Facebook’s new patent offer a window into how it thinks about politics
A lot of the public relations backlash that has engulfed Silicon Valley titan Facebook over the past twelve months involves politics. The whole Cambridge Analytica scandal was a political one, and a large proportion of the “fake news” that bad actors were sharing on Facebook was politically motivated. But Facebook is smart enough to know that you can’t stop people talking about politics – after all, political motivations are behind lots of our everyday beliefs – indeed, a patent filing from 2017 shows that it might be looking to alter how people talk about politics – not whether they do.
Facebook’s share price has appreciated by 22% year to date
Source: Yahoo Finance
Facebook applied to patent a system that pioneers a new type of civic engagement. It would give people the ability to comment on laws that might impact them, and help them get that feedback included into formal political proposals. In Facebook’s words, this could help people to “meaningfully engage in civil discourse” via the internet. And while Facebook isn’t the only company seeking to do that, it’s more-than head and shoulders above any other player in regards to two things: the depth of its pockets, and its experience with online engagement tools.
The patent is titled “Providing digital forums to enhance civic engagement,” and describes a new type of social networking based around local and political data. The system would identify users that might be affected by new laws, and invite those people (who it describes as “having a predicted interest in the proposed law”) to get involved. That involvement would come through comments that Facebook’s system would aggregate into a unified proposal. Other possible innovations that the platform could include are “reputation scores” which are influenced by “field of education, profession, and a history of social networking posts including feedback by other users,” and the possible use of blockchain technology for encryption.
It is worth noting a couple of things: first, Facebook files lots of patents, many of which never get made. And second, this patent was actually filed before the various scandals that have plagued the company came to light. However, those things aside, if Facebook can find greater traction in an ever-more politicised world, that could come with a big payoff.
Dominion holds Facebook in its Global Trends Ecommerce Fund.
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