I don’t usually revisit the same topic two weeks in a row, but just after TiB came out last week, Ben Thompson
published the best essay yet
on Facebook and free speech and I feel it’s worth further commentary. Do go read it
. (This piece is un-paywalled, but in any case if you don’t subscribe to Stratechery already, it really is the best tech analysis out there).
Thompson situates the rise of the internet in historical context and compares its disintermediating role to that of the printing press. It’s a familiar analogy, but Thompson treats it with more subtlety and sophistication than is typical. The point I want to amplify is the one in the final paragraph: macro-historical shifts are drawn out processes, however fast the tech moves. The Reformation - partly enabled, as Thompson argues, by the printing press - took centuries of (bloody) struggle
(This is the best book
on it) - and left the Catholic Church diminished but far from dead.
Today the nation state is not dead yet either. The US government poses an existential threat
to Facebook, hence Zuckerberg’s attempt at self-regulation via an Independent Oversight Board
. The problem is, Zuck is so powerful - an absolute monarch in his company, given his voting rights - that he can’t credibly commit not
to intervene. As Henry Farrell (previous coverage
) says in this superb interview
, absolute monarchs have always faced this challenge: their countries became more
successful once the ruler was constrained (see this paper
). This may yet prove true of Facebook too.