Another Facebook f#@k-up?



Oh dear. Facebook is at it again. The world’s most valuable social network is once again claiming that its for-profit technology will empower the powerless. Facebook is again pursuing its selfish corporate goals in the selfless language of civic altruism. What benefits Facebook, the $540 billion Silicon Valley social media leviathan is once again trying to tell us, will – surprise, surprise - also benefit humanity.

 This latest chapter in Facebook’s hubristic collapsing of its corporate interests with the interests of mankind are associated with Libra - its new cryptocurrency introduced, with much fanfare, this week. At the moment, Libra isn’t much more than a slick digital brochure produced by Facebook slick marketers. Libra is the idea of a global digital currency built on blockchain technology running on the Facebook platform and backed by a consortium 27 other corporate partners including Microsoft, Mastercard, Uber and Paypal.

 “Libra’s mission is to enable a simple global currency and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people,” Facebook modestly introduced its plans for the new currency in a widely circulated White Paper this week.

 With Libra, Facebook is attempting to reinvent global finance by building an alternative currency regulated by other private companies. Libra is intended to be the world’s first decentralized currency designed for universal use. It’s as if Facebook was to somehow buy all the Bitcoins in the world, change their name to Libra, and introduce this currency to its 2.4 billion Facebook members. Libra, then, is a privatized financial system operating on blockchain technology. The goal is to combine the world’s largest private community with the world’s most valuable private currency.

 “Move fast and break things,” Mark Zuckerberg famously boasted at the beginning of Facebook’s history. And there’s no doubt that his company has indeed both moved very fast and broken many things over the last fifteen years – including arguably our individual privacy and our democracy. So Facebook’s attempt to disrupt the architecture of our financial system should be taken very seriously by those of us concerned by the destructive impact of the digital revolution on society.

 No wonder Libra has been greeted by a deep skepticism by public officials both in the United States and Europe. As Maxine Walters, the chair of the US House Committee on Financial Services warned, Facebook – given its “troubled past” - should freeze all its plans for Libra until regulators have approved of the new currency. 

 After all, what could go wrong if the Dollar or the Euro was to be replaced by the Mark Zuckerberg’s Libra? Who wouldn’t celebrate the replacement of the Federal Reserve Bank or the European Central Bank by a currency backed by Facebook and 27 other private corporations?

In Mark Zuckerberg We Trust. LOL – to borrow the cultural currency of the Internet.

 Unfortunately, however, the Libra really isn’t a laughing matter. The problem is that it reveals Facebook’s astonishing hubris. For all its “troubled past”, the company obviously has failed to grow up. It still believes in the infantile notion that what’s good for Facebook is good for the world. And the truth, of course, is quite the opposite. As the Financial Times has already noted, Facebook’s Libra will not help the unbanked. No. It is designed to only help Facebook.

 In their Libra White Paper, Facebook bullets six “opportunities” for the disruption of the traditional financial system. Some of these points are written in the exuberant gibberish of marketeers who have liberally drunk Silicon Valley’s libertarian flavored Kool Aid. One opportunity, for example, is that “we believe that people have an inherent right to control the fruit of their legal labor”.

 The fruit of their legal labor. WTF?

 But amidst the Silicon Valley gibberish, there are some libertarian assumptions about this new currency which are both profoundly dangerous and wrong. “We believe that people will increasingly trust decentralized forms of governance,” the White Paper states, for example, without offering any evidence for such an absurd claim.

 It’s as if we are back in 2004, the year Facebook was founded, that halcyon age when many of us believed that the decentered Internet would make the world a fairer place. But over the last fifteen years, public “trust” in the digital revolution has evaporated. Today, the decentralized architecture of the internet is viewed with increasingly skepticism. Especially since it’s become increasingly self-evident that behind this technological decentralization lies the highly centralized power of trillion-dollar multi-nationals like Google and Amazon.

 Yes, trust is more valuable than all the cryptocurrency on the Internet. Take Facebook, for example. Over the last year, trust in Facebook has, according to the business analytics firm Mixpanel, “plummeted”. Since April 2018, for example, when the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, Facebook likes, shares and posts have dropped by 20%.

 And it’s this collapse of trust in Facebook that actually explains the company’s Libra initiative. The truth is that Libra – with its consortium of 27 supposedly independent corporate partners – has been designed to rebuild trust in Facebook itself. As the University of Pennsylvania business school professor Kevin Werbach notes, “Libra is the last, best hope to re-establish trust between Facebook and the world.”

 But I suspect that Libra  - probably like Facebook itself - will fail. The trust between Facebook and the world will be not be re-established. The secret is out: we now know that what’s good for Facebook isn’t good for the world. The age of Zuckerberg, with its fetishization of disruptive innovation, is now passing. You see, the Libra White Paper is wrong. People don’t want decentralized governments, let alone currencies. Instead, they want the order and certainty that goes with centralized authority. For all its cutting-edge technology, Libra is fifteen years too late. No. We aren’t going to fall for that one again.

 Are we?

How To Fix Democracy?

So how do we fix democracy? Or, at least, how do we protect liberal democracy from the rise of neo-authoritarian governments and leaders around the world. I'll be giving my own take in a How To Fix Democracy speech next Thursday lunchtime at the very cool Betaworks Studio in New York City. Please RSVP if you can attend. Lunch will be served and audience participation will, of course, be actively encouraged.

And if you can't make it next week, the next best thing is to watch my How To Fix Democracy video series. The latest interviews are with Madeleine Albright, Tzipi Livniand Sir Malcolm Rifkind all done last month in Kansas City at the Albright Forum. I particularly enjoyed the Livni interview with her call for liberal internationalists around the world to unite. Watch it too for some provocative remarks about Middle Eastern peace and her take on the Two State solution in Israel/Palestine.

I trust you are also subscribing to My Keen On podcast series. My latest conversations are with Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman about the state of American democracy and the Turkish writer Ece Temelkuran about the pathologies of authoritarianism. The show is also being distributed now on Lithub, the most highly trafficked independent website about books.

Really hope to see some of you next week in NYC so I can hear your take on how to fix democracy.

Keen On now On LitHub Radio!

I'm thrilled that my Keen On podcast has been selected as one of the twelve featured shows on Lithub radio - the audio channel of the world's most popular literary website. The partnership will begin this month and all my shows, including the current interview with political strategist Ian Bremmer, will be carried on the channel. Later this month, I'll be interviewing Douglas Rushkoff, the author Team Human and Ece Temelkuran, the author of How To Lose a Country. Please subscribeto the show and, if you enjoy it, leave a review. Please also suggest future guests.

My How To Fix Democracy video series continues to be a lot of fun. Recent interviews include former US Ambassador to the Czech Republic Norm Eisen and the New York Times columnist Ivan Krastev. Earlier this month, I interviewed Madeleine Albright, Tzipi Livni and Malcolm Rifkind at Albright's Aspen Ministers Forum. So a lot more great stuff to be broadcast here too.

I'm currently in Copenhagen where I'm speaking today at the Next M conference. Yesterday, I was in Aarhus kicking off Internet Week Denmark. I'm in New York City next week if anyone's around. Then, on May 23, I'll be at the AT&T Foundry in Mexico City for our first non-US Futurecast featuring the Mexican social entrepreneur Antonio Murad. So May, as always, is a crazy month.

Shame about the Arsenal, eh?

COYS tonight!!!

Futurecast returns!!

Yes, I'm thrilled that Futurecast is, indeed, back. Our first 2019 Futurecast will be next Monday evening, March 25, at Ericsson's Silicon Valley offices in Santa Clara. The event will be about edge computing and, as always, will feature Futurecast's uniquely collaborative discussion format. Please RSVP. I look forward to seeing (and hearing) all my Californian friends next week in Santa Clara to talk about the next big thing in computing.  

My How To Fix Democracy video series has now released interviews with Adrian Wooldridge of The Economist and Carol Anderson, the author of White Rage. And my Keen On podcast just released a very provocative interview about regulating Big Tech with the Financial Times columnist Rana Faroohar. Speaking of the FT, last week I was the guest on their Alphaville show, speaking to Izabella Kaminska about which Silicon Valley titan would make the best Bond villain.

As always, March is mad. I'm writing this from my second home in Frankfurt airport. I'm on my way to the UAE to speak tomorrow at the International Government Communications Forum in Sharjah. Other speakers include Larry King and the rapper Prince Ea. So it should be a fun event if you happen to find yourself in Sharjah tomorrow afternoon. Then next Thursday, March 28, I'm in Finland to speak at Next M Helsinki

Frankfurt, Sharjah, Santa Clara, Helsinki..... But me, I'm still on the road.

What's coming next?

My HOW TO FIX video series is taking me all over the world. The latest stop on the global tour is Cambridge, England, where I spoke to university politics professor David Runciman about the contemporary crisis of democracy. It's a really enlightening conversation with one of the world's most authoritative thinkers about democracy and its discontents. I promise (money back guarantee) that it will distract you from ephemera like Jeff B and his Pecker. 

My new weekly KEEN ON podcast is also nicely getting into its stride. My latest interviews are with four authors: Kenn Cukier (Big Data), David Goodhart (Road To Somewhere), Tom Baldwin (Alt, Ctrl, Delete) and Parag Khanna (The Future Is Asian). Not sure if Parag is right about this Asian future, but our feisty conversation was conducted in the very heart of Europe -  in Munich at the DLD conference. So please subscribe subscribe subscribe to KEEN ON. Once is never enough. 

My future, at least this month, will certainly be Asian. As one of the Gods of Digital and Branding, I'll be speaking at the International Advertising Association summit in the south Indian city of Cochi on February 22. The event asks: "What Is Coming Next?" Hope you'll be in Cochi to hear more. 

Springtime in NYC

I'm just back from a book tour of Singapore and Australia where the Australian newspaper ran a series of features about How To Fix The Future. My Singapore Management University Presidential lecture was also well received and I did a ton of tv and radio in both Australia and Singapore as well, particularly on the growing Facebook-crisis. 

The book continues to get a lot of media attention in the US. I particularly enjoyed this CSPAN interview with my dear friend Chris Schroeder. I liked this Mashable podcast too as well as this Click BBC show. My interview with Sonoma neighbour Leo Laporte on Triangulation is also great. And this Wikipedia interview is fun, especially since i'm described as both provocative and prescient. Blush.

There's no better place to be in the spring, of course, than New York City. And I'll be there several times between now and mid May. In the evening of April 23, I'm doing a Facebook-crisis summit with John Borthwick, Susan Crawford and Roger McNamee to launch Betaworks' amazing new studio club in the heart of NYC's Meatpacking district. On April 26, I'm keynoting the DCN Content Everywhere event. On May 2, I'm doing a How To Fix The Future panel at DLD New York. Then on May 15, I'm keynoting LUMA partners' Digital Media Summit. So very much looking forward to seeing all my NYC based friends over the next few weeks who, I trust, will guarantee me California quality weather. 

Happy Spring!