Regulate Facebook like cigarettes, tech billionaire tells governments

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff says social media must be treated as a health issue

Marc R. Benioff, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Salesforce, Member of the Board of Trustees of World Economic Forum, reacts as he attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 23, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Marc Benioff, a Silicon Valley billionaire, has suggested that in the face of the panic about social media and "fake news", regulators should treat companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter like they did Big Tobacco and Big Sugar: as a public health issue.

“I think that you do it exactly the same way that you regulated the cigarette industry. Here’s a product: cigarettes. They’re addictive, they’re not good for you,” Mr Benioff told CNBC. “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.”

Mr Benioff, who co-founded the cloud-based software company Salesforce in 1999 and who is worth about $5 billion (Dh18.37bn), said it was for government to let people know whether social media use is good or bad for them, in the same way that public health institutions advise on where to set the smoking age for cigarettes.

“We’re the same as any other industry,” Mr Benioff said in an interview given from Davos, which he is attending as a member of the board of trustees of the World Economic Forum. Like “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.”

A tech pioneer who managed to turn part of the software industry that had previously been a backwater into one of its hottest sectors, he also addressed the culture in technology after a series of scandals involving sexual harassment and racial discrimination.

“I don’t think it’s fundamentally broken,” Mr Benioff said of the industry’s culture.