Economics, Legislation & Lobbying

Social media crypto-bans are sparking international lawsuits


Switzerland, Kazakhstan, and Armenia have joined Russia, China and South Korea to file a lawsuit against Facebook, Google, Twitter and Yandex for banning crypto-ads on their platforms. The attempt to reverse the tech giant’s decision is based on the accusation that their bans constituted a disruption of trade.

The political air around tech companies is tense at the moment, Facebook taking the brunt of criticism following Russian election interference and the Cambridge Analytica revelations. There is clearly a sense that the utopian idea of tech being a medium for information to flow freely while privacy is maintained coming under threat, and more scandals could lead to more regulation.

Off the back of revelations about Russian interference in the US election Facebook was first to ban cryptocurrencies advertisements, with Google and Twitter swiftly following suit. All three of the big Silicon Valley companies cited uncertainty of the future of cryptocurrencies coupled with a prevalence of bad actors as the reasoning for their ban.

There is already evidence that the crypto-ban is overstepping the mark, with some news publications getting caught in the policy on Facebook despite not selling cryptocurrencies. New industries like cryptocurrencies are going to generate a host of new companies, and throttling their development will leave established entities in the only position strong enough to compete in the space.

A better solution might be to ban ICO adverts, as Snapchat have done. This is still a clumsy approach but most of the worry surrounding the legitimacy of cryptocurrencies is a precipitate of the ICO space, where bad actors can convince people to buy in to something which doesn’t exist.

US Congress continue to wrangle about what regulation can or cannot be passed in the crypto space, with some falling down on the side of cryptocurrencies being new and significant and interesting, while others think it need do no more than fit in to currency securities legislation.

The lawsuit is due to be filed in May, with the six countries pointing to the social media companies position as advertising monopolies as the justification for the suit. Voltaire’s “with great power comes great responsibility” is surely ringing anew on the ears of Silicon Valley, providing a moral imperative to which side they adhere to in each debate; their desire not to be a conduit of harm on one side, and their size and power defaulting their position to that of final arbiter on the other.

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Ben Allen is a traveller, a millennial and a Brit. He worked in the London startup world for a while but really prefers commenting on it than working in it. He has huge faith in the tech industry and enjoys talking and writing about the social issues inherent in its development. Find him on Twitter @benjijamesallen

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