Saturday, November 11, 2017

Taxing the externalities of the attention economy

The Economist has an excellent overview of the risks of the attention economy (11/4/17). The Gamergate connection is particularly good.

There is so much to say about all of the perverse consequences of funding the net through a tax on attention. I’m sure we don’t fully understand all of the implications; the reality may be even more grim than we know. It’s already grim enough though. So grim that the Russian assisted collapse of the US government has seized a fraction of our distracted attention.

It appears that most Americans are easily manipulated through modern meme-injectors like Facebook and Twitter. Vulnerability increases with lower education levels (among the privileged education is a rough proxy for cognition), but few are completely immune to distraction. We resemble a people who have never seen alcohol a few months after the whisky trade arrives.

If we believe the attention/ad funded economy is the mene equivalent of fentanyl or tobacco, what do we do about it? There are lessons from managing addictive and health destroying substances such as tobacco. It begins with with taxation.

We tax cigarettes heavily. We can similarly tax net advertising. Our goal should be to increase the cost of online advertising several fold. We raise the cost until few advertisers can afford it. At that point Facebook has to turn to other revenue sources to maintain services — such as charging a yearly fee to users.

This is obviously not sufficient, but it’s a beginning.

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