“Who owns Facebook?”
Candidate for President of the United States
June 19, 2020
When I discussed my plans to run for president of the United States with friends, I was told that my ideas and my purpose were noble, but that that I had to get my message out via social media and to make sure that my profile was readily available in search engines, specifically in Google.
I understood the good intentions of those urging me to do so, and to the degree that I could, given my lack of funding despite broad support, I made a concerted effort. Sadly, as I explored the internet and the means for me to get the word out about my campaign, I discovered that truth has no value for the cruel and cowardly powers that lurk behind the curtain in that jungle known as the internet.
The medium cyberspace that we depend on as we try to seek out fellow travelers in the struggle for justice around the world, that we use to communicate with each other about momentous issues and to plan together for a better future, that medium has been sold off to those obsessed with their short-term profits.
My friends were, oddly, completely unaware of the monopoly on information held by the search engine Google which is run as a ruthless means of extracting profit by the wholly unregulated multinational corporation Alphabet. They were equally ignorant, or perhaps in complete denial, about the manipulative, and ultimately criminal, nature of private corporations as Facebook and Twitter that manipulate discourse between citizens of the Earth.
We want desperately to see themselves as the customers, or the owners, of these internet services — and we are encouraged by massive PR campaigns by these corporations to think that Google or Facebook are run like a benevolent charity or an accountable government organization devoted to the scientific pursuit of truth.
Of course, these corporations will tolerate our efforts to promote good government and a healthy society, but only in that such efforts do not threaten their profits, or the profits of corporations that are their clients. That means that, more often than not, their primary function is to take your demand for real change in our country and divert it towards ineffective, or even dishonest, political parties, NGOs and other similar bottom-feeding creatures.
These corporations pose as noble institutions (along with a whole range of sham charities that they have created) but they make money by distracting you and your friends, keeping you from thinking in an organized and effective manner, and getting you addicted to instant gratification via postings and messages. They saturate us with reports and discussions about minor issues in the United States so as to keep us from coming together as a nation to confront the moral and political crisis that we face.
They say you are a user of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or other search engines and social media, but in fact you are a product whom those companies sell to other parties. They sell your private information, including detailed profiles about your personal life, your interests and your peculiar habits, and about your friends and associates.
More importantly, they offer to the corporations robbing you, and the United States, the service of distracting you and misleading you. The most valuable product that they offer to the rich and powerful is confusing you, creating uncertainty in your mind as to the truth, as to whom to trust.
The corona virus has become a big part of that business. The corona confusion is what they sell to third parties. The contradictory information that they present to you has nothing to do with the scientific search for truth.
So what is the purpose of the media and social networks feeding us contradictory information, customized to different populations, and different demographics?
There are several motivations, but the primary one is to create a deep distrust of all institutions. Citizens are being taught by the media, and by corrupt government officials, and other corrupt experts, to that they should distrust all news, distrust all government, distrust the police, distrust universities and research institutions, distrust all authorities. That will mean that there are no institutions left that can resist the push for the consolidation of power by the rich and powerful. Google, Facebook, Twitter and others, posing as reliable institutions of scientific fact, play the central role in facilitating this horrific process
Part of the process is creating truly corrupt government and corrupt institutions. In that sense the reports are not untrue.
The destruction of all public institutions, of all sources of independent and objective analysis is a necessary step before the ruthless privatization of the government, of education and of the means of communication.
How we communicate with others is the part of the political system that these corporations want to control. They already control how we produce food, where we live and what we buy. But if all our interactions with others become their property, if we must pay, directly or indirectly for the right to communicate with friends and family, to form organizations, and to defend ourselves, then we are essentially slaves. If we cannot meet in person, cannot travel, cannot communicate by letter, email or telephone without going through them, that means not only that they can spy on every part of our efforts, but also that they can completely shut us down whenever they feel like it.
The Republic of Facebook
I would like to take a few minutes to talk about the platform Facebook which a certain corporation “Facebook” claims ownership of and uses as a means to manipulate and mislead our citizens. I do not want to suggest that Facebook is unique in its unethical behavior, or even that it is the worst. Rather I offer it as an example because I have had experience with Facebook and because it has tremendous potential for the United States going forward if it is used for the common good.
Facebook has made its owners and investors many, many, billions of dollars by selling the entire world a lie. Facebook is presented as a shared, transparent, platform for cooperation which allows anyone to use it for free. But it does not allow its users any rights to determine how Facebook is run, it gives citizens information intended to manipulate them, and it sells off the information it collects about them for profit. It is accountable to no one but the supercomputers calculating profits.
Facebook, however, offers access to more people than any of its competitors. That is because the corporation was able to borrow so many billions of dollars at low interest that it could take over the global market.
At the same time, Facebook has become a powerful platform for international exchange that allows people around the world to seek out peers with similar interests and to begin exchanges with them. That could be used to share photographs of fat cats and café lattes, or it could be a platform for a productive discussion about how we can build a better world. Facebook would prefer you stick to the superficial.
You cannot easily seek out other people with common interests (or by region) on Facebook and you cannot systematically store the materials that you send or receive through Facebook for easy reference. Information posted is designed to essentially become inaccessible to anyone but Facebook, and its customers, after a few days. There is no way for third parties to develop original apps to run on Facebook that would allow users to expand its functionality or to customize their pages. .
Nevertheless, even in its primitive current format, Facebook offers the potential for a broad conversation between thoughtful individuals around the world. In spite of its limited, even hostile attitude towards those seeking the truth, it is still populated with thoughtful activists, including middle school and high school students.
That is to say, although it may not have been designed for that purpose, Facebook offers an opportunity for people who are completely locked out of the policy debate to collaborate and make a contribution to their local community or to the Earth as a whole.
If we compare Facebook, a for-profit company, with international organizations for global governance like the United Nations, the World Bank, OECD or any of the international organizations engaged in global governance, one is led to the conclusion that Facebook is a far, far, more participatory system that allows for broad discussions.
International organizations like the United Nations carry out their own internal debate, and the decisions distributed in a one-way manner to the people via arcane technical texts, or broadcasts in the corporate media. There is literally no means for someone like you, let alone a Nigerian street merchant or a Chinese high school student, to have any say at all about the policies those organizations promote, even though those policies impact the entire world.
The United Nations only recognizes nation states as its members. But, now that the institutions in most nation states are being torn apart by multinational corporations and by internal class divisions, there is literally no way for ordinary citizens to put forth a proposal to the United Nations General Assembly through their government.
But if Facebook was transformed into a global institution owned and operated by the citizens of the world, it could play such a role as a form of true international governance.
Remember that Facebook, the company, did not build Facebook. We the users did. Just as we built Twitter or SnapChat or other institutions that corporations claim to own. We, the people, did the work of actually populating Facebook with valuable contents and forming effective networks.
We should think of the corporations who claim ownership of Facebook as the equivalent of the robber barons who built the Union Pacific railroad in the 19th century. Figures such as Clark Durant or Mark Hopkins raised money from banks and built the Union Pacific for the shrewdest of profit motivations, but over time those railroads were turned into regulated organizations through the activism of citizens. The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 outlawed short-haul discrimination and other predatory practices. The free-wheeling railroads were made to conform to strict codes.
The Postal service was transformed from a hodgepodge of for-profit companies into a non-profit government agency that serves a vital service. Now the push by corporations is for the privatization of the postal service. But none of the cowardly politicians takes the opposite position: not only should the postal service not be privatized, but Google, Facebook and Amazon must be made regulated monopolies or user-owned cooperatives.
Sadly, although we as citizens of the United States, and of the world, are deeply integrated through systems of distribution, logistics and data distribution and collection, we do not know each other at all. We must overcome our ignorance, and indifference, to each other and form an entirely new form of participatory global governance to respond to global threats.
Facebook could be a method to bring us together. But we must make forceful demands. We must assert that Facebook belongs to us, not to a corporation that prays on us, and make concrete proposals for what Facebook will become in order to push Facebook, and similar companies in the right direction.
Building a true, common, global community online by lobbying Facebook directly for changes in the rules of governance (allowing the users to decide by democratic process what the design and structure of Facebook will be) is impossible in that such a for-profit organization has no incentive to accept our demands.
On the other hand, alternative social networks tend to be extremely limited in their participants because they lack the access to private capital and are purposely starved by multinational corporations.
We need a concrete plan for how Facebook will be governed internally, how individual users will debate policy for Facebook and how that policy will be approved and enacted at the local and global level.
The governance of Facebook starts with reforms that make it more accessible, more transparent, and more oriented to the needs of individuals and of communities. We can start with demands for simple reforms like allowing individuals to design applications on their own within Facebook and have the right to give or sell them to other members.
That process could involve the formation of local elected communities that debate and determine local and global Facebook policy.
The question of ownership
The process of making Facebook a collective controlled by us will only start when we forcefully assert that the content of Facebook, and the profits derived by Facebook, belong to us. That is to say that Facebook belongs to us.
Although Facebook Incorporated claims the right to all profits generated and gives nothing to the users who produce all content and form all networks, this assumption is questionable. Facebook clearly belongs to those who create it, not those with access to international finance and rows of lawyers.
We need to create an effective discussion about ownership and develop concrete proposals for what the ownership of this shared space for communication will look like in the future. Those proposals must be backed up with concrete demands including plans that will be implemented by organized groups of users for shared ownership of Facebook and shared profits.
Making Facebook our own requires us to rethink what our role in society is. We must snap out of the slumber of consumption that we been steeped in for so many years. I believe that the current economic, ecological and ideological crisis may be enough to wake us up.
Part of the process could be a constitutional convention at which we will draft a basic constitution Facebook that will establish the means for governing Facebook, and similar social networks and search engines, globally.
The constitution will
1. Create a mechanism by which Facebook is made responsive to the needs of its citizens;
2. Make Facebook accountable to a set of ethical principles;
3. Assure complete transparency concerning Facebook’s financial dealings and its administrative structure and assure that all profits are shared between the users who create content.
4. Make sure that access to private capital is never used as a way to control the creation of policy.
A group of experts from fields such as computer programming, design, law, art, philosophy, literature, engineering, and the social, physical, biological, and information sciences, will come together at this convention to set out the basic framework for the constitution.
After the convention, there should be a six month period of consultation with the entire Facebook community, through which we will modify the group’s initial proposals and work for a general consensus. Following the consultation period will come the day of ratification, when Facebook’s entire user base will become its citizens and will vote on the creation of a ”Republic of Facebook,” with a transparent and accountable administrative system.
Under my administration we will establish a micropayment system that allows for the fair distribution of profit from the Republic of Facebook to its users, its owners. Citizens of Facebook will be allowed to sell or exchange their creations and will be paid at appropriate rates for their posts, designs, memes, video, and audio. We have no need for a Facebook Inc. except, perhaps as a contractor, just as Merit Network was the contractor who administered the mechanics of the early Internet.
An ethically administered Facebook can serve as a place for those with similar concerns around the world to meet and engage in global participatory democracy, forming teams to propose projects for collaboration, creative solutions to common problems.
Facebook could be a means for those who pursue similar goals in every corner of the globe to seek partners and collaborators for research, policy debate and implementation. In an age of limited financing, the potential to share funds between similar groups offers tremendous potential.
If we have the will, and a sense of obligation, in the face of the current global crisis, the platform of Facebook can be transformed into a legitimate form of global democratic governance. The entire internet as well will be transformed in the process into a constitutional democracy that promotes participation by citizens through peer to peer networks and is powered 100% by renewable energy.