Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy

Innovation and Economic Growth and Competition Policy and Antitrust

Article Snapshot


Siva Vaidhyanathan


Oxford University Press, 2018


Facebook and other tech firms have failed to filter out racism and other harmful ideas from the public sphere and encourage people to express themselves in shallow ways. The idea that the Internet would lead to more freedom and more competition was a myth.

Policy Relevance

People should take a global stand to resist tech firms’ power before it is too late.

Main Points

  • Facebook has normalized the failure of filters to block racism and ethnic nationalism out of the public sphere; however, more filtering of Facebook messages on a global scale cannot possibly work, because of the number of messages involved, and because peoples’ ideas as to what is acceptable vary worldwide.
  • Technology allows us to project images and voices over long distances but has done nothing to address serious public health issues, global warming, or to resist ethnic nationalism; humans are better at making things than at thinking.
  • The products of the Enlightenment are now being turned against enlightenment; these technologies could have been designed differently, rolled out with public discussion and debate, and regulated; instead, products are deployed without consideration of their long-term costs.
  • Ecology is a blow to the idea of progress; innovation cannot be our goal as a species.
  • Google and Facebook have achieved a global concentration of power not seen since the British and Dutch East India Companies, but Google and Facebook grew nonviolently and with less state support.
  • European-style data protection rules should be imposed world-wide; people should have the power to delete data from Google and Facebook’s records.
  • Strong antitrust intervention is the best way to address the concentration of power by Facebook; antitrust authorities should break up Facebook, separating WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger from the core application.
  • Some argue that firms should be run mainly to increase profits and generate returns for shareholders; a competing “stakeholder theory” emphasizes the importance of firms’ considering their environmental impact, worker wellbeing, and the community.
    • The theory of corporate social responsibility arose as our faith in the effectiveness of government declined.
    • When firms’ approaches to policy differ, public problems will not be addressed coherently.


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