The attack on the fake news PL

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By MARCOS DANTAS*

Platforms, nowadays, are completely outside any social or state control

Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube, TikTok, Telegram, Twitter are mass media, or, as we say in our colonized Brazilian Portuguese, “media”. They provide 60 or 70 million Brazilian men and women, whether children, young people or adults, whether poor, rich or well off, whether they are Gauchos at one extreme or Acres at the other, they provide these millions with access to information, knowledge, culture and fun . Mostly fun. Exactly like the more traditional media, or media: newspaper, radio, television.

The huge part of the population that uses these services is the same as the average television audience: they only seek entertainment that does not demand greater intellectual effort in their leisure time. Much of what circulates there, whether on the “networks” or on TV, is politically inoffensive (ideological values ​​aside…). Television, as we know, sells its audience to advertisers, thus withdrawing its revenues and profits. Facebook and YouTube are no different: they also derive their revenues and profits from selling their audiences to advertising advertisers.

However, there is a big and very important difference between the traditional media and this new media. The "old" needs to invest not only in technology and installations, but above all in people to produce the contents that will attract the public to its advertisers: journalists, artists, auditorium animators, screenwriters, producers, and everything else necessary for its production, including carpenters, cooks, drivers, electricians, anonymous workers, but also necessary to carry out their programs. The “new” media does not invest in any of this.

You are the one who invests, if your life project is to become an “influencer”. The risk is all yours: buy the camcorder, computers, other equipment necessary for a good production; set up some environment for the recording of image and sound; identify your niche audience; develop your scripts; learn or know how to communicate with voice and body etc., etc. If it works, congratulations! YouTube or TikTok will share a (small) part of the profits with you. If it goes wrong, if you don't achieve the success you thought you deserved, that's your problem... the platform hasn't lost anything. Not even Marx would have imagined such added value!

Strictly speaking, the vast majority of Facebook, YouTube, TikTok and similar users are not investing their attention time in order to become an “influencer”: they just want to “like” something they find interesting. And you can spend hours interacting with photos or videos of kittens, comments on everyday vulgarities, when not with images, let's say, more exciting... A minority, however significant, understood that these platforms also function as spaces for public debate on political issues, art and culture.

There was, in the not so distant past, the widespread belief that the internet would allow the construction of a large space for plural and democratic debate, free from filters and censorship by the State and the dominant agendas of the “old” media. And when “social networking” platforms emerged from the United States offering “free” services, these bona fide believers transferred that same hope to them, not realizing that they were now entering a playground private: you can play, but the space has an owner and its use may have limits. The terms of use.

For the platforms, pictures of kittens or political speech have the same value – yes, value, in that Marxian sense of the term: they are commodities to be exchanged in the market. Its scientists and engineers develop algorithms that identify people interested in the photos or speech, and companies interested in sending advertising messages to these people. It's a much better deal than TV. Here, the broadcaster, based on statistical sampling, sells a certain audience profile to advertising agencies at a certain programming time.

On platforms, advertisements can almost be individuated – it is called “microtargeting” in the agency dialect –, that is: a specific advertisement can be sent to a specific potential consumer. If you like pictures of kittens, you might see ads for “pet” products. If you prefer political discourse, who knows? You might not be interested in the latest bibliography of a political celebrity, released by some powerful publisher in airport bookstores?

How is this possible?

It's possible because everything you do on “networks” or “searches” – absolutely everything – reveals who you are. While you are “browsing”, whether working, studying or having fun, your packets of bits are being registered, in the large computers of the platforms, in the form of data about your tastes, beliefs, desires, as well as age, sex, state of health, educational level, income level, also friendships, marital status… who you spent the night with or what you bought at the pharmacy.

The data are, for the “new” media, what Ibope was for the “old” media. And since Alphabet, owner of YouTube, or Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram, can collect minute by minute data from 2 to 3 billion people around the world daily, for them the data is a real gold mine. Or, as he wrote, in the cover story, the The Economist,, edition of April 17, 2017, “data is the oil of the XNUMXst century”. With an extraordinary advantage: it is an inexhaustible mine.

In any country in the world, including Brazil, mining companies can extract oil or gold, obeying specific laws, after due administrative procedures, and paying the respective royalties, in addition to other usual taxes. Alphabet, Meta or TikTok mine their gold, or oil, without having received any authorization, much less collect taxes at the height of their profits, all over the world. In 2022, Alphabet's operating income was USD 282,8 billion and its net income (after tax) was USD 60 billion[I]. Meta's operating income was USD 116,6 billion and net income was USD 23,2 billion[ii].

For comparison purposes, the size of trade between Brazil and China in 2022 was USD 150 billion, with a balance favorable to Brazil of USD 29 billion[iii]. Another suggestive comparison: in 2022, Grupo Globo's revenue was BRL 15,1 billion or, at the average dollar of BRL 5,5, USD 2,7 billion. The group's net profit was R$ 1,25 billion, or USD 227,3 million[iv]. The concerns about the alleged earnings of this dark Globo are laughable, if we think about the effects that the PL 2.630 could have on the profits of those large foreign platforms.

What effects?

Alphabet derives 48% of its revenue from the US market and 52% from outside the US[v]. Meta obtains 43% of its revenues in the United States and 57% outside[vi]. It is very likely that the legislation that the European Union, Australia, Canada, now Brazil, are adopting, directly affecting the business model of the large platforms, will have a negative impact on the revenues and profits obtained from oil in the form of data that these two, but also Twitter, Telegram, etc., mine and extract around the world.

That's what it's about. And that's why, in recent days, the big platforms opened fire against the PL reported by Deputy Orlando Silva (PCdoB-SP).

If this market – let us underline, we are dealing with a market – if this market is regulated, the costs, for US platforms, will rise[vii]. Therefore, in return, the gains for society will also rise as profits can be better distributed among other social agents, including Brazilian newspaper companies and the workers they employ. Today, those profits all go to the United States, remunerating billions of dollars a year for its main shareholders (well-known names) and even hundreds of banks, financial clubs, stockbrokers, private pension funds that hold about 70% of of the total shares in each of these corporations, speculating with these papers on the stock exchanges.

According to consultant Christian Dippon, if this mania for imposing regulatory laws on platforms spreads around the world, prices for (American) consumers could rise; revenue from “cloud” services (headquartered in the US) and advertising would drop 7,8%; and the US economy could lose 425 direct and indirect jobs[viii]. So far, regulatory frameworks have advanced in Europe (DMA and DSA), in Australia, and let's not even talk about China. Brazil, with PL 2.630, will also be able to take its place as a world reference in this process. And it will be able to snatch up some of those jobs that the United States is being forced to give back to the rest of the world….

war for data

No wonder the big platforms opened fire against PL 2.630/2020, which proposes to institute a Brazilian Law on Freedom, Responsibility and Transparency on the Internet. Commonly called “PL of fake news”, sometimes “PL of disinformation”, the PL does not deal exactly with that. And for a very simple reason: it would be impossible to objectively define “lie” or “disinformation” in a law. But it is possible to objectively define crimes against the person, even against society, which is embodied in our Constitution, institutions and resulting laws. Racism is a crime, for example. There is a law that defines this: law 7.716/1989.

It is very surprising that, due to secondary details of the PL, so many people who call themselves “progressive”, or even “left”, have been against it. The article that supposedly would be bringing “millions” to “the Globe“, in addition to, in fact, charging a kind of royalty to remunerate Brazilian work in the entire national press, not in an exclusive editorial company, it is just one article in a total body of 60 articles. There is much more – and much more important – to be debated, even improved, in this PL.

PL 2.630 objectively establishes that “social media”, “search” and “messaging” platforms will no longer be able to allow, through their systems, crimes clearly typified in the Brazilian Constitution and legislation to be committed, such as, already mentioned, the racism, also coup d'état, terrorism, gender violence and violence against children and adolescents, and others. So far, the platforms consider themselves exempt from taking any action that would avoid making them, too, accomplices in these crimes.

They are shielded in articles 18 and 19 of the Marco Civil da Internet (Law 12.965/2014). According to these articles, the “internet application provider” cannot be held civilly liable for the contents posted by its users, unless it fails to comply with a court order. The formulators of this article naively understood that services like Facebook or YouTube were nothing more than technological systems built to allow the free debate of ideas or the dissemination of news, neutral in relation to the contents that circulated through them. It never crossed anyone's mind that, in a capitalist society, there can be no free lunch: these technologies would not be so generously offered for the “free debate of ideas” if it were not possible to profit, in some way, from the offered service.

Why would platforms be against rules that seek to curb crimes committed through them? It's like asking: why would a shopkeeper whose business it is to sell guns be against any law restricting the trade in guns? Obvious answer… In the case presented here, the answer is both economic and political.

From an economic point of view, message of love or message of hate, everything is merchandise reduced to data. As Marx already taught us, in merchandise, aesthetic and ethical values ​​– the real use value – are annulled and equalized by the only value that matters: that of exchange. In recent years, for reasons whose explanation would force us to double the size of this article, hate speech, denialists, obscurantists, fascists began to occupy and may continue to occupy a large, not inconsiderable, slice of those enormous revenues and corresponding profits. Platform shareholders, speculators on Nasdaq and other exchanges, don't want to miss out on such nuggets...

From a political point of view, platforms today are completely outside any social or state control. They exercise exclusive power to decide, through their algorithms, what each individual can see or hear, shaping individual and social behaviors, including political and ideological ones. From the United States they can decide – and have decided – elections. If data is the “oil of the XNUMXst century”, let us remember that oil was (still is) not only a source of wealth but also of power. Wars, coups d'état, even assassinations were committed to decide who controlled the oil sources.

When Alphabet, on Google's search homepage, plants messages against PL 2.630, does it know that it is waging a real war to define who controls the data: the financial capital that sustains it or the general work of society that produces them?

*Marcos Dantas is a retired full professor at the School of Communication at UFRJ and member of the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee. Author, among other books, of The logic of information capital (Counterpoint).

Notes


[I] Source: Alphabet Inc., Form 10-K, US Securities and Exchange Commission, Fiscal Year Ended 31/12/2022

[ii] Source: Meta Platforms, Inc., Form 10-K, US Securities and Exchange Commission, Fiscal Year Ended 31/12/2022.

[iii] Source: https://g1.globo.com/economia/noticia/2023/03/29/como-brasil-e-china-pretendem-fechar-negocios-sem-usar-dolar-americano.ghtml, accessed on 02/ 05/2023

[iv] Source: https://valor.globo.com/empresas/noticia/2023/03/28/globo-tem-alta-na-receita-e-lucra-r-125-bi-sembarreira.ghtml, accessed on 02/ 05/2023

[v] Source: Alphabet Inc., on. cit.

[vi] Source: Meta Platforms, Inc., on. cit.

[vii] Marcos Dantas, “What to do with Telegram”, https://jornalggn.com.br/cidadania/o-que-fazer-com-o-telegram-por-marcos-dantas/, accessed on 02/05/2023

[viii] Christian M. Dippon, “Economic Value of Internet Intermediaries and the Role of Liability Protections,” available at https://internetassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Economic-Value-of-Internet-Intermediaries-the -Role-of-Liability-Protections.pdf, accessed on 13/01/2022.


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