Nonsequitur: Anti-Social Media Companies

August 11, 2017

Although Amazon has clocked staggering growth, it generates meager profits, choosing to price below-cost and expand widely instead. Through this strategy, the company has positioned itself at the center of e-commerce and now serves as essential infrastructure for a host of other businesses that depend upon it. Elements of the firm’s structure and conduct pose anticompetitive concerns—yet it has escaped antitrust scrutiny.   – Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox

The richest men in the world are social media moguls.  Their companies hire tens of thousands world-wide.  Their products have infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives.  Of course, their products often let us act out bad behaviors through tweets, posts, comments, etc.  But the real dangers of social media may be in how the social media companies treat us as customers and as employees.

 

smapps

 

Amazon, the world’s largest market of commerce, experiments with us as consumers  and as employees, in search of the perfect sales algorithm.  It has largely succeeded.  Yale Law Journal has detailed analysis of “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.” Paul Krugman calls this a “monopsony” that hurts the economy and the country.  This summer, Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, was briefly the richest man in the world.

Google, the world’s most used search engine, was recently fined $2.72 billion for manipulating search results in favor of its own business services.  When a think tank group, Open Markets, praised this anti-trust legal decision, Google threatened to cut funding for their host organization.  Open Markets was asked to leave the think tank.

Google has been accused of manipulating search results in support of the Hillary Clinton Campaign and  other Democrat candidates.  It also keeps various “blacklists” which limit users’ access to sites Google deems inappropriate or undesirable.

The company was in the news recently for an employee’s internal (and leaked) memo, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.”  The employee was fired.  Of course, Google has the right to fire an employee who violates its communication rules.  But in doing so, they confirmed the employee’s view that Google will not tolerate dissent.

That other social media giant, Facebook, has also developed the habit of wielding its power unabashedly.  Facebook filters customer services and content based on its own values.  Former employees admit that Facebook frequently suppresses Conservative news.  Facebook has “experimented” on users, manipulating almost 700,000 newsfeeds to measure the effects of “emotional contagion” on users.  The company carried out the research without consent or knowledge of its subjects.  Facebook Live has streamed murders, suicides and torture.  But they routinely suspend or cancel accounts whose religious or political views they deem inappropriate. (Some examples here, here and here.)  Along with Google, Facebook has financially supported political protests.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg, another “world’s richest man,” has suggested that Facebook is replacing the Church and other traditional social institutions as a “meaningful community.”  This is the same mogul who buys the land around his homes to create huge, protected sanctuaries for himself.  He even sued hundreds of long-term home owners in Hawaii, wanting a buffer around his 700 acre property in Kauai.  (Later, he dropped the suit in response to public protest.)  It is rumored that Zuckerberg is considering running for president in the future.

 

techleaders

 

Why does any of this matter?  Amazon, Google and Facebook are private companies.  They are also true success stories of innovation and entrepreneurship.  Users love their products.  However, there are a number of reasons to be concerned about the power these companies, and their leaders, now hold and use.

First, while the business model is difficult for the layperson to understand, social media companies are not selling us a product or service.  We are the product.  The more users these media organizations have, the more data they have, and the more they make money from that data.  It is in the best interests of the companies to foster dependence in their users and decrease consumer options.  When Facebook can capture 61% of on-line users (with 2 billion Facebook accounts), they also capture the income connected to those users.

Second, social media outlets are becoming the primary way we get information.  A majority of  U.S. adults use social media as their major news source and a general source of information.  Given the bias demonstrated in the links above, this means we are using skewed information sources to make decisions as consumers and voters.  In the “Data Age,” whoever controls the data controls the future.

Third, manipulating social values is the primary way those in power stay in power.  Facebook, Google, Amazon and Twitter have all become filters for how we govern ourselves and how we interact with others.  However, the primary goal of these companies is not our well being, but profit and market control.  Their processes and values are not transparent or even understandable to most users.  Our financial and communication systems have become directly intertwined with their social media tools.  Through their influence and money, these companies have direct access to law makers and regulators. Consequently, they are only minimally monitored and regulated. In a word, their power is unchecked.

What can be done about this unchecked power?  Luckily, we still have tools and resources available to us.

As consumers, we can demand transparency from Amazon, Facebook and Google.  We can demand that the industry address its ethics issues in public.  If these media giants are not acting responsibly, we can use consumer actions to influence change.  (Some examples would include changing providers, complaining to advertisers, boycotts, etc.)

As citizens, we can ask our government to provide reasonable oversight and regulation.  We can demand that social media be held to the same standards that other media currently are.  We can monitor the influence that the media firms have over our leaders.  When necessary, we can vote for candidates or laws that limit this influence.

Finally, as individuals, we can be thoughtful about our use, or overuse, of social media.  We can be aware of how social media is changing, supporting or hurting our society. We can be responsible participants in the interconnection we have with our neighbors near and far.  And when we feel our rights are being ignored or abused by the social media giants, we can be courageous in standing up for the truth.

 

 

 

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