Ben Short describes the dangers of the monopoly Facebook has over most popular social media platforms.
Within a month, there has been two simultaneous crashes of three social media giants Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. This wasn’t a coincidence; it was a result of monopolisation. Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook in 2004, five years before WhatsApp and six years before Instagram entered the realm of social connectivity - so why does Facebook own both of these platforms today?
With the increase of competitors and the simultaneous growth of Facebook (from one million users by the end of 2004 to one billion monthly users by the summer of 2012), symptoms of monopolisation began to appear when Zuckerberg purchased Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014 for billions of dollars each. This does open several points of questioning. Is this ethical? Is this a side effect of capitalism? Should we, as customers, support this kind of power?
In terms of ethics and capitalism, we should turn to the “Cambridge Analytica” scandal. Aleksandr Kogan and his company, Global Science Research, created an app called “thisisyourdigitallife” where users took a psychological test, producing useful data from around 50m Facebook profiles (and their friends!), which was then sold to Cambridge Analytica. This allowed them to establish a software to influence political outcomes such as the 2016 US presidential election (with Trump employing Cambridge Analytica as part of his campaign). It’s well documented that Kogan is well-known to Facebook, as he collaborated with their data scientists in 2013. Here, he paid around 270,000 people to take a personality quiz; however, unknown to them, this enabled him to access their profiles, and around 160 of the participants' friends. There is a clear willingness on Zuckerberg’s part to allow this to happen, as well as a clear display of social capital; these corporate connections allow for data to be exchanged for political gain, at the complete invasion of the privacy of millions of users.
With the monopolisation of social media, it will only get worse as data can be obtained from all three of these platforms, which calls into question the notion of “democracy” and how legitimate it is. These tech and corporate giants are able to exchange data to drive political ads which can influence voting outcomes. As Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, monopolisation has “incredibly destructive effects on free society and democracy.” I completely agree with her: it’s ethically erroneous and is a by-product of capitalism. As wealth inequality grows, resources open up, making monopolisation pretty much inevitable.
So what can we do? First, look into your privacy settings (particularly your “Off-Facebook activity” setting). Secondly, stop signing into new websites with a pre-existing platform (e.g. using your Facebook login for a Google account) as this allows for cross-platform data exchange. Finally, disable cookies while browsing as this allows data to be accumulated and used for adverts.
It’s not an impossible fight, but entire submission to this monopolisation and its increasing data accumulation would undermine democracy as we know it. Blindly playing this game of monopoly would pave the way for an increasingly mass controlled, dystopian, and ubiquitous tech future, all controlled by one man.
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