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Should the online giants be taxed on their users?

One of the things that is remarkable about Facebook is that the company doesn't actually create very much.

Of course, it designs its website and app, hosts everything that appears on there and makes some effort to keep it free of illegal material. But everything on the social network – the billions of photos uploaded every hour, the cat videos, the memes and the viral news stories – aren't made by Facebook. They are produced by its 2bn members, or the thousands of publishers and businesses that use it.

Even the vast majority of the advertising sales are automated. Indeed, this is Facebook's great defence against criticism.

It has always positioned itself as a "platform", not a publisher, and as a result, argues that it cannot be held responsible for what appears on there. It has not been an excuse that has won it many friends, but it has consistently applied it to various criticisms: fake news, piracy, terrorist material, Russian propaganda.

But it also illustrates a potentially uncomfortable truth: it means the company's value lies almost entirely in its users. If nobody else was on Facebook, we wouldn't use it.

There's a term for this: the network effect.


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