After watching Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg labor to explain his company’s policies on privacy, diversity and currency in testimony before Congress on Oct. 23, I have come to some conclusions about the social media giant and its future.
Like any company with monopoly or near-monopoly power, Facebook is way too concerned about costs. It ducks questions about whether it should be monitoring or vetting advertising because it doesn’t want to own up to the fact that it is a publisher and a powerful one and it should bear the full weight of that responsibility.
It does not care that social media platforms have aggregated hate, destroyed local newsgathering operations that took more than a century to build and split our society into increasingly isolated tribes.
Instead it argues it is merely a platform, a maintainer of pipes and plumbing that has no responsibility for the content of the pipes. As those of us who live on the Central Coast learned in the Plains All American Pipeline spill, when the plumbing springs a minor leak, the damage is enormous.
Protecting its low-cost and leaky monopoly is what Facebook desires. So it will throw bones to the largest news outlets and hope for favorable coverage. It will resist plans to shed Instagram and What’sApp and other operations even though it is stifling innovation and creating new opportunities for scams and mayhem while it holds on to them.
Finally there is this. Zuckerberg, like monopolists stretching back to John D. Rockefeller, has no interest in spending the billions of dollars in capital investment it will take to fix Facebook. Instead he wants to move on to currency, where he can achieve another form of domination — without regard to the actual costs or risks involved.
The bottom line is that if Facebook really is just a platform consisting of digital “pipes and plumbing,” maybe it is time to call it what it is — a digital form of public utility. And regulate it accordingly.