One company to rule them all

Facebook%2C+now+renamed+Meta%2C+has+controlled+many+sibling+companies+that+it+has+bought+over+the+years.

Graphic illustration by Jason Shan

Facebook, now renamed Meta, has controlled many sibling companies that it has bought over the years.

Myles Kim

Facebook’s global outage on Oct. 4 lasted for seven hours and left billions who rely on the app and its subsidiaries for digital communication stranded. This put the company’s unethical, continued monopolization of social networking and digital communication, along with its pursuit of higher profit margins, on full display.

The word monopoly has become synonymous with mega-companies like Facebook, which recently rebranded itself as Meta. Meta refers to the metaverse, a term used to describe shared virtual world environments accessed by the internet. A monopoly is defined by the Federal Trade Commission as a single firm that unreasonably restrains competition by maintaining power over a market. Over the last decade, Facebook has bought multiple communication competitors including Instagram and WhatsApp, valued at a total of $20 billion at the time of purchase. In December 2020, the FTC sued Facebook after years of anti-competitive conduct.

“In general, competition with the exception of geographic monopolies is in the favor of the consumer,” business teacher Andrea Badger said.

A person may start a company with a noble cause — to solve world hunger or to make software applicable to daily life — but that nobility erodes as the company grows and its vision falls second to the pursuit of profit. If a company controls its competitors and supply chains, it prevents innovation, and the consumer receives worse products or services as a result. That problem is magnified with a monopoly’s failure, like Fackebook’s outage on the first day of Homecoming week.

“It was really difficult for the freshmen to communicate with each other during the school day, and ASB Tech and all of the class officers experienced the same problem,” said senior and Public Relations Commission Lead Michael Ma.

Thankfully, Lynbrook students could still communicate through text messages. However, the ramifications of this outage are more severe on a global scale.

In general, competition, with the exception of geographic monopolies, is in the favor of the consumer.”

— Andrea Badger, business teacher

The outage affected developing countries, many in the Middle East, where communication is reliant on WhatsApp. Crippling economic, social and political instability make it impossible to establish infrastructure needed for reliable internet and cellular service. People in these regions rely on WhatsApp for everything, from finding jobs to communicating with family. Junior and Paper Airplanes tutor coordinator Aneesha Jobi was unable to contact refugee students living in the Middle East for the entire day.

“We had to cancel our lessons, which was unfortunate because they were living in really difficult situations,” Jobi said. “If they can’t depend on having a good internet connection or having an app that works, then it’s difficult for us to tutor them.”

The debacle illustrates how reliance on a few companies for global communication and social networking infrastructure is dangerous. Facebook and other tech giants should be heavily regulated and possibly broken up to prevent further outages. If Facebook had not been authorized to buy WhatsApp and Instagram, among other competitors, the outage would only affect Facebook itself and not its sibling apps. Developing countries that rely on Facebook’s platforms for communication infrastructure and economic opportunity would not have come to a screeching halt, and activists in regimes would have been able to spread their word to the masses.

In 2018, Facebook also garnered global animosity when the Myammar military used Facebook to spread hate speech and propoganda to rile up support to justify ethnic genocide against the Rohingya Muslims. The crisis forced millions of refugees to flee to neighboring countries and facilitated the murder of hundreds of thousands. While Facebook tried to ban accounts, it failed to stop the spread. By then, millions of refugees had already fled because of Facebook’s ineffectiveness.

In the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Facebook created a Civic Integrity department in order to curb misinformation about voting but disbanded it the day after the election. The company deemed it no longer necessary, ironically because no riots had occurred during the election. Many Republican politicians were still advocating for the idea that the election was stolen through voter fraud, which led to the Capital riots. Facebooks’ inability to moderate its platform, or rather its lack of responsibility, enabled conservative politicians to spoon-feed misinformation to their followers,  directly impacting the organization of the insurrection.

As further evidence of Facebook’s incompetence, whistleblower France Haugen revealed that Facebook’s algorithms purposely show content that is divisive, hateful and polarizing. They are designed to keep users engaged and on the platform, increasing advertisement profits. Facebook must change their algorithm and abandon its practice of profit over ethics. A quick buck is not worth social and political harm.

Consumer activism can influence what goods or services are on the market, but previous attempts have varied in their success. Individual actions like deleting the application in protest will barely affect the company.

Because of the U.S. government’s selective enforcement of antitrust laws, monopolization has been effectively legal for the past decade. When enforced, antitrust laws result in insignificant fines and short imprisonments. Because of their ambiguity, Congress must reform antitrust laws in order to prevent future mergers and to make it easier to break up monopolies.

Legislatures can also threaten to remove Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides legal immunity for website platforms that publish third-party content. In the past, when Congress threatened to repeal Section 230, larger social media platforms were forced to comply. This can be levied against Facebook to force it to take corporate action. However, some argue that through regulation and crackdown, the government is walking a fine line between protecting people and government overreach.

“We are primarily a market economy, so it’s ruled mostly by supply and demand,” Badger said. “I think our government has an obligation to protect our citizens, but we’re still figuring out where that line is and where they are crossing over too much.”

Facebook’s playbook is simple. Create the rules in their favor, destroy competition and create the illusion of a sustainable and responsible company while making as much money as possible. Through legislation or legal action, Facebook must be regulated and broken up to prevent further political and social polarization and to set a precedent for other corporations: They are not above the jurisdiction of any one government.