He has demonstrated nothing more nefarious than the virtuous hustle of a talented entrepreneur.
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Yet he has created a leviathan that crowds out entrepreneurship and restricts consumer choice. How did we allow this to happen? Since the s , courts have become increasingly hesitant to break up companies or block mergers unless consumers are paying inflated prices that would be lower in a competitive market.
But a narrow reliance on whether or not consumers have experienced price gouging fails to take into account the full cost of market domination. And it is out of step with the history of antitrust law. Facebook is the perfect case on which to reverse course, precisely because Facebook makes its money from targeted advertising, meaning users do not pay to use the service.
I was on the original News Feed team my name is on the patent , and that product now gets billions of hours of attention and pulls in unknowable amounts of data each year. The average Facebook user spends an hour a day on the platform; Instagram users spend 53 minutes a day scrolling through pictures and videos. They create immense amounts of data — not just likes and dislikes, but how many seconds they watch a particular video — that Facebook uses to refine its targeted advertising.
Facebook also collects data from partner companies and apps, without most users knowing about it, according to testing by The Wall Street Journal. Some days, lying on the floor next to my 1-year-old son as he plays with his dinosaurs, I catch myself scrolling through Instagram, waiting to see if the next image will be more beautiful than the last. What am I doing? Facebook seeps into every corner of our lives to capture as much of our attention and data as possible and, without any alternative, we make the trade. The vibrant marketplace that once drove Facebook and other social media companies to compete to come up with better products has virtually disappeared.
It also means less accountability on issues like privacy. Just last month, Facebook seemingly tried to bury news that it had stored tens of millions of user passwords in plain text format, which thousands of Facebook employees could see. There is no precedent for his ability to monitor, organize and even censor the conversations of two billion people. In , they enabled the spread of fringe political views and fake news, which made it easier for Russian actors to manipulate the American electorate.
Facebook has responded to many of the criticisms of how it manages speech by hiring thousands of contractors to enforce the rules that Mark and senior executives develop. After a few weeks of training, these contractors decide which videos count as hate speech or free speech, which images are erotic and which are simply artistic, and which live streams are too violent to be broadcast.
Facebook now offers a limited version of this feature to all users. The most extreme example of Facebook manipulating speech happened in Myanmar in late Mark said in a Vox interview that he personally made the decision to delete the private messages of Facebook users who were encouraging genocide there.
Now he recognizes that Facebook is both a platform and a publisher and that it is inevitably making decisions about values. No one at Facebook headquarters is choosing what single news story everyone in America wakes up to, of course. Mark knows that this is too much power and is pursuing a twofold strategy to mitigate it. Second, he is hoping for friendly oversight from regulators and other industry executives.
Late last year, he proposed an independent commission to handle difficult content moderation decisions by social media platforms. But its decisions would not have the force of law, since companies would voluntarily participate. Agencies oversee these industries to ensure that the private market works for the public good. This should be just as true for social networking as it is for air travel or pharmaceuticals. I desperately wanted Mark to say yes.
Even my small slice of the company would have made me a millionaire several times over. For a year-old scholarship kid from small-town North Carolina, that kind of money was unimaginable. Outside of a couple of gigs in college, Mark had never had a real boss and seemed entirely uninterested in the prospect.
Domination meant domination, and the hustle was just too delicious. Mark may never have a boss, but he needs to have some check on his power.
First, Facebook should be separated into multiple companies. There is precedent for correcting bad decisions — as recently as , Whole Foods settled antitrust complaints by selling off the Wild Oats brand and stores that it had bought a few years earlier. There is some evidence that we may be headed in this direction. How would a breakup work? Facebook would have a brief period to spin off the Instagram and WhatsApp businesses, and the three would become distinct companies, most likely publicly traded.
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Facebook shareholders would initially hold stock in the new companies, although Mark and other executives would probably be required to divest their management shares. Until recently, WhatsApp and Instagram were administered as independent platforms inside the parent company, so that should make the process easier. But time is of the essence: Facebook is working quickly to integrate the three, which would make it harder for the F. Natural monopolies have emerged in areas like water systems and the electrical grid, where the price of entering the business is very high — because you have to lay pipes or electrical lines — but it gets cheaper and cheaper to add each additional customer.
In addition, defenders of natural monopolies often make the case that they benefit consumers because they are able to provide services more cheaply than anyone else. Facebook is indeed more valuable when there are more people on it: There are more connections for a user to make and more content to be shared. But the cost of entering the social network business is not that high.
And unlike with pipes and electricity, there is no good argument that the country benefits from having only one dominant social networking company. Still others worry that the breakup of Facebook or other American tech companies could be a national security problem. Because advancements in artificial intelligence require immense amounts of data and computing power, only large companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon can afford these investments, they say.
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If American companies become smaller, the Chinese will outpace us. While serious, these concerns do not justify inaction. Even after a breakup, Facebook would be a hugely profitable business with billions to invest in new technologies — and a more competitive market would only encourage those investments. The cost of breaking up Facebook would be next to zero for the government, and lots of people stand to gain economically.
A ban on short-term acquisitions would ensure that competitors, and the investors who take a bet on them, would have the space to flourish. Digital advertisers would suddenly have multiple companies vying for their dollars. The value of the companies that made up Standard Oil doubled within a year of its being dismantled and had increased by fivefold a few years later.
But the biggest winners would be the American people. Imagine a competitive market in which they could choose among one network that offered higher privacy standards, another that cost a fee to join but had little advertising and another that would allow users to customize and tweak their feeds as they saw fit. This resulted in an explosion of innovation, greatly increasing follow-on patents and leading to the development of the semiconductor and modern computing.
We would most likely not have iPhones or laptops without the competitive markets that antitrust action ushered in. Just breaking up Facebook is not enough.
We need a new agency, empowered by Congress to regulate tech companies. Its first mandate should be to protect privacy.
The Europeans have made headway on privacy with the General Data Protection Regulation, a law that guarantees users a minimal level of protection. A landmark privacy bill in the United States should specify exactly what control Americans have over their digital information, require clearer disclosure to users and provide enough flexibility to the agency to exercise effective oversight over time. The agency should also be charged with guaranteeing basic interoperability across platforms.
Finally, the agency should create guidelines for acceptable speech on social media. How could it be that I was frustrated, one of my partners was enraged, and my other partner was a bit peeved? I would never use this word to describe how I was feeling, but then again, I had never been that calm in an unjust situation.
Maybe he was on to something. Is it possible that the words we attach to our experience actually become our experience? Do words have a biochemical effect? For the next few weeks after that meeting, I began to notice the different language patterns of others and how they magnified or softened their emotions. Can a change in words lead to a change in state? It was time to test this theory. I created a day challenge for myself. First, I would have to identify my emotional habits.
Then, I would consciously replace these with a new word to break my default pattern of thought and feeling. I got my first opportunity after a long series of connecting flights, all of which were late.
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I arrived at my hotel at 2 a. I waited another 10 minutes at the front desk while the clerk slowly searched for my name in the computer. The frustration compounded until it turned to anger. Just saying that word changed the tone of my voice and made the whole situation seem silly. The clerk looked at me in confusion before breaking into a big smile.
I smiled back; my pattern was broken. As ridiculous and simple as it sounds, the replacement word broke my pattern of anger. The emotional volcano building inside of me instantly cooled. Could it really be this easy? Just by changing the words we habitually use to describe our emotions, could we change our feelings and the quality of our lives?
Ten days turned into a month and I can tell you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, it was a life-transforming experience. We can be proactive in choosing our emotions—we can make experiences more pleasurable. This is how you create a choice instead of a habitual reaction.