EconByte

Issue 22/2019

Platform or publisher?

There is no debate that social media began as a platform. As I wrote in Issue 16/2019:

"Just to be clear, social networks are not publishers, they're platforms. If an article is shared on Twitter, that doesn't suddenly make Twitter the article's publisher; it's simply one of many distribution platforms for that article... Blaming platforms because you don't like the content people distribute on them very quickly starts to resemble blaming books because you don't like the content printed in them."

The censors and their legion of snowflakes have acknowledged that point, so they've been pushing hard for social media platforms to become publishers. And big tech is walking right into it:

"Facebook today removed Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones, Paul Nehlen, Milo Yiannopoulos, Paul Joseph Watson, Laura Loomer, and Infowars from Facebook and Instagram, saying their accounts violated its policies against dangerous individuals and organizations. They will be prohibited from creating new accounts, although Facebook and Instagram users will continue to be able to create posts praising them and their viewpoints, the company said. Facebook did not disclose all of the incidents that led to the accounts’ removal, saying that it had made the decisions following a period of review.

...

Twitter said a “substantial portion” of its 4,100-person global workforce are involved in reviewing content.

...

Alphabet’s ... expenses have surged faster than revenue for much of the past two years, concerning some investors amid increased scrutiny on the company’s privacy practices and YouTube. Google said in its letter it has more than 10,000 people working across the company on content review."

These companies have voluntarily moved away from platform status, where users are (mostly) in control of the content shared on that platform, into the realm of publishing, where they more closely resemble traditional media outlets (e.g. newspapers). The problem is that in doing so, they have opened themselves up to the same rules and regulations that publishers face, hence the enormous expenditure on content moderation. As large-scale publishers they now need armies of lawyers and moderators (i.e. editors) to process the enormous quantity of content that their users (i.e. freelancers) upload and share.

Just to clarify, I'm not saying that platforms can use their status to shirk all responsibility for the content uploaded to their servers; things like the shooting video in Christchurch should absolutely have been taken down as soon as possible, as social norms make pretty clear (unlike the Alex Jones decision, which more than 20 Facebook and Instagram executives debated for months).

But Facebook, Twitter and YouTube barely resemble platforms any more. By moving in a direction so far beyond the content moderation threshold dictated by social norms they have laid the groundwork to one day be forced to surrender their platform status. And that eventual transition from platform to publisher creates a few problems.

  • First, costs will rise enormously. Facebook, Google (sucked into this mess via YouTube) and Twitter will find themselves spending more and more on content moderation and defending lawsuits.
  • Second, it opens them up to competition. While they have the first-mover and network effect advantage for the moment, who's to say an alternative won't come along and stress the "platform" aspect of its rival service?
  • Third and finally, it may fundamentally change the internet as we know it. The likes of the European union are passing privacy-focused, innovation-stifling legislation on a seemingly daily basis. Other countries will follow. How long until the "China model" becomes more widespread (Australia for example is already well on its way)?

Whatever the case, I don't like big tech's transition from platform to publisher. There's a risk they become utilified in the process, walling off competition and locking in an inefficient "path" for years to come. But with any luck they'll become the architects of their own downfall before that happens.

Enjoy the rest of this week's issue. Cheers,

— Justin

The bits


Elon's subsidies are out of this world

No, not SpaceX. Apparently the new Tesla Model 3 destined for Canada has a range of only 150km. Sounds horrible, right? But there's a catch: it has a price tag of $44,999, meaning it qualifies for a $5,000 government grant by a meagre $1. As it's the "base model", all other versions under $55,000 - including the more expensive 386km Model 3 - are also eligible for the grant. Elon really knows how to work a subsidy!

Learn more:


Apple is finding business in China very tough

Just ask Apple: it's hard to compete in a place with a completely different culture and the government helps out its local companies at the expense of foreigners. Having ridiculously overpriced products doesn't help, either.

Learn more:


Don't rely on infrastructure for security

Whether it's China's Huawei or Germany's Citycom, it doesn't matter. Infrastructure is inherently vulnerable and data need to be encrypted at rest and in transit to be secure.

Learn more:


Facebook is fighting for relevance

Facebook's F8 - what a name - and a redesign are its latest attempts to stay relevant in an increasingly privacy-focused world. It's also putting its "judo move" into effect, where "entire classes of scandal are invisible to the media".

Learn more:



Image of the week

View source
Robots in 1932

The year is 1932 and the fear of the day is... robots! Sound familiar?

"Machine energy has already rendered a part of the human race obsolete and a further part obsolescent... With robots running things mankind faces the same kind of situation which put the ox, mule and horse out of business says this writer. What we must do to keep our enormous overproduction of LEISURE from destroying US."

That's all for now. If you enjoyed this issue, feel free to share it.

Platform or publisher? was compiled by Dr Justin Pyvis. Feel free to send feedback, suggestions for future issues, ideas, insults, or pretty much anything that crosses your mind to his Keybase chat.