Via n+1, Benjamin Kunkle argues that social media mega-sites need to be turned into public utilities so as to save us all:
On November 6, Twitter went public, in the private sense. Twitter shares appear ludicrously overpriced. As John Cassidy of the New Yorker calculated, “Investors were paying forty-nine dollars per dollar of revenues, and five hundred and forty-one dollars per dollar of cash flow.” But large for-profit social-media services are contradictory entities at any price, because they attempt to profit from activity that, precisely because it is social, is basically non-economic and non-productive.
The IPOs of Facebook and Twitter should therefore be reversed, through the socialization of both companies and other social-media services that attain a similar scale. The time has come, in other words, to socialize social media.
Social media should be socialized because services tend to be or become monopolies. Large social media companies—Facebook, Twitter—tend to lack competitors, for the simple reason that their platforms are not compatible. I can’t create a profile on a non-Facebook site that then appears on Facebook, and no microblogging service could emerge to challenge Twitter unless it were capable of inducing mass defections. Social media services or social utilities, as they would better be called, are thus more like highways or railroads than like car manufacturers or freight companies.
Social media should be socialized because attaining profitability (through ads or fees) is impossible without degrading the service. So far executives hope to turn a profit by providing ad space and/or by data-mining users so that information can be sold to advertisers to use more broadly. The more social-media services are infiltrated by ads, the less the user enjoys the fundamental social right of choosing her own company.
Social media should be socialized because its content is produced by society at large, and society is distinct from the economy. The staff of social media companies (Twitter’s 900 or so) are indispensable for their operations, but so are the vast numbers of users who produce the content on display (Twitter’s 230 million). Society is distinct from the economy in that no direct monetary rewards flow from participation.