Big Tech's 'business model is genuinely harmful': early Facebook investor Roger McNamee

Seana Smith
·3 min read

The storming of the Capitol “changed everything” and Big Tech needs to be held responsible for its role in the violent siege, Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook and Author of “Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe,” recently told Yahoo Finance.

“When you have a President of the United States and his enablers inciting an insurrection, and doing so in plain sight over a period of a couple of months, suddenly the platforms realize they have huge legal liability,” said McNamee, founding partner of venture firm Elevation Partners. “We’ve been like a frog in water coming to a boil. We really didn’t appreciate how we were normalizing extremism under Trump.”

McNamee, who first sounded the alarm in 2016 that Facebook’s platform was a danger to civil rights and democracy, blames the algorithms for amplifying violence and hate speech.

“Their business model is genuinely harmful,” said McNamee. “As things stand today, hate speech, disinformation, and conspiracy theories are not incidental to the business model, they're actually the lubricant for it because it’s the most engaging content out there. These guys have built businesses around it, and not only that, they’re also in on the grift. They make money from advertising that is adjacent to this really hostile content. That's what we need to regulate.”

Facebook (FB), along with Twitter (TWTR) and YouTube (GOOG, GOOGL), suspended President Trump from their platforms following the deadly riots on Capitol Hill, for fear that his rhetoric would incite future violence from pro-Trump supporters.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: Trump supporters gather outside the U.S. Capitol building following a "Stop the Steal" rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. A pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol earlier, breaking windows and clashing with police officers. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: A pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, breaking windows and clashing with police officers.

While it’s a step in the right direction, policymakers will likely push for stricter regulations as a result. Democrats, who now control the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, have long criticized Big Tech for not taking a more aggressive stance in regulating hate speech and misinformation. The party has pressed to make changes to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — the portion of the law that protects tech platforms from liability for third-party content — and last week’s events could make it a priority of the new administration.

“I do believe you'll see a serious debate about the limits that need to be placed on these companies and what that means for the business model,” said McNamee. “I think it's very unlikely they can escape this without significant change but I think the degree of change remains to be seen.”

Critics say the action taken by social media platforms over the past week to silence Trump was too little, too late. According to McNamee it was the bare minimum, and much more needs to be done.

“This industry is too important to be allowed to undermine public health, democracy, privacy and competition,” said McNamee. “I’m not in favor of censorship. I don't believe any corporation should be put in that position... What I want to do is regulate business model choices… I think it's entirely appropriate to regulate the business model for companies like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter so they do not have incentives to amplify the most extreme content.”

Seana Smith anchors Yahoo Finance Live’s 3-5 p.m. ET program. Follow her on Twitter @SeanaNSmith

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