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Why Facebook is like Brexit (or why Brexit is like Facebook…)

Updated: Jan 23, 2019

The news that Facebook is finally launching fact-checkers in the UK crystallised for me how much Facebook’s current predicaments have in common with the unending shower that is Brexit. (And that’s not even counting the Remainer fantasy of how fact checkers during the original campaign may have helped debunk the misleading and unrealistic claims of the Leave side and may even have swung the result the other way. I doubt it personally, but there we go.)

No the similarities I’m referring to are the ongoing agonies of both which are all direct consequences of the inherent contradictions of their original founding myths, which either no one thought through properly at the time, or if they did kept very quiet so as not to spoil the party.

For the benefit of those outside the UK, the Brexit process is really not going well. At all. Whatever people’s views, however they voted, the only thing everyone can agree on is that what’s happening right now is unremittingly awful.

During the referendum, proponents of Brexit could not have been clearer - vote for us to leave the EU and everything you don’t like will go away (feeling out of control, not being able to do whatever we like, ’uncontrolled’ immigration) without any cost whatsoever.

What we are now witnessing is the unravelling of this promise. In particular proponents of Brexit still refuse to accept that full membership of the European Single Market means either being a full member of the EU, or accepting the rules of the Single Market without having any say in them. There simply are no other options. This was true before the referendum campaign, during it, since, and in the future.

The Brexiteers claimed otherwise however and have since been variously in denial and confusion, reacting with periodic anger or nonchalance when this stubborn fact refuses to go away. And it never will. The Brexit promised land, the simple dream of full and free access to the Single Market without either being an EU member or a vote-less rule-taker does not and never will exist.

Facebook too had a very simple proposition. Join with us and have a great time with your friends. Keep up with people, share stuff you like from yourself or from around the internet among those friends in a nice safe environment. And none of it will ever cost you penny.

This too is now unravelling. From the the fact that not everyone you will come across in Facebook will actually be your friend and might not have virtuous motives, to Facebook’s contortions to avoid ever being labelled with the status of ‘publisher’, to the very real cost to individuals of their valuable data being used in all sorts of ways by Facebook and other parties, the costs and tradeoffs built into Facebook are under the spotlight as never before. From its beginning as a fun way to connect with people you know, Facebook now finds itself under siege and attack from all directions and there’s little sign of that ending soon.

To be clear, I’m not predicting either the imminent reversal of Brexit (unfortunately, I voted Remain) or the end of Facebook, but I am in no doubt that the troubles of both were set in motion by decisions and omissions made right at the start and as a result are deeply baked in and won’t be going away any time soon, if ever.

Just one final thought - does all this mean the appointment of leading Remainer Nick Clegg by Facebook makes more sense or less sense?

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