Breaking up Facebook: Way out?

It has been the subject of presidential debates and several books have been written on the subject from every perspective. I am not going into its details because it would require a thorough analysis of several interconnected threads.

However, we must understand what is the utility of having a social network in the first place and why not interact through the other alternatives. I think, it has to do a lot to have a “town halls” wherein everyone gathers to vote on the collective agenda. For specific countries, these are understandable. However, for “rest of the world”, these are alien concepts. Hence, the moniker of “friends and family” sticks on the social network.

Assuming that they completely shut the network down, even as a legitimate business. Who would lose? Investors. People who have been hired to lobby. The company owners. Possibly the employees. However, that represents a small subset of the society, and they have given Facebook an inordinate amount of leverage and influence in the polity.

Therefore, sometimes, I find it amusing that authors have spent considerable resources and time to co-author books and tried to leverage their “relationships” through existing platforms to comment on the social network as it represents just another “book” in several publications speaking about the same thing.

While they may sound alarmist, Facebook has become the de facto alternate mode of reality of the vast number of individuals across the world. The advertising network has utilised every trick in the trade to keep its users engaged while there’s a continual referral to an unaudited number of users on the network. This is because no one would now question the metric.

Here’s something interesting from Harvard Business Review (and despite the pedigree, sounds like a shill for cross promotion of platforms for aspiring authors looking for the best sellers list).

One idea I discuss at length in the book is whether breaking up Facebook will fix the social media morass. Antitrust regulators are certainly eager to dismantle the world’s largest social network. Their argument for doing so cites a litany of real harms, including the erosion of privacy, the spread of misinformation and hate speech, the acceleration of political polarization, and threats to the integrity of elections. Competition, they argue, will force Facebook to fix these problems. However, ill-conceived antitrust action, without structural reform, will not only fail to solve them, it will make matters worse. To understand why, consider the economic logic of these businesses.

(The emphasis is mine).

Competition will only bring out the worse case scenarios to keep the users hooked to a network.

The author argues against breaking up the social network:

Network effects create substantial economic benefits for billions of people around the world. As those benefits depend on the connections we make through social media, dismantling the networks will reduce the benefits without addressing the economic forces that drive the social economy towards concentration. Economic measures like GDP and productivity growth don’t capture the consumer value that Facebook creates, because users don’t pay to be on Facebook. (And because they’re not captured, they’re easy for regulators to ignore.) But the value is real: researchers at MIT and Stanford have investigated how much people would need to be paid to give upFacebook; it turns out that ordinary people put a very high value on the service. The research estimates Facebook generates about $370 billion a year in consumer benefits in the U.S. alone. Now, imagine those benefits worldwide.

These aren’t imaginary figures related to the “value” but yes, contestable. As they are abstract, anyone can put a spin to it in any way they want it to. While the author argues about making the social networks interoperable, it is not a new idea. However, I am still trying to comprehend its utility. What purpose does it really serve, anyway?

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