While Mark Zuckerberg may or may not be angling to move into the White House at some time in the none-too-distant future, Capitol Hill clearly holds no fascination for him.
Apologies if we sound a bit redundant, but given the testimony of Facebook, Twitter and Google before a Senate subcommittee this past week, hard to ignore the Russian ad issue/conundrum and its larger implications.
Net States Rule the World; We Need to Recognize Their Power, posits Alexis Wichowski in Wired. “Net-states are digital non-state actors, without the violence. Like nation-states, they’re a wildly diverse bunch. Some are the equivalent to global superpowers: the Googles, the Facebooks, the Twitters….There are also hacktivist collectives like Anonymous and Wikileaks….Regardless of their differences in size and raison d’etre, net-states of all stripes share three key qualities: They exist largely online, enjoy international devotees, and advance belief-driven agendas that they pursue separate from, and at times, above, the law.”
By the Numbers
FYI, “Google, Facebook and Amazon have direct influence over 80%+ of internet traffic. They own it all, they’ve eaten and now they are digesting. Google, Facebook and Amazon services had 60% of mobile traffic in 2015, growing to 70% by the end of 2016” (Google, Facebook and Amazon ate America. Now they are digesting.
There’s no doubt that certain players in the digital world wield outsized global influence, including Facebook, Twitter and Google, and as Nat Eliazon points out in his Medium post, we are certainly witnessing The Destructive Switch from Search to Social. “You no longer enter the Internet the way you would a public library, where you browse and pick out what you want to read in peace, it’s more like the Las Vegas strip, where you’re bombarded with demands for your attention and need not exert any effort to be entertained.”
And what they’re dishing out has so far gone unchecked and seemingly without restrictions.
The Real Real
Given this past week’s Senate inquiry into the Russian ad controversy, as “Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch told a Senate Judiciary panel …(were) centered on “fomenting discord about the validity of [Trump’s] election.” That’s a change from Russia’s pre-election activity, which was largely centered on trying to denigrate Hillary Clinton, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a January report,” according to Politico.
But our focus here is not on politics: it’s about influence and responsibility, as Facebook and Twitter Could Be Forced to Disclose Who Is Paying for Political Ads, meaning that they would be subjected to the same rules that apply to other media outlets. Of course, and as we recently noted previously, according to Sheryl Sandberg in her exclusive interview with Axios, Facebook is not a media company. And Silicon Valley-based companies, including Google and Facebook, have a solid history of asking forgiveness rather than permission, and with all due respect to Wired, operating as net-states does not somehow exclude them from adhering to the laws of the land. Says Politico, “When (Senator Al) Franken, in an especially fiery exchange, asked Twitter, Google and Facebook if they would commit to not accepting foreign money payments on election-related advertisements, saying he wanted a simple “yes” or “no” answer from the platforms — and wanted to know why Facebook didn’t catch Russian agents purchasing ads sooner. Stretch said he hesitated on the foreign currency question because “it’s relatively easy for bad actors to switch currencies. So it’s a signal but not enough.” .., and Google Law Enforcement and Information Security Director Richard Salgado said Google would need to have a good enough “signal” that the transaction was illegal to keep it from going through. “Foreigners can’t use money in our campaign, you know that?” Franken said.”
Being lawyers, hopefully they’d known that and given the army of lawyers that both Facebook and Google employ, not a far stretch to think that someone knew.
With legislators now considering passing a bill to make the tech companies accountable for their actions , “Not a single one of the three tech giants would commit to supporting Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.)’s Honest Ads Act, which would require disclosures about political advertising on their platforms. All three have rolled out and touted work to independently address the issue of ads, following the introduction of the bill.”
And we know what happens when these tech companies are given free rein to police themselves. They pay lip service to the regulators and it’s back to business as usual.
“The US can’t keep just shooting terrorists; ideas are the gun in this knife fight. And the keepers of ideas—the places people turn to set them free and watch them spread—are the net-states; not the nation-states,” contends the Wired piece. “Nation-states ignore our non-state, net-state world order at all our peril.”
Agreed and if we allow them to always do what they’ve always done – operate without restriction and accountability, and, judging from their responses to the Senate, again, we proceed at our own peril. Onward and forward.