Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook won’t block political ads with lies in them. Facebook has changed its policy on — lets call it what is — false advertising. Zuckerberg characterizes this as a “free speech” issue.
This is misdirection, a smokescreen. It’s utter bullshit.
I refer you to what I wrote earlier this year, after another trust violation, about the fundamental laws of Facebook. It’s not completely about money. Here are the rules from that post that apply
1. Facebook’s algorithm is supreme. All policies and engineering efforts serve the algorithm.
4. Facebook management’s job is to more effectively serve the algorithm. All “decision-making” is actually in further service to the algorithm.
9. Manual “one-off” hackery is inelegant. The only reason to indulge in it is to evade public criticism that could eventually harm the algorithm.
10. Friction slows the algorithm. Friction includes user opt-ins and safeguards — insofar as possible, these must be eliminated or stashed in an incomprehensible welter of security settings that few users will ever touch.
11. Regulation is friction. Facebook would rather pay fines, lobby, delay, and write op-eds than accede to regulation that would slow the algorithm. Facebook lawyers, lobbyists, and management serve the algorithm by blocking and delaying regulation. Regardless of their actual statements, the true reason for their work is that nothing must slow the algorithm.
15. The algorithm loves lies and fakes. Minor, cosmetic changes to the algorithm, loudly proclaimed by management, don’t change that.
16. Mark Zuckerberg will apologize. This is part of his service to the algorithm.
18. Facebook will never understand why you don’t just give up and trust the algorithm. Resistance is futile.
If, like Facebook, you operate under the theory that friction is evil, then you want to clear away everything that impedes the machine-driven operation of Facebook. That includes checking political ads for lies. It’s not about free speech. It’s not really about profit. It’s about the algorithm.
It’s not just Facebook. All business hates friction. And regulation = friction.
Uber argues that its drivers are not employees, they are contractors. This is because treating them as employees would be inconvenient, and therefore costly. It argues that adding this friction would mess up its perfect, algorithm-driven system.
Airbnb would rather not have to comply with hotel-based policies and taxes. Friction again. Don’t interfere with the automated algorithm, it would mess things up.
Exxon and BP would rather not deal with the environmental consequences of drilling for, refining, and transporting fossil fuels. They interfere with our need for oil and gas. They slow things down. Friction again. Don’t interfere with business.
Drug and “supplement” companies really don’t want to deal with costly clinical trials, quality control, and cost controls. Their products generate plenty of profit when integrated into the American health-care system, and when pricing can float to wherever feels right. This feel natural to them. They deal with enough regulations as it is. Their profits depend on reducing any further friction.
Financial companies would prefer not to comply with capital requirements. Hedge funds count on the “carried interest” tax loophole. Airlines can make more money if they squeeze in more seats and charge you for extra room. Car companies would like to be free of fleet mileage average requirements. Meat companies want to feed their animals the cheapest feed and fight infections from overcrowding with antibiotics. Don’t regulate. It just gums up the works.
Capitalism is always more profitable without regulations — in the short run. In the long run, unregulated business carries risks which we all end up paying for in living in a more crowded, louder, less safe, and riskier world.
Here’s the deal folks. Regulation to keep things from being more awful is the cost of doing business.
TV stations make a profit even though they need to check ads for false advertising and decency — its’s the cost of doing business on the public airwaves. It’s why the FCC and FTC exist. Why should Facebook be immune? Because it interferes with the algorithm?
Seat belts, pollution controls, health inspections, contractor policies, sales taxes — they are all the cost of doing business. You live in this society, you have to operate by the rules. America isn’t socialist, but it’s not free-for-all capitalism either. The rules, together with innovation, are what make this place livable.
Some regulations are stupid. Some are just “red tape.” (Try working with a government contractor as a sole proprietor and you’ll see.) I’m not saying every regulation is a good idea. We need to be thoughtful about this, because regulation carries a cost for innovators.
But don’t tell me it’s a free speech issue. Just because Facebook would find it inconvenient to check political ads for lies doesn’t mean we should let them go. I can’t drive 120 miles an hour on the freeway with no seatbelts, because that’s dangerous. So are unchecked political ads.
Demand accountability and regulation. Algorithm be damned.