Leave Facebook Alone

Julia Angwin suggests “four ways to fix Facebook” in this essay. We restate and then critique each one of her suggestions below:

1. Impose Fines for Data Breaches. Say what? Ms Angwin implies that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should be granted the power to impose these types of fines, but how would these fines be calculated and to whom would the fines be paid to?

2. Police Political Advertising. Ms Angwin doesn’t explain what she means by “police”; she simply suggests that the Federal Elections Commission should perform this task, but are fake political ads really a serious problem? Although Russian groups are said to have spent $100,000 on fake ads on Facebook during the 2016 elections (some pro-Trump; others pro-Hillary), this relatively modest amount of spending is a drop in the bucket compared to spending on political ads in the aggregate. Also, what about free speech concerns?

3. Make Tech Companies Liable for Objectionable Content. This is a terrible idea that could end up bankrupting small or independent Internet platforms like Craigslist or Next Door. In any case, Internet platforms like Facebook already have strict policies authorizing them to delete “objectionable content” like hate speech, threats, etc.

4. Install Ethics Review Boards. What type of ethics would such a board enforce: consequentialist ethics or Kantian ethics or something else?

Bottom line: Facebook already has a huge, built-in, market-based incentive to fix itself. The solutions proposed above will only make it more difficult for the next Mark Zuckerberg to create a new Internet platform better than Facebook!

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