Facebook Is NOT The Internet; Stop Regulating As If It Was

from the facebook-ruins-everything dept

For quite some time now we’ve been trying to remind people that the internet is not just Facebook. Unfortunately, this seems quite difficult for many people — especially policy makers — to understand. We’ve discussed how the various policy regulations (including some that Facebook now supports) will actually do a lot more harm to all of us — and we urge people to examine how various policy proposals will impact tons of smaller sites and their users.

Indeed, I keep hearing from people in the policy world who are just… basically mad at Facebook for screwing up so much stuff, so badly, that it’s going to end up destroying much of the rest of the internet. As we noted a few years ago, Facebook’s bad behavior may cause everyone to lose recess.

Konstantinos Komaitis recently had a really excellent piece in Slate highlighting just how bad a problem this is and noting that regulators need to realize that Facebook is not the internet. It starts out by noting some of the history of social media (thankfully, he starts with SixDegree.com, the first social media website I ever used, which many people don’t remember at all):

In 1997, SixDegrees.com was the first real attempt at social networking, creating a space where users could upload their information and list their friends. The site peaked at approximately 3.5 million users before it shut down in 1999.

Since then, a series of social networking business models have emerged, each time offering more advanced tools for user interaction. LiveJournal, a site for keeping up with school friends, combined blogging and social networking features inspired by the WELL; Friendster was a social network that allowed for increased interaction and control by users; Myspace had open membership and gave users the freedom to customize their pages. In 2005, it?and its 25 million user base?was sold to News Corp. But within three years, Myspace had been surpassed by Facebook, which launched in 2004 for college students and opened to everyone in 2006.

But, of course, unlike those chaotic early years, nothing has surpassed Facebook over the last decade and a half. And Facebook has grown larger and larger, and certainly for some people it feels like the entire internet. And, in some cases — such as places where Facebook’s sketchy Free Basics program exists, then Facebook effectively is the internet. Thankfully, that’s not true of most of the world and most of the internet. But, unfortunately politicians are acting as if it were true and that Facebook has way more power and control than it actually does. That’s a real problem.

First, the internet is not a monolith, so treating it as if it is simply will not work. Second, many of the issues regulators are trying to address are not internet problems; they are societal. Terrorism, child abuse, and mis- and disinformation are not an offspring of the internet; they existed before the internet, and they will continue to exist after it as they are ingrained in human societies. Yet, they are treated as if they are exclusively internet problems. Third, and most importantly, regulators should stop thinking of the internet as Facebook and treating it as such. In the internet regulatory landscape, there is a mixed bag of different issues, and Facebook?s involvement in all of them, direct or indirect, adds to the current complexity. Content moderation, privacy, intermediary liability, competition, encryption?these are all broader issues related to the internet, not just Facebook. Yet, the pattern that has emerged is to treat them as Facebook issues. What this means is that, instead of focusing on trying to address them in ways appropriate for the entire internet ecosystem, they are addressed through the Facebook lens. This has been quite accurately characterized as the ?Facebook Derangement Syndrome.?

For what it’s worth, I used “Facebook Derangement Syndrome” in a different context three years ago, but this one is much better and much more important. People get so focused on societal problems that are seen on Facebook that the “Facebookness” of it expands to swallow everything else — such as that Facebook is not the entire internet, that many of these problems are societal, and that at least some of the problems aren’t actually Facebook problems, but rather Facebook enabling people to see these problems.

Komaitis, though, notes how many regulatory proposals we see for regulating the entire internet seem almost entirely focused on “the problem” of “Facebook” (which again, often is not actually the problems from Facebook).

In the United Kingdom, the Online Safety legislation wants to ban end-to-end encryption because of Facebook?s plan to introduce it as a default setting in its Messenger service. On the other side of the Commonwealth, Australia recently introduced a media bargaining code mainly targeting Facebook. Facebook famously ?left? the country before renegotiating a new agreement. Similarly, in what seems to be a coordinated effort, Canada has vowed to work with Australia in an attempt to impose regulatory restrictions on Facebook.

And this trend is not limited to the Commonwealth.

India?s new intermediary guidelines aim at tightening a regulatory grip on Facebook and its partner company WhatsApp while Brazil?s fake news bill, which got approved by the Senate, is focusing on content moderation on Facebook and traceability on WhatsApp. In France, there have been conversations about the introduction of ?new rules? for Facebook, while Germany?s Network Enforcement Law?NetzDG?was drafted with the primary focus of taming Facebook. Finally, in the United States, the Trump administration issued an unsuccessful executive order that aimed to regulate Facebook for bias.

And, he notes, many of these regulators and politicians (and, frankly, the media) are asking the wrong questions about all of this:

In this context, the question we should be asking is not whether regulation is appropriate, but what are the real implications of regulating in such a manner? There is already an argument that focusing on a few, big players has an impact on the health of innovation and the ability of newcomers to compete. And, then, there is the internet. The internet?s global reach is one of its main strengths. It is a feature, not a bug. Among other things, it allows the maintenance of supply chains all over the world; it allows people to communicate; it lowers costs; and it makes information sharing easier, all the while helping to address societal issues like poverty or climate change.

To this end, the attempt to regulate based on one?or a handful?of companies can jeopardize this very important goal of the internet. It can create fragmentation, in the sense of not allowing data to flow across borders or networks to interconnect, and this can be very real and have a very big impact. It can impose limits on the way information and data gets to be shared and the way networks may interoperate. These are significant trade-offs, and they must be part of any regulation?s process.

The article goes on to suggest better, more thoughtful approaches — ones that recognize these kinds of regulations can have a widespread impact, and consequences way beyond what regulators (claim to) intend. Being more humble and recognizing that throwing massive changes at the entire internet because lots of people on Facebook are terrible and Facebook has failed to manage its own platform well, is not a reasonable solution. It’s a “solution” that could choke off much of what is good and important about the internet.

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Comments on “Facebook Is NOT The Internet; Stop Regulating As If It Was”

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Koby (profile) says:

One Size Doesn't Fit All

Facebook isn’t the entire internet, but it has a near monopoly in its sector. Rather than trying to create a set of rules that applies to everything, it is probably more useful to target the near monopoly itself. Perhaps by breaking up the company, or declaring it a common carrier would be a better approach.

-Getting censored proves that your opinion is the strongest.

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


Facebook isn’t the entire internet, but it has a near monopoly in its sector.

Twitter, the Fediverse, Discord, and a multitude of other social media/communication services say otherwise. Popularity alone does not make a monopoly.

Rather than trying to create a set of rules that applies to everything, it is probably more useful to target the near monopoly itself.

And that would still require regulations that don’t drag down the entire Internet with Facebook.

Perhaps by breaking up the company, or declaring it a common carrier would be a better approach.

Breaking up, maybe, but Facebook is not a common carrier. Trying to declare it one only because you hate it is a new low for you.

Getting censored proves that your opinion is the strongest.

I’m glad to know you support pro-queer and anti-racist ideologies, but your support for pro-terrorism and pro-pedophilia ideologies is…unfortunate.

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Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: One Size Doesn't Fit All

-Getting censored proves that your opinion is the strongest.

Koby, once again, I appreciate your dedication to standing up for Critical Race Theory, though it surprises me, given your other statements.

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That One Guy (profile) says:


-Getting censored proves that your opinion is the strongest.

Your continued expressions of support for the superiority of terrorist groups along with non-white and/or non-heterosexual individuals/groups is noted, though really you should take your own advice at this point and just be honest about how you think they’re superior to white heterosexual males.

-Repeatedly lying about being ‘censored’ because people keep showing you the door of their private property proves that you’re not just a person no-one wants to be around but a dishonest one who refuses to own their own words and deeds and instead blames others.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: One Size Doesn't Fit All

"it has a near monopoly in its sector"

Define "its sector". It does not have anything like a monopoly in the sector of social media, so we have to work out which misrepresentation of its sector you’re using to address your claims. Or, you need to open a dictionary and work out what "monopoly" means, because it does not mean "popular".

Chris Laarman says:

Facebook Is NOT The Internet; Stop Regulating As If It Was

1) Facebook is a provider of web mail. Even the World Wide Web is not THE Internet. I have used Usenet. I remember seeing Gopher addresses in computer magazines. I gained access to the Internet when my Fidonet provider created a bridge to Internet e-mail.

2) Regarding regulation: who should have the power to regulate such global matters or even globally operating social media? Once regulations or actions dismay authorities, these may block part or all of the Internet in their power (rightful, legitimate, whatever).

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nerdrage (profile) says:

Facebook what?

I figured out Facebook’s business model a long time ago. Their customers are advertisers and users are the product they sell to advertisers. That was enough for me. Not having anything to do with that.

If I can spend decades on the internet while completely ignoring Facebook, so can everyone else. I don’t get it. Do people like being treated like a product?

Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: Re: Facebook what?

You say you don’t do Facebook, eh? Then I guess you’re not the one to ask just what the fuck is this Facebook thing I keep reading about….

You don’t have to participate in something to know about it.

I don’t participate in Nazism, genocide, terrorism, rape, mass shootings, torture, Hinduism and other religions, and so on. Doesn’t mean I am not aware of them or have verying levels of knowledge about them. Enough to know I don’t want a bar of them.

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R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Facebook what?

Based on your comment, username, and the fact that you comment here I’m guessing that you are reasonably tech-savvy. Those of us who fit that mold, don’t really need a service like Facebook to connect with others like us. There are plenty of internet communication services that don’t treat their customers like a product but, they tend to be harder to use, have fewer features, and have smaller userbases.

The people who aren’t as tech-savvy as many of us prefer ease-of-use and free over all else. Facebook has provided a way to easily keep in contact with every acquaintance you’ve ever made very easily and for free. 2.89 billion people (as of Q2 2021) have seen the trade-off and decided that it’s worth it to them. Once a company has a userbase of over a quarter of the human population for a product that isn’t a necessity for life, (food, water, shelter, etc) those of us who have access to the service but choose not to use it are the strange ones.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Grammatically correct headline ...

Yes, it’s subjunctive. For some, Facebook is the internet, for plenty of others, it’s not. I do not use Facebook for anything, it’s not anywhere near my scope of use, but there is no way the rules applied to Facebook won’t hit the platforms I do use

Gregory says:

Don't regulate huge social media companies

Destroy them and the grifters they create. Regulating them makes no difference. It’s all astroturf BS fronted by shameless social media "stars" and it doesn’t nothing for 90% of people but steal their data, put them in harms way, and enriching tech bros and their shameless pumpers in media.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve never quite understood the crux of this crusade against Facebook (et. al) Money has, and always has had, a much greater effect on these things. Paedophiles use money to buy CSAM material… Terrorists use money to buy weapons… Murderers use money to buy guns… Theives use money to buy safe cracking kits… But suddenly, people talking about stuff online is so dangerous that it’s the only viable response.

This smells fishy, and it feels like the aim isn’t to stop kiddy fiddling, or terrorism, or murders, or bank robberies, it stinks of weak thin skinned people who are so affraid of the people they are supposed to represent. They would cut out everyones tongue to prevent their delicate sensibilities from being attacked.

If this were about preventing dangerous lies spreading, the litigation would be limited to companies with a huge public profile (not the tiny numbers they have decided to draw the line at), and it wouldn’t go beyond requesting identity checks (as banks do by default, but has done nothing to curtail the issues listed above) on certain individuals after they reach a defined level of notoriety,. At which point, they could comply, or be barred access to that identity on that platform.

The fact that they are all calling for Facebook to be responsible for other people speech, on all levels, absolutely shows they are not interested in punishing people for saying demonstrably bad things, but punishing their platform for anyone speaking so as to prevent them ever having the idea to speak out against the status quo ever again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Facebook enabling people to see problems IS the problem for politicians. Politics is about appearances and sweeping problems under the rug is easier than solving them.

Lots of people on Facebook are terrible because lots of people are terrible, period. Those people aren’t going to disappear or turn into good citizens if they’re banned from social media, but hiding them from public sight would allow politicians to pretend they don’t exist and claim credit.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'Oh noes, not the briar patch...'

Facebook may not be the internet currently but if politiians keep trying to regulate the internet in general in order to get to it it’s only a matter of time until it is, with smaller platforms that might have competed with it going under thanks to regulations that barely qualify as annoyances to Facebook and similarly sized companies.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

That weirdo with the trendy avatar keeps saying this & some people still doubt it is true.

Humans insist on putting labels on things, then cramming more & more things into them until they are useless.

Remember when YT was the internet?
How about when Google was the internet?
Or when Craigslist was the internet?
Or the hundreds of other things became the entire internet so people never had to consider things on their own, just a monolith.

DoJ arrested people for rioting, pushed to put them in jail for a very very long time, but there was not a SINGLE shred of evidence those charged had broken any laws, their lawyer said to the jury that reasonable doubt didn’t matter.
Rather than hold those who actually broke the law responsible for their actions, they just scooped up who they could get & tried to make them the scapegoats.

This is happening more and more in society…
People demanding that all Muslims needed to denounce terrorism & still tried to brand them all as terrorists.
I don’t remember any of the white evangelical churches being forced to denounce any of the assholes blowing up clinics (hell lots of members helped hide them from the law.)
BLM marches, a couple idiots break some windows & suddenly BLM is a terrorists group, not just the few idiots.
Sex Offender used to mean someone who abused children… now peeing in an alley can make you one.

People want easy to access labels (but only for others not themselves) because it makes everything to simple, until reality laughs as things are more complicated than the simple labels & you can’t treat everything the same.

People need to accept that reality is complicated, that all people are different & just lumping them into a single mass is a disservice to those people and yourself.

TAC I like you, you’re gay but your not like gay gay.
This is a paraphrase of an actual comment from someone I knew who was probably a tiny bit homophobic, but I didn’t live up to the "all gays are like this" stories they had been fed about how we all are.

We all do this to a degree, our minds are built to lump things together but we really need to consider things as what they are not the label we stuffed them in.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

i find this comment, as i find most comments of yours, to be rather thoughtful and insigtful. That said, i am going totally off-topic because the "not like gay gay" example for labels. So: i got this ad on youtube, "Am I gay? – Test to see if you are gay". I felt this was all kinds of problematic (if not plain stupid), but maybe it could determine if you are "gay gay" or not?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Heh I am off-topic all the time.

It was actually sort of sweet in a twisted way when he said it.

His mental image of what one of teh gays is like developed a bunch of cracks because he had no idea I was one of teh gays. None of the people we had in common ever bothered to share that detail because it didn’t matter to them. I didn’t run around in drag or a thong heading to a pride parade & if someone used gay in a stupid way my response was always to tell them they could do better and they made me sad for cheaping out on insults.

Besides, I’m not really gay… its just a rumor started by all those guys who’s dicks I sucked.
Something something drive a truck my whole life and I’m a trucker… but I suck 1 dick and I’m suddenly a cocksucker wtf people. Work on your labeling.

Glenn says:

Maybe stop calling Facebook et al "social media." You can’t really be social with someone you’ve never met in person and are never likely to. It’s like having an imaginary friend… it’s all in your head. Plus, there’s just as much anti-social crap on those sites–people just being who they are when they’re at their worst (when they think no one else can see them).

Best to just get rid of likes and follows and whatever entirely.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You can’t really be social with someone you’ve never met in person and are never likely to.

Really, in an age where anybody can can carry a device that enables instant, communications including live video chat, one can can socialize and collaborate with someone anywhere else on the planet. One just has to be as selective of online friends as one would be of flesh space friends, and ignore the ‘competition’ for who can have the most online friends.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

"You can’t really be social with someone you’ve never met in person and are never likely to."

I disagree. It’s not easy, but it can be done. I’ve had a friend for 15 years whom I’ve never met. We exchange gifts, chat on the phone, and I know more about him than most of my other friends.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Also, again, it’s a raging fallacy to assume that nobody communicates with people they know IRL via social media. If that’s the basis of the complaint, it’s not based in fact. It might be easier to assume that all social media users are Tik Tok kids and Instagram whores trying to get as many followers as possible, but a lot of it really doesn’t work that way.

Also, when you start including things like LinkedIn in "social media" (and it does belong under that umbrella), what’s the problem in attracting recruiters and peers you don’t know IRL to your profile? Hard to get a new job if you’re only networking with people you’ve actually met. physically, especially in an age where people don’t necessarily meet the people they actually work with on a daily basis.

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