These people are fun, aren’t they?

Joe Biden has not hidden his disdain for Silicon Valley. Months before extremists stormed the Capitol, he warned that Facebook’s laissez-faire attitude to misinformation could “corrode our democracy”. He pledged to revoke immediately the digital giants’ shield against liability, which is the bedrock of the internet as we know it. On Wednesday, just a week into his presidency, he will be handed fresh evidence of Big Tech’s domination when the industry unveils another record set of financial results.

Consider Facebook. Analysts at Société Générale recently downgraded the stock to “sell”, simply because it was running out of human beings to sign up. After a sharp rise over the summer, more than 3.1 billion people use one of its apps at least once a month.

It is worth thinking about that number. About four billion people globally were on the internet in 2019, according to the International Telecommunications Union. Assuming a typical 7.5% annual increase for 2020, to 4.3 billion, then exclude the 900 million internet users in China, where Facebook is barred, and Mark Zuckerberg has reached 91% of the available market.

Someone creates something stunningly popular, free, which sweeps the global population.

Politics insists that politics will have to do something about that.

36 thoughts on “These people are fun, aren’t they?”

  1. Bloke in North Dorset

    Anthony Davies, who is currently the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education told an interesting, and related, story on the recent edition of the Words and Numbers podcast.

    In the DotCom boom he was the CEO of a supercomputing start-up in New York. He says that investors were throwing money at them, and everyone other tech start-up, and the phone never stopped ringing because everyone wanted to find the next Microsoft.

    Then a judge decided that Microsoft was too big and needed breaking up and immediately the phone stopped ringing and they couldn’t get funding. Whilst this wasn’t the cause of the bust he reckons it played a big part. Its difficult to prove because the decision wasn’t reversed until 8/11 and after that all bets were off.

    We’ll never know what new technologies, and even competition to Microsoft, didn’t get funded because of that decision.

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    Trump showed that politicians could reach the voters without the filter of the bought-and-paid-for mainstream media. Everyone has been freaking out ever since.

    The solution is to bring the freedom of the internet to an end. It must not allow people to use it in a way that our rulers do not like. It cannot disturb the oligarchy in power.

    Facebook and everyone else will have to become an e-Pravda.

  3. Hang on
    Facebook et Al are not ‘free internet’. Brave crusaders against The Man

    They are data slurping, data harvesting parasites that sell your details to eeeeevil marketeers and spam merchants

    It is clear that they also have a political viewpoint and are quite happy to suppress opposing view points

    Add to that their propensity to publish disinformation or downright lies and I have absolutely no time for them

    They are at least partially responsible for Biden, there is a delicious irony in him turning against them

  4. “Consider Facebook. Analysts at Société Générale recently downgraded the stock to “sell”, simply because it was running out of human beings to sign up.”

    I remember looking at Facebook’s profits and market cap a few years ago and wondering how this wasn’t factored in. $780bn company that makes $18bn profit. That’s a large P/E when you’ve saturated the market.

    And Facebook have almost no moat. Someone else makes some good decisions and Facebook is about gone in 5 years.

  5. “And Facebook have almost no moat. Someone else makes some good decisions and Facebook is about gone in 5 years.”

    They’ll make sure they buy up potential rivals at the embryo stage. Won’t cost much to fill some internet startup’s mouth with gold.

  6. The FAANG’s are not going to be touched: they pulled Joe over the line and he wants them to suppress any other Hunter stories for him as and when they arrive 🙁

  7. What Starfish said:
    Farcebook have brought this on themselves by their banning of any and all comment critical of their preferred narrative, no conservative viewpoints, no dissent. Now the Dems, being lefty shitheads, are cutting their protections out from under them so the things they did to Trump cant be done to Gropin’ Joe and the Scrubber. Back to soup recipes and cat pictures in 5..4..3..2….

  8. Tend to agree with Rupert.
    Although a raft of regulations which makes start-ups impractical, hence providing the moat, is quite likely.

  9. SMFS is correct (Hillary Clinton, btw, was screeching harpily about the dangers of proles being allowed to say whatever they want on the internet circa 1999 – whichever sulphuric entity she sold her wretched soul to granted the bitch remarkable prescience)

    Facebook is already ePravda though and has been for years, not because of government interfetterence, but because it wants to be. Turns out bog standard Libertarian theory is wrong – it’s not only money they’re interested in and some types of pecunia do olet. Ascending the social dominance hierarchy, then kicking down at anybody else trying to clamber up that pyramid, is more important because it’s a biological imperative hard-wired into social animals.

    What happened in the US a few days ago wasn’t simply the installation of a new, illegitimate regime which even the most pavlovian lefties are struggling to pretend to be enthusiastic about. It’s the merger of historically unprecedented corporate and government power into what Orwell, with his characteristic eloquent pessimism, called the “unconquerable state”.

    Btw, Eric Blair – touched as he was by the God he didn’t believe in – was more prescient still than La Clinton. Here’s what he said in 1945:

    When James Burnham wrote THE MANAGERIAL REVOLUTION it seemed probable to many Americans that the Germans would win the European end of the war, and it was therefore natural to assume that Germany and not Russia would dominate the Eurasian land mass, while Japan would remain master of East Asia. This was a miscalculation, but it does not affect the main argument. For Burnham’s geographical picture of the new world has turned out to be correct. More and more obviously the surface of the earth is being parceled off into three great empires, each self-contained and cut off from contact with the outer world, and each ruled, under one disguise or another, by a self-elected oligarchy. The haggling as to where the frontiers are to be drawn is still going on, and will continue for some years, and the third of the three super-states—East Asia, dominated by China—is still potential rather than actual. But the general drift is unmistakable, and every scientific discovery of recent years has accelerated it.

    Yes, yes, he got some of the details wrong (we have the opposite problem of being “cut off” from the other superstates, we’re too damn entangled). But the broad strokes capture the current state of global affairs and the nature of its power relationships uncannily well.

  10. Surely the tech companies have already demonstrated their desire to censor all views except progressive ones, and Biden is merely providing the political cover they need to complete the job?

    A brutal online Kristallnacht, with the tech companies able to claim that politicians are making them do it. It could be called a conspiracy, if they were making any attempt to hide their intentions.

  11. Jim,

    “They’ll make sure they buy up potential rivals at the embryo stage. Won’t cost much to fill some internet startup’s mouth with gold.”

    But filling the startup’s mouth with gold encourages more VC investment in companies producing social networks to get Facebook’s gold. At a certain point, that’s going to be too much money, even for Facebook.

  12. I saw a meme on Powerline’s Week in Pictures yesterday, (I think it was in the comments).

    It went: There’s a child in a small town in Arkansas whose mother is a stripper, whose father is a crack addict and whose Grandfather is the 46th President of the USA.

    A nice comment on Biden family values.

  13. Politicians have long had a problem with this freedom of speech thing, and now that anyone can shout their views to the world they feel that it has really gotten out of hand. However, Facebook is trying to mollify the party in power in an effort to protect itself. Should the political pendulum swing figure they’ll then try to mollify the other side.

  14. Anyone remember the licences for journalists proposal from a few years back? Horrible nasty bloggers to be excluded? It wasn’t that long ago.

    After the tremendous growth over the latter half of the 19th century, there was consolidation into a relative handful of nationals and larger regionals by the early 20th. They effectively become gatekeepers for the government and the political parties – determining which information has what prominence according how well they can define their audience. Which has always been more interested in “Selina shows off her curvy new figure in a daring bikini whilst on holiday in the Seychelles with her new beau, Big Dave from Rotherham” than anything else.

    UK newspapers’ claim to be legitimate gatekeepers to politics and government information – that part of news – has always been a bit rocky as a result. And its been under pressure from radio and TV for quite a while – as they have a major advantage in timeliness. The position got worse once the talk radio format got invented, shortly followed by the 24 hour rolling news TV format, both of which put pressure upon reporting depth (analysis) and opinion.

    Which probably wouldn’t matter that much if Google et al hadn’t utterly collapsed advertising display rates, which were already under pressure anyway due to the explosion of bandwidth (giving many more identifiable audience segments – channels) as digital broadcasting got rolled out.

    However, the ability of the media generally to claim legitimacy from their audiences for the gatekeeper role was cruelly exposed by the MPs’ expenses scandal – journalists and editors didn’t want to touch it, initially. Far too damaging to their privileged access.

    The gatekeeper role itself arises from having publisher status as opposed to common carrier. As publishers, most of the people and entities that frequently interact with the media can be reasonably confident that what is published is reasonably accurate, sins of omission notwithstanding. Otherwise, they get their arses sued.

    “Fake News” is simply something that the publishers can’t be bothered to make sure stands up – it ultimately boils down to “anything we haven’t published”, where “published” is synonymous with “authorised”.

    And given the activities of Piers Morgan whilst at the Mirror, amongst others, it’s not entirely clear that they are actually that fussed about the idea of accuracy or truth anyway – or not until they can determine significant personal downsides.

    But even this might not actually matter either, as shown here; https://www.pressgazette.co.uk/survey-finds-that-uk-written-press-is-by-some-way-the-least-trusted-in-europe/. In short, the EBU found that UK written media had a negative net trust rating of 51, and social media of minus 49. The general internet is minus 33.

    Nobody, in the UK at least, trusts any of the fuckers anyway. Unless it’s radio. (For other EBU members, the numbers by media outlet seem to be all over the damn place. Interesting.)

    So, the UK press has a problem. Advertising revenues (the bulk of income) have collapsed. What’s worse, the EBU numbers suggest that the absolute worst outlet for advertisers to use is the traditional print media.

    No wonder they’re shitting themselves.

    And Facebook and social media have exactly the same problem. Additionally, Facebook got caught hawking around dodgy audience numbers a few years back – they claimed significantly more active US users in the 18-25ish age group than the US Census numbers suggest actually exist. Further, Facebook’s revenue generation model has been bolted on at 90 degrees to the vast majority of users’ actual use case. Nobody cares whether Big Dave likes Tesco, regardless of how cleverly Facebook pushes it at you. But entering search terms into Google, pulling the results back, does suggest some potential interest in a product or service, if the search terms match.

    The result is that Facebook, Twitter et al will never generate revenues capable of supporting current or historic valuations. Not while Google is around. It also suggests that the network valuation model is wrong or at least inaccurate, particularly for closed networks, regardless of size. And none of the buggers are inter-operable.

    If they were inter-operable, they would basically be common carriers. Access to the entirety of the network would be valuable, but probably not hugely so – revenues would be on a par with existing, inter-operable, telecoms operators, but nowhere near Google, Amazon or anyone else.

    And Facebook saw this coming. They jumped for Libra, fancying that if they could establish themselves as part of the payments or shadow banking networks, then they could grab a slice of some hot moral hazard action, and avoid all the looming political fall-out.

    But they fucked it up.

    Throwing Trump off was an act of desperation, hoping that it would buy some time from the incoming administration. But it’s just enraged the whole lot of them. Why would the Republicans, anybody at all, ally with them now?

  15. Is there not a case to be made that the tech companies are essentially government departments now, being handed free (printed) money via government proxies in exchange for all the data that people willingly supply about themselves? After all, a back door into these systems precludes the need for a gigantic surveillance State and all that inconvenient Congressional oversight:

    The Ministry of Where You Go (Google/Apple)
    The Ministry of What You Say (Twitter)
    The Ministry of Who You Know (Facebook)
    The Ministry of What You’re Thinking About (Google)
    The Ministry of What You Buy (Amazon)

    P.S – You’ll probably still need some petty cash to pay “Edward Snowden” to keep reminding us about the NSA data centres, lest we realise they never needed any.

  16. Ivor – isn’t it the case that the government is effectively offering to swap freedom to monopolise in exchange for data?

    Off topic somewhat – has Creepy Joe announced anything which gives us a proper steer on his approach to China?

  17. “Months before extremists stormed the Capitol”

    A new convention: Trump supporters are “extremists” while antifa and BLM are “activists”.

    I assume that the Beeb may be using this convention too?

  18. Steve,

    “Facebook is already ePravda though and has been for years, not because of government interfetterence, but because it wants to be. Turns out bog standard Libertarian theory is wrong – it’s not only money they’re interested in and some types of pecunia do olet. Ascending the social dominance hierarchy, then kicking down at anybody else trying to clamber up that pyramid, is more important because it’s a biological imperative hard-wired into social animals.”

    It’s about the money.

    Facebook are paid by advertisers and advertisers want 18-34 year olds, generally. These are the people who are still dumb enough to think that wearing the same sunglasses as David Beckham or driving a shiny new car will make their lives better, that they will be transformed from Morlock to Eloi. And it’s like printing money when it works. A good cheap thing becomes a really expensive thing with the addition of a logo and a nice photoshoot.

    What these Gorgeous Product people really do not want, what they get pretty hot about, is advertising their stuff next to anything nasty. Like companies advertising in Cosmo have a whole lot of rules about what can’t be on the same 2 pages. And Cosmo goes along with it. It then of course, changes Cosmo’s output. And their agencies are doing the same things with Facebook. They want the kids still thinking the product is cool rather than associating it with some old Trumpster.

  19. Ducky,

    That’s all really good, thanks,

    UK newspapers’ claim to be legitimate gatekeepers to politics and government information – that part of news – has always been a bit rocky as a result. And its been under pressure from radio and TV for quite a while – as they have a major advantage in timeliness. The position got worse once the talk radio format got invented, shortly followed by the 24 hour rolling news TV format, both of which put pressure upon reporting depth (analysis) and opinion.

    Which probably wouldn’t matter that much if Google et al hadn’t utterly collapsed advertising display rates, which were already under pressure anyway due to the explosion of bandwidth (giving many more identifiable audience segments – channels) as digital broadcasting got rolled out.”

    It’s also the case that the access of everyone to the media means that they can’t compete on depth. If there’s a computer security matter out there in the world, some “tech correspondent” with a degree in classics doesn’t know anything. He has to go and find someone like Bruce Schneier, ask him some questions and probably mangle it. So this is being replaced by people just retweeting Schneier’s own blog where he wrote it all up himself.

    Which then leads to the hilarious situation of newspapers reporting tweets. And simultaneously complaining that no-one wants to pay for their content.

  20. Given Facebook does censor people – including presidents – why should Facebook be exempt from liability for libel?

  21. Bloke in North Dorset

    Good post Ducky.

    However, the ability of the media generally to claim legitimacy from their audiences for the gatekeeper role was cruelly exposed by the MPs’ expenses scandal – journalists and editors didn’t want to touch it, initially. Far too damaging to their privileged access.

    I think the grooming scandal was the biggest moral failure. They can’t claim they didn’t know, I saw people pushing those claims on BBC forums in 2005 so the press must have also been getting tips.

  22. Bloke in North Dorset

    MC

    Off topic somewhat – has Creepy Joe announced anything which gives us a proper steer on his approach to China?

    There’s quite a good Cato Daily Podcast on this subject.

    Apparently Blinken is already on record as saying that Mitt Romney called it right on China in 2012, although he didn’t apologise for the way his boss, Obama, went after Romney on that subject.

    They also reckon that Biden’s revoking of Trump’s policies by EO is more instructive by looking at the ones he didn’t reverse, Trump’s EOs on China weren’t touched,

    As they point out, Biden will quietly count himself lucky that Trump did the hard yards on that and a number of other subjects.

    Watch what Biden doesn’t do, not what he does, seems to be the best way to see what he’s really up to. The real question is was the bone on trans rights big enough to keep his own idiot wing at bay long enough for him to govern reasonably sensibly.

  23. What facebook does is no different from what the old publishing houses did..

    You got your newspaper/glossy outlets from a publishing house. All the “minor” specialist stuff got published by smaller or private publishers. If one of those lil’ones gains enough traction to be noticeable you simply buy them out, and incorporate the stuff it dealt with in your regular outlets.

    The whole discussion here has one single flaw: It globalises a US-centric problem, by a US company, played by US rules, on a US playground.
    The internet is a wee bit bigger than the US, and there’s plenty of options for people to go to, or start up themselves.
    Sure, it’s like old-fashioned flyering in pubs and student halls, and it will never generate the kind of cash of the Big Ones. But the people doing that, and looking for it are not sitting still, and quite often remember the days of UseNet and IRC, and the flyering.

    FaceTwatGram can censor what they will, or get broken up, or… The actual horses have already jumped the fence, and have formed new herds. The internet is only restrictive if you play by their rules. Which more and more people find out are entirely self-inflicted and easily avoided.

  24. BiND – yeah, that’s a shocking failure all by itself, but I started with the blogging/licensing brou-haha and Rachel whats-her-face and the MPs scandal presented itself.

    But, yeah. Fucking terrible. The arseholes got themselves into a position where I’d have to be double checking the bloody football scores, and they did it all by themselves.

    Failures cascade and all that, but sweet fucking Jesus. Honestly. Just how fucking stupid do how many of them have to be?

  25. “The Internet” is akin to “electricity”. Trying to regulate “the internet” is akin to trying to regulate Ohm’s law. Facebook et al are The Web not The Internet. Unless you have a large pair of choppers or anti-satellite weaponry you can’t cut off the internet. It’s like trying to regulate the content of The News of the World by attacking newsprint manufacturers.

  26. BoM4; yeah, that’s one of the things about current news reporting that really winds me right up.

    You scroll down, and see “have you been affected by this? Got any pictures?” No mate. You want to get paid, you do your fucking job. Properly. I’m not bloody doing it for you, you lazy little shit.

    Although funnily enough, if the journalists retained enough nous to identify a domain expert, and rang them up, why would said expert actually bother with the conversation? The press can stitch you up good and proper anyway, so why? Lots of other channels.

  27. You get into the habit of suspecting that the people monetising these things are not reliable. It leads to cynicism

  28. MC – “isn’t it the case that the government is effectively offering to swap freedom to monopolise in exchange for data?”

    Well, yes – the government chose not to prevent the formation of a tech oligopoly because it was a way of developing a surveillance state at arm’s length. Plausibly deniable and unaccountable too.

    My suspicion is that they used the same Cuckoo method here as they did to the media forty years ago – “We don’t know how to make propaganda that people enjoy consuming, so let’s wait until someone else makes content that people enjoy consuming and then embed our propaganda within it”

    A show becomes popular, and by the third series it’s become social engineering.

    At some point, someone invited each tech oligarchs to lunch and explained the lay of the land.

    “Give us all the data and we’ll make sure you can stay a billionaire playboy”?

    P.S – A similar conversation has perhaps been had with Krugman at some point too – “Give us intellectual cover for QE/UBI/MMT and we’ll make you a star”

  29. Grikath;

    Yeah. The Yorks Ranter has the phrase “North Atlantic Bullshit Conveyor”. There appear to be specific historic or cultural or structural reasons as to why “fake news” might be a specific problem in the US. And the EBU numbers do seem to be all over the place, suggesting the UK is less distant from the US than others.

    But then, never let a good moral panic go to waste, eh?

  30. Apparently Blinken is already on record as saying that Mitt Romney called it right on China in 2012, although he didn’t apologise for the way his boss, Obama, went after Romney on that subject.

    Romney called Russia the big geo-political threat in 2012 (when Obama responded with his “the 1980s called” remark).

    They also reckon that Biden’s revoking of Trump’s policies by EO is more instructive by looking at the ones he didn’t reverse, Trump’s EOs on China weren’t touched

    Apart from the one keeping China out of the US power grid.
    https://thenationalpulse.com/news/biden-revokes-trump-energy-eo/

  31. Ivor: That’s how “designated driver” got embedded into American culture, loads of sitcom writers were persuaded to include the message in plots. Similarly, the embedded cultural expectation that you can’t buy alcohol under 21 or have sex under 18 – all the messages in movies and TV say that. It became such a cultural expectation that by 1985 all states had raised their drinks age to 21 with barely anybody noticing that it ever used to be lower. In more than half the US sex is legal at 16, but from the media you’d think it was uniformly 18.

  32. I am currently reading a book called “no filter” by Saran Frier. It tells the story of Instagram and has a lot of inside talk of Facebook who bought it. I knew a lot of young people were shallow and easily duped but this has really opened my eyes to the bullshit and manipulation going on.

  33. The booze age was interesting. I got to the US to live – for the first time – just as the age was going up. I’d – just – gone 18 before the local allowable age rose by a year. So, as a teen I was grandfathered in to being allowed to drink. People 3 months younger couldn’t.

    From memory, not a reliable thing at this distance, I could drink beer in VA and beer and spirits in DC.

  34. If the same standards were applied to those in government, Maxine Waters, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, AOC, Ilhan Omar, Rashid Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush and Joe Biden himself would all be removed from office, or at least forced to pay hefty fines for their role in enabling and supporting riots.

    OR, we could just hold individuals, not the tools they use or vague societal forces, responsible for their own actions. Apparently that just makes too much sense to the powers that be.

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