By Nick Solheim –
The creation of Facebook opened an avenue for a class of entrepreneurial spirits to build entire industries around advertising on the social media platform. But it has since become a monopolistic juggernaut with the ability to censor information and radically affect countless American small businesses at a whim.
I work for one of those small businesses. Nativ3 is a full-service web development and digital marketing agency based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I run our office in Washington, DC and all of our business development. Our gritty team of 11 works long hours to ensure our clients feel at home in the digital space and are well-equipped to operate within it.
There are tens of thousands of small businesses like ours – yet none of us have the expansive representation Facebook retains (both formally and informally) in Washington. Facebook spent $16.7 million on direct lobbying in 2019, and countless millions more on direct donations to conservative policy shops like AEI, CEI, Cato, Heritage and the State Policy Network.
Facebook leverages these massive donations and sponsorships to “free-market” policy shops that will push policies that improve Facebook’s bottom line, like leaving content moderation unregulated and allowing Facebook to determine what is and isn’t in the public interest to have on their platform.
Groups like the Cato Institute and AEI have gone as far as to host policy events with Facebook and Google employees as panelists, frequently with Big Tech companies splitting the bill. Such was the case when deregulation advocate Pat Hedger was caught attending an all-expenses-paid conference at a swanky Silicon Valley hotel with rooms at over $500 per night.
It’s rare that any of these advocates have worked in the digital space. Most of their unremarkable careers consist of bouncing from highly-paid think tank job to think tank job. The only distinguishing factor about them is they’re a willful shill for greedy corporatists in Silicon Valley.
And what are they using their massive influence in Washington for? While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly advocates for light regulation, Facebook’s army of willing servants heavily encourage complete deregulation of the tech sector, arguing that to do otherwise is “an infringement on freedom of speech.”
The problem is, Facebook is a monopoly that has surpassed the might of government to protect free speech. There has never been a single company in world history that had the trove of information that Facebook currently possesses. Even the world’s largest newspaper, The New York Times, has two million subscribers, 2% of Facebook’s one billion users. This isn’t even counting the fact that Facebook owns four out of the five tech companies that have over one billion users.
When a plurality of Americans get their news from Facebook, it presents a major problem.
The American Principles Project (APP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for the family in politics, was censored by Facebook when they attempted to spend $4 million on a Facebook ad in Michigan. They were immediately fact-checked and Facebook told APP’s intended audience that their ad was “missing context,” though everything in the ad was true.
When you have a monopoly on information, you control reality.
And Facebook does. It manages a faceless bureaucracy of content moderators and AI bots to determine what is and is not allowed on their platform, frequently resulting in censorship and even hard bans from the platform itself. We’ve experienced this with several political clients who have been censored or banned from advertising without explanation, and then must wait weeks or months for a response to their help desk ticket while their opponent is able to advertise unencumbered. In these circumstances, Facebook clearly puts its thumb on the scale (intentional or not) in favor of certain political candidates and movements across the country.
But don’t let personal anecdotes on the fallibility of AI sway you: Read the headlines yourself. “Facebook allowed ‘Death to America’ advertising but censors US back-to-work rallies,” “In less than 24 hours, Microsoft’s AI ChatBot turned into a Nazi on Twitter,” and “Uber self-driving car runs 6 stoplights in one day.”
Facebook is ill-equipped to defend your data privacy, your free speech and even what you’re allowed to see online. Never has such a bureaucracy had this level of power to alter the way we communicate with one another and view the world. We must use the power of the federal government to regulate Facebook for the common good – Before it’s too late.
What might regulation look like for a platform whose power reaches beyond the government itself? There are many solutions out there, such as creating a government agency charged with regulating digital platforms, enforcing antitrust regulations, etc., though all these solutions could potentially take decades to litigate.
A much simpler, short-term solution would be to regulate Facebook the same way the FCC regulates broadcast media – by utilizing the public interest framework to protect American citizens from the far-reaching powers of online media. The FCC currently is allowed to ensure there is adequate competition between media companies, prohibit disinformation broadcasting and even ensuring that lewd and explicit media is not broadcast for general consumption on television. Who’s to say we couldn’t use the FCC to regulate Facebook and other Big Tech companies who frequently flout antitrust laws and the common interest?
It remains an open question, but we’re running out of time to answer it. It’s time for small businesses like ours to demand a seat at the table and push back on the mindless talking points repeated by Facebook’s paid lackeys in Washington. We must put a stop to Facebook’s monopolistic control of digital information before the Big Tech apparatchik slithers its way to controlling how you consume information with no oversight—indefinitely.
Nick Solheim is the Director of Business Development at Nativ3, a digital marketing and web design agency.
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