Taming the Facebook beast

By Peter Fowler

Facebook boycotts don’t appear to worry Mark Zuckerberg.  Why would they when commentators say Facebook is “too big to fail.”   Zuckerberg’s not worried about a consumer boycott, because people don’t have anywhere else to go. And, to quote Hamlet, “There’s the rub.”

If you want to reign in Facebook, you need to lure its audience away.  

Facebook is after all a media company. Its business model lives or dies on audience size. You just need to provide a better alternative and a good reason to leave. Then it’s just a matter of time.

It appears a daunting task but for a country such as New Zealand it could be relatively straightforward with the right carrot, such as free Internet.  Good reason is not hard to find, starting with National Security.  

Stuff’s decision to stop feeding Facebook on ethical grounds is to be applauded. It also makes practical sense in terms of allocation of resources.  My experience of modern day media is they have a large social media staff.  I challenge any media organisation to add up how much they are paying people to feed third- party platforms such Facebook compared with the financial and even audience return from that platform. 

They are feeding the monster that is sucking up all their advertising revenue in what is most likely a futile loss making exercise. Stop feeding it and you free up a lot of staff.

Stuff is currently free and its departure from Facebook may be hurting audience size and advertising income or it may make little difference.  In media organisations I have worked, often the Facebook story that went viral was posted originally by a random member of the public.  No doubt Stuff will be watching what effect readers-alone posting in Facebook will have on traffic and revenue.

There’s evidence that Facebook boycotts, particularly financial, are largely ineffective as the majority of ads come from small and medium businesses who can’t afford to stop advertising because that’s where the biggest audience is.  Some brokers are actually encouraging investors to buy Facebook and Instagram stock and have labelled the advertiser boycott a “farce”.   The brokers say “both sites have too big a user base to ignore.” 

This is probably why the Government-owned NZ Super Fund has over $240 million invested in Facebook.  Unlike Stuff, it appears the ethical considerations of supporting a platform which enables the live broadcast of mass murder, the facilitation of genocide and a host of other heinous crimes don’t come into it.  Not to mention the mass manipulation of an unsuspecting public.

The Government and political party use and financial support of Facebook is astounding given it does not recognise New Zealand law and the aforementioned crimes are ongoing. Anybody can still commit a mass murder live on Facebook in New Zealand.  This alone should outweigh any good Facebook does.

Having an alternative would allow the Government to regain sovereignty over Facebook. It could enforce New Zealand law without depriving citizens of a social media network to conduct their lives if Facebook had to be blocked from the country. 

The biggest difficulty to overcome is there is currently no real alternative to the scale of Facebook.   If you want to get to Facebook, you need to get to its audience.  You need to lessen its reach. You need to challenge it head on. You need to provide an alternative.  Our team of 5 million beat Covid-19.  We can do this.

For much less than the $240 million the Super Fund has invested in Facebook, you could build a New Zealand digital ecosystem separate from the open internet.  Everyone who signs up gets a free high-speed Internet connection - their passport into our virtual islands.      

The Covid-19 Lock Down laid bare the digital divide in New Zealand, with estimates 100,000 school children could not participate in remote learning because they did not have an internet connection at home.  This would get these poverty stricken families online.

It would be a state-owned-enterprise and everyone would be verified. As well as education, it would be a place of commerce, news and entertainment and be a celebration of New Zealand culture.  It would be part of Civil Defence infrastructure. 

The return on investment would be an information and communications ecosphere that people can trust, which will respect their privacy and will protect the innocence of our children.  It would be part of New Zealand’s critical infrastructure and the lifeline of our democracy.  The model could be exported to the rest of the world.

At Kinga VoxPop we are dedicated to helping build the next social media and are placing voice at the heart of this system.  It will be social media by the people, for the people.

If we don’t do anything, the world will become an even more misinformed, ignorant and scary place than it is now. And that’s saying something.
Rather than build more roads, we should invest in a digital superhighway that connects all New Zealanders and has New Zealand’s laws and interests at heart.

People say Facebook is too big to fail, but then they said The Titanic was unsinkable.

Comments welcomed to peter.fowler@voxpop.nz