Uber’s relationships with cities tend to begin or end in war. Smaller markets experience the company as a powerful invading force — often a welcome one. The company’s model easily outclasses and undercuts provincial competitors, conscripting local cabbies and enlisting new drivers. Flimsy taxi regulations backed by weak municipal governments are quickly overwhelmed by the multibillion-dollar company and its armies of lawyers and lobbyists and their briefcases full of case studies and legislative suggestions.
But in larger markets with bigger taxi companies, municipal governments bristle at the company’s deep, evident disdain for their authority — and they’re capable of striking back. Last month, in a sudden show of force, London told Uber that its license to operate in the city wouldn’t be renewed. The city’s transit authority cited a number of reasons for its actions: Uber’s approach to reporting crimes; its background-check policies; its aggressive attempts to thwart regulators; general appeals to “public safety” and “corporate responsibility.”
“While Uber has revolutionized the way people move in cities around the world, it’s equally true that we’ve got things wrong along the way,” Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, wrote in a public letter. But this performance of contrition came on the heels of the company’s first effort at retaliation. It had already mobilized its drivers and users, starting a petition accusing the city of having “given in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice,” of threatening the livelihoods of tens of thousands of its workers and of depriving millions of customers. The effort quickly garnered more than 800,000 signatures.
London’s threat to Uber is clearly existential: Being shut out of one of its largest markets is terrible for business and sets a dangerous precedent for the company as it tries to expand around the globe. But governments similarly perceive, in Uber, a broader challenge to their legitimacy. Uber doesn’t so much do business in cities as unilaterally install itself as infrastructure. Its incompatibilities with local regulations or national employment law are presented as neither features nor bugs but as evidence of evolution and progress. It identifies, vets and credentials drivers. It fields complaints and arbitrates disputes, exercising authority over those it deems bad actors. It lets riders rate drivers and vice versa, creating a sort of customer-service-centric accountability. Because Uber purports to be self-regulating, its users and drivers share in the company’s feeling that outside interference is unwelcome and even unnatural. It now has a constituency, hundreds of thousands strong, angry with their government on behalf of a corporation.
The same week Uber was given notice in London, Mark Zuckerberg sat down in front of a camera in Menlo Park, Calif. His desaturated earth-tone palette fix laptop screen near me was matched color for color by his office in the background, as if to provide camouflage. Indeed, it was easy to miss the sheer range and strangeness of what he was there to say. “I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity,” he said. “The integrity of our elections is fundamental to democracy around the world.”
Facebook had recently disclosed that it believed Russian state actors purchased political ads during the 2016 election; more broadly, it had been accused of allowing disinformation and misinformation to thrive on its platform. Among the measures that Zuckerberg said his company would take included expanding “partnerships” with election commissions around the world and “working proactively to strengthen the democratic process.” Most striking, coming from the C.E.O. of a publicly traded American social-media company, was this line: “We have been working to ensure the integrity of the German elections this weekend.”
Social-media companies aren’t new to defending themselves in ideological terms — they’re just not used to doing it on their home turf. While to authoritarian regimes, the threat of social media is obvious, in the United States, Facebook, Twitter and Google have for years talked about computer repair center near me themselves freely in the language of democracy, participation and connectivity. The emerging tension between internet platforms and democratic governments, however, seems to stem less from their obvious rhetorical differences than from their similarities.
Facebook’s transition from a confident stride to a guarded crouch was conspicuous and sudden, arriving roughly at the same time as President Trump. Shortly after the 2016 election, Zuckerberg dismissed heated claims that misinformation on his platform had gotten Trump elected as a “pretty crazy idea.” In September, he admitted that his comment was dismissive, but did so after months of near-constant scrutiny, including, according to The Washington Post, a postelection lecture from President Obama. In in home computer repair near me | Toronto Canada an interview with Bloomberg published in September, he sounded more wistful than irritated: “For most of the existence of the company, this idea of connecting the world has not been a controversial thing,” he said. “Something changed.” It certainly had: Facebook was being implicated as potentially harmful to the systems within which it had thrived, and with which it had sought to identify itself.
The problem was that Facebook had outgrown every context except its own. Though it neither thinks like nor resembles a government, it has effectively sewn itself into the fabric of users’ public and personal lives. Facebook accounts have now become something like IDs, enabling an ever-growing range of activities: commerce, job-seeking, leisure. Networks stand in for community; encryption, in owned and operated services like WhatsApp, stands in for guarantees of liberty; newsfeeds become sources of diverse information, including ads, yes, but also calls to register to vote — to apply elsewhere what you’ve increasingly experienced online.
All this is to say that a sufficiently successful social platform is experienced, much like Uber, as a piece of infrastructure. Except, instead of wrapping its marketplace around a city’s roads, Facebook makes a new market around communication, media and civil society. This, from a founder’s perspective, is an electrifying outcome. But this cultural metastasis has led to a swift and less-than-discriminate backlash. Already, laptop repair places near me calls for regulating the largest internet platforms are growing louder while remaining tellingly vague. After all, what can a government realistically do about a problem like Facebook?
It’s very likely that any approach to regulating Facebook will look more like diplomacy than anything else — a cautious search for détente with an institution that ultimately gets to set its own laws, whether a government likes it or not. Indeed, the company has been presenting itself as a willing, generous participant in American investigations, but more generally as a supranational, self-regulating force for good, and, boldly, as indispensable for the continuation of democracy around the world. “We will do our part not only to ensure the integrity of free and fair elections around the world,” Zuckerberg said, “but also to give everyone a voice and to be a force for good in democracy everywhere.” For citizen users, it’s a gesture of good faith. To skeptical countries, it’s a gentle declaration of independence, or maybe a dare. For Facebook, it’s something distinct, new and unmistakably statelike: a claim of sovereignty.