Critique of the Anti-Trust Policy Proposals Against Social Media Monopolies

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Michael Kwet:

"The antitrust proposal Various scholars have put forward two main ideas to break up Big Social Media, neither of which can sufficiently accomplish their goals.

The first one seeks to dismantle past mergers and acquisitions. Facebook, for example, bought up Instagram and WhatsApp years ago, and is now seeking to integrate all three platforms into a seamless communications network.

Scholars like Tim Wu, Sarah Miller, and Matt Stoller have suggested breaking Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp into three separate companies. They hope these companies would then compete for customers, which would compel them to treat users with respect.

Yet there is no good reason to believe this would do much for privacy and competition itself does not necessarily curb harmful behaviour. Even if these companies are broken up, given that their business model is based on serving ads and the exploitation of user data, they would have no serious incentive to change their behaviour.

Furthermore, these companies are able to monetise surveillance because the data is running through their platforms, and they force people to be a part of their networks in order to interact with their friends and family. For example, a user who does not like Facebook’s privacy practices can leave for another network, but then they have to convince their friends to join them.

The second idea proposes a solution to this problem: make social networks interoperate. Social media platforms would be forced to allow members of one network to interact with members of another. For example, a Facebook user would be able to post a comment under a YouTube video while logged into Facebook, and vice-versa. Users’ data would also be “portable” so they could move their profile to a different platform.

Interoperability exists in other communications services, such as telephone networks and email.

However, the “competition through interoperability” antitrust proposal is deeply flawed.

The reason Big Social Media firms are able to raid everyone’s data and mistreat users is that they are centralised, cloud-based intermediaries. If I want to share a photo with you, I first upload it to, say, Facebook’s servers, and then you download it from Facebook’s servers. The user experience is then determined by Facebook’s network software.

This form of cloud-based centralisation gives corporations power over the platform and the data. Proprietary network ownership provides corporations with the coercive power to monetise user data and force ads on users. Making proprietary networks interoperable does not change this power dynamic. The companies will simply compete to collect more data and serve more ads so they can generate profits.

Some antitrust scholars have also suggested social media networks can solve this problem by charging people to use their networks. Users who do not like spying and ads can pay out of pocket for social networking instead.

A subscription-based social network might sound great for the middle and upper classes, but it is a non-solution for the billions living in poverty. Those with little or no income are not going to “pay for privacy” or any other “exploitation-free” benefits, such as ad-free access.

This same conundrum plagues the mobile app ecosystem, where 70 percent of apps spy on users through hidden trackers. Proprietary control of the apps prevents the public from stripping out the trackers, and competition among millions of apps does nothing to prevent app publishers from mistreating users." (

Building a social networking commons

Michael Kwet:

"The new antitrust proposal will fail to remedy social media ills because it is wedded to competition in a capitalist system. A genuine solution must, therefore, eliminate the profit incentive and give people direct control over the means of computation.

To fix social media, activists and lawmakers need to press for digital socialism – a commons-based solution embodying libertarian socialist principles of self-governance, decentralisation, and federation. Social media would be transformed from a profit-seeking enterprise into a global democratic commons. A technological foundation has already been created (as I detail below).

To see this through, we need to pass laws imposing decentralised, free and open-source technology solutions on the social media ecosystem. Big Tech corporations would be forced to relinquish user data, and social networking infrastructure would be owned and controlled by the users. The platform software would be open source so the public can inspect the code and customise the user experience.

To ensure the network infrastructure will be well developed and maintained, governments would subsidise public interest technology. Technologists could be paid to develop software at public universities and non-profit organisations. Developers across the world would collaborate and borrow code from each other, while individuals and communities would join networks or form new ones as they see fit.

Governments could also subsidise the rollout of broadband internet and personal cloud infrastructure. Inexpensive FreedomBox devices could be provided to lower-income households and small server farms could be operated by local communities.

Corporations might participate in some form, but the new laws and technology would effectively cut off their ability to privatise control, generate large profits, push ads, or spy on users.

Funds for implementing social networks can be raised by taxing the rich and Big Tech firms. Resources for infrastructure and development should be extended to people in the Global South as compensation for colonialism, including recent revenue extraction through digital colonialism." (