Forgot your password?



Back to login

Social Media threat to society and security
February 24, 2018, 3:06 pm
Share/Bookmark

The current moment in world history is a painful one. Open societies are in crisis, and various forms of dictatorships and mafia states are on the rise.

Mankind’s ability to harness the forces of nature, both for constructive and destructive purposes, continues to grow, while our ability to govern ourselves properly fluctuates, and is now at a low ebb.

The rise and monopolistic behavior of giant American Internet platform companies is contributing to the impotence of governments. These companies have grown ever more powerful and have caused a variety of problems of which we are only now beginning to become aware.

Companies earn their profits by exploiting their environment. Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment. This is particularly nefarious, because these companies influence how people think and behave without them even being aware of it. This interferes with the functioning of democracy and the integrity of elections.

For instance, Facebook and Google effectively control over half of all digital advertising revenue. To maintain their dominance, they need to expand their networks and increase their share of users’ attention. Currently they do this by providing users with a convenient platform. The more time users spend on the platform, the more valuable they become to the companies.

Moreover, because content providers cannot avoid using the platforms and must accept whatever terms they are offered, they, too, contribute to the profits of social media companies. Indeed, the exceptional profitability of these companies is largely a function of their avoiding responsibility and payment for the content on their platforms.

 

The companies claim that they are merely distributing information. But the fact that they are near-monopoly distributors makes them public utilities and should subject them to more stringent regulation, aimed at preserving competition, innovation, and fair and open access.

Social media companies deceive their users by manipulating their attention, directing it toward their own commercial purposes, and deliberately engineering addiction to the services they provide. This can be very harmful, particularly for adolescents.

There is a similarity between internet platforms and gambling companies. Casinos have developed techniques to hook customers to the point that they gamble away all of their money, even money they do not have.

Something similar, and potentially irreversible, is happening to human attention in our digital age. This is not a matter of mere distraction or addiction; social media companies are actually inducing people to surrender their autonomy. And this power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies.

This would have far-reaching political consequences. People without the freedom of mind can be easily manipulated. There is an even more alarming prospect on the horizon: an alliance between authoritarian states and large, data-rich IT monopolies, bringing together nascent systems of corporate surveillance with already-developed systems of state-sponsored surveillance. This may well result in a web of totalitarian control the likes of which not even George Orwell could have imagined.

US-based IT monopolies are already tempted to compromise themselves in order to gain entrance to these vast and fast-growing markets. These countries’ dictatorial leaders may be only too happy to collaborate with them, in the interest of improving their methods of control over their own populations and expanding their power and influence in the United States and the rest of the world.

The internet monopolies have neither the will nor the inclination to protect society against the consequences of their actions. That turns them into a public menace, and it is the regulatory authorities’ responsibility to protect society against them. In the US, regulators are not strong enough to stand up to the monopolies’ political influence. The EU is better positioned, because it does not have any platform giants of its own.

The EU uses a different definition of monopoly power from the US. Whereas US law enforcement focuses primarily on monopolies created by acquisition, EU law prohibits the abuse of monopoly power regardless of how it is achieved. Europe has much stronger privacy and data protection laws than America.

Moreover, US law has adopted a strange doctrine that measures harm as an increase in the price paid by customers for services received. But that is almost impossible to prove, given that most giant internet platforms provide a majority of their services for free. Moreover, the doctrine leaves out of consideration the valuable data that platform companies collect from their users.

The EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager is the champion of the European approach. It took the EU seven years to build a case against Google. But, as a result of its success, the process of instituting adequate regulation has been greatly accelerated. Moreover, thanks to Vestager’s efforts, the European approach has begun to affect attitudes in the US.

It is only a matter of time before the global dominance of the US Internet companies is broken. Regulation and taxation, spearheaded by Vestager, will be their undoing.

George Soros

Chairman of Soros Fund Management and of the Open Society Foundations, is the author of The Tragedy of the European Union: Disintegration or Revival?

 

Share your views
CAPTCHA
 

"It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed."

"Envy comes from wanting something that isn't yours. But grief comes from losing something you've already had."

Photo Gallery