DebateWhen stripes turn black: nationalise Facebook

When stripes turn black: nationalise Facebook

Reading time: 2:45 min | Half a year ago, a dear friend emailed me about social media. I answer now.

6 March 2021, she wrote me: concerning your social media article from a few months ago, where you use the comparison with the Post Office. First, I think you had forgotten one point: that this Post Office (I compared in an article Facebook to the Post Office) is not typical, but one that finds out the addresses of all kinds of people all over the world, allows them to network, to get in touch with long-forgotten childhood acquaintances or even with interesting, unusual, artistic people who are on a very similar wavelength to you, even though they live in Melbourne or Guadalajara. Facebook & Co. is already a smart thing with understandable seductive power. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be so successful. Every time I thought I’d delete the account and quit, I looked again and found that the added value for me outweighed the disadvantages. Of course, it’s a scandal that I am, of all people, speaking out in favour of social media. But things should not be seen in black and white, but rather in stripes.

Back then, I thought she had a point. Perhaps, as a social media dyslectic, I’m missing important things out. As she says, things are not black and white but rather in stripes, which absolutely convinced me. But last week, the stripes went pretty black when ex-Facebook’s Frances Haugen entered the US Senate’s floor. That is bringing me to last Saturday when I drove to Leipzig to visit my brother’s family.

On that trip, I’ve listened to Doppelgänger’s podcast #82 (Philipp Glöckner vs Philipp Klöckner). This podcast is Germany’s leading twice-weekly podcast on tech, startups and money-making in that sector. Both Philipps are open-minded, successful Berlin tech and startup professionals with tons of experience under their belt.

The main topic was Facebook’s many failures and the question of what the future may hold for Facebook. In the centre were whistleblower Haugen’s testaments on facebook’s business model. She showed the US Senate Commerce subcommittee ample proof that discord and divisiveness sell more adverts than harmony and mutual understanding and that Facebook leverages that insight very deliberately. To be economically successful, Facebook must act as a threat to democracy and peace. When reading a Facebook post in the past, I always felt that fuelling discord and bubble-building is precisely what Facebook is all about, but good to hear that my and many other people’s feeling on this are now corroborated facts.

In that podcast, Philipp Klöckner opined that Marc Zuckerberg’s request for regulation precisely tells us that the other solution, the breaking-up of Facebook, should be the preferred solution. I think he’s right. So far, there’s no evidence that Zuckerberg showed goodwill or any other interests than mere money-making. Regulations would perpetually grant him his monopoly. But breaking up Facebook, in contrast, would leave a void in the market, which sooner than later will be filled with Facebook 2.0, relying on the same business model, namely breeding discord and divisiveness.

But suppose we were taking off the tech sector’s neocon glasses and looking at things more from the good old social democrats’ demand angle, I’d have a question for my friend: “Would you take part in a public-owned social network organisation, comparable to what the UK’s BBC or Germany’s ARD/ZDF are as TV broadcasters? That way, the stripes would remain white, grey and also a little black under the curation of a democratically elected board.”

I propose a third way: nationalise Facebook. I mean, the military, the intelligence agencies, the health care sector, the above-mentioned media organisations, many services are owned by the public in many countries. Why not Facebook?