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Subj: I think the implications are bigger than whether or not Twitter is a private company.
Posted: Sun Jan 09, 2022 at 02:33:53 pm EST (Viewed 253 times)
Reply Subj: Re: I agree with this, so long as private companies don't become monopolies.
Posted: Sun Jan 09, 2022 at 10:27:58 am EST (Viewed 238 times)
Regardless, Twitter (and other social media platforms) doesn’t serve the same purpose as roads or the military. It’s not funded by taxes, nor is it essential for survival. Twitter is no more a public service than any other company-owned website that offers (and polices) a forum for its users.
LGDB: All do respect this appears to me naïve. Essential for survival isn't a meaningful standard here. The freedoms that our First Amendment and similar free speech provisions in other countries are meant to protect also aren't essential for survival. And further, we don't fund it with taxes because it's not a public institution. But I'm arguing it should be, in which case either we would fund by our taxes like any federal department or more likely as a public utility would be run by various private companies and heavily regulated and overseen by the government. And it of course doesn't serve the same purpose as the military or physical infrastructure. But I would argue it provides an equally public service, which is to say public political/social communication. This is the 21st century Twitter and platforms like it have absolutely replaces the printed word as the location for which society communicates with itself. Moreover, Twitter and Facebook are vital to the success of small businesses, and not having access to them puts one's business at a markedly significant disadvantage, so the stakes aren't merely and ability to speak. But the point is that very clearly social media is a matter of a social infrastructure. In the same we it's understood that anyone be able to use the roads (unless a court of laws has dictated that they can't be trusted to do that) because to be denied that ability would seriously retard their livelihood, i.e. that the roads should be public to all, social media shouldn't be any different.
And a further argument for why entities like Twitter and Facebook can't be looked coherently as merely private companies is that their very business model is primarily about collecting our meta data and selling it to other companies. We're not customers of these companies, if we want to so much as participate in the modern public square of society, the price of admission is that our private information be collected without our permission and sold without our getting any cut of those profits. There is no company that offers the same access to the public conversation on line that we can choose that isn't essentially making money from harvesting our private information. Our information is the value that's being extracted from us, and it seems like a poor idea that we shouldn't have a public say in the rules by which people are allowed to participate.
Now we can choose to privatize that infrastructure or make it public or some combination of the two, but thinking of social media as merely a set of private enterprises like a burger chain or a retail joint is wrong headed.
If you're a capitalist you might want that infrastructure to be constituted by a multitude of businesses competing with on another, letting market forces maximize freedom and competition, giving new businesses a chance t enter into the market and try their luck. The point is that's a situation where (ideally) no one entity can by fiat decide who can participate, and information, various voice, inconvenient truths and so on can't be shut out. Conversely if you're a socialist or a leftist of some kind you think that this kinds of infrastructure should just patently be democratically controlled for a number of reasons, but chiefly because the consequence of its misuse, abuse, and mismanagement are basically shared by the public. But what no one should want, what no one should be defending is that a handful of massively powerful private conglomerates should be controlling the central location where public communication takes place.
I’m not sure how antitrust laws would come into play here either, as there’s no single monopoly in the market. Twitter competes with Facebook/Instagram, Reddit, YouTube, TikTok, Pinterest, Tumblr, Snapchat and others, all of which have their own moderation in place. As far as I can tell, none of these platforms have engaged in any anticompetitive practices that prevents the “MTGs” of the world from starting their own social media site.
LGDB: So here's the problem. Anti-trust violations aren't just when a single company is the exclusive actor in a given market, as with a literal monopoly. If a company gets sufficiently large they can have undo influence on the market and prevent genuine competition, they usually run afoul of anti-trust violation. (And they're often not prosecuted for political reasons, or they are and the fines are just their cost of doing business.) So for instance critics of Amazon on antitrust grounds will point out that while Amazon is obviously not the sole internet delivery service, they are so much larger than even the combined preponderance of the competitors they dominate the industry: they more or less set pricing, and they decide what business's products efficiently make it to market and so on.
Btw, another aside here, in many cases the reason companies like Amazon aren't taken to court by the federal government is because there's somewhat of a Washington consensus that so long as prices remain relatively low it's not worth the trouble of rocking the boat. But like many Washington based consensus this is let's say based on limited brain power and doesn't care much for how people in the country are affected. There are other reasons to worry about virtual monopolies than merely price increases for consumers. There's also how this affects labor power, collective wages, and the genuine competitiveness in the relevant market, not to mention the various other market's that Amazon's business affects. Anyway I digress.
Further, and here's the more important thing, antitrust violations also occur when large business's collude or conspire with one another to effect market outcomes. And they often do this when they realize that they have shared interests. Let's call them class interests. And that's another important point, which even if you don't have a literal monopoly, as I've mentioned before it's not a much better situation to have social media policy more or less dictated by 2 or 3 private firms owned by billionaires and massively wealthy financial interests. It's important to keep in mind how the interests of the public at large and the interests of literally a few dozen people at the commanding heights of a trillion dollar industry aren't just not aligned but often diametrically opposed. The pubic needs the larger social media landscape to be a place of free and open exchange and for it to be responsive to the society it serves. The owners and shareholder of companies like Twitter, don't need that. They need something else.
---the late great Donald Blake
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