Mark Zuckerberg is founder and chief executive officer of Facebook, the world’s largest population. In reading his op-ed in the Washington Post, Mark Zuckerberg: The Internet needs new rules. Let’s start in these four areas, I was struck by its similarities to Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense, which for all practical purposes incited the Colonies to rebel against the King. Both of these manifestos deserve to be read in their entirety.
The main difference between the two writings is that Mark Zuckerberg either doesn’t realize or won’t admit that Facebook is not a company; it’s a country. By the numbers, it’s the largest country on Earth.
In short, Facebook does not need to be regulated; it needs to be governed. The question is, how? Should Facebook become a constitutional republic (like the United States), or should it evolve into a benevolent dictatorship (like Rome under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, circa 161 CE, who is generally recognized as the last benevolent emperor of Rome)?
If you use “of the people, by the people, for the people” vs. “of the people, by Mark Zuckerberg, for the shareholders” as a discussion starter, you will be surprised how quickly your thoughts about regulation evolve.
On March 30, 2019, Mark Zuckerberg wrote:
Technology is a major part of our lives, and companies such as Facebook have immense responsibilities. Every day, we make decisions about what speech is harmful, what constitutes political advertising, and how to prevent sophisticated cyberattacks. These are important for keeping our community safe. But if we were starting from scratch, we wouldn’t ask companies to make these judgments alone.
I believe we need a more active role for governments and regulators. By updating the rules for the Internet, we can preserve what’s best about it — the freedom for people to express themselves and for entrepreneurs to build new things — while also protecting society from broader harms.
From what I’ve learned, I believe we need new regulation in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability.
Now it’s time for some Common Sense. Replace the word “society” in the text below with “Facebook.” Then, after you’ve read it that way, put “society” back and replace the word “government” with “Facebook.”
On February 14, 1776, Thomas Paine wrote:
Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.
Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a Government, which we might expect in a country without Government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other law-giver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him, out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.
In order to gain a clear and just idea of the design and end of government, let us suppose a small number of persons settled in some sequestered part of the earth, unconnected with the rest; they will then represent the first peopling of any country, or of the world. In this state of natural liberty, society will be their first thought. A thousand motives will excite them thereto; the strength of one man is so unequal to his wants, and his mind so unfitted for perpetual solitude, that he is soon obliged to seek assistance and relief of another, who in his turn requires the same. Four or five united would be able to raise a tolerable dwelling in the midst of a wilderness, but one man might labor out the common period of life without accomplishing anything; when he had felled his timber he could not remove it, nor erect it after it was removed; hunger in the meantime would urge him to quit his work, and every different want would call him a different way. Disease, nay even misfortune, would be death; for though neither might be mortal, yet either would disable him from living, and reduce him to a state in which he might rather be said to perish than to die.
Thus necessity, like a gravitating power, would soon form our newly arrived emigrants into society, the reciprocal blessings of which would supersede, and render the obligations of law and government unnecessary while they remained perfectly just to each other; but as nothing but Heaven is impregnable to vice, it will unavoidably happen that in proportion as they surmount the first difficulties of emigration, which bound them together in a common cause, they will begin to relax in their duty and attachment to each other: and this remissness will point out the necessity of establishing some form of government to supply the defect of moral virtue.
Regulation vs. Governance
Is Facebook really a country? It is a population of over 2.5 billion people who have self-assembled. They vote on every issue with their attention and pay taxes with their data. I would argue that Facebook is not a country; it is a new form of human bureaucracy designed to transcend our naturally selected limitations on our abilities to determine friend from foe. I would also argue that data has become universally accepted as a form of currency (because it can easily be translated into wealth). And if you accept that as an axiom of the 21st century, then the inequality between the data-rich aristocracy and the data-poor proletariat makes the wealth accumulated by Egyptian pharaohs, Roman emperors, and even rulers of ancient Chinese dynasties look insignificant by comparison.
So, should Facebook be regulated or governed by its users? Or do you have a better idea? I’d love your opinion.