Fb Is NOT The Web; Cease Regulating As If It Was
from the Facebook Ruins Everything Department
For quite some time now, we’ve been trying to remind people that the internet isn’t just Facebook. Unfortunately, for many people – especially policy makers – this seems quite difficult to understand. We’ve discussed how the various policy pieces (including some that Facebook now supports) will do much more harm to us all – and we urge people to examine how different policy proposals will affect many smaller websites and their users.
In fact, I keep hearing from people in the political world who are just … basically pissed off on Facebook for screwing up so much stuff that it will end up destroying much of the rest of the internet. As we discovered a few years ago, Facebook’s bad behavior can cause everyone to lose their break.
Konstantinos Komaitis recently had a really excellent article in Slate highlighting how bad this is a problem and how regulators need to realize that Facebook is not the internet. It starts with us jotting down something about the history of social media (luckily it starts with SixDegree.com, the first social media website I ever used that a lot of people don’t remember at all):
In 1997, SixDegrees.com was the first real attempt at creating social networks by creating a space where users could upload their information and list their friends. The website peaked with around 3.5 million users before it closed in 1999.
Since then, a number of social networking business models have emerged, each time offering more advanced tools for user interaction. LiveJournal, a website to keep up to date with school friends, combined blogging and social networking features, inspired by WELL; Friendster was a social network that allowed more interaction and control by users; Myspace had an open membership and gave users the freedom to customize their pages. In 2005, it – and its 25 million user base – was sold to News Corp. But within three years, Myspace was overtaken by Facebook, which launched for college students in 2004 and opened to everyone in 2006.
But of course, unlike those chaotic early years, nothing has surpassed Facebook in the past decade and a half. And Facebook has just gotten bigger, and to some people it certainly feels like the entire internet. And in some cases – say, places where Facebook’s sketchy Free Basics program exists – Facebook is effectively the internet. Fortunately, that doesn’t apply to most of the world and most of the internet. But unfortunately, politicians pretend it’s true and that Facebook has a lot more power and control than it actually does. That’s a real problem.
First, the internet is not a monolith, so treating it as if it is won’t work. Second, many of the problems regulators are trying to address are not internet problems; they are social. Terrorism, child abuse, misinformation and disinformation are not descendants of the Internet; they existed before the Internet and will continue to exist afterwards because they are rooted in human societies. However, they will be treated as if they were purely internet problems. Third, and most importantly, regulators should stop viewing the internet as Facebook and treating it as such. There is a mix of topics in the internet regulatory landscape, and Facebook’s involvement in all of them, direct or indirect, adds to the current complexity. Content moderation, data protection, agent liability, competition, encryption – all of these are broader topics related to the Internet, not just Facebook. However, a pattern has emerged to treat them as Facebook problems. This means that instead of focusing on addressing them in a manner appropriate to the entire internet ecosystem, they are being addressed through the Facebook lens. This has been pretty accurately characterized as the “Facebook Derangement Syndrome”.
I used Facebook Derangement Syndrome in a different context three years ago, but this one is much better and much more important. People are so focused on social problems seen on Facebook that the “Facebookness” expands from it to swallow everything else – for example, that Facebook is not the entire internet, that many of these problems are social and that at least some of the problems are not actually Facebook problems, but Facebook, which enables people to see these problems.
However, Komaitis notes how many regulatory proposals we see to regulate the entire Internet focus almost entirely on “the problem” of “Facebook” (which, in turn, is often not really Facebook’s problems).
In the UK, online security legislation wants to ban end-to-end encryption because Facebook wants to introduce it as the default setting in its messenger service. On the other side of the Commonwealth, Australia recently introduced a code of media negotiation that primarily targets Facebook. As is well known, Facebook “left” the country before renegotiating a new agreement. Similarly, in what appears to be a coordinated effort, Canada has vowed to work with Australia to impose regulatory restrictions on Facebook.
And this trend is not limited to the Commonwealth.
India’s new intermediary guidelines aim to increase regulatory clout on Facebook and its affiliate WhatsApp, while Brazil’s Fake News bill, approved by the Senate, focuses on content moderation on Facebook and traceability on WhatsApp. In France there were talks about the introduction of “new rules” for Facebook, while the German Network Enforcement Act – NetzDG – was primarily aimed at taming Facebook. Eventually, the Trump administration in the United States issued an unsuccessful executive order aimed at regulating Facebook on bias.
And he notes that a lot of these regulators and politicians (and, frankly, the media) are asking the wrong questions about all of this:
In this context, the question we should not be asking ourselves is whether regulation is appropriate, but what are the real effects of such regulation? It has already been argued that the concentration on a few, large players affects the innovative strength and competitiveness of newcomers. And then there is the internet. The global reach of the internet is one of its main strengths. It’s a feature, not a bug. Among other things, it enables the maintenance of supply chains around the world; it enables people to communicate; it lowers the cost; and it facilitates the exchange of information and at the same time helps to address social problems such as poverty or climate change.
To this end, trying to regulate on the basis of one or a handful of companies can jeopardize this very important goal of the Internet. It can lead to fragmentation, in the sense that data cannot flow across borders or networks can be interconnected, and this can be very real and have a very big impact. It can put limits on the way information and data are exchanged and the way networks work together. These are significant tradeoffs and must be part of any regulatory process.
The article goes on to suggest better, more thoughtful approaches – those that recognize this type of regulation can have far-reaching implications and consequences far beyond what regulators intended. Being more humble and realizing that massively changing the entire internet is not a sensible solution because a lot of people on Facebook are terrible and Facebook has failed to manage its own platform well. It is a “solution” that could stifle much of what is good and important about the Internet.
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Filed Under: Facebook Disorder Syndrome, Internet, Open Internet, Punishment, Regulations