I wondered about an alternative platform (for convenience, let’s call it Platform 9-3/4), which had similar capabilities as far as the methods it provided for sharing information—though of course pretty much by definition it would lack Facebook’s dominant position where “everybody” is on the same site.
If a bunch of people moved to this new site, it seems to me that you could end up with a bifurcated population.
Platform 9-3/4 would end up with a relatively large following among people who don’t like Facebook’s role in bringing about the current mess.
But absent that motivation, people wouldn’t have a good reason to move away from the dominant player to the upstart, so Facebook would hold onto people who:
- Like Trump
- Don’t have particular opinions on the man one way or another (I don’t really understand how that’s possible, but I hear it’s a thing)
- Maybe don’t like Trump, but don’t see the connection to Facebook as being all that important
This comparison to gun-control argument and the “good guy with a gun” trope brings out two aspects of the proposed migration, while a third point comes from the observation that only the “bad guys” will be left.
First, the analog to the “good guy with a gun” argument would be: We don’t need to regulate or break up Facebook. Rather, we need a “good” Facebook to compete with it and thereby stop it from doing its damage.
The point about only “bad guys” being left brings to mind the trope, “If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.” If people who care about reality-based discourse leave Facebook, then Facebook will still exist, but it will be a collection of harmless family photos, mixed in with deranged political content unleavened by rational pushback.
The further consequence of migrating away from Facebook would be that it would reinforce the extent to which we already live in information bubbles.
I don’t watch FOX nor visit Breitbart, InfoWars, etc., but there’s a good chance that I know the main themes covered over there just by reading comment threads on New York Times or CBC articles. Consider the logical pretzels and assertions of verifiable falsehoods, or broad statements like, “Trump has accomplished more in his first year than any president ever in the whole term.”
I can’t bring myself to believe that people are stupid enough to come up with that material on their own, so it follows that they must be getting it somewhere, and my occasional forays into right-wing media suggest that they are indeed the source, at least for some of it.
If I get off of Facebook, then that set of ... well, let’s call them “ideas” will become less visible to me, and that invisibility may be dangerous.
Let’s go back to the idea of migration away from Facebook as an alternative to regulating it, and how that would affect what was left on the old site.
Yes, if there’s a migration to Platform 9-3/4, there’s a danger of Facebook ripening into an even more toxic brew.
But I’m more optimistic about the possible outcome, because of the possible economic effects of the outmigration.
Assume that Facebook isn’t actively trying to undermine democracy, but is simply interested in maximizing profits, and their path toward higher profits just happens to go by way of dangerous poisoning of our mediasphere.
My sense is that Facebook’s success depends not merely on being open to letting their users’ data be misused, but also on being the de facto universal platform. Then it becomes a question of which option is more attractive to them:
- Being a responsible universal platform
- Being an irresponsible platform that is only 2/3 universal. Universality is a uniquely attractive attribute for users willing to pay in order to reach people, so if Facebook loses even a third of its users, it may lose more than a third of its ad revenue.
That may be true, but even if it is, an outmigration would be useful, because it would weaken Facebook, making regulation more possible.
In the meantime, Jason is talking about staying on Facebook but:
- Only post links to things that take you off Facebook
- Don’t inhabit comment streams
- Don’t link to FB-hosted events.