This week confirmed what we have long suspected – that Facebook is “a uniquely toxic platform”, says Jathan Sadowski in The Guardian. Many already knew its power-hungry boss, Mark Zuckerberg, liked to end staff meetings by shouting: “Company over country!” And thanks to Facebook executive turned whistleblower Frances Haugen, the world has now learnt that the firm did little to stop the misinformation and hate speech its users were spreading. Nor did it act on its own research showing how damaging Instagram is to the mental health of teenagers.
Can we please stop “swooning over this new Facebook heroine”, says Glenn Greenwald on Substack. Haugen is merely the next stooge in the liberal campaign to “censor content from the internet that offends the sensibilities and beliefs of Democratic Party leaders”. They still blame Facebook for Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 election. Any regulation resulting from the Congressional hearings will just be an attempt to “police political discourse and silence their enemies”.
Facebook clearly isn’t going to regulate itself, says John Thornhill in the Financial Times. The status quo has earned the company more than 2.8 billion users and a trillion-dollar valuation. And breaking it up may well be pointless – you’d just end up with “baby Facebooks” operating the same model. The “best hope” of getting this beast under control is “more imaginative competition”. If Zuckerberg isn’t willing to give users more control over content and a greater financial stake in the use of their data, someone else should.
What Haugen’s revelations really show is that Facebook is already “dying”, says Kevin Roose in The New York Times. Just look at Zuckerberg’s plan, now paused, to create an Instagram for children – would a thriving social media app need to “leverage playdates” by concocting “elaborate growth strategies aimed at 10-year-olds?” Daily use of Facebook among teenagers is expected to decline by 45% in the next two years. Facebook’s stock price has risen 30% in the past year, but Zuck and friends know the young have shifted their attention to TikTok.
Why the great Facebook outage matters
When the Facebook empire went down for six hours on Monday, it stopped westerners “posting food photos on Instagram and instigating mask arguments on Facebook”, says Alizeh Kohari in The Atlantic. But for those of us living in the developing world, the lack of WhatsApp was devastating. I live in Karachi and Mexico, and WhatsApp is the best way to market a business, co-ordinate a community or disseminate news (sometimes fake, it must be said). When Lebanon proposed a $6 monthly tax on the app two years ago, there were nearly riots.