Should We Nationalize Facebook?

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With growing questions about the prospects of long term continuity for Facebook and its record low stock prices, people are weighing in on the possibilities for the current most popular form of social networking. Prompted by one of Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy’s fellows and Professor at the University of Washington, Slate recently published Phillip Howard’s argument that the nationalization of Facebook will ultimately be for the greater good. And when Howard says “nationalization,” he means a public ownership with at least a majority share by the public sector at first. With time, Howard thinks that this “controlling interest” can be reduced given the restoration of trust by the public.

Howard’s three main points that would result by its nationalization are:

  • Fix the company’s woeful privacy practices
  • Allow the social network to fulfill its true potential for providing social good
  • Force it to put its valuable data to work on significant social problems
The post has been met with a lot of strong negative criticism including reason.com’s Ed Krayeweski and Forbes’ Adam Therier.

Howard argues that “Facebook is now public infrastructure, and it should be treated as such.”

Ed Krayeweski of reason.com’s “Hit & Run” blog, adamantly argues against this idea noting that “Facebook is not an institution, it’s a corporation (they’re people, too!) that provides a tool, social networking, which is arguably a cultural institution”. He also counters Howard’s point of Facebook’s global market dominance and a possibly outlandish idea that it is a form of colonization.  Kreyeweski dispels this argument, providing stats from the questionable website “Internet World Stats” concluding that it “is exactly like colonization, except it’s not.”

Regardless of the two arguments, even if the global prevalence of Facebook is smaller than Howard leads on to be, the very idea that a U.S. based corporation has its hands in countries other than its own is necessary cause to consider the global implications.

In concluding his post, Krayeweski makes possibly the most poignant point in his argument; that “Governments tout transparency and accountability but regularly flout both. Perhaps more tellingly, 47 percent of Americans are more worried about their government knowing too much about their personal lives, with only 28 percent distrusting private companies more.”

Adam Therier, skeptical at the idea of a government owned Facebook, backs this claim up with 10 Reasons Why Nationalizing Facebook Would Be Ridiculous. He points out, “Government entities don’t have a good track record of protecting privacy”, arguing that one could find countless amounts of privacy violations within many government agencies.

Therier, who claims Howard’s proposition to be “a moronic and dangerous idea”, does so upon the premise that Howard is implying Facebook to be used a “public” utility. Arguably the most interesting and valid point provided by the author of The Perils of Classifying Social Media Platforms as Public Utilities in his “10 Reason Why Nationalizing Facebook Would Be Ridiculous” is the simple rationalization that making Facebook a government entity is a hyper reaction to the company’s problems There are far more reasonable and possibly better ways to deal with the problems internally, he argues, suggesting that nationalizing is an extreme solution to a common problem.

Although it seems unlikely that this process will actually occur (a reality Howard acknowledges in that he refers to his idea as a “nonstarter”) the concept is fascinating nonetheless. Yes, we have seen the rise (and fall) of sites to join the ranks of social media dominance, (i.e. Myspace, LinkedIn, and Twitter), but Facebook in particular has seen an unparalleled rise and stay with such a large user base. And because of this, the idea of nationalizing a social media site which admittedly at first, is a little off-putting, ultimately isn’t such a crazy idea. The intentions may be well made and the changes somewhat doable, but the idea of nationalizing Facebook, to me, is nothing more than a politicized social thought experiment.

Do you think the nationalization of Facebook is overstepping the role of the government in matters such as social media? And furthermore, although there is overall growing distrust of Facebook, does this translate into less or more distrust in the idea of government to regulate it?

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31 comments
Justin Kelly
Justin Kelly

Is this a late/early April fools day joke? I seriously hope so. The idea that the government should take over a business/corporation to improve it is asinine and absurd.

Charles Johnson
Charles Johnson

No, I don't agree that it should be nationalized, and most of the reasons were explained by comments from others here like Bob Morris, Mike Van Roy, Robert Schmid, and more.

Diane Blossey
Diane Blossey

The government needs to stay out of facebook and the other sites like this.

Ann Atwood Fraley
Ann Atwood Fraley

You shouldn't nationalize any private entity. Nationalize is a euphemism for 'seize'.

Shar Valentine
Shar Valentine

If they do it will go down and I mean Bankrupt - everyone will not play that way - I won't!

Brian Thorp
Brian Thorp

If you're convinced the government cares about your privacy....yooooou might be a statist. How ridiculous.

Jeff Yago
Jeff Yago

You assume that the government does not *want* Facebook to collect all of this info.? I would imagine it's a huge datamining operation for so many intelligence agencies, as is. Why would they want to change that?

Mike Van Roy
Mike Van Roy

Keep it private. If we are concerned about privacy we can always opt out. And since when is the government concerned about our privacy?

Bob Morris
Bob Morris

Given the government's woeful record at protecting rights, why would they do any better than Facebook now. If the government took over, Zuckerberg and other Silicon Valley types would probably just got start a new, even better Facebook.:)

Chad Peace
Chad Peace

Terrible idea. Would never happen. Though this could really bring people together across the spectrum to stop it if they tried.

Patrick Shannon
Patrick Shannon

at $20 a share all subscribers should become members...kelso economics!

Robert Schmid
Robert Schmid

If we can't pull it together to control our out of control financial and medical sectors, nationalizing facebook is just dumb.

Kathy Satterlee
Kathy Satterlee

no i think they need to leave facebook out of it. there are more important things to take care of.

Stan Wald
Stan Wald

BIG BROTHER AND 1984. FB services suck now. Can you imagine if the gvmt got involved?

Justin Buell
Justin Buell

Hahahahahaha.... turning to government to protect privacy..... oh god.... hahahahaha.... can't stop... laughing... hahahaha....

Leslie Nicholas Haney
Leslie Nicholas Haney

Since when does nationalizing anything make it more productive? More effective, better etc? If privacy is your *issue* dont join! We're all on this planet together, get used to sharing it.

Steven Ritter
Steven Ritter

If Obama's government can take over GM, in the interest of national security and messaging, I can picture this in a 2nd Obama administration.

George Manty
George Manty

I'm sure Google would like that, because everyone would leave facebook and move to Google+ :)

Tony Purdom
Tony Purdom

All websites where the people make the media should be turned into cooperatives. We make the media we deserve the proceeds. I don't think the government should run it. I tried to start a similarly structured cooperative for 5 years. Still trying to this day. Open source makes it all possible.

Jim Lambert
Jim Lambert

which nation should nationalize it???