can write off fines from the FTC and governments worldwide as a cost of doing business. Well-intentioned privacy legislation like Europe’s GDPR institutionalizes the surveillance capitalism business model with toothless privacy protections, because Facebook and the other social media giants have armies of lobbyists.
President Trump and others have proposed revoking Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the legislation that protects social media/web companies from being held liable for content posted by their users. This would likely lead to even more censorship, because social media companies would feel they need to remove any content that’s remotely controversial in order to protect themselves from being sued. Ironically, this will help Facebook, Twitter, and the other social media giants that the President seeks to penalize while hurting their competition. Smaller social media companies and new startups do not have the deep pockets or resources required to hire massive moderation teams or legal teams to defend themselves in the face of such content liabilities and the ensuing lawsuits.
The answer is more competition — not through antitrust actions which will just turn Facebook into a charade of mini-Facebooks, but rather through the free market and consumer choice. On November 17, I was interviewed on Fox Business and laid out why Facebook’s complete lack of ethics and off-putting business model leave the door wide open for competitive disruption. I also discussed this topic in my June 2019 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.
The world is eager for a revolution in social media. A 2020 poll by Pew Research found that 75% of Americans (including most conservatives and liberals) believe Facebook and Twitter censor political views. A 2020 survey published by Axios found that 93% of Americans would switch to a company that prioritizes their data privacy; and 88% are frustrated that they don’t have more control over their data. A 2019 survey by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News found that 74% of Americans believe social media companies collecting users’ personal data is not an acceptable tradeoff for “free” services; and 60% don’t trust Facebook to protect their personal information.
Free expression, privacy, and democracy are at stake. Cambridge Analytica’s CEO bragged in March 2018 that he had data points and psychological profiles on all 220 million American adults, courtesy of Facebook. Vladimir Putin has all of it and it was used again to target and manipulate Americans during the U.S. elections.
If regulations can’t fix this, what can? Only citizens of the world can. We can solve the problems with social media by supporting companies that support free expression for good users and protect user privacy. The free market is our best solution and provides a huge opportunity for new companies to disrupt the crooked status quo.
Ready to #DeleteFacebook? Join MeWe!
MeWe is the new mainstream social network that’s directly challenging Facebook. It’s got all the features people love for connecting with friends, family, and common interest groups, along with the industry’s first Privacy Bill of Rights. There are No Ads, No Targeting, No Political Bias, No Facial Recognition, and No Newsfeed Manipulation. MeWe members are respected customers to serve and delight, not data to share, target, or sell.
MeWe is Social Media Done Right!