Facebook’s Control of Communication

by Douaa Qadadia
Image: Alexander Shatov / Unsplash

A complete shutdown. That’s what occurred on October 4th, 2021, at 11:40 EST. Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram all went down simultaneously, causing utter chaos for people around the world. There are approximately 3.5 billion global users currently on Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram, so one can imagine the chaos that ensued during this complete outage. The shutdown lasted around 6 hours, making it one of the longest outages in history, and was due to the inability of Facebook’s staff to access the work building with their security badges because the servers were down. According to Facebook, the reason behind it was the changes to its underlying internet infrastructure that coordinates the traffic between its data centres. Not only did people lose their ability to communicate, but businesses also lost thousands of dollars during the outage, especially small businesses that rely on Facebook’s services to communicate with clients. Zuckerberg also lost 6 billion dollars during this outage.

At the moment, the most used social media apps are Instagram, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Whatsapp, which are ALL owned by Facebook. According to the FTC in an amended antitrust complaint against Facebook, Facebook has been a monopoly since at least 2011. This means that most, if not all of our communication is controlled by Facebook, and the way we interact with each other and the rest of the world is influenced by this mega-corporation. 

“Facebook’s access to 3.5 billion users’ data is a profit playground for advertisers to exploit.”

Facebook’s monopoly on communication channels and platforms raises serious concerns over their use of personal data and online behaviour. According to Taha Yasseri, a senior research fellow in computational science at the Oxford Internet Institute, “One company owning four of the most popular social networking and communication apps, at best, can be described as a data monopoly.” Facebook’s access to 3.5 billion users’ data is a profit playground for advertisers to exploit. With the information they have, they can predict our online behaviour and actions based on our presence on their social media platforms, making them an extremely powerful corporation with a lot of control in their hands. The power that they have on the world must be regulated, for the sake of the individual, society, and our right to privacy.

Not only does their monopoly raise an issue of data control, but also how reliant the world is on Facebook. Any immigrant or child of immigrants can tell you that Whatsapp is one of our main methods of communicating with family back home. During the outage, that connection was lost, causing chaos, worry and confusion. Our only means of communication was removed, simply because of one server shutting down for one company. This outage sheds light on the grasp that Facebook has on us all, whether it be for essential communication purposes or data privacy and security. It also shows that Facebook’s enormous control and reach must be an issue that our politicians, governments and policymakers take seriously, as citizens of the world deserve to live and prosper without the constant exploitation and manipulation that Facebook subjects its users to. 

The constant globalization our world has gone through and is continuing to go through means that we all have a desperate desire to connect, across the globe. Additionally, our families and loved ones, especially during the time of a pandemic, can usually only be reached through social media platforms. Our desire to stay connected and updated about world issues is also carried mainly by social media platforms. Our lives are dependent on Facebook, Whatsapp, and Instagram, making Facebook’s exploitation of our dependency all the more concerning. To Facebook, we are numbers and data, a means of profit, but to us, Facebook (and its other platforms) are our bridge to the outside world. We must be wary of Facebook’s control over our connection to the globe.

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