Much attention has been paid lately to the ‘bad players’ of technology. The Atlantic asked, Is the Silicon Valley Dynasty Coming to an End? Ethical lapses at some of the tech industry’s biggest companies suggest a chilling reality of what really matters in the world’s most rollicking economy, while Business Insider reported yet another Uber departure, and the company’s long string of problems/resignations of late.
Both are worth a read, but always worth closer inspection is the forest through the trees. In case you missed it, a man was murdered this past week, and it was streamed on Facebook, which has also streamed live gang rapes in the none-too-distant past. In fact, we now have a new category, according to ABC News: Performance Crime. “(Steven) Stephens’ alleged crime has drawn attention to a number of other illegal acts that have been documented on social media. In recent years, sexual assaults, random attacks and murders have been uploaded to social media platforms, sometimes drawing large audiences,” the news channel reported.
While Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg expressed his sympathy to the family, noting that more needs to be done, there is no doubt that there’s a rise in the incidents of violent crimes being streamed on the service, and mea innocentia just doesn’t cut it anymore, especially in a world where the Googles and Facebooks are devouring content, vetted or not, and reaping huge financial benefits as a result. While we don’t advocate blanket censorship, what reputable news organization would allow murder or rape/performance crime, to be broadcast? Again, the Silicon Valley elites give themselves a pass: they’re just providing the medium, with all due respect to Marshall McLuen.
Which brings us to the content publishers – especially news organizations. All publishers want distribution, no doubt, and the internet has grown so vast, the signal to noise ratio is beyond deafening. Enter the Facebooks and Google YouTubes – destinations that are happy to distribute the content, but what happens when the Masters of the Universe and holders of the keys to the kingdom, decide to change the algorithm, as Facebook often does, and often without warning. As Kurt Gessler of the Chicago Tribune noted, Facebook’s algorithm isn’t surfacing one-third of our posts. And it’s getting worse.
What drove publishers et al to concede to the Facebooks and Googles of the world was no doubt fear of being marginalized. Which is precisely what has happened and is continuing to happen.
According to the New York Times, “While profits at Google, Facebook and Amazon have soared, revenues in media businesses like newspaper publishing or the music business have, since 2001, fallen by 70 percent…According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, newspaper publishers lost over half their employees between 2001 and 2016. Billions of dollars have been reallocated from creators of content to owners of monopoly platforms. All content creators dependent on advertising must negotiate with Google or Facebook as aggregator, the sole lifeline between themselves and the vast internet cloud.”
FYI, according to the Times, “Removing the safe harbor provision would also force social networks to pay for the content posted on their sites. A simple example: One million downloads of a song on iTunes would yield the performer and his record label about $900,000. One million streams of that same song on YouTube would earn them about $900.”
We all know the Silicon Valley/tech mantra of “Grow Fast, Make Money Later,” and it’s part of the DNA of Google (Alphabet, or G/A), Facebook and Amazon, all of which are counted among the world’s largest companies, according to market capitalization, and got there within the last ten year, according to the Times article, and all of which got there, when you get down to it, by being gateways or platforms: distribution channels for goods/services/content, then basically overwhelming potential competitors (with Facebook, think news outlets), all the while crushing – or buying/consuming potential competitors – and stifling innovation.
And have spawned the notion of too big to fail, so a blind eye is turned to many of their questionable business practices, as the behemoths – specifically Facebook and G/A, continue to absorb and control greater and greater portions of the known world. The Times pieces suggests removing “the ‘safe harbor’ clause in the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which allows companies like Facebook and Google’s YouTube to free ride on the content produced by others. The reason there are 40,000 Islamic State videos on YouTube, many with ads that yield revenue for those who posted them, is that YouTube does not have to take responsibility for the content on its network. Facebook, Google and Twitter claim that policing their networks would be too onerous. But that’s preposterous: They already police their networks for pornography, and quite well.”
For the record, even live television isn’t completely live: there’s a slight delay while the censors quickly review the content. If Facebook and G/A wish to play in that arena, time for them to accept the same responsibilities – and practices.
‘Ask Forgiveness, Not Permission’ is another mantra that has served technology well, and now we see where that has led, and is continuing to lead us. So called ethical lapses and disregard for the rules and regulations by which other businesses must comply, has led to these companies amassing power, reach and wealth the likes of which has never been witnessed before in the history of mankind, and it’s only getting worse. Time to rein them in, while there is still time to do it: the rules do apply to them, too. They may be too big to fail but, at least for the time being, they’re certainly not too big to comply. Onward and forward.