Can Anti-Belief, Competitors Guidelines Dilute the Energy of Social Media Platforms, Tech Firms?
After social media companies such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest President Trump after the attack on the US Capitol on 6. For years, Republicans in the US Congress have accused Facebook and Twitter of using their power to censor conservative speeches. Democrats have similarly called for greater accountability from technology companies for bad behavior, which includes content moderation policies and guidelines.
Governments around the world are trying to regain the balance of power, introducing new laws and proposals to increase the platform’s liability for harmful online content, and discussing ways to use antitrust and competition rules to dilute the influence of big tech. While antitrust and competition policy cannot solve every problem caused by major social media platforms and tech companies, increasing competition and decreasing the dominance of one or two companies is crucial to freeing up user freedom in the social space Ensuring media and control over a handful of companies reduce our social discourse. Government efforts to rebalance the dynamics of power should be careful not to inadvertently consolidate the dominance of multiple big tech companies and should seek to increase democratic oversight, transparency, and user freedom.
The competitive solution
In the US, some lawmakers have linked problems with big tech companies’ dominance of the market to their control over online language and a corresponding lack of accountability for their decisions about online content. Antitrust tools have been proposed as part of solving problems related to online language, as splitting large platforms would lead to more competition and critically dilute the power of a single platform to make decisions that control the whole sphere. While containing the power of big tech companies and encouraging more innovation in the marketplace are generally positive, antitrust tools cannot solve all of the problems of disinformation, content moderation puzzles, echo chambers, or the plethora of other problems that arise Social media platforms with business models based on mass surveillance and manipulation of users.
At the intersection of competition and content curation, however, a promising idea has emerged that has the potential to address some of these issues while promoting innovation and giving users back choice: unbundling (broadly similar proposals have been called “magic APIs,” protocols, not platforms “And” Middleware “among others). Under the unbundling requirements, a social media platform like Facebook could be forced to separate its role as a content host from its role as a content curator and allow other content curators to work on its platform and offer alternative recommendation systems for users to choose from. Unbundling requirements were used in previous telecommunications regulations that allowed competing services to compete on the same infrastructure. In his article “Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech”, Mike Masnick compares the potential setup with email seeing a variety of email services (Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo) that are open standards or Protocols work that are interoperable, meaning you can, for example, send emails from one Gmail account to another person’s Yahoo account and have relatively low switching costs.
There are many challenges associated with this vision, including questions about the point of service: Does Facebook still operate the hosting platform and save all user data, or is there an open “social media” protocol and Facebook is one of many middleware services which runs on top of it? Switching to this model also has serious implications for user privacy and a host of technical challenges. It has been suggested that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) antitrust lawsuit against Facebook could help move the needle in that direction if regulators argue that Facebook’s content moderation is a separate market from which it is itself and unfairly discourages others from competing in this area.
A common argument is that social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter are natural monopolies in their sphere due to network effects: the more people there are in a particular network, the more useful it becomes for users who want to connect with friends. Following this logic suggests that splitting Facebook into several smaller social media companies would only result in the most popular Facebook winning, replacing the old Facebook as the dominant platform. However, this only applies if platforms are allowed to continue to exhibit anti-competitive behavior that holds users hostage due to a lack of interoperability, data portability or competition at all levels. Current FTC antitrust proceedings and draft laws in the US House of Representatives have the potential to change that, even though competition policy is not a cure for all of the big tech problems that plague our public sphere. Further measures to disrupt existing business models that incentivize content curation based on maximizing user engagement and emotional response are needed to dissuade the industry from exploiting and manipulating users. These include possible data portability and interoperability requirements, comprehensive data protection, regulation of advertising markets and targeted advertising based on protected classes, and more control over what data is collected and how it is used in curating their online experience.
Ultimately, the debate about regulating big tech is a debate about power. In this power struggle, state authoritarianism is not preferable to corporate authoritarianism and vice versa. Any approach to rule over big tech should focus on the rights and freedom of choice of users.
The article was published for the first time on ORF
Disclaimer:The author is a program manager at ORF America
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the point of view of this publication.
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