Source: Tech Goes to Washington – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
Facebook, Google, and Twitter testified before a Senate committee: it provided evidence of how tech prefers power over decentralization, even if it means regulation
Kennedy’s two lines of questions combined revealed the tech companies’ testimony for the paradox it was: on the one hand, their sheer scale means it is impossible to fully stamp out activities like Russian meddling; on the other, that same scale means they all have the most intimate information on nearly everyone.
Is what is acceptable driven by what is right or what is collectively decided? What if the powers that be decide unilaterally?
This line of questioning highlights the problems raised by Kennedy: if the powers that be also happen to have massive investigatory power over basically everyone, then at what point do the internal rules and norms against utilizing that power become overwhelmed by the demand that right thinking be enforced? The tech companies argued throughout this testimony that they took their responsibility seriously, and would snuff out bad actors. Who, though, decides who those bad actors are?
This also highlights the absurdity in Stretch’s declaration that “We want our ad tools to be used for political discourse, certainly. But we do not want our ad tools to be used to inflame and divide.” Politics is inflammatory, and it does divide. To endeavor to stamp out inflammatory and divisive statements is, by definition, to exercise a degree of power that is clearly latent in Facebook et al, and clearly corrosive to the democratic process.
The fact of the matter is that Facebook (and Google) is more powerful than any entity we have seen before. Magnifying the problem is that, over the last year, Facebook has decided to “take responsibility”, and what is that but a commitment to exercise their control over what people see?