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In any market, increased competition is good for the consumer. The wider the variety of choice, the less any one company can dominate the market and impose its will – whether in terms of price or product offerings. In short, monopolies suck.
Facebook as the new Microsoft?
The growing consensus is that Facebook is becoming far too powerful and far too profitable. Much as tech insiders a generation ago once fretted about the monopolistic tendencies of Microsoft, the current generation of tech insiders is concerned about Facebook’s market power. In short, Facebook may be turning into a monopoly as we blithely continue to post selfies.
But, wait, you might ask: Isn’t there Instagram also? Yes, but Instagram is owned by Facebook. Oh, but what about Snapchat? Sorry, in case you haven’t noticed, Instagram has become a giant Snapchat-killer. And so it goes for just about any social media platform that dares to challenge Facebook – Facebook will just co-opt all of their innovations and try to put them out of business with a clone, or they will just buy the competitor outright (like it did with Instagram and WhatsApp). In short, you could argue that Facebook is acting strangely like a monopolist.
Fake news was the last straw
The past six months have been filled with stories about fake news, Internet hoaxes and Internet sensationalism. The whole social web is now obsessed with the desire to go viral – and many are now pointing their fingers at Facebook for this behavior.
At a time when Facebook sells $28 billion in ads each year, the company is making $10 billion annually in profit from all of our updates, photos and videos. According to one study, Facebook now collects 98 different data points about every user, and can then package up all that data and sell it to advertisers. Where else can you can fine-tune your advertising so perfectly? That’s why Facebook has become so profitable.
A parallel with broadcast TV
And now MIT Technology Review has weighed in on the matter, claiming that the current situation resembles the former gloomy era of broadcast TV, when television became “a vast wasteland” of dumbed-down programming and lots of shlocky ads. Remember – before the great Golden Age of Netflix and HBO, it was actually embarrassing to admit that you watched television.
That could be the case now with Facebook, which MIT says is at risk of also becoming “a vast wasteland” of memes, LOL cat photos and silly videos. In fact, you could argue that, as Facebook races to embrace video in all of its form, it’s becoming the new TV.
Mark Zuckerberg even predicted once that, within a few years, your Facebook newsfeed could become “all video.” In other words, you’d “turn on” Facebook much the same way people used to turn on TV, and just have a very “meh” experience.
Is there a solution?
It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. MIT has suggested that supporting niche social media networks could be one way to lessen the impact of the Facebook monopoly. And Zuckerberg has certainly taken notice, being notably stung by the suggestion that Facebook might have somehow cost Hillary Clinton the election by circulating fake news and Internet hoaxes. He’s even gone so far as to publish a manifesto, “Are We Building the World We Want?”
So are we?