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Social Affairs: In defence of Social Media, Amazon and the Rest

Much has been made recently of the low amount of tax paid by Amazon, Google, Facebook and other digitally-based companies that provide people with their everyday supplies and other activities. Also high on the agenda has been the responsibility of social media like Facebook (and others) for the content of their platforms.

There are two separate issues here so let’s deal with tax first. Any business, whether it is owned by an individual or run by a Board of Directors (and thus responsible to shareholders) has a duty to itself to be profitable. That duty extends to those who work for it as well – after all, loss-making businesses tend to go out of business with the result that those working for it become unemployed. One of the ways in which any business cuts its expenditure is to reduce its liability for tax.

Companies usually do this by working with the tax authorities and using the Law as it stands to pay the amount of tax they are legally required to. Look at it another way – do you, as an individual, like paying tax? Of course you don’t. Most people pay their taxes as they are required to and in most cases that liability is done for them by their employer, who deducts tax before paying what’s left to the employee.

But on the basis of wanting to keep more of your money, money that you have worked hard for, if you can find a legal way of paying less tax, then you would probably take advantage of it. That applies to businesses just like it does to the individual.

So what does one do about Amazon and the others, who, it seems, are ‘getting away without paying their fair share’. I’m almost sorry to point this out but they are not. What the are doing is paying what the Law requires them to. So when one complains about big business not paying their dues, aim the arrows in the right direction; if you want big companies to pay more tax, lobby your Member of Parliament and change the Law.

The waters have become more muddied in recent times by the entirely understandable disquiet over the closing of town centre shops and stores in the face of what has been described as a relentless onslaught by companies like Amazon, with their out-of-town distribution centres and the subsequently low business rates they pay.

Again, the arrows are going in the wrong direction. Town centre stores have not adapted to the competition presented by the digital world and are paying the price for not doing so. Personally I can think of nothing better than going into a shop and having a good look at what I want to buy, before paying for it and then walking away with my purchase under my arm. Like many today however, I have found that it is increasingly easier to order online. If the town centre is to survive then it must not only do more to attract the in-person shopper but also offer a better (or at least as good as) online service and compete with the digital-only store.

It doesn’t stop there however. Towns and Cities themselves, led by the Government (both local and national) have to do their part to save the high street from plunging over the abyss.

Shops and stores generally are being forced into paying business rates and rents that are far too high (much like rents for housing) since corporate greed is not confined to the profit margins of big business. Local Councils have long seen town centre car parking as a cash cow, to be milked at every opportunity, just as they have the business rates they get from the stores themselves. Did you know for example, that some of the biggest and most well-known nationwide store chains do not actually own the buildings they occupy? Well, they don’t. Matalan for example, can be found up and down the UK but they don’t own their buildings; they rent them. Marks and Spencer, Greggs, ASDA, the recently departed Maplin, few own the buildings from which they do their business - and the rents they pay are eye-watering. As are the business rates they pay to their local councils. Rents and rates on a shop and store, levied by whoever owns the buildings and land upon which they stand, and what national Government along with local councils charge a business for doing business, have to come down.

As long as they are stung to the tune of millions per year in tax, rent and rates, they will continue to shrink and ultimately, die.

So what of the content that is posted on social media, like Facebook?

It has been said that Facebook, Twitter and the rest, have become a nesting place for violence, hatred and all other forms of sundry nastiness. Is this true? It is certainly true that social media has attracted more than its fair share of undesirable use but is this the fault of the social medium itself? Or those using it?

I would argue that yes, social media does indeed need to do more to restrict the misuse of it by some of its users. There is no shortage of people posting hatred and various forms of illegal content on all forms of social media. There is however, a fine line between justifiably removing offensive content and censorship. S