Mark Zuckerberg does not believe that Facebook holds a monopoly of the market.
A tepid band of senators had a go at putting monopolist Mark Zuckerberg on the hot seat, without actually knowing why they were doing so. Their ignorance was manifest in the questioning, which ranged between fawning admiration of a successful monopoly (Orin Hatch) to annoyance with popup ads promoting chocolate (Bill Nelson), apparently even more annoying because he loves chocolate.
One astute senator, Lindsey Graham, demonstrated some awareness of the real scandal of Facebook: It is a monopoly and acts like a monopoly.
Here is today’s 3D definition:
1) A popular board game in which players purchase and exploit real estate in order to ruin the other players
2) The fundamental psychological driving force of the capitalist economy, a game in which entrepreneurs dream of being alone in their marketplace, protected from competition, and spend most of their waking lives struggling to deal with competition
At one moment of the questioning, Graham and Zuckerberg had the following exchange:
Graham: “You don’t think you have a monopoly?”
Zuckerberg: (long pause) “Ah, it certainly doesn’t feel like that to me!”
In US culture, “feeling” often takes priority over knowing. Zuckerberg gave a superficially clever response that provoked not only the audience’s laughter, but also Graham’s capitulation when he responded, “OK, so it doesn’t” and then altered the line of questioning.
However successful Zuckerberg was in dodging the question of monopoly, his words may come back to haunt him. Because by the same token his statement could be taken to be an admission, since he denied the feeling but not the fact.
Before giving up the floor, Graham showed that his respect for the success and power of Facebook was equal to Orin Hatch’s, as he requested that Zuckerberg be the one to propose the regulations Facebook will be bound by.
Theodore Roosevelt made his reputation as a heroic president by going after what he considered abusive monopolies and trusts and not backing down. When monopolistic banker J.P. Morgan complained that he was being “treated like a common criminal,” Roosevelt told him the question would be settled in the courts under the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act outlawing monopolies. Despite his reputation as a muckraker, Roosevelt was quite comfortable with monopolies that he believed were not using their privileged position to do evil things, which could explain why Google had the prescience to proclaim as its motto back in 2000, “Don’t be evil.” In contrast, Facebook’s motto until 2014 was “move fast and break things.”
Bill Clinton’s Justice Department successfully sued Microsoft for monopolistic practices, but after appeal and various transactions, the initial decision to break Microsoft in two was never implemented. Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon are, in practice, successful monopolies and exercise disproportionate power over their marketplace. But they only become vulnerable to anti-trust enforcement when something scandalous happens. The Teddy Roosevelt standard still applies: If you want to keep your monopoly, show us that your hands are clean. Senator Nelson expressed it perfectly: “I think you are genuine. I got that sense in conversing with you. You want to do the right thing.”
Emily Stewart in Vox identified the biggest weakness in the Senate hearing. Referring to Graham’s and Dick Durbin’s attempt to home in on serious issues, she said, “Both lines of inquiry might have been strong had they been sustained.”
The hearing leaves the overall impression that the Washington elite is more embarrassed than concerned by the uproar about a powerful business doing what it can to succeed and make more money. As if attacking it amounted to undermining “the American way.” Most of the senators claimed to be relaying the questions of their constituents rather investigating a scandal that could have an impact on the health of the nation, the integrity of democracy and the future of the national economy. Zuckerberg may seem like an outsider from within the Beltway, but he’s certainly seen as a bon fide member of the same oligarchic political and economic family as the senators belong to.
The following day, members of the House of Representatives had a go at Zuckerberg, showing their teeth in contrast with the senators. Congressman John Sarbanes asked: “Facebook is becoming a self-regulated superstructure for political discourse. Are we, the American people, going to regulate the political dialogue or are you, Mark Zuckerberg?” Kathy Castor spoke of “a devil’s bargain.”
The Guardian reveals Zuckerberg’s ultimate answer to the real problems signaled at the hearing: “his belief that artificial intelligence was needed to help police activity on Facebook.”
Human intelligence, which includes moral reasoning, is obviously not enough.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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