Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Repost: Given Facebook's current scandals, this seems like a good time to revisit this argument

I don't know if I've actually come out and said this in so many words but Facebook should be forced to divest itself of Instagram (along similar lines, Google should be forced to divest itself of YouTube, but that's a topic for another day). As we've previously mentioned, mid-20th-century regulators would never have allowed Facebook to become this large or to achieve this level of monopoly power. They certainly would not have allowed it to hang on to Instagram as well.

Having Instagram in competition with Facebook would not solve the problem but it would address it in at least a couple of ways. First, to belabor the obvious, competition is good. Second, Facebook has a widely noted aging demographic problem (in my very limited personal experience, the older the friend the more hours he or she spends on the platform). At this rate, if the company is not allowed to grow through acquisition, the Facebook problem might just take care of itself in time.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

As if you didn't have enough to worry about

[This is another one of those too-topical-to-ignore topics that I don't have nearly enough time to do justice to, but I suppose that's why God invented blogging.]

There's a huge problem that people aren't talking about nearly enough. More troublingly, when it does get discussed, it is usually treated as a series of unrelated problems, much like a cocaine addict who complains about his drug problem, bankruptcy, divorce, and encounters with loan sharks, but who never makes a causal connection between the items on the list.

Think about all of the recent news stories that are about or are a result of concentration/deregulation of media power and the inevitable consequences. Obviously, net neutrality falls under this category. So does the role that Facebook, and, to a lesser extent, Twitter played in the misinformation that influenced the 2016 election. The role of the platform monopolies in the ongoing implosion of digital journalism has been widely discussed by commentators like Josh Marshall. The Time Warner/AT&T merger has gotten coverage primarily due to the ethically questionable involvement of Donald Trump, with very little being said about the numerous other concerns. Outside of a few fan boys excited over the possibility of seeing the X-Men fight the Avengers, almost no one's talking about Disney's Fox acquisition.

It didn't used to be like this. For most of the 20th century, the government kept a vigilant watch for even potential accumulation of media power. Ownership was restricted. Movie studios were forced to sell their theaters (see United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc). The largest radio network was effectively forced to split in two (that's why we have ABC broadcasting today). Media companies were tightly regulated, their workforce was heavily unionized, and they were forced to jump through all manner of hoops before expanding into new markets to insure that the public good was being served.

In short, the companies were subjected to conditions which we have been told prevent growth, stifle innovation, and kill jobs. We can never know what would've happened had the government given these companies a freer hand but we can say with certainty that for media, the Post-war era was a period of explosive growth, fantastic advances, and incredible successes both economically and culturally. It's worth noting that the biggest entertainment franchises of the market-worshiping, anything-goes 21st century were mostly created under the yoke of 20th century regulation.

No comments:

Post a Comment