Facebook’s sudden fall from grace has toppled long-held assumptions that it couldn’t be regulated. Now a rare bipartisan consensus has emerged that Facebook’s unaccountable power may require government intervention.
The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal helped kick-start an overdue conversation about monopoly power, its pernicious effects on society, and government’s role in stopping it. With implications far beyond Facebook, a precious opportunity for structural reform has opened.
How can we seize it? Mark Zuckerberg himself has said in interviews and during his congressional testimony that regulation might be necessary. But what kind of regulation? Do we repeat past mistakes and defer to weak self-regulations that will fade over time? Or do we subject Facebook to real public oversight and implement redistributive measures?
Thus far, discussions have focused mostly on user privacy, which is vitally important. But we also should consider a broader, bolder vision for what Facebook owes society in return for the incredible power we’ve allowed it to accumulate—even as we contain and erode that power. It’s time for a new social contract.
This contract must assert public control over communication systems. It should protect content creators and individual users (i.e., those who actually produce the labor, attention, and data from which Facebook profits), but most important, it must privilege society’s democratic needs over Facebook’s sole objective of maximizing profit.
Make Facebook Pay for Journalism
Over the past year, Facebook has been charged with mishandling users’ data, abusing market power, and proliferating misinformation—all while extracting profound wealth across the globe. Facebook should provide much more in exchange for its many rewards and assume greater responsibility for its grave costs to society.
Journalism’s ad revenue dependency has always been deeply problematic. Now the commercial model has collapsed, with devastating effects. Fewer revenues support fewer journalists, leaving newsrooms gutted and shuttered across the country. The print news industry has seen approximately half its workforce reduced over the past decade. Entire regions and major social problems go uncovered in the news. Longtime observers have begun to talk openly of a “post-newspaper future.” Yet these struggling institutions provide most of the original reporting—more important now than ever—for the entire news-media system.