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Facebook After Capitalism

Jeremy Corbyn’s call for a “free and democratic media” promises to break the stranglehold of the established monopolies. And that also means taking on tech billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg.

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by Lewis Bassett

? (2018, August 29). Facebook After Capitalism. Jacobin. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/08/facebook-social-media-capitalism-regulation-advertising

[...] when the logic of capitalist competition is applied to media, public alternatives will struggle in an aggressive market for popular attention. Alternatives to Facebook already exist, but none have achieved the critical mass to make them viable. Even if Zuckerberg’s monopoly is broken up, the capitalist incentives driving the media environment could sustain Facebook, or platforms like it, indefinitely by constantly revolutionizing the means of addiction. It seems that without tackling these incentives head-on, the effect could be to create a tiered internet, with a healthier public sphere for some while leaving the most vulnerable to suffer the most pernicious effects of an online obsession.

Going further than Corbyn’s own proposals, for some the answer is to nationalize Facebook. Yet the resources of a tech giant — mainly data and active users — are not like a coal mine fixed in some specific territory; they are transferable. That’s why liberating the ideal of online connectivity and the power of big data demands that we kill off Facebook’s business model and ensure it is replaced by something better. To that end, we can suggest another policy that would instantly undermine the commodification wrought by the giant platforms, and level the playing field for alternatives: to ban online advertising, whether commercial or political.

Such a policy of seems a long way off, for now. Yet as with any reform that reclaims human activity from the control of markets, it raises a timeless political question — in this case, who controls access to information. By banning advertising, Facebook’s business model would cease to exist. Out of the picture, the media giant could be replaced by a publicly funded platform. [...] how could this happen on a national scale without an enormous, and likely both unpopular and unenforceable, national firewall?

Jeremy Corbyn’s Edinburgh speech provides some of the answers. A Facebook after capitalism could combine an open-sourced approach with democratic oversight. Like Wikipedia, networked technology can allow an alternative platform to be a collective endeavor, whether in terms of the coding itself, producing and regulating its content, and participating in its governance. However, it would be naive to swallow the Silicon Valley dream wholesale; algorithms shaped in an entirely open way are vulnerable to manipulation, as when Microsoft invented a Twitter bot that became a white supremacist in less than a day.

missing author 9 months, 1 week ago

[...] when the logic of capitalist competition is applied to media, public alternatives will struggle in an aggressive market for popular attention. Alternatives to Facebook already exist, but none have achieved the critical mass to make them viable. Even if Zuckerberg’s monopoly is broken up, the capitalist incentives driving the media environment could sustain Facebook, or platforms like it, indefinitely by constantly revolutionizing the means of addiction. It seems that without tackling these incentives head-on, the effect could be to create a tiered internet, with a healthier public sphere for some while leaving the most vulnerable to suffer the most pernicious effects of an online obsession.

Going further than Corbyn’s own proposals, for some the answer is to nationalize Facebook. Yet the resources of a tech giant — mainly data and active users — are not like a coal mine fixed in some specific territory; they are transferable. That’s why liberating the ideal of online connectivity and the power of big data demands that we kill off Facebook’s business model and ensure it is replaced by something better. To that end, we can suggest another policy that would instantly undermine the commodification wrought by the giant platforms, and level the playing field for alternatives: to ban online advertising, whether commercial or political.

Such a policy of seems a long way off, for now. Yet as with any reform that reclaims human activity from the control of markets, it raises a timeless political question — in this case, who controls access to information. By banning advertising, Facebook’s business model would cease to exist. Out of the picture, the media giant could be replaced by a publicly funded platform. [...] how could this happen on a national scale without an enormous, and likely both unpopular and unenforceable, national firewall?

Jeremy Corbyn’s Edinburgh speech provides some of the answers. A Facebook after capitalism could combine an open-sourced approach with democratic oversight. Like Wikipedia, networked technology can allow an alternative platform to be a collective endeavor, whether in terms of the coding itself, producing and regulating its content, and participating in its governance. However, it would be naive to swallow the Silicon Valley dream wholesale; algorithms shaped in an entirely open way are vulnerable to manipulation, as when Microsoft invented a Twitter bot that became a white supremacist in less than a day.

missing author 9 months, 1 week ago

It is, then, increasingly clear that Facebook is far from a neutral space in which users’ timelines are organically shaped by their networked interactions. Facebook is a publisher; it’s just a giant monopolistic one, driven at base by market incentives. As Zeynep Tufekci puts it, at its core, the tech giant’s “business is mundane: They’re ad brokers.” Indeed, as liberals focus the debate on user privacy and data harvesting they obscure the capitalist logics driving these practices, and what the alternatives might look like when data and global connectivity are free from private control.

It is spurious to respond to legitimate criticisms of Facebook by saying we can simply opt out if we don’t like it, or, like the Adam Smith Institute claims, that what Corbyn is saying amounts to a call to waste public money on building a “knockoff” alternative. Precisely Facebook’s biggest strength (also for users) is its critical mass; we use it because “everyone” is there and because we don’t want to — and in some cases, can’t afford to – “miss out.” Facebook functions as a public utility by sharing a mass of information and connecting as many users as possible. Its critical mass makes it a natural monopoly and that alone is bound to undermine users’ freedom of choice. But far from it thereby simply serving a public interest, it is governed by a business model centered on advertising, decisive to everything we see and do on the platform. [...]

missing author 9 months, 1 week ago

It is, then, increasingly clear that Facebook is far from a neutral space in which users’ timelines are organically shaped by their networked interactions. Facebook is a publisher; it’s just a giant monopolistic one, driven at base by market incentives. As Zeynep Tufekci puts it, at its core, the tech giant’s “business is mundane: They’re ad brokers.” Indeed, as liberals focus the debate on user privacy and data harvesting they obscure the capitalist logics driving these practices, and what the alternatives might look like when data and global connectivity are free from private control.

It is spurious to respond to legitimate criticisms of Facebook by saying we can simply opt out if we don’t like it, or, like the Adam Smith Institute claims, that what Corbyn is saying amounts to a call to waste public money on building a “knockoff” alternative. Precisely Facebook’s biggest strength (also for users) is its critical mass; we use it because “everyone” is there and because we don’t want to — and in some cases, can’t afford to – “miss out.” Facebook functions as a public utility by sharing a mass of information and connecting as many users as possible. Its critical mass makes it a natural monopoly and that alone is bound to undermine users’ freedom of choice. But far from it thereby simply serving a public interest, it is governed by a business model centered on advertising, decisive to everything we see and do on the platform. [...]

missing author 9 months, 1 week ago