Instead of regulating Facebook like a traditional telecom or media company, Bloomberg Opinion columnist Elaine Ou argues “Facebook should be regulated the same way as other vices like tobacco, alcohol and gambling”: Facebook achieved outsize market share with an addictive product. A competing platform would need to do an even better job of exploiting psychological vulnerability to topple the incumbent. But the solution to a harmful industry dominated by a monopoly is not to foster equally harmful competitors; it’s to reduce our dependence on the industry as a whole. Regulatory proposals should begin by protecting the youth. Facebook has a messaging app designed for kids under 13, but expecting the platform to protect children from harmful content is like asking the tobacco industry to make a kid-friendly cigarette. There’s sort of a conflict of interest going on. If Silicon Valley execs refuse to let their own children use apps, perhaps they shouldn’t be allowed to market their apps to other people’s children either.

A lot of our complacency toward social media platforms stems from a lack of understanding of how they take advantage of emotional vulnerabilities to keep users engaged. This is not unintentional. And much like the tobacco companies that spent four decades denying a link between smoking and lung cancer, Facebook has been equivocal in acknowledging its own harmful effects. That brings us to another response outside the realm of antitrust: Tobacco companies are now required to disclose the contents of their products and open their processing facilities to inspection to reduce information asymmetry between the consumer and manufacturer. The source code behind Facebook’s news feed should be made available for inspection as well. The nationwide decline in tobacco use was the result of decades of public awareness campaigns. The government should recognize social media for its psychologically exploitative properties and treat these companies the same way – with restrictions on youth targeting and with publicity about the risks. In closing, Elaine suggests the anti-drug ads depicting a fried egg “can be repurposed to illustrate what your brain looks like at the hands of tech employees who like to ‘move fast and break things.'”

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