Soros on Google and Facebook

George Soros was in Davos, and he had some stinging criticism of social media companies.

As these huge companies have come to dominate the Internet, “they have caused a variety of problems of which we are only now beginning to become aware,” he explained.

“They claim they are merely distributing information. But the fact that they are near-monopoly distributors makes them public utilities, and should subject them to more stringent regulations, aimed at preserving competition, innovation, and fair and open universal access.”

In economic terms, Soros suggested, the tech giants were making excessive profits and stifling innovation. And their behavior was also causing larger social and political problems.

Social-media companies “deliberately engineer addiction to the services they provide,” he noted. “This can be very harmful, particularly for adolescents.” In this sense, tech companies were similar to casinos that “have developed techniques to hook gamblers to the point where they gamble away all their money, even money they don’t have.”

It wasn’t merely a matter of “distraction” or “addiction,” Soros went on. Social-media companies “are inducing people to give up their autonomy. . . . It takes a real effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called ‘the freedom of mind.’ There is a possibility that, once lost, people who grow up in the digital age will have difficulty in regaining it. This may have far-reaching political consequences. People without the freedom of mind can be easily manipulated.”