We Don’t Need Social Media
The push to regulate or break up Facebook ignores the fact that its services do more harm than good
In an op-ed in the New York Times last week, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes laid out an argument for dismantling the social media behemoth, splitting it up via antitrust legislation, and (he hopes) paving the way for what he describes as a new age of innovation and competition.
Hughes joins a growing chorus of former Silicon Valley unicorn riders who’ve recently had second thoughts about the utility or benefit of the surveillance-attention economy their products and platforms have helped create. He is also not the first to suggest that government might need to step in to clean up the mess they made — to enact laws that curb the powers of the tech monopolies that facilitate our day-to-day lives, extracting and exploiting our personal data and behaviors as they go. Nor is Hughes the first to suggest that once that happens, some newer, better versions of what we have now might then be created and have the chance to proliferate.
“The vibrant marketplace that once drove Facebook and other social media companies to compete to come up with better products has virtually disappeared,” Hughes wrote last week. “This means there’s less chance of start-ups developing healthier, less exploitative social media platforms. It also means less accountability on issues like privacy.”
It might be time to consider another interpretation of that answer: the other kind of “nowhere.” We could simply choose not to have social media at all anymore.
Maybe — or maybe not. As Nick Srnicek, author of the book Platform Capitalism and a lecturer in digital economy at King’s College London, wrote last month, “[I]t’s competition — not size — that demands more data, more attention, more engagement and more profits at all costs… The government’s efforts to increase competition risk simply aggravating these problems.” Regulation might change the business environment, but it won’t necessarily change the business model.
Still, for Hughes, it appears competition is the key to better outcomes. He warmly cited Adam Smith’s…