Readers familiar with my writings know that I have criticized the economic model that allows Facebook and Twitter to amass billions of dollars in profits exploiting the activities of their users. Users are in many respects like the movie production companies. Facebook and Twitter provide accommodations for sharing their productions with others. But unlike movie production companies, Facebook and Twitter users receive no share of the profits those companies make off their productions. Thus, though Facebook and Twitter pretend to offer free accommodations, they end up luring people into becoming unpaid factors of production.
This should be galling to users being exploited for profit. Essentially, we are like animals put on display to profit our masters, but too dumb to understand or care about the fact we receive no proportionate return from the wealth their activity produces. In effect, these exploitative internet companies have found the key to getting human beings to act like dumber than usual chattel, slaving away for the profit of exploiters who don’t even bother to contribute to their subsistence.
The offer to provide, gratis, a sophisticated venue for free expression blinded us to the fact that we are, in effect, giving our profitable labor away for free. In this respect we are acting less like the nomads of the Middle East – greedily exploited for a time by oil interests who understood the enormous value of the oil the nomads at first regarded as a smelly nuisance – than the inanimate oil, being freely transformed into profitable results in return for the privilege of being exploited.
But these days our exploiters have decided to rip off their accommodating mask and play the master. People suddenly asked to surrender their freedom of expression are awakening to the fact that their internet hosts never regarded them as a free good, but as a factor of production, generating money and power. They mean now to abuse that power to transform what have been willing human commodities into servants of their vaulting global ambitions, whether we will or no.
We might have remained oblivious if our would-be masters only sought to censor and limit our expression in an equitable fashion, that served the lawful, orderly and peaceful exchange of information of benefit to us all. We could have provided and fed on our chosen streams of information without noticing that the people who built and provided the venue for our potluck supper were more interested in advancing themselves to power than in serving our ability to prosper as individuals and responsible citizens.
We also might never have given a thought to the fact that the internet itself, from which these companies profit, would not exist but for the participation, and even the initiative, of governments, including our own, that helped to launch it successfully. Thus, as a people, and as individual taxpayers, we invested in its existence. Why should we be happy to be used for profit as chattel without demanding a return that respects our role as individuals and as a nation.
Other nations do not appear content to do so. The EU is, even now, trying to agree on a scheme to tax the internet behemoths. France is reportedly inclined to do so on its own if the EU countries cannot arrive at a plan for doing so in common. Given the ethos of our constitutional republic, and our preference for individual enterprise, the people of the United States should demand that their representatives adopt a plan that implements a tax on these internet exploiters. Like Alaska’s tax on oil production, the proceeds from the tax should be apportioned among U.S. persons, in proportion to the percentage of the U.S.-based Facebook population each U.S. person’s internet following represents.
This would be a direct infusion of capital into the hands of individual and corporate persons in the United States. It would be an incentive for Americans in general to increase their participation in Facebook and Twitter. It would also be a bridle on the ambition of Facebook’s proprietors, available to remind them of the contribution and stake the American people have in their business – a stake we will insist on using in ways that respect the best interest of our people, including our interest in practices that respect our rights as individual or corporate persons, and our sovereign duty as a people.