Here’s What You Could Have Won #2: Nationalising Facebook
[Part of the Here’s What You Could Have Won series, where I take issues from the news and make whimsical fag-packet calculations of things that the £205 billion due to be spent on replacing the Trident programme of nuclear submarines could buy, in preparation for the tour of my show Nuketown]
Ah Facebook. Where else can you humblebrag about your new job, post your new avocado workout and furtively masturbate over pics of university acquaintances? People are getting increasingly vexed about the rise of Facebook, both in terms of its monopolistic control of social media, and the, um, intriguing applications of its technology by home-grown old-school British villains Cambridge Analytica. Now even the mega-rich are turning on it, as Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook throw shade at each other, like, well, two nerds in a Facebook comment war.
If domestic geeks are going to use Facebook data to rig elections, they might as well do it for MI6 and, y’know, rig them the right way. On the real though, nationalisation would offer the potential of far greater transparency on how data is used. At a bare minimum, it would mean some elected officials would be snooping on your late-night drunk-messages and not a private company. And it would give the British taxpayer access to a slice of its tasty $4.7 billion per year in profits.
But Jack, you comment while Timehopping back to that Amazeballs Night With Fiona And the Squad, would Zuckerberg want to sell? He wasn’t very keen on sharing the fun when he was Jesse Eisenberg learning dance moves from Justin Timberlake in that one movie, was he? Well, it’s complicated. Normally, on a publicly traded company like Facebook, for every share you buy you get one vote at shareholders meeting, where the companies big decisions are made. So if you buy more than half of the company’s 2,986,000,514 shares, you get a controlling stake: you’re the boss. Our £205 billion doesn’t quite buy us all of Facebook, but it gets us a 62% stake. But Facebook, as in most things it does as a company, does things differently. They have two different classes of shares. Class A (one share, one vote) and Class B (one share, 10 votes, owned exclusively by company insiders). Through owning a shit ton of class B shares, he has 60% of the votes despite only having 16% of the shares. This, for some reason, is perfectly legal, meaning a company gets the liquidity of trading its shares on the stock market that being a public company provides, with the same total control by one or a few people that a private company does. Isn’t Capitalism a BLAST?
So our majority stake would get us the money, but not the power. But does Zuckerberg really want to be in charge of the monster he created? As Trevor Noah from the Daily show riffed: ‘Mark Zuckerberg started out by basically making a “hot or not” website for his college ,and now America is counting on him to protect the integrity of its elections”. Mark, I implore you, let go of this Atlas-like burden, go focus on philanthropy and Farmville, and leave us to counter the post-Brexit lapse in trade with some super-targeted pork pie ads.