Towards a non-profit social media: the digital public library project

By Media Reform Coalition / Monday February 3, 2020 Read More

A guest post from Breezy Brian Gregg of Canada’s Digital Public Library Project

There is a need for a nonprofit universal free digital streaming service funded by general taxes, which does not surveil people using the service nor expose them to advertising. 

This project is about promoting the idea of creating such a service. Your on-line service will be a publicly-funded, independent, nonprofit, digital communications service that provides to the public, free of charge, the following services:

  • digital content streaming services
  • search engine services
  • social media services

At the same time, it would provide copyright owners with a fair way to be rewarded for the use of their intellectual property. Proposed is a payment service that automatically pays copyright fees to digital content owners based on use, unless the user objects (the user’s manual claw-back option). This manual claw-back option for the user is intended to discourage those who want to profit from deception and is intended to be a democratic filter protecting the service from having to fund content that users disapprove of.

It would be like a combination of YouTube, Google, and Facebook minus the surveillance and the advertising. 

Using the business model for providing these digital services is proving to be a serious problem for democracy and is making living more costly than it has to be. A just transition to nonprofit communications services should strengthen democracy and lower the cost of living. The problem for democracy is that the commercial communications services largely finance their service with advertising revenue. This practice creates the opportunity for big money to buy a dominating voice in the conversations that determine what is politically possible. 

Trying to solve the problem of big money’s advertising weakening democracy by banning or regulating advertising, is not a best solution. That would run counter to our guarantees of freedom of expression which I hope we wish to retain. We don’t need to ban it. 

The beauty of transitioning to a nonprofit communications service is that it is a way to severely limit our exposure to advertising without actually banning it. One of the great things about having a not-for-profit digital communications service is, that because it would not provide any opportunity to buy advertising, there would be no need to face the expensive and messy task of of regulating and policing advertising. 

Communications service businesses inflate our cost of living. The way they inflate our cost of living is this. People using the services are persistently exposed to advertising pitches. This creates artificial demand. That means it makes people want things they would not naturally be wanting without exposure to advertising. The result is that in the market, demand goes up. 

What else goes up when demand goes up? Product prices … that’s right: when demand goes up prices go up. Prices become unnaturally inflated, we pay far more for everything we purchase and we purchase more than we normally would. This is nice for the firms that advertise because they get to make extra profits at the consumer’s expense, without really providing anything extra. 

Funding communications services with income taxes or general sales taxes is more efficient than extracting funds from consumers by exposing them to advertising. The latter results in consumers paying what amounts to a hidden tax that goes to pay huge profits to businesses that provide something that could be mostly automated. 

A Digital Public Library should be able to capture all the audiences that are now captured by businesses. This is because in general although the audiences like the digital content they can now access through commercial communications services, they do not, in general, like to be spied on or advertised to. 

You are encouraged to do two things:
1.) Abstain! Whenever you can, avoid using commercial newspapers, commercial TV, Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, Instagram. In general avoid using anything that exposes you to advertising or that requires you to pay a fee.

2.) Speak up about the need for our governments to fund a not-for-profit communications service so we can protect our democracy from the influence of big money in politics and at the same time make living more affordable. Your government could make this happen. 

The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of the MRC.