when facebook whistleblower Francis Haugen appeared before Congress last week, looking like it may finally be a turning point. Haugen’s testimony spelled a major crisis for a company that until recently seemed unable to be regulated, and was unlikely to break up. The scams in the past have made a splash, yet in no way has there been any meaningful change. But if history is any indication, the tide is about to turn.
Haugen, who revealed internal documents that the company was aware of damage to its products, said it wants to fix rather than destroy Facebook, but these aren’t the only two options. Third, regulation is not about patching broken, dangerous companies and their products, but about changing the social, political and business landscape that allowed them to operate as unruly, violent, destructive entities. Gave. This not only ensures that losses to existing companies are prevented but also that new companies cannot replace them and continue with the same destructive business model. As we approach the peak of Facebook news fatigue, it’s worth remembering that America has a strong historical precedent for regulating new technologies in this way. And this long lead has almost always been part of it.
To understand how Facebook will land after its fall from grace, we need to look at the striking parallels between the regulatory battle of the past and what’s happening now. Before there was Big Tech, there were the Big Three: Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors—and an infamous memo that cemented in the collective consciousness of the American public that strong regulation was a necessity, not a good. While it may be difficult to see through the haze of history, there are significant parallels between Big Tech today and the US auto industry in the mid-20th century, which once seemed an unstoppable juggernaut.
US government Regulating new technological infrastructure has a long history for consumer protection – from communication technologies like phones to energy technologies like oil to transportation technologies like cars. In each case, the difficulty of regulating these industries – how entangled they are in the functioning of the nation – was, initially, seen as an argument for abandoning the regulations. The idea that burning coal could be subject to laws, or that there could be a worthwhile effort to prevent corporations from dumping all of their industrial pollutants into rivers, unless those rivers regularly caught fire , seemed impossible at first. Governed by overly powerful and profitable companies, destructive industries are often given a free pass on the grounds that they would be too hard to stop.
This is because once technological systems are established enough to do noticeable, widespread social and political damage, they already become the necessary infrastructure to minimize their complete removal. Less are widely used to make them as harmful as their continued use. For each of these industries, their power seemed undeniable, and the novelty of the technologies of the time meant that regulation would be impossibly sluggish and regulators would be less aware. Nevertheless, each of these industries eventually faced deregulation, and often individual companies suffered breakups, as losses rise to the level of social or political crisis at a certain point in this historical cycle.
Exactly the same situation is with Facebook. Over the years, the innovation of the Internet economy has left it, both as a company and a product, untouched by the same kinds of consumer complaints, litigation, and corporate responsibility that allowed older technology companies to produce more tangible goods like cars or computers. disturbed. When a 2016 memo from Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth announced that the loss of life would be worth the company’s growth, for example, the company seemed to emerge as a whole. Even as whistleblower Sophie Zhang gathered evidence that political manipulation and destructive use of the platform was a global problem, and as the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke out, the company’s leaders appeared largely untouchable, and Facebook Calls to regulate seemed half-hearted and unlikely to succeed. in America. Meanwhile, calls for many other countries to break their grip on the information landscape seemed almost impossible. The dismantling of the company and its assets – which include WhatsApp, Instagram and Oculus in a clever move of horizontal integration online – saw most technology commentators as an unlikely, even unnecessary, possibility.
But the idea that Facebook’s technical base is so complex that they can’t be audited, and that its business model is moving so fast it can’t be slowed down, is ultimately being overtaken by its undeniable dangers. A range of disastrous consequences, from political manipulation of free elections to violence against minority populations to harm young people, and even public health misinformation, have prolonged and worsened an epidemic. Destroying the pleasant imagination, the company’s products produce a net positive for society.
In the case of the US auto industry, the need for not only regulation but also an enforcement agency to ensure compliance was not immediately clear. The need and wisdom to actively regulate that infrastructural technology, rather than relying on the assumption that consumer choice was the primary mechanism for harm avoidance, was recognized only after decades of damage and whistling and investigative journalism. Was.
like the ubiquitous internet Platforms, Detroit of the mid-20th century, did something most Americans felt they couldn’t live without and quickly became dependent. As suburban sprawl engulfed areas around cities, racist resource allocation hollowed out urban centers and encouraged white flight. As a result, a growing number of Americans needed one or more cars. State and federal government resources went toward building as many roads as possible to ensure that automobile traffic remains uncontrolled, even—or exclusively—at the expense of those who could not afford automobiles. Or those that were structurally forbidden from moving out of neighborhoods that were sharply cut in half and destroyed by eminent domain efforts to purchase more land for highways in and out of cities.
At this time, the Big Three also seemed invincible, with the help of powerful business and government interests rolling over the American landscape, while colluding with each other illegally, and against the public interest and public safety, always. for more profit.
When Lawyer and Activist Ralph Nader’s 1965 bestseller came to a blazing conclusion unsafe at any speed As American public discourse began to explode, auto executives stood before Congress. He told the American public and those representing them that they were doing their best to make cars safer and less polluting and that there was little they could do to immediately reduce the damage their product could cause. Executives underestimate the scale of the public safety crisis and often claim they are unaware of the extent of damage their products cause to consumers. His answers, of course, were largely a chariot aimed at saving profits and preventing regulation for as long as possible. Ford’s president at the time, Arge Miller, candidly explained how his Lincoln Continental was safe enough to save his life in a freeway accident—the doors didn’t jam, the gas tank didn’t explode, and Miller narrowly escaped. . He pledged to ensure that Ford did everything possible to make safety even better for years to come.
But for the years that followed, Ford instead cut corners on safety, producing cars like the Ford Pinto, which introduced major safety features to reduce manufacturing costs to reach the market faster and maximize profits. swept aside. The infamous Ford Pinto in 1977″memorandum, “which was exposed by mother jones investigative journalist, detailed the company’s terrifying cost analysis of past and future accidents. According to the memo, the horrific deaths and full-body burns caused by Pinto’s occupants in rear-end collisions amounted to an acceptable damages, because once lawsuits or other settlements were paid, they were the cost of recovering Pinto. will be less than Design to protect the gas tank from explosion. NS Cost To fix the design was $11 per car. After public and government pressure, it was eventually implemented through a recall sought by the recently created National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Today, a similar scenario operates in the realm of Big Tech – a term that has become shorthand for ad-driven platforms and Internet-enabled arbitrage companies that drive down the cost of goods and services by squeezing both workers and consumers. . Whistleblowers from several companies, most of them women and many of them women of color, have stepped into the role of Nader in the ’60s—from Ifoma Ozoma, who rose to Pinterest and later worked make laws Sophie Zhang and now Francis Haugen, to ban the abusive practice of non-disclosure agreements for whistleblowers in California, and Timnit Gebru, who alerted the world to his lack of commitment to AI ethics. In each case, companies alike have attempted to silence, fire, or defame these workers, reserving their harshest treatment for women of color.
The need to change the region’s power structures is important not only for society but also for democracy: As Haugen’s testimony showed last week, Facebook didn’t channel its huge profits toward fixing known problems. …