Missing the point

Under the snappy title ‘Why the world would be a better place without Facebook, Google and Amazon… and Britain can lead the way in cutting them down to size’, Tobias Ellwood, MP for Bournemouth East and Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, writes in the Daily Mail today about the absolute awfulness of ‘big tech’.

It’s all standard ‘social media will lead to the end of the democracy’ type stuff – which I am completely on board with – until it all falls apart:

It may seem unthinkable to live in a world without Facebook, Twitter, Google or Amazon. But along with protecting the environment, it is one of the priorities of our age. If we are brave enough to do what is right, new businesses will appear that abide by democratic regulation and work for the good of us all.

First, it is not unthinkable to live in a world without Facebook or Twitter. I think about it often, and it’s delightful. Second, he assumes that if Facebook and Google were outlawed on our shores, then a new social network would arise that would have non of the ailments of the previous lot, casually forgetting that the problem with social networks (apart from the people on them) isn’t that they don’t abide by democratic regulation, it’s that governments, including the one that Mr Ellwood works for, have consistently failed to regulate them.

There must be mechanisms and protocols to prevent the anti-democratic spread of misinformation and fake and stolen news, alongside cast-iron protections for legitimate news. These firms must make their sinister algorithms accountable and tell us what information they have on us and how it is used.

How could such an objective be achieved? Writing some laws, perhaps? Worth a go.

Google is not the only search engine. Why couldn’t Britain have a search engine of its own, or a British Facebook?

The only thing that could make Facebook & Twitter worse is if they were filled exclusively with the British. That’s why there isn’t one. It would be awful. And Britain does have ‘its own’ search engine. It’s called Mojeek, and it’s… ok?

The whole article reeks of the assumption that something being British makes it better, which hasn’t been true for a long time. The only thing that could make the social media debate worse is wrapping it up in nationalism – which Mr Ellwood has a decent crack at.

I, for one, would like to opt out of the Conservative vision of a tech utoipia.