Are Social Networks Essential Facilities?

by on July 28, 2011 · 1 comment

That’s the question I take up in my latest Forbes column, “The Danger Of Making Facebook, LinkedIn, Google And Twitter Public Utilities.”  I note the rising chatter in the blogosphere about the potential regulation of social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter. In response, I argue:

public utilities are, by their very nature, non-innovative. Consumers are typically given access to a plain vanilla service at a “fair” rate, but without any incentive to earn a greater return, innovations suffers. Of course, social networking sites are already available to everyone for free! And they are constantly innovating.  So, it’s unclear what the problem is here and how regulation would solve it.

I don’t doubt that social networking platforms have become an important part of the lives of a great many people, but that doesn’t mean they are “essential facilities” that should treated like your local water company. These are highly dynamic networks and services built on code, not concrete. Most of them didn’t even exist 10 years ago. Regulating them would likely drain the entrepreneurial spirit from this sector, discourage new innovation and entry, and potentially raise prices for services that are mostly free of charge to consumers.  Social norms, public pressure, and ongoing rivalry will improve existing services more than government regulation ever could.

Read my full essay for more.

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