In the face of Facebook’s most recent security debate the question arises why no European alternative to America’s big internet companies like Google and Facebook has emerged as of yet. In fact, no new privately owned competitor to Facebook or Google seems to be on the horizon. These companies appear to be too big and powerful for others to threaten their monopoly position.
Social Media will, despite Facebook’s security disaster, keep its importance as a tool of debate and opinion making within the democratic discourse. However, this role undoubtedly is too important and too sensitive to leave it in the hands of privately owned companies in the US.
Platform companies like Facebook rely on profit and hence it’s no surprise that the amount of advertising we see on these networks is increasing on a daily basis. Furthermore our data is saved, analysed and sold, building the base for vote rigging which could be witnessed in every single election that has recently occurred.
It appears absolutely essential for Europe to find its own way in dealing with future digital challenges. It’s clearly not enough setting up taxes and regulations for multinational platform companies.
So why not set up our own publicly funded European social network?
We have to build an alternate social platform based on our European ideas and values of privacy and security standards. A genuine democratic flagship project could be the key to a strong and cohesive Europe. We should be aware of the fact that data protection and information self-determination are fundamental rights of any citizen in the digital age. A project like that would provide an opportunity for Europe to go ahead and create the technical underpinning of a 21st-century revolution of democracy. Besides, a European social network would support the local economy in different ways and affect various areas of life. For instance:
Media and Journalism
We are currently witnessing a radical change in media consumption. Citizens no longer access news directly via newspaper websites. Instead, scrolling down your Facebook generated newsfeed has become much more common. This is in many ways problematic. Since newspaper articles only appear in the user’s newsfeed if the media company promotes their own articles, journalism and media companies are being forced to pay to generate their readers. As a consequence only those mass media companies that have the money will continue to generate their readers successfully and vica versa. Moreover, local media companies are gradually losing valuable advertising clients to platform companies in the US. All in all the dominance of Facebook has been affecting the European media landscape in a negative way and will continue to do so unless alternate social media platforms will be established. Therefore a democratic European platform would be a vital tool to support local news companies equally and would also bring about a more democratic discourse in general.
Small companies and start-ups
Lots of small companies and start-ups have managed to gradually gain thousands of loyal online followers over the years. In the early days of the platform this was a good way to reach all those people in an easy and convenient way. However, as Facebook started to expand it also started to convert its free service into a business. Since then small companies (just like any type of advertiser) have been forced to pay in order to get their content into their followers’ and fans’ neewsfeed. A European network could provide this service in order to support and fund small businesses and start-ups for free.
As the public broadcasting fee has come under scrutiny in lots of European member states it may also be the right time to address the question whether the forms of media services currently offered by public broadcasting organizations is still compatible with modern media consumption. As social media has become today’s most popular source of information and news acquisition, it appears to be the duty of the European Union and its member states to provide its citizens with a neutral, genuinely democratic social media platform which is not dependent on selling its user data for profit.