Mark Zuckerberg Is A Slumlord
August 21, 2019 6:45 AM   Subscribe

In trying to make sense of Facebook and the numerous scandals that have engulfed the social media giant, it has been difficult to find a good analogy for the firm. As part of a collection of writings on alternative visions of the internet, Bryan Menegus argues that the best comparison is to the slumlords who created the tenements of the Gilded Age - and how the horrific and unsafe living spaces they created were only fixed through regulation. (SLGizmodo)
posted by NoxAeternum (10 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I could quibble with the exact choice of tenements as the specific comparison / metaphor, but the core point that social media is a public health concern is exactly correct.
posted by PMdixon at 7:19 AM on August 21, 2019 [6 favorites]

Knowing what it isn’t, let’s plainly define what Facebook is: an entity which extracts monetizable data in exchange for a place to store and grow our digital lives. At its most basic, the relationship resembles that of a tenant to a landlord. So what kind of accommodation does our personal information afford? More populous than any single country, and six of the seven continents, the 2.4 billion people crammed within Facebook’s blue and grey walls are spending their data to rent a digital equivalent of a tenement, constructed to maximize profit at the expense of safety and quality of life.
The landlords of these digital fiefdoms are, more often than not, free to make their own rules, and enforce them as capriciously as suits them. There’s no shortage of historical examples where allowing private industry to run roughshod over the people they’re supposedly serving creates a lot of wealth for some, and an even larger share of human misery for the rest. Although a data breach isn’t likely to result in loss of life the way waking up in a burning building might, the two aren’t entirely dissimilar in terms of the lasting financial damage they can cause.
Not the worst parallel, IMO, particularly as the article goes on to discuss how the scope and issues with tenements weren't known until they were studied in more detail, and they weren't made more safe until comprehensive regulation came into effect.

And the article goes on to recognize that there's much more than financial damage being caused by this social media giant.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:48 AM on August 21, 2019 [13 favorites]

There's also an analogy between social media and the explosion of drugs and medicines in the 19th and early 20th centuries, many of which were completely useless or, worse, deadly. The government response was to establish regulatory agencies like the FDA and FTC that put in place mechanisms for testing, labeling and certifying these substances; we created multiple categories of access (i.e. prescription vs over the counter) based on evaluation of risk and benefit; we built up a legal structure that allowed for civil and criminal liabilities when things went wrong. That structure is far from perfect - see: over-criminalization of marijuana, etc - but its a lot better than no protection at all.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 8:29 AM on August 21, 2019 [14 favorites]

Arguing for increased regulation of social media when we have a fascist president and a half-fascist Congress is literally crazy for anyone but a right wing white guy.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:21 AM on August 21, 2019 [10 favorites]

i'm just going to go ahead and derail, because the resonances between the use of "slumlord" as a metaphor and facebook's own enabling of slumlords is too good to pass up:

Facebook sued over alleged housing discrimination.

the tl;dr: is that facebook allowing for ads that target by "national origin, family status, disability and other factors," and that people from outside the preferred "national origin, family status, disability and other factors" can't see, is a straight up violation of the fair housing act.

standard brain: delete your facebook
galaxy brain: facebook delenda est.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:21 AM on August 21, 2019 [8 favorites]

And you can bet that Facebook will be running a Section 230 defense on that lawsuit, arguing that it's not their fault that end users use those illegal categories.

Arguing for increased regulation of social media when we have a fascist president and a half-fascist Congress is literally crazy for anyone but a right wing white guy.

The problem with this argument is that once we have a government that is sane again, it flips to "you can't regulate social media - what if the fascists get into power again?" It becomes a self-sustaining argument for doing nothing.

Silicon Valley has shown that it cannot be trusted - it has to be regulated (and in many cases broken up.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:38 AM on August 21, 2019 [10 favorites]

Arguing for increased regulation of social media when we have a fascist president and a half-fascist Congress is literally crazy for anyone but a right wing white guy.

Fffffuuuuu .... you're right, and I overlooked that because of my own privilege.

Related good news, regarding social media abuses: Man sued for using bogus YouTube takedowns to get address for swatting -- YouTube sues man for multiple egregious abuses of the DMCA takedown process. (Timothy B. Lee for Ars Technica, Aug. 20, 2019)
YouTube is suing a Nebraska man the company says has blatantly abused its copyright takedown process. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act offers online platforms like YouTube legal protections if they promptly take down content flagged by copyright holders. However, this process can be abused—and boy did defendant Christopher L. Brady abuse it, according to YouTube's legal complaint (pdf via

Brady allegedly made fraudulent takedown notices against YouTube videos from at least three well-known Minecraft streamers. In one case, Brady made two false claims against a YouTuber and then sent the user an anonymous message demanding a payment of $150 by PayPal—or $75 in bitcoin.

"If you decide not to pay us, we will file a 3rd strike," the message said. When a YouTube user receives a third copyright strike, the YouTuber's account gets terminated.

A second target was ordered to pay $300 by PayPal or $200 in Bitcoin to avoid a third fraudulent copyright strike.

A third incident was arguably even more egregious. According to YouTube, Brady filed several fraudulent copyright notices against another YouTuber with whom he was "engaged in some sort of online dispute."
Except this means he was sued to stop him ... after repeated abuses. What about a stalker who does this only once, to get his target's address? And this is was used after the fact, not to block access in the first place.

More shiite news: Ring asks police not to tell public how its law enforcement backend works -- Ring asks cops not to call its security cameras "security cameras" in public. (Kate Cox for Ars Technica, Aug. 21, 2019)
Amazon's Ring line of consumer home surveillance products enjoys an extensive partnership with local police departments all over the country. Cops receive free product, extensive coaching, and pre-approved marketing lines (Ars Technica), and Amazon gets access to your 911 data (Ars Technica) and gets to spread its network of security cameras all over the nation. According to a trio of new reports, though, the benefits to police go even further than was previously known—as long as they don't use the word "surveillance," that is.

Gizmodo on Monday published an email exchange between the chief of police in one New Jersey town and Ring showing that Ring edited out certain key terms of a draft press release before the town published it, as the company frequently does.

The town of Ewing, New Jersey, in March said it would be using Ring's Neighbors app. Neighbors does not require a Ring device to use; consumers who don't have footage to share can still view certain categories of crime reports in their area and contribute reports of their own, sort of like a Nextdoor on steroids.

Law enforcement has access to a companion portal that allows police to see an approximate map of active Ring cameras in a given area and request footage from them in the course of an investigation. The town also launched a subsidy program, giving up to 200 residents a $100 discount on the purchase of Ring security products. Members of the police department also received $50 discount vouchers for their own use.
Start drafting legislation now with progressive politicians, if they aren't already working on this.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:06 PM on August 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

I went on another FB hiatus yesterday after encountering an implied threat of violence towards a youth. I reported the comment and went through the 'community standards' steps, where I learned that only 'credible threats' go against these community standards:

Why? Metafilter, e.g. manages to exclude even rhetorical violence as a rule...Why would I join a 'community' that encourages violence to its members as long as it is not 'credible' ? ("Because my schoolmates from decades ago might be members", seems to be the answer).
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 12:55 PM on August 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Eh, metafilter is quite tolerant of rhetorical violence as long as it's directed at acceptable targets. (one of) the problem(s) with facebook is that it seems to let people target everyone else too.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 4:21 PM on August 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

At the risk of a derail - Mefi supports the use of rhetoric in the effort to destroy a given worthy target, but even joking about, say, torturing billionaires will some times often get modded away. There is a hazy line here, I admit.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 8:01 PM on August 22, 2019

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