Photo Credit: flickr
If you are still thinking about Google and Facebook as technology companies, it’s time to wake up to the fact that they are much more like traditional media companies than Silicon Valley tech stalwarts. The way these two companies make the bulk of their money is via advertising, and that means that their business model is set up to maximize the influx of advertising dollars.
In short, the more money that people spend on Facebook or Google ads, the more money these companies make, and the happier that shareholders and Wall Street investors are going to be. Even while both companies are shifting into hardware (like the very impressive Google Pixel phone), the reality is that they both make their money via advertising.
The Internet advertising model is broken
The problem is that this advertising model is fundamentally broken. It means that Google and Facebook are largely willing to accept ads from anyone, as long as they are paying in cold, hard American dollars. It all started with Facebook accepting ads for people pushing dodgy get-rich-quick schemes, miracle diet pills and all kinds of conspiracy theories.
And it has snowballed from there. If you buy into the argument that the Russian government was using proxy organizations to buy up ads on Facebook supporting an anti-Hillary and pro-Trump agenda, then you could make the argument that Facebook was willing to turn a blind eye to the source of the funds, as long as they were getting paid. In any other business, that would be considered “dirty money.”
The hypocrisy of accepting advertising dollars from anyone
Another example involves the way the two Silicon Valley companies were apparently willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that organizations were buying up ads on Facebook and Google that promoted an anti-immigration agenda. The details are still emerging on how the conservative nonprofit Secure America Now was actively promoting its anti-immigration agenda through the use of social media ads. This is the same organization, of course, that has tried to convince people that immigrants coming to America from the Middle East will lead to Sharia law being imposed in the U.S.
The reason why this example is potentially so troubling is because it suggests that all the rhetoric from Facebook and Google about immigration and the need to support the free flow of immigrants to Silicon Valley is just a PR stunt. When it comes down to it, the two companies are willing to accept ad dollars from organizations that are promoting exactly the opposite agenda. Moreover, Facebook apparently worked closely with the organization, even going so far as to help them test the best ads.
Should companies limit or censor advertising content?
Of course, you could make the argument that Silicon Valley has no business trying to censor content, as long as that content is not unconstitutional. In other words, you might be appalled at efforts to limit immigration, viewing it as fundamentally un-American, but it is still very much covered by the constitutional right to free speech. This is still America: you can’t just silence someone because they don’t believe what you believe.
So what does this say about our favorite technology companies? It’s easy to act indignant, of course, but in many ways, unfortunately, this is just business as usual. Now that Google and Facebook have grown up from their startup days and become multi-billion-dollar companies, they are going to act just like every other multi-billion-dollar company: as long as they’re making money, they aren’t going to rock the boat or ask too many uncomfortable questions