A number of people recently have suggested that Facebook - by profiting from the social harm it causes, yet denying its culpability - is acting like the tobacco industry in the 1990s. While there undeniably are similarities between the two, I think there's a better analogy.
Facebook isn't cigarettes, it's asbestos.
Asbestos, of course, is a dangerous carcinogen that was used as insulation in buildings for many years, before its harmful health effects became widely known.
Consider how asbestos sounds an awful lot like Facebook:
• Initially promising - and it was good at its stated purpose - it turned out to have toxic effects that far outweighed the advantages.
• Immediate harm to an individual is hard to detect at first, but long-term effects are visible; and society-wide, it's terrible.
• People in poorer countries tend to be stuck with it, while wealthy industrialized nations are waking up to the danger, and ripping it out.
• And you do have to rip it out. You can't gradually peck away at the thing, since it's installed down at an infrastructural level. It's a pain to get rid of, and expensive, but it has to be done.
• Once a society is educated to its danger, it is socially unacceptable to let your loved ones - especially your kids - live with it.
Perhaps this will be a helpful metaphor as we discuss what to do about Facebook.
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