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A good read about Facebook from Brian Bergstein at MIT Technology Review: We Need More Alternatives to Facebook – MIT Technology Review

Bergstein compares Facebook’s concentration of power to that of the U.S. television industry in the 60s. He quotes a speech given in 1961 by FCC chairman Newton Minow, which told TV executives:

Your industry possesses the most powerful voice in America. It has an inescapable duty to make that voice ring with intelligence and with leadership. In a few years, this exciting industry has grown from a novelty to an instrument of overwhelming impact on the American people. It should be making ready for the kind of leadership that newspapers and magazines assumed years ago, to make our people aware of their world.

Facebook is in a similar position. And Bergstein argues that the problem now is the same as the problem Minow identified with the television industry — a “concentration of power.”

While Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged that Facebook must learn and improve in order to “make a global community that works for everyone” I agree with Bergstein that the solution is not likely to be more Facebook. Zuckerberg’s proposals to tweak Facebook’s news feed algorithms to discourage hoaxes and to encourage higher quality content address some problems.  But it still troubles me that any one company could have so much power over the spread of information.

What happened with television, and what Bergstein proposes to address concentration of power online, is the creation of alternatives. The obvious challenge for those who would create alternatives to Facebook is how to address its overwhelming market share. I’m not sure that any single alternative can make a significant dent.  Toward the end of his essay, Bergstein writes:

But having many more niche alternatives to Facebook could be exactly what we need. Even if none stole a significant chunk of Facebook’s users, it might be enough to remind people that even as Facebook becomes more powerful than ever—rolling up massive profits and preparing to beam down Internet access to offline corners of the globe—other options are possible, and vital.

Certainly, it’s difficult for me to imagine another platform that connects me to the same number of friends and colleagues. But I can imagine connecting to those people through a multitude of other means alongside Facebook. And I can imagine that this could encourage myself (and others) to be moderate in our reliance on any single platform.

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