Links of note

Want to Understand What Ails the Modern Internet? Look at eBay

“When the biggest platforms seem to be flailing or punting on problems, it’s often because they’re trying to address broad social issues with market solutions. They’re rediscovering, at scale and at great expense to their users, the ways in which a society is more than a bazaar, and the pitfalls of allowing human attention to be sold and resold as a commodity. If a platform is addressing a collective problem in a maddeningly strange way, consider that it might see itself, or only know to govern itself, like an eBay. If it can’t keep bad actors from using the service to exploit other users, that’s because it’s modeled after a system in which finding the highest bidder — or the biggest sucker — is gamely understood to be the point.”

There’s something interesting at the heart of this piece, but I can’t quite put my finger on it yet. It has to do with the “deals” we agree to make and the clarity of those deals. The deal on eBay is straightforward: I want to buy something, either directly or through auction, and someone sells it to me. But the deal on social networks is opaque. It seems like I’m getting something for free, or in exchange for something vague and advertising-based. Yet, the social network and its partners are actually getting access to my data and my interests and my intentions. That’s harder to grasp than a simple exchange of goods for money. This is also why it’s taken more than a decade for people to start waking up to the deals we make with social networks.