Don't Break Up Social Media, Bifurcate It
Having broken up an incumbent media oligarchy and augmented people’s freedom of expression, social media is as transformational as the printing press was 500 years ago. But to ensure that the technology does more good than harm, its core functions should be separated from each other.
CHICAGO – After being celebrated for playing a central role in the Arab Spring, social-media platforms are now blamed for any outcome that traditional media outlets dislike – from the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election to political polarization more generally. Growing disenchantment with social media has led to growing demands for regulation. The pressure is now great enough that Facebook, fearful of being shackled by the state, has sought to lead the regulatory effort itself, advertising heavily to express its own support for such policies.
But what type of regulation do we need? To answer that question, we first must appreciate the transformational nature of social media, which is arguably comparable to that of the printing press in fifteenth-century Europe.
Before the printing press, books were unaffordable, and their production had to be subsidized by the Catholic Church, which thus maintained a monopoly over knowledge. But once the printing press arrived, books become affordable for the merchant class. And because most merchants were not fluent in Latin, demand for Bibles printed in the vernacular surged.