Facebook, the problem that doesn’t need to be one

Facebook has been in the news a lot, lately, did you notice? It’s difficult not to. Personally, I don’t understand what the fuss is about. Any human being, young or old, should steer clear of any development by someone who states: “The suckers let me have all their data”, when he started his company. The key word in that sentence once uttered by mr. Zuckerberg was “suckers”. The use of that word didn’t bode well for any form of decency or empathy. But I understand some of us have difficulty grasping the notion of predatory behaviour. And yet, it shouldn’t be too difficult to stop Facebook from destroying communities and democracies worldwide.

A few months ago, councillors stripped a Leeds pub of its alcohol licence after a spate of violent incidents linked to the pub left one constable “convinced” someone may be killed if the venue wasn’t closed (https://www.leeds-live.co.uk/news/leeds-news/old-red-lion-pub-leeds-21278029). Some time later, in Birmingham, a pub’s premises was closed because of trouble with its customers causing trouble in the neighbourhood (https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/newsbirmingham/cocktail-bar-says-public-urination-and-fights-from-previous-birmingham-pub-wont-happen-here/ar-AAOfNLN.

As mr. Zuckerberg has so often stated, Facebook isn’t a publisher and as such cannot be held responsible for the behaviour of its users, both when they’re actively using the platform and outside of it. If Facebook isn’t a publisher, it must be something else.

If you think it through, Facebook is a pub, a very large one at that, but a pub nonetheless. The only difference is that users bring their own alcohol, but then go on to meet with family and friends, and with people they don’t know at all, and talk about the same sort of topics they talk about when they go to the… pub.

While we can’t strip mr. Zuckerberg of his alcohol licence because he’s not serving any, the essence of the Leeds case and others like it is clear: a pub owner or exploiter has a responsibility towards the people inside the pub (safety, etc) but also to those outside if the havoc started when the troublemakers were inside.

This line of thought is reasonable, expected by people who have the slightest shred of decency in their body and legally sound. The pub owner should do their job, which is to protect both their customers and the public at large against violence, no matter the cost. If that cost becomes too high, the pub owner should close the business or no longer serve alcohol (which boils down top the same).

The USA is, of course, the country of the saloon where, if we can rely on movies to represent what really went on in those places, gun fights and people being thrown across wooden counters were business as usual.

I doubt, though, if things are now what they were in the 19th Century. And if they bear any resemblance to what is common in the UK and by extension in the rest of the civilised world, modern saloon owners too have a responsibility towards the public they serve.

If that is the case, I really, really don’t understand why law enforcement, politicians and others who pretend to belong to the ruling class in any country where Facebook is active — which is every country on the face of this planet — don’t take action against its founder and owner. While they can’t strip mr. Zuckerberg from an alcohol licence, they can, as with everyone else, prosecute his company — and, in some countries/cases, him personally — for not preventing violence and, as we have known for a while, inciting it even.

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