每日跟讀#593: To Purge Some of Social Media’s Ugliness, an Unlikely Lesson From Wall Street
Exactly a year ago, Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, testified before Congress and apologized for his company’s role in enabling “fake news, foreign interference in elections and hate speech.”
It was a memorable moment amid a broader reckoning that continues to inspire debate over how closely Facebook and other technology giants should be regulated.
As Silicon Valley grapples with its version of becoming too big to fail, Zuckerberg and his industry peers might take lessons from Wall Street, whose leaders have some experience with government scrutiny. (On Wednesday, bank chief executives were being grilled by Congress.)
Although it won’t address all of Big Tech’s problems, a simple rule that bolsters the banking system could do a lot to clean up some of the uglier aspects of social media that Zuckerberg felt compelled to apologize for.
The concept is “know your customer” — or KYC, as it’s called on Wall Street — and it’s straightforward: Given concerns about privacy, security and fraud when it comes to money, no bank is allowed to take on a new customer without verifying its existence and vetting its background.
The idea of applying such a rule to social media has been floated before, but it has so far failed to take hold. Now may be the right time.
Consider this: Facebook has said it shut down more than 1.5 billion fake accounts from April through September last year (yes, that’s a “B” in billion). That was up from the 1.3 billion such accounts it eliminated in the six previous months. To put those numbers in context, Facebook has a reported user base of 2.3 billion.
What if social media companies had to verify their users the same way banks do? You'd probably feel more confident that you were interacting with real people and were not just a target for malicious bots.
First, let’s acknowledge the practical considerations. Vetting the vast universe of those on social media would be a gargantuan task.
When I broached the idea of applying a “know your customer” principle to their business, several senior executives at social media companies recoiled at the prospect, questioning how they would pull off such a huge feat, especially in emerging markets where many people lack credit cards, and even fixed street addresses can be hard to come by.
Then there are the legitimate complaints about Facebook and its ilk already knowing too much about users. Who would want them to know even more? And what would the companies do to protect personal information better than they have in the past?