👉 Go to Facebook Political Problems – Stratechery by Ben Thompson
I’m a huge fan of Thompson and Stratechery, and this “omnibus” reference article of his is an interesting idea to collect his overall thoughts on Facebook, independent of a single topic.
I tend to agree with Thompson but not on this one. His take on Facebook is very generous. He sees benefit in the ad ecosystem of Facebook, which I don’t. He also would rather trust Facebook with a large trove of personal data than data brokers. I’ll agree with him that I also don’t trust data brokers, but the existence of those horrible entities doesn’t make Facebook a good choice.
This part though completely made me scratch my head.
Here is the problem, though: it is not at all certain that the Internet is good for society. I believe it is — I just articulated a positive vision for the democratization enabled by Facebook advertising, to take but one small example — but there are obviously massive downsides as well. Moreover, many of those downsides seem to spring directly from the fact that people are connected: it’s not simply that it is trivial to find people who think the same as you, no matter how mistaken or depraved you might be, but it’s also trivial to find, observe, and fight with those who simply have a different set of values or circumstances. The end result feels like an acceleration of tribalism and polarization; it’s not only easy to see and like your friends, but even easier to see and hate your enemies with your friends.
This is, as I noted, an Internet problem — as Facebook is happy to tell you — but the truth is that Facebook, thanks to its uber-competent focus and execution on growth, effectively made the Internet problem a Facebook problem. Sure, you can make the case that had Facebook not pursued growth at all costs there would be another social network in its place — and frankly, I believe that Twitter gets off far too easy in discussions about deleterious impacts on society — but the reality is that Facebook did win, and just because some of its spoils are rotten doesn’t absolve the company of responsibility. If you are going to onboard all of humanity, you are going to get all of humanity’s problems.
I feel like in this passage he completely flipped the context of the Internet and Facebook. It is not certain that the Internet is good for society? I have a hard time seeing a way that the Internet as a whole hasn’t benefited society. Some applications built on the Internet have proven to not be good for society. I would suggest Facebook is the primary example of that, but there are many others.
The last part is that he positions Facebook as being the victim of their own success. They are so great at execution, that they won everything. If they were so great, I would suggest they would have seen these strategic problems and done something, anything, to attempt to avoid them. Instead they have ignored them, or just pretended they didn’t exist. Now those issues are coming back.
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