"Private Sector Stasi" - Should Facebook, Google, And Twitter Be Public Utilities?

Authored by Charles Hugh Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

This opaque corporate censorship amounts to a private-sector Stasi, pursuing an Orwellian world of profits reaped from the censorship and suppression of dissent

My longtime friend GFB recently suggested I revisit my position on RussiaGate, the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

I have been dismissive of the investigation because the idea that a pinprick of Facebook advertising ($100,000) could influence the sprawling ocean of public opinion struck me as preposterous.

But GFB suggested I look a bit deeper and consider the consequences of the Russian interference, however modest it might have been; and I have taken his sage advice and reconsidered.

I've reached the conclusion that Facebook, Google and Twitter should be operated as public utilities, not as for-profit corporations beholden solely to their shareholders and managers.

Here is my thinking:

1. As GFB so insightfully observed, Facebook says it sells advertising, as this is uncontroversial. But what Facebook is actually selling is data on its users. This enables enterprises to deliver adverts to highly specific audiences (surfers between the ages of 18 and 34 with an interest in traveling overseas, etc.), campaigns that are known only to the advertiser and Facebook, not to the targeted users. But it also enabled the Russian crew to target audiences most likely to be receptive to divisive, inflammatory content.

2. If we follow this dynamic to its conclusion, we realize that these for-profit corporations are threats to democracy, or incompatible with democracy, if you prefer that wording, as they directly enable the relatively affordable and easy sowing of intentionally divisive content.

A recent wired.com article, Inside the Two Years that Shook Facebook--and the World, describes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's realization that the technology he'd assumed was both incredibly profitable and helpful could be used as a force for exploitation and propaganda.

3. In response, the social media/online advertising quasi-monopolies--Facebook, Google and Twitter-- have all pursued censorship as their "solution" to "fake news."

But as we all know, censorship isn't quite as easy as the corporate technocrats reckoned; algorithms designed to sort out "fake news" inevitably end up axing legitimate content, particularly legitimate dissent, which often shares certain traits with what's conveniently labeled "fake news," that is, anything that veers from supporting the conventional status quo.

As the failure of the quick-and-dirty algorithms has became painfully visible, the for-profit quasi-monopolies have hired humans to sort the wheat of legitimate "news" (and what exactly defines legitimate news?) from the chaff of "fake news," and discovered to their dismay that the people they hired are biased against various dissenting views.

4. This opaque corporate censorship amounts to a private-sector Stasi, pursuing an Orwellian world of profits reaped from the censorship and suppression of dissent, all in the name of "getting rid of bad players."

5. Democracy depends on the free and open distribution of a wide spectrum of opinion, and an electorate which is skeptical enough to decide for themselves what's inflammatory nonsense and what contains kernels of truth that deserve further inquiry. The dominance of corporations seeking to maximize profits via selling user data invites the sort of private censorship we are now witnessing--a trend that is poisonous to a free press and democracy.

6. This is the intrinsic conflict between a free, accountable-to-the-public press that serves democracy and a handful of quasi-monopolies that are only accountable to shareholders and management, both of which expect the corporation to maximize profits by any means available, as maximizing shareholder/insiders wealth is the corporation's sole raison d'etre (reason to exist).

The social media/search/online advertising quasi-monopolies have transformed the Web into an unaccountable for-profit machine that harvests data from users, and this data-selling is just as open to abuse and exploitation as it is to conventional marketing of goods and services.

In a frantic rush to protect their profits and market dominance and avoid government regulation, these social media/online advertising giants are rushing to impose a private-sector Stasi of censorship and suppression of dissent--in effect, undermining the foundation of democracy in their pursuit of monopolistic profits.

7. The solution isn't an opaque, unaccountable private-sector Stasi--it's the transformation of these social media and search platforms into public utilities that do not collect any data on their users.

The transformation can start with regulations that restrict the data collection, monopoly and profiteering of these corporations.

The nation's moribund anti-trust laws might finally be applied to these social media/online advertising quasi-monopolies (and their quasi-monopoly media cousins), imposing transparency that reveals their dangerous dominance.

As these regulations limit their monopoly, data collection and thus their profitability, the market value of these quasi-monopolies will decline accordingly. Once their value has been reduced, a federal agency akin to PBS could buy them on the open market, strip out all data collection and maintain them as a free public utility that is worthy of the taxpayer subsidy because they are now an integral part of a free and transparent press.

The point here isn't that public ownership is perfect; the point here is that public ownership means these immensely powerful technologies are accountable to the citizenry, rather than to profit-maximizing private owners and managers. You can't have two masters, and the pathetic bleatings of billionaire technocrats about their "commitment" to democracy (while they spend millions lobbying Congress to protect their unaccountable New-Gilded-Age monopolies) cannot change this reality.

This may sound controversial, but if we really follow the internal logic of accountable-only-to- owners and insiders quasi-monopolies selling user data for immense profits and acting as unregulated censors of dissent, this is the only possible positive conclusion: transfer the ownership of these for-profit quasi-monopolies to the public, the sooner the better.

6. This week, GFB forwarded another article, What Would a 'healthy' Twitter Even Look Like? The answer is self-evident: a "healthy" Twitter, Facebook and Google would be publicly owned utilities that collected no data and sold no advertising other than general display ads visible to every user.

Now that the traditional media has been consolidated into a handful of self-serving corporations, these unaccountable quasi-monopolies should be broken into a hundred pieces by anti-trust laws.

*  *  *

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Government nee… Looney Mon, 03/05/2018 - 12:10 Permalink

Not necessary to regulate FB, GOOG, and TWTR as utilities, as the aggregated censored voices WILL find avenues for expression.  Every time the fucktards censor, they lower the value of their companies, as the value is imbued into having EVERYONE participate/contribute.  When you piss off 20-50% of your users, you lose users.

In reply to by Looney

GUS100CORRINA Government nee… Mon, 03/05/2018 - 12:43 Permalink

"Private Sector Stasi" - Should Facebook, Google, And Twitter Be Public Utilities?

My response: The HONEYMOON is over for these companies. When any company begins to CENSOR information to promote a POLITICAL AGENDA and is a willing conspirator in SEDITION and TREASON, it is time to be broken up and controlled. 

These companies should be seized for their TREASONOUS crimes that they willingly committed during the POTUS election with all business leaders charged and jailed for TREASON and SEDITION. ERIC SCHMIDT especially comes to mind.

In reply to by Government nee…

HRH of Aquitaine 2.0 GUS100CORRINA Mon, 03/05/2018 - 14:50 Permalink

The thing that has always bugged me about Fuckbook and Twatter is they data mine your information and resell it. If I am providing value, and content, I should be paid. It's my data, pay me for it. On the other hand what about people that don't want advertisements? Charge them a small fee to use the site. The whole idea that people could get something for nothing is what led us down this slippery slope! What is that saying, if you don't know what the product is that means you are the product being sold?

In reply to by GUS100CORRINA

Rhetorical HRH of Aquitaine 2.0 Mon, 03/05/2018 - 15:17 Permalink

Thats the reason STEEM, a website with its own cryptocurrency is in the top 20 on CMC. Content creators can get paid in Steemcash directly instead of being whores for advertising. I think content creators get what 1-3k for every million views on youtube? Since youtube is fucking the little guys via demonetization they have an interest in promoting Steem once they learn about it. If I recall correctly I don't think youtube has ever pulled in a profit by itself so they are extremely vunerable.

In reply to by HRH of Aquitaine 2.0

Endgame Napoleon Government nee… Mon, 03/05/2018 - 16:18 Permalink

I am not in the younger demographic, but I do use the internet a lot, not the products in the basket that you regard as aligning with the over-30 set. I don’t see why it matters which of the social media and search products you use; they are all interconnected. Many of them do not even make a profit, per say, but they all rely on the same data collection / ad targeting to ramp up their market value.

The problem is not just censorship (1st Amendment), but privacy (4th Amendment), and the dampening effect on both speech and the feeling of freedom inherent to shopping, an act that keeps the wheels of commerce turning in capitalist societies. The internet is a great convenience, but the ten seconds of time it takes to type in the company’s site or page within a social media site, v/s having an ad targeted at you, doesn’t add perceptible inconvenience. 

These advertising methods were in play before widespread internet usage, though, with the Neilson ratings system used a way to target consumers with TV ads. It was not as individually tailored and, thus, invasive, but are you sure that foreigners did not use the TV-ad system to sell products? Maybe, they did not use TV as a communications tool to pursue the policy goals of foreign countries. Maybe, they, and Americans invested in cheap foreign labor, did via a range of cultural products, unleashed on TV. The Era of Globalism did not begin with the smartphone-accessed internet; it was there in full form back in the Nineties. 

In reply to by Government nee…

Heros Government nee… Mon, 03/05/2018 - 12:15 Permalink

The Swiss just had an initiative to end the public broadcasting monopoly.  It ended with about 70% of the people voting to keep the monopoly, even though they have to pay $450/year in fees (like a Swiss BBC).  The Swiss love their brainwashing, like the saying that:  none are more enslaved than those who enjoy their slavery.

Allowing the government to regulate the internet/social media will just turn it over to the strongest faction at best.  At worst it will become swamp like the FBI. The only solution is to break it up.


In reply to by Government nee…

Endgame Napoleon DownWithYogaPants Mon, 03/05/2018 - 16:40 Permalink

Maybe, the commercial social media and search engines should just become subscription services, stopping the need for ad targeting.

That won’t remove the ad targeting from commercial retailers’ sites, but other than behemoths like Wal*mart / Amazon, most retailers are not going to have the capital to invest in big data centers that store evidence of online behavior patterns.

That way, the commercial internet sites that end up becoming conduits of political communications would be no different than the newspapers of yore that were always privately owned, always had a editorial bias and always sustained themselves by ads, just not targeted ads, requiring collection of information that encroaches upon 4th Amendment protections. As for the 1st Amendment, commercial newspapers never had an obligation to publish your letter to the editor, and they always tailored content to a group of readers with a political preference. 

Then you could have a separate public and/or not-for-profit internet, with sites like Wikipedia, a public search engine with a mandate to be neutral and any neutral-in-intent social media spaces that programmers were willing to create for limited amounts of money, hopefully not like the government websites. When actual government employees design something, it usually does not sparkle enough to attract many users.

Without paying any subscription fees, people could still see the public internet and the independent commercial sites they clicked on. Given all of the underemployment in the USA and elsewhere, subscription fees would have to be very, very reasonable in price, though, and done without trickery. 

In reply to by DownWithYogaPants

brianshell Heros Mon, 03/05/2018 - 13:16 Permalink

Some posit that Bitcoin is also a creation of the Deepers to lure the public into thinking it was their own idea. The end result is to benefit the Deepers with electronic banking.

Read about how the Deepers lured the congress in 1912 to create the federal reserve, saying it was the only way to ensure depressions and bank runs could be eliminated. One generation later, they did the 1929 crash. Thanks JP Morgan.


In reply to by Heros

mkkby wolf pup Mon, 03/05/2018 - 15:11 Permalink

Retard CHS wants to be paid for bullshit like this???  What a fucking joke.  Just have gov't own everything.  Then everything can be filtered by what Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi want to see.  Sounds great, CHS.

I'd rather stick with capitalism and all it's warts.  If Russians or libtards pay to advertise lies, let them.  Readers can decide what they want to believe.  That's called freedom.  It's not always pretty.  But it's better than the alternative.

So what if Russians ran lies on facefuck.  If the russians have a better message than Hillary, I'd like people to hear it and make up their own minds.  And BTW, Charles, PBS is just CNN without the screaming -- just as biased.

Fuck you CHS.

In reply to by wolf pup

Not Too Important TalkToLind Mon, 03/05/2018 - 12:41 Permalink

Speaking of sewers...

Facebook - Leading the charge to legalize pedophilia:

"On Sunday, the social network ran a survey for some users asking how they thought the company should handle grooming behaviour. “There are a wide range of topics and behaviours that appear on Facebook,” one question began. “In thinking about an ideal world where you could set Facebook’s policies, how would you handle the following: a private message in which an adult man asks a 14-year-old girl for sexual pictures.”

"In neither survey question did Facebook allow users to indicate that law enforcement or child protection should be involved in the situation: the strictest option allowed involved turning to the social network as arbiter."


Considering Facebook is an NSA/CIA operation, the NWO is coming for your kids/grandkids.

Good luck.

In reply to by TalkToLind

mkkby Not Too Important Mon, 03/05/2018 - 15:29 Permalink

Number one should be contacting the parent/guardian. 

Children SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED on social media without parental consent and contact information attached.  If predatory behavior is noted, that contact information will be used to inform the parents.  They could then contact law enforcement, monitor their child's online activities or even shut down the child's account.

This isn't so fucking hard.

Personally, if I had kids I would have their phone/computer logins and I would *audit* their activities.  If they didn't assist me, I would take away their devices.  That's called supervision and that's what you do when you actually care about their welfare.

In reply to by Not Too Important

Koba the Dread Bastiat Mon, 03/05/2018 - 18:34 Permalink

He suggests that PBS buy these corporations. PBS is 90% corporation financed (since Reagan) and still is a left-wing, fake news haven. While I love the idea of busting the Google/Facebook monopolies, it's hard to contemplate who might successfully manage them as public utilities. Water and sewer utilities don't carry much intellectual content. Google/Facebook do. (Well, you know what I mean about "intellectual content". I mean ideas not actual intellectual content most of the time.) The question is how do you manage that content without stifling viewpoints. It must be managed because otherwise the internet would be filled with photos of mutilated bodies and cat pictures.

In reply to by Bastiat

ted41776 Mon, 03/05/2018 - 12:03 Permalink

they should not be allowed to monopolize communication, advertising, and commerce without remaining politically neutral. the easiest way to solve this problem is to make their protected monopoly status contingent upon them remaining politically neutral and not pushing any of their political agenda like they've been doing for years. if they fail to comply, simply enforce existing US anti-trust laws




also, did you ever wonder why so many people who hate amazon/facebook/google/twitter/youtube find themselves on these platforms? did you know that amazon will not accept affiliate sales from any site other than the ones mentioned above? i had an affiliate account that generated some revenue through clicks and purchases, amazon sent me an email saying that because my activity doesn't come from facebook/twitter/youtube i can just go fuck myself and they closed my account. i was generating activity from a less well known social media site which doesn't push political agenda, not one from their "approved list". none of the content on this site was political, it was actually an engineering site. they kept the commission. and guess what, all the amazon the links on all of my articles still work, so now i have to go back and remove them all. and for advertising, well, without google ads you aren't getting too far. fascist motherfuckers

pigpen ted41776 Mon, 03/05/2018 - 12:13 Permalink

Ted, they control the web and government won't do anything about these monopolies.

Citizens need to download brave browser or another adblocker to block advertising, malware and tracking by DEFAULT on almost any device and operating system.

Whoever controls the browser controls the money.

If digital advertising monopolies will not share profits from selling my data then I'm going to destroy their business model one person at a time.

Brave blocks advertising on YouTube and allows you to browse while listening.

Citizens need to understand the power they control.

Digtal advertising is worth nothing if it can't be served, viewed and tracked.

Download brave or other adblocking immediately.



In reply to by ted41776

HRH of Aquitaine 2.0 ted41776 Mon, 03/05/2018 - 14:57 Permalink

Wait until they hijack our phones and the damn things are going off every five minutes with a new local message like the emergency alerts.

"Attention citizen: please note that there will be no parking from 3 to 6 p.m. on Main Street."

"Attention citizen: please remember to shovel the snow from any public walkways."

"Attention citizen: do not forget your mandatory two mintues of love meditation."

"Attention citizen: fines for not paying attention to citizen alerts are due by 4:00 p.m. Additional late fines will be levied for those not paying their fines."

In reply to by ted41776

techpriest DYS Mon, 03/05/2018 - 13:51 Permalink

There was a time that you could start a letter carrier company and compete with the post office. Lysander Spooner did this with the intent to destroy the Post Office (he was a radical libertarian), and he was also the person who brought home delivery of mail to the US (before that, you had to go to the Post Office to pick up your mail). He was shut down mainly through bureaucratic maneuvering, and later there was a law put in place to give the USPS monopoly status on letter carrying. Once package delivery was re-legalized decades later, we can see how many companies are out there competing the with Post Office.

All this is to say, is that just because a few companies are very big does not mean they have a monopoly. All of the other options merely get little press, and IMO there is a laziness to not developing or seeking out alternatives if you truly are upset by Facebook.

In reply to by DYS

DYS Mon, 03/05/2018 - 12:06 Permalink

Perhaps a model similar to what is in place for the United States Postal Service could work.    The only problem is that the possibility for corruption does not necessarily lessen in the public sector.   Indeed, government corruption with the deep state is a perfect example of how these things go awry.  I don't know how we can hand over social platforms to the public while our government is in such disarray.  

Is there another option?  I can't think of one.

buzzsaw99 Mon, 03/05/2018 - 12:07 Permalink

i hate people who use (only) facebook as a web page for public events.  basically they are saying if you don't have a facebook account fuck you.