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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Is Social Media A Public Utility? Questions and More Questions

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is about to begin his testimony before a United States Senate subcommittee about topics including Facebook's granting of access to third party data aggregators.

Perhaps lost in the news, and the outrage, are issues about the parties involved, including members of the general public, worldwide.

I list these issues just to remind readers of the basic elements of these parties, and their significance which is lost among the headlines.

1. Social media platforms are private businesses, and this is true even for businesses with classes of equity registered and trading publicly (e.g., Google, Twitter, Facebook).

2. Social media platforms are not instrumentalities or agencies of any government.

3. Even if government agencies have registered accounts, the platforms themselves are not "state actors." The state actors are the accountholders, whom, we trust, are individuals authorized to act on behalf of their employer (the agency).

4. No individual has been forced or compelled to join or participate on -- or remain on -- any social media platform.

Given the above, now let's evaluate the questions of whether these social media companies are "so big" they need to be regulated.

Is the real debate, unspoken but present nonetheless, obscuring what is a competition among Big Data and Big Government to see which gets to become the preeminent gatekeepers to people's data?

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