Tech CEO: Social media should be regulated like cigarettes
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Tech CEO: Social media should be regulated like cigarettes

Marc Benioff says ‘technology has addictive qualities that we have to address, we need to rein that back as much as possible’

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff on CNBC, January 23, 2018. (CNBC screenshot)
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff on CNBC, January 23, 2018. (CNBC screenshot)

A Silicon Valley executive has compared social media to the addictiveness of cigarettes, and has called for similar regulation of the industry.

Marc Benioff, CEO of cloud computing company Salesforce, told CNBC that Facebook and other platforms should be regulated “exactly the same way that you regulated the cigarette industry.”

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Benioff said: “Here’s a product, cigarettes. They’re addictive, they’re not good for you, maybe there’s all kinds of different forces trying to get you to do certain things. There’s a lot of parallels.”

He added that technology was “the same as any other industry. Financial services, consumer product goods, food — in technology the government’s going to have to be involved. There is some regulation but there probably will have to be more.”

At a panel entitled, “In Tech We Trust,” Benioff expounded on his position, saying “In the tech industry, we have been clear of those regulations for the entire lifespan of the industry.”

But, he said, “we are seeing signs, especially this year, especially with the elections, especially with social networks, and especially when you see CEOs who abdicate their responsibility and say ‘I didn’t know.’”

Illustrative: Logos of US online social media and social networking service Facebook. (AFP Photo/ Loic Venance)

Benioff, who is Jewish, told CNBC it was particularly important that parents educate their children on the productive use of new technologies, but stressed that there was a place for some government oversight of the industry.

“I think that, for sure, technology has addictive qualities that we have to address, and that product designers are working to make those products more addictive, and we need to rein that back as much as possible,” he said.

Facebook, a major source of news for users, has struggled to deal with an uproar over fake news and Russian-linked posts, meant to influence the 2016 US elections, on its platform. The company has slowly acknowledged its role in that foreign interference.

On Monday, the company acknowledged that the explosion of social media poses a potential threat to democracy, pledging to tackle the problem head-on and turn its powerful platform into a force for “good.”

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said his goal for this year is to fix Facebook, whether by protecting against foreign interference and abuse or by making users feel better about how they spend time on Facebook.

In December, Facebook acknowledged that using social media can be bad for users’ health.

In a blog post, the social media giant noted research showing an increase in teen depression with technology use. But it also pointed to its own research that shows improvements in well-being from interacting with close friends online.

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